HORSE TALK

My son-in-law (actually a son than a law) and I often take time to discuss about the ministry and work of God, since both of us happen to operate within the realm of the church. Our repartee would bring insights and growth that enhanced us both. Being at different ends of the age spectrum, as iron sharpens iron, we crystallize and shape one another’s understanding that causes expansion in our thoughts.

In one such recent colloquy, we were analysing the post-covid orientation and state of the church, about members in general and leaders in particular. I was lamenting on the fact that Christian life and witness seemed to be focused on creating a good impression and causing a outward expression. Rather than exerting a life-changing influence that flowed from an inward heart-level transformation, leaders were intent on visibility and projecting of themselves.or their work.

He stopped me short with this pithy statement: It is a matter of knowing what you want to be trained for or what you are training others for. Whether you are grooming or being groomed to be a show horse or a race horse or a war horse. The goal and end determines the training and the achievement of the desired outcome!

Thunderstruck, I followed the ensuing train of thought and came up with an perception of the difference between a wild horse, a race horse, a war horse and a show horse!

Wild horses roam free, unfettered, gamboling around the range, eating what they will, drinking what they want, going where they want and typically live about 15 to 30 years. Wild horses travel many miles a day (usually between 10 and 20), in search of food (grasses, seeds and leafy shrubs) and water, often through rough terrain that wears down their hooves. They use fight or flight defend themselves against predators and other dangers such fires or storms, etc.

For a horse to be wild, all you need to do is to allow it to go scot free, without any disciple or restriction. Just set it loose, offering no direction or forcing it into training, and its own nature will take over to be what it wants to be – an outlaw!

Horses enjoy racing for running and jumping come naturally to them and Race horses are usually considered “hot-blooded” horses, known for their agility, speed, and spirit. Race horses are well-bred and carefully trained animals who are given the highest levels of animal care and welfare. Race horse trainers tend to develop strong bonds with their charges, understanding well their traits and moods since they work many hours a day with them. Horses happily take part in a race in most cases but no racehorse can be made to race if it doesn’t want to, and can plant its feet refusing to move. Racehorses are treasured and prized possessions of their owners, getting utmost care and attention.

If you lasso and corral a horse, wishing to turn it into a race horse, then its diet and schedule will have to be carefully drawn out with care given to its type, age and other physical abilities. Training has to focus on developing muscular strength, stamina, and speed in that order, and must be spread over several weeks,  moving from slow and steady to fast and furious! Great care is taken to tailor the program to suit the age, condition, weakness, etc of the horse and though there are general/common components, each horse is trained deliberately and particularly, making each animal uniquely fashioned and special care is taken to factor in its individuality for getting the best result!

War horse breeds were highly valued animals that carried mounted warriors into battle, bred in medieval or ancient times for the sole purpose of aiding men in war. War horses were a mixture of heavy breeds ideal for carrying armored knights, and lighter breeds for hit and run or fast moving in warfare. They were either heavy animals able to carry a fully armored knight as well as their own armor, or shorter, lighter, and swifter ones, ridden unarmored during sieges and raids.

Whether horses were trained to pull chariots, or ridden as light or heavy cavalry, or to carry the armoured knight, much training was required to overcome the horse’s natural instinct to flee from noise, the smell of blood, and the confusion of combat. They also had to learn to accept any sudden or unusual movements of humans while using a weapon or avoiding one. Horses used in close combat may have been taught, or at least permitted, to kick, strike, and even bite, thus becoming weapons themselves for the warriors they carried. Moreover, a war horse used as a riding animal was also trained to be controlled with limited use of reins, responding primarily to the rider’s legs and weight. The horse thus had to become accustomed to any necessary tack and protective armour placed upon it, learning to balance under a rider who would also be laden with weapons and armour. Developing the balance and agility of the horse was crucial to and in warfare. 

A war horse needs more discipline and attention, a more rigorous and diehard regime to equip it to not only carry the warrior but also itself become a fighting machine. Horses used for chariot warfare were not only trained for combat conditions, but they also had to learn to do teamwork with other animals in close quarters under chaotic conditions, since a chariot would drawn by more than one horse. War horses are also denoted as fight or flight animals since both tactics would come in handy in the battlefield.

Show horses in circuses, on the other hand, perform a variety of equine acts ranging from sensational feats of acrobatics to clever stunts and the execution of the elegant “airs” from classical equitation. There are no specific performing breeds, since ability alone determines the particular horse used and are groomed to be fine performers for they are show-stealerrs and crowd-pullers. In the history of circuses, the excitement of the show and the hard work of the show depended on these horses!

Show horses are trained to behave cooperatively and willingly, taught tricks and skills to attract crowds and seek to develop its own talents. Show horses are performance horses and so, confidence training and trick learning are part of their drill. Boldness is a key ingredient that is inculcated so that they execute their acts with grace and poise as well as appear endearing and appealing.

The accoutrements of a show horse are for attracting attention and therefore quite elaborate and flamboyant in order to capture the eye.

The war horse, on the other hand, is fitted with armor, making it ready for battle and is aimed at protection rather than giving pleasure.

The race horse is minimally equipped with only the basic necessary for riding such as saddle and bridle. As speed is crucial, the lighter the horse, the greater the chance of victory in an even field. Even the jockey chosen is usually of small stature so that no extra weight would burden or slowdown the horse.I

It goes without saying that none of these apply to a wild horse since it rebels against confinement and submitting to tutelage.

All this horse talk just goes to show one thing – that in considering a horse, its purpose and the focus of what it is to be determines whether it is to be trained or not, and the type and direction of its training. The end surely does justify the means!

Apostle Paul acknowledges a Christian, especially a leader, as having to endure hardness as a soldier, undergo rigorous training like an athlete and working hard like a farmer.

In the Scriptures we also come across statements such as: Run in such a way as to win the race; my aim is to finish the race; I wanted to be sure I was not running or had been running my race in vain; And let us run with perseverance the race market out for us; Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize; etc.

We also note admonitions such as: Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air; Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms; For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds; etc.

The thread through the Word of God and the teaching therein motivates and urges the disciples of Christ and God-fearers to be race horses and war horses. Nowhere is there an instruction to be a wild horse or a show horse.

On the contrary, there is a injunction against being unbroken as an unruly horse and not to be showoffs or self-promoting or having an outward form without inward orientation. Indeed, one of the seven churches in the book of Revelation is judged as having a reputation that was not true in reality.

Following through my initial train of thought, I see that it is important to decide whether I am striving to be a race and a war horse, or a show horse, or worse still, a wild horse!

As the people of God and as the Ministers of His work, the Church needs to ensure that it is not breeding or grooming show horses, but committed to raising race horses and war horses.

Wild horse, show horse or race horse, war horse – which will you be?

*Pics courtesy google images, unsplash.com, shutterstock.com and information on horses from Google links

THE CHANGED FACE OF THE MINISTER OF GOD!

Gone are the days when a man of God would be identified by a trademark cloth bag, white veshti jiba (sarong and kurtha) and Hawaii chappals. Today’s man of God is a tech- savvy, ipod-toting, laptop-wielding and smartly dressed post-modern phenomenon!

In the past, the man of God used to be, at best, a high school graduate and articulate just in his own mother tongue. Today, he is atleast a college undergrad or even a post-grad, fluent in probably two or even three languages not his mother tongue. Most often, this suave creature would be more expressive in English than in his own mother tongue!

Men of God in the past would at the most, be able to play a tambourine or thump a drum with dexterity more than skill and would sing in either a guttural voice or a flat monotone! Today’s urbane individual is able to play atleast a guitar, (many are experts in more than one instrument), sing extremely well and would even be able to harmonize in different parts!

The disparity between these two, the golden oldie and the erudite youth of the day, is so obviously glaring that many Christians are in a dilemma as to whom they should model should accept, follow, and emulate! A whole generation is struggling to understand and come to terms with this change and correlate it with the known past. The fact that the Indian representation of godliness and holiness is the saffron-clad sadhu, who lives apart and in isolation from worldly pursuits, only complicates the issue. So the question uppermost in people’s mind is: With what is true holiness and godliness associated?

To answer this question, one needs to reach back to the scriptures to understand and come to terms with this paradigm change, in the light of another epoch-changing personality – the Lord Jesus Christ. It is significant to note that Jesus was incarnated in the form of sinful flesh, in the form of the very man He created. Why? Simply because that was His target group! 

He first came to His own, the Jews and so “was made like unto His brethren in all things”. He could not have come as an angel, for then He would be apart from and different from them and so would be unable to tell them “take up your cross and follow me”! He was so like those He came to save that a king had to kill all the babies born around that time and a kiss had to be given to identify Him as the one to be tried!

Computing and extending this analogy to the present, it is obvious that to be contextual, the man of God needs to be incarnated or made like to his brethren of the day! The target group of the day is the smart techie, who commutes between countries as easily as if he is commuting between cities! The target audience of the day is so cosmopolitan that bumping across different nationalities has become a commonplace occurrence the result of globalization. In such a scenario, it is not a choice, but a necessity for the man of God to evolve to the present form.

This, however, does not imply that his value system should evolve or even change, for Jesus Christ, our example, showed us the balance between human incarnation and divine absoluteness – to be wholly human and yet satisfy the divine standards of morality, holiness and godliness. Thus, the core or the internal frame of reference of the man of God is still this: Be ye holy even as I am holy. 

However, the peripheral issues can and should change – issues that do not bear on the aspects of his life that must conform to the divine model. This is the continuity versus discontinuity principle – Codes or standards must be a continuum but non-essentials can be, must be and should be discontinued. It is in this whole sphere of paradoxical understanding, viz. what must be continued and what should be discontinued, that  generation gaps occur and divide the old and the new, each stuck in their own time frame.

How does one bridge this gap and draw an understanding between the old and the new? The one bridge that would span these two time lines would be the growth of knowledge and understanding of the times. For example, in the Indian panorama, in the past when a man/ family accepted Christ, they were ostracized by their near and dear, besides being ostracized by the community. As such, they were forced to adopt a very minimal and simplistic way of life, often being denied even the basic amenities of life. 

Take for instance their clothes. For men it would be the ubiquitous jiba made out of a cheap, rough, white material. The local tailor denying them patronage, they were forced to use a garment with just a straight cut and holes for arms and head, ideal indeed for hand stitch! Thus, a practical, pragmatic, down-to-earth simplicity, born of necessity and convenience rather than holiness!

The modern day scenario speaks of shopping centers and malls overflowing with tailored–to-fit clothes, with anything available to anyone and customer service depending only on availability of cash. As such, it is ludicrous to even think of adopting white clothes on the behest of holiness, given the pollution levels and the cost of cleansing white clothes! It is ridiculous to invest in floor-sweeping, pristine white clothes that will need meticulous washing in a city where even daily water is rationed!

The core values in any time frame should relate to simplicity that suits the situation and therefore, investing in a pair of jeans that wears well with time, mixed and matched with a number of shirts would be a better option for someone subjected to the plagues of modern world! Unless called to live like John the Baptist, i.e. to make a statement with his lifestyle, the man of God would have to become a cultural chameleon, changing color with the times, in every way! 

Leaving the core values of simplicity for a sophistication that costs more to sustain is at best both ridiculous and unholy for its waste! What sense does it make to boast of not wearing jewels while wearing a watch with a gold bracelet! How can it be simplicity to wear a pure white silk outfit as against a cheaper colored one! How can it be wrong when one who shepherds literally thousands, uses an air-conditioned, fuel-efficient car that helps him conserve his strength, energy and time? That’s not luxury; its not even common sense; its just smart sense! When what is feasible in one context, becomes a tradition in another that blinds to the truths of simplicity, contextuality and convenience, it is foreign fire on the altar!

Why is then there a reluctance to change or adopt such a changing lifestyle? Just that change is traumatic for anyone and change is fearsome when compounded with culture, politics and ignorance. Culture because here in context of India, the concept of spirituality is related more to the outward and rituals; politics because Indians are highly conscious of social opinion; and ignorance because Indian mentality just accepts tradition better than the rigors of seeking for the truth for oneself.

A man of God needs to plunge himself into the cauldron of humanity, willing to be spoiled outwardly in the process, yet impacting and changing those around him with his inward purity. He is the salt of the earth that disappears into the culture round him yet bringing the taste of true life to a tired and weary world. The need of the hour then is not asceticism in isolation but inward separation and consecration to the Lord. 

Holiness and godliness are, therefore, to be seen not in not being like the people of the world outwardly but inwardly! It is seen in the maturity that weighs everything in the light of scripture and identifies the core principles of simplicity. It is seen in the man of God who learns to filter out the essentials from the non-essentials, who has enough savoir-faire to identify the continuity-discontinuity principle and who is flexible enough to move with the winds of change.

He is like the rock in his principles yet humble as a reed to bend and bow with the storms of changing life.  He is the man who knows he needs to be “all things to all men that somehow a few may be won to Christ”! In short, he is like his Master, who overturned the tables of and on religiosity, a thorn in the flesh of traditions, but who gave His life even for those He offended!

*Pic courtesy shutterstock

STATELESSNESS, THE DEFAULT STATE & STATUS OF CHRISTIANS?

A couple of days ago my daughter, who is a professor of law, had shared with us her recent lecture topic: Reduction of Statelessness in South Asia. It set me thinking about the issue of statelessness and its implications.

The international legal definition of a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”. In simple terms, this means that a stateless person does not have a nationality of any country.

A stateless person is someone who, under national laws, does not enjoy citizenship – the legal bond between a government and an individual – in any country. In simple terms, a stateless person doesn’t have a belonginess or a sense of being part of a people. They do not belong anywhere and nobody has a care over or for them, by legal right or otherwise.

Being part of a community bestows identity as well as a sense of well-being because of the awareness of being part of a bigger whole. When some event happens, let’s say a disaster, then there is solace in knowing that we are not alone. There is comfort in knowing that we are all sailing in the same boat and others are working to help us.

This is why refugees so desperately seek to have citizenship status, so that they can become part and parcel of a country. They look for the care and concern that comes from being part of a nation. They seek the covering that comes from being part of a people. They yearn for the fellowship and friendship that comes from belonging to a community. They want a life that is solid and established instead of living on the margin of it.

Citizenship confers identity and recognition as people who have rights and legal standing. They are no longer nameless or lumped together as refugees, but exist in a sovereign state where they can carve out a life for themselves. Citizenship gives them security and settlement so that they are no longer aliens or wanderers.

In the Bible, Israel was birthed as a nation when they were delivered from bondage out of Eygpt and received God’s laws at Sinai. They became an acknowledged and accepted sovereign state only when they settled down and were established in a land. They were constituted as a nation and acquired an identity as a people only when they were rooted in a place and belonged to it.

Ancient India was made up of a number of disjointed states and kingdoms, becoming a united nation only after independence. A common flag, a code of conduct and a declaration provided statehood. Being a nation or state brings unity and imparts a sense of belonging and identity as a community.

Being part of a community and to savor the privileges of belonging is an essential need of the human psyche. Human beings need companionship, to belong and be together with others. One of the tenets and traits of the postmodern era is the need to be part of a group. That’s why, more than ever before, people are willing to adopt all sorts of behaviour or habits just to be ‘part of the crowd.’

In Eph 2:19-20 we read that: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In I Cor we read that we have all been baptized to become one body, one people and one community.

The scriptures is clear that all who believe and call on the name of Jesus have been amalgamated into one new humanity, beyond the trappings and confining of caste, creed, color etc. As believers, we have an identity as the people of God living on this earth as the representatives and witnesses of heaven, bonding to live life together as His family and His household. The Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian church that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened so as to grasp the riches of His glorious inheritance in His people.

However, many who are born again and baptized in Christ live as aliens, full of an orphan spirit. They move around without no sense of identity since they lack community comprehension. They have no consciousness of the fellowship that comes with being a disciple of Christ. They wander around as refugees, feeling alienated and left out in this world.

The reason for this is two-fold: Either they are ignorant of the fact because they have not been taught of what they inherited in Christ; or they have rejected the fellowship of the saints since it involves responsibility and accountability . The former can be realigned and restored by proper teaching, but the latter are to be pitied since they have no understanding of the riches that identification with a community of faith brings.

Every one who is born of God must live as the beloved Sons and Daughters of the Most High. They need to have an understanding of the family they are part of and the entitlement that comes with bearing His Name.

Unfortunately, many are yet to grasp that they are citizens of the Kingdom of God, the apple of His eye and the people of His love. They are yet to recognise and realize their rights in Christ, the freedom that is their birthright and the authority that is theirs in Christ. They live as orphans, outcasts and ostracized, not as those who are the hope of the whole world.

Statelessness is real in His Church and among His people. Many a person in His Body walks around with the wounds of being aliens and castaways. Being aware of the need for a community of faith is core to living a purposeful life on earth. Being identified with a local family of God will purge the sense of lostness and abandonment in these times. Being committed and dedicated to the Body of Christ, the church of the Living God is of utmost importance in all seasons and turns of life.

Many people of God die, as Sir Walter Scott says (in his poem Breathes there a Man with soul so dead), Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung, because they are stateless ie, not part of a local community of faith or the church of the Lord, sometimes by ignorance but often by choice!

*Read my piece on https://sabinatagoreimmanuel.com/2020/07/30/promoting-symbiosis-during-covid/

*Pics courtesy google images