Sunday, December 20, 2015

Losing one's faith -- and finding Christ?

R.E.M. - "Losing my religion"

John Janaro, author of "Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy" (highly recommended) has this beautiful blog post up: "An Open Letter to My Dear Former Students."

Read it!
Some people have left the Church. I know that. You have found that the old inspiring speeches and the charge of "Instaurare Omnia in Christo" and even a solid (but by no means complete) education have been inadequate for the complexity of the world you now live in. And the questions of life are larger than you had realized. 
I'm sorry, of course. At a college, we can only do the best we can with educating and building up a constructive environment. We teachers and administrators have our own idiosyncracies [sic] and limits. We are sinners. Please forgive us. 
But there is nothing in this world that can address the complexities and answer the questions that are not just intellectual but that constitute the depths of you as a person. Only Jesus can do that. The real Jesus: that tremendous Person who loves each of us with a wild and unpredictable love. 
Sometimes when people "lose the faith," they are actually going through a phase of life in which what they're really "losing" are their own reductionist ideas. They are finding that it's not enough to know philosophy or theology as a collection of logically connected terms. It's not enough to have ideas about God. They are finding that they cannot live life with a mere conception of God, Christ, and the Church that is devoid of mystery, relationship, and the freedom of love. 
We can become disoriented when we are stripped of our illusory images and false self-confidence. But we can also allow a space to open up within us where the Mysterious One who is beyond-all-things can really begin to speak. We can rediscover Jesus and what it means to belong to Him in the Church.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A trip to the post office ... and down memory lane!

Things have been settling down to a routine in my new surroundings enough for me to design and print my Christmas card. Vistaprint's Indian website had attractive rates and superfast delivery. Today, I took the first bunch to the central Post Office in Baroda in Raopura, figuring this would give the mail a little bit of a heads up on its trek back to the US.

Selling postage stamps is only a tiny part of what goes on at an Indian post-office. Minuscule part, actually. None of the windows actually said anything resembling "stamps." It turns out that these are sold at the "Information and Facilitation" window. The rest are for customers of the Post Office Savings Bank, Life Insurance and other such products.

"We Committed to Quality Services"
(Once. It didn't work out though ... Heh) 

Friday, December 11, 2015


Presidential hopeful Donald Trump's remarks on Muslim immigration ("a total and complete shutdown on all Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on") have sparked a firestorm. I shared my thoughts on Facebook a few days back (with a vigorous discussion ensuing in the combox).

Much to my astonishment, Catholics whose ideas I normally appreciated and valued, were supporting this proposal: no, it wasn't unconstitutional, the President has the authority to restrict the entrance of aliens (the legal term for non-citizens), and it was prudent in light of national security. Islam really only leads to violent jihad. The only good Muslim is a jihadi who kills infidels. The Qu'ran says so clearly. All Muslims therefore are potential terrorists. If it prevents only one terrorist (or potentially radicalized terrorist) from killing one American, it would be worth it.

I am not going to attempt to respond to these arguments here. Here I simply want to envision how things might look if Mr. Trump's proposal actually came to pass, that is, if the United States actually enacted legislation that barred any non-American adherent of the Islamic religion from being admitted to the country, until we "figure out what is going on" (Presumably this is not a short time period. The War on Terror is, after all, a long term war.)

Consular officials in a vast swathe of countries in Asia and Africa now no longer have any major work, since the vast majority of the populace is no longer eligible for a U.S. immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.

The Department of Homeland Security is hiring extra staff for a variety of tasks: printing up a whole set of new forms, for instance, with space for a new category: religion. New personnel are being trained to enforce removal proceedings of a vast number of people already in the United States whose admissibility has been revoked. Muslim visitors, students and businessmen currently within the U.S. have been given 30 days to leave. Universities, while lamenting the state of affairs vehemently, are not refunding foreign Muslim students for tuition and other expenses already paid. Some enterprising lawyers are putting together a class action lawsuit. Muslim Legal Permanent Residents (those with "green cards," i.e. immigrants), as well as asylees, and refugees, have been given 90 days within which to pack up their affairs and voluntarily remove themselves from the US. No exception has been made for Americans married to non-American Muslims. Those who had applied for naturalization before the day the law went into effect are permitted to continue. The rest are out of luck.

Let's look at the aviation industry. Several major airlines have stopped flying to the U.S.: Qatar, Kuwait, Gulf Air, Saudia, Garuda Indonesia, Royal Jordanian, Etihad, Emirates, PIA etc. Their crews are almost entirely Muslim. Airlines of other countries (Air India, British Airways, KLM, Malaysian Airlines, Qantas, Air Canada) are now devoting resources to ensure that no Muslims are scheduled to work on flights to the US.

Ordinarily, it is the responsibility of airlines to make sure that passengers have the necessary documents for legal admittance to their destination. An airline faces stiff fines, and has to fly the inadmissible person back at its own cost, if it makes a mistake in this area. Airlines are spending heavily to train gate agents, check-in agents, supervisors, customer service personnel, ticketing agents, etc. to properly identify Muslim travelers from countries whose citizens do not ordinarily need a visa to travel to the U.S. for short visits. Extra Customs & Border Patrol officers are being sent to key airports overseas to help airlines with this complicated task, even elsewhere. What if a Muslim Indian has a valid 10-year visitors visa issued years ago? She should be identified and barred, before she gets on the plane! In most places, airlines are setting up separate check-in counters for travelers to the United States, so that their religion can be properly identified.

It is the first day after the new U.S. law has gone into effect. Let's imagine the scene at a major airport somewhere in the world. A vast crowd is milling around the newly labeled check-in counters for the flight of a major airline to the U.S. Large signs point travelers to a "Religion Identification Area." A separate counter has been designated for U.S. citizens. Various posters are taped to pillars and kiosks everywhere, with the new U.S. policy explained: "Under U.S law, if you are not a U.S citizen, and are a member of the Muslim religion, you may not enter the United States." At the entrance to the airport is a large banner: "Please note: Muslims not allowed into US."

A harried check-in agent, flanked by a nervous supervisor, and a U.S. CBP official, talks to passengers as they approach the counter in the Religion Identification Area.

Agent: Name?
Passenger: Usman Abdul.
Agent: Religion?
Passenger (Hesitates): Muslim.
Agent: Sorry Mr. Abdul, you cannot board the flight.
Passenger: But I am going to visit my brother's family! I go every year!
Passenger: Sorry Mr. Abdul.

Agent: Name?
Passenger: Sara Suleiman, with my daughter Fatima and son Daniel.
Agent: Religion?
Passenger: Christian.
Agent: Really?
Passenger: Yes. Well, you see, I grew up Muslim, but I accepted Jesus some time ago.
(Agent looks to CBP official)
Agent: Do you have any proof?
Passenger: Umm. You know, most of my family don't know that I converted. It would be very difficult. So I didn't register anywhere. I just go to the church. Here, I can call the Pastor.
CBP Official: M'am, under the new guideliens, we need written proof of religion. Acceptable documents, when there is a doubt, are a baptism certificate, a letter from a recognized leader in an organization recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. I'm afraid I cannot let you board the flight.

Agent: Name?
Passengers: Samir Nasser
Agent: Religion?
Passengers: Maronite.
Agent: (confused pause -- looks to CBP official)
CBP official (consults iPad and frowns): Christian? With that name?
Passenger: Yes! Would you like me to recite the Our Father?

Agent: Names?
Passengers: Ahmed and Reshma Khan, with sons Imran (10) and Mohammed (7)
Agent: Religion?
Passenger: I'm Muslim, she's Hindu.
Agent: She can travel. I'm afraid you cannot, sir. What religion do the children profess?

Agent: Name?
Passenger: David Coleman Headley
Agent: Oh, go right ahead sir. 

Yes. This is what will make America great again.

(Samir Nasser is actually a Maronite Archbishop. As to David Headley -- there's a tale. He's in there at the end for dramatic effect. In the envisioned scenario, as an American citizen, he wouldn't be subject to this scrutiny.)