Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year, New Life

Published in The Fiji Times, 30th December, 2009

The week between the Christmas and New Year's holidays often seem like a holiday in itself, even if you have not taken leave during this period. There are only three working days between December 25, 2009 and January 1, 2010.

For some these days are lost in a haze of continuing (or bridging) celebrations, recovery periods (including "sick-leave") and work where many of us just go through the motions between 8am and 4.30pm (or 9 to 5), passing the time between extended morning and afternoon teas, lunches and "knock-off time," which marks the start of the next evening's frivolities, fara, talanoa and sigi drigi sessions.

Given the above scenarios, it could be assumed that the majority of readers may miss the significance of this transitional period.
We stand at the threshold of the last year of the first decade of the twenty-first century. As the vast majority of humanity peers into the glass darkly to behold their visions or dreams of the future we are given many awesome images of what may lie ahead in the second decade of the third millennium of western (or northern) civilisation.

Doom-dealers tout cataclysmic events for 2012 in terms of the planet, while, given that western/ northern civilisation itself is in great decline, it looks more likely that the disasters and upheavals of the very near future are going to be economic, social and political on a global scale.
Established power structures that have been oppressing humanity for millennia through economic, social and ideological control and have refused to heed the winds of change may very well find themselves outsiders of the very "global village" that they created.

But to these oppressive structures are also tied prejudice, violence, greed, intolerance, suspicion and exploitation which are rooted in fear, which itself is the absence (or lack) of love. These fear-based social behaviours (for they are not a natural instinct of humanity) will also face upheaval, as the "mountains are made plain and the low places raised up."(Isaiah 40:4).

So it is important that as we prepare to enter into the "unknown" we should all take a moment from being very busy doing nothing and as a collective consciousness, a people, a nation, release the negativity that we have encountered and focus on positive intentions for the year we are about to begin. This means that our focus must be centred, our intentions unified and we must realised that a house divided cannot stand. To understand this we do not have to turn to philosophy or politics but simply look at the natural law evident in creation, of which we are a part. There is no such thing as independence in nature - all living things exist in a symbiotic relationship.

This means that if we wish to look out for ourselves, we must also look out for others. Our New Year's resolutions must not merely focus on the self but on the other.
It is not enough to commit to stewardship of our personal and family finances, we must also commit to the effective stewardship of the natural resources around us, which we depend on. Our plans for the future must take into account that we exist and identify ourselves in relation to everything around us.

This means we are called to not only take care of our individual needs, but also to examine our "wants" in terms of the needs of the whole community, the country and the planet.
To do this we have to dispel the fear that envelopes us and causes us to be greedy, intolerant, oppressive, violent and suspicious and instead embrace the unconditional love which unites us.
We begin to do this when we realise that each one of us, regardless of our social or economic status, our religion or ethnicity, is born naked and in need of warmth, food and shelter. Each one of us has the capacity to receive and transmit love.

Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."

The other day, I heard a song by Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye which had the following lyrics: "You are everything and everything is you."

We may be of different religions and ideologies, different ethnicities and different cultures, but we have one heart.

Whoever we are, our hearts beat with the same rhythm.

As we enter 2010 let us remember that each one of us lives with the same rhythm.

In 2010 let us each listen to that rhythm and follow it. In doing so, we will all be moving to one rhythm; we will be one people; one country, one planet.

Only then can we release the negativity that is holding us back and share in the positivity that propels us forward.

May 2010 be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity.

* This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Padre Bhagwan is affiliated with or this newspaper.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Spiritual Significance of Christmas

The Significance of Christmas is known to humanity all over the world. Though it is true that Christmas is celebrated as the day of the Birth of Christ into this world, yet it also symbolizes a very deeply significant truth of the spiritual life. Jesus Christ is the very personification of Divinity. He was born at a time when ignorance, superstition, greed, hatred and hypocrisy prevailed upon the land. Purity was forgotten and morality was neglected.

In the midst of these conditions, Christ was born and He worked a transformation in the lives of people. He gave a new and a spiritual turn to the lives of man. There came a change upon the land. People started upon a new way of life. Thus a new era dawned for the world.

In that period the seeker has no thought of God or higher spiritual life. He lives a life of lust, anger, greed, deluded attachment, pride and jealousy. If the seeker must enter into a new life of spiritual aspiration, purity and devotion, then the Christ-spirit must take its birth within his heart. That is the real Christmas when the Divine element begins to express itself in the heart of humanity. From then onward, light begins to shine where darkness was before.

A very small, but very beautiful, point of deep significance is attached to Christmas. It is the time and the manner of the birth of the Lord upon the holy Christmas day. Jesus Christ was not born in a grand palace. He was not born to very wealthy or learned parents. Jesus Christ was born in a simple lowly place, a corner of a stable. He was born to humble and poor parents, who had nothing to boast about, except their own spotless character and holiness.

The above point of deep significance tells that the spiritual awakening comes to the seeker, who is perfectly humble and "meek" and "poor in spirit." The quality of true humility is one of the indispensable fundamentals. Then we find simplicity, holiness and the renunciation of all desire for worldly wealth and pride of learning. Thirdly, even as Christ was born unknown to the world and in the obscurity of darkness, even so, the advent of the Christ-spirit takes place in the inwardness of humanity when there is total self-effacement self-abnegation.

The Gift of Love

Published in The Fiji Times - Wednesday 23rd December, 2009

Many of us are approaching the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in different ways. With the school holidays underway and a four-day weekend ahead, even those who are not of the Christian faith find Christmas as a time for families to come together.

Among those who consider themselves Christians, yet are not regular Church-goers, Christmas is one day when an effort is made to attend a church service.

Earlier this week I ventured into town to face the hordes of Christmas shoppers, looking for gifts and bargains. Yet this Christmas, in the light of Cyclone Mick last week, many are struggling just to get by, with the focus not on luxuries or toys but on food and essentials, in the back of everyone's minds lies the new year and the necessary school fees, books and uniforms for children.

Away from the specials and the glitz, the material face of Christmas, there is a message of the greatest gift of all, the gift of love. For Christians, we celebrate the gift of God's love for humankind with the incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus the Christ.

Perhaps as we find ourselves struggling to celebrate in a manner we are used to, we can find strength that the Son of God, entered this world as a fragile baby, born into poverty and within days of His birth became a persecuted refugee.

As we meet our friends, relatives, workmates and acquaintances we wish them a "Merry Christmas". In fact we are doing much more than just wishing them season's greetings. We are bestowing on them a blessing of joy and peace. This blessing is described by the great Satchmo, Louis Armstrong in the song "What a Wonderful World": I see friends walking by, saying "How do you do?" They're really saying, "I love you."

In all that this country has been through in the past 39 years of independence, the one thing that has held it together, when the forces that divide have tried their best to conquer, has been that love has overcome fear.

One evening this week as I caught up with some old and dear friends, the talanoa (discussion) for some time focussed on the two major forces in this world, love and fear. Anger, hate, jealousy, suspicion all stem from fear and can only be dispelled by love. The Greek term agape used by many Christians refers to an unconditional love.

When we share our love with each other, we dispel all the fear that gets in the way of us living together in harmony. When we love each other as human beings and brothers and sisters, fellow children of this land, we bind ourselves together with an unbreakable bond.

On Monday evening members of the Dudley Methodist Church visited Mahaffy Girls Home in Suva to spread some Christmas cheer by singing carols. The home is just off Domain Rd yet not as well known as Dilkusha or St. Christopher's homes. It was truly wonderful to see the faces of the young women, who are given shelter there, light up as we sang messages of hope and love.

On Tuesday morning, I joined some of the team of Operation Christmas Child - Samaritan's Purse to deliver Christmas presents to the children living in the Nanuku squatter settlement in Vatuwaqa.

This year just over 270 gifts, in shoeboxes packed by children of New Zealand - which included something to play with, something to wear, books, toiletries and stationery, brought smiles to the faces of the children who would otherwise not have received anything for Christmas.

In this poverty stricken area, where most of the things we take for granted are precious commodities, the acts of love by children far away, for children they may quite possibly never meet, was overwhelming. 10 year old Prashneel, jumped for joy when he opened his "shoebox" to find among the items, a hat, which was his Christmas prayer come true.

This Christmas, there is one gift that costs nothing to give. It is a gift that increases each time you transfer it to someone else.

It is something that we all yearn for and yet we all have in abundance. It is a gift of positivity. It is the most powerful gift you can ever give. It is love.

This Christmas my gift to you and for you to share is for you to know that you are loved. Christmas is celebrating the gift of God, in whose image we are all equally made and who loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for our sins and give us hope, not just in eternal life, but hope in each other. Each small act of kindness and friendliness brings us as nation and as humanity closer together and to the planet we inhabit.

If you are looking for somewhere to celebrate the birth of the Christ, you are welcome to join us at Dudley Church (corner of Amy St, and Toorak Rd) on Christmas Day at 9am.

May your Christmas be blessed with love, light, peace and joy.

* This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with or this newspaper. Visit the Blog- or email

Friday, December 18, 2009

Change for the environment

Published in The Fiji Times - Friday, December 18, 2009

In a talanoa session at the Pacific Conference of Churches, a few weeks ago, the point was made that perhaps we need to look beyond the issue of climate change and start focusing our attention on ecological or environmental change.

Climate change is focused on the impact of carbon emissions: global warming, rising sea levels and temperatures, El Nino and La Nina. Ecological or environmental change shifts the focus to the effects of climate change: the destruction of whole eco-systems that are part of the web of life for all who live on this planet. This puts into perspective the important task of our representatives currently in Copenhagen who are lobbying for binding and lasting commitments to address climate change as well as the effect on Pacific Islanders. It also helps us understand why we should start facing the reality that life on this planet is changing beyond just the political, economic and social worlds.

As the temperature of the water changes by just a degree, whole species of marine life are wiped out, beginning a chain reaction that leads all the way up the food chain to the larger marine life as well as humans. The qoliqoli is affected. It becomes more difficult for the fisherman to catch his fish, leading him to perhaps having to go further out, fish for longer, or even look to other ways of feeding his family. As the sea-level rises, the land disappears. We will not only have displaced people from low-lying islands such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, but also those who live on the low-lying islands and those living along the coasts of the islands of our own country will also be displaced and forced to migrate further inland. Those living by rivers and delta areas, who are already susceptible to flash flooding from torrential rain, will find this a regular part of their lives.
Reflecting on the flooding earlier this year, the devastation of the tsunami in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, in the wake of Cyclone Mick this week and with the expectation of even more cyclones to come, one cannot help but feel that mother Earth is crying out to us, warning us that if we continue to treat her in such a manner, then we will reap what we sow, a very bitter fruit indeed.

In her article in Wednesday's Fiji Times (16/12), Matelita Ragogo described both the Pacific delegations hoped for outcomes as well as the areas in which the negotiations are struggling. In the article there is also a sense that we, of oceania but more so, of Fiji must not rely on the decisions and agreements, if any, from the Copenhagen climate change talks to be the only way in which climate change can be addressed.

What steps are we taking in Fiji to ensure the protection of our ecosystems, the delicate web of life to which we belong, and for the most, take for granted?

How can we call for the developed and industrialised nations to cut carbon emissions when our buses and taxis continue to belch out black smoke from their exhausts?

Will we be able to maintain the balance of our CO? emissions if we keep cutting down our forests or the trees and shrubs in our compound without replanting?

Many of us tend to think that having too many trees and plants in our yards are untidy, neglecting the important work that the process of life for trees, photosynthesis, does for us by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. I am not suggesting that we all go "bush" and let everything go wild, but let us try at least to put the future of the planet ahead of our beautification and development projects.

Perhaps every urban community, suburb and town or city needs to establish a small natural reserve where plants are free to grow. It is not too late for more communities to actively engage in the "Triple Rs" of reducing, re-using and recycling its waste. It is not too late for all of us to cut down our use of plastic bags while finding ways of recycling or responsibly disposing of them.

As we are about a week away from the day where Christians celebrate the "Greatest Gift of All," the birth of Jesus the Christ, God incarnated in humanity, let us think about the gifts we are giving.

At a time when many in our country are struggling to shelter, feed, clothe and educate their families without the complications of natural disasters; what can we who have in sufficiency or abundance give to those who lack?

And what can we, including those of us living in poverty, give to our planet that, despite the abusive way we treat it, continues to nurture us?

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, peace and the strength to overcome the challenges you face.
* This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Rev. is affiliated with or this newspaper.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peace for the Girl Child

Published in The Fiji Times on Thursday December 10, 2009.

Last week I had the pleasure of being a judge at the Responsible Fatherhood Photography Competition which is part of Fathers and Daughters – Together in Development project of the Foundation of Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSPI). Displayed at the Fiji Centre for the Arts (the home of the Fiji Arts Council) on Waimanu Road, an awesome place, the exhibition consisted of professional and amateur photographs of fathers and daughters interacting. Photographs focused on Committed and responsible fatherhood and care-giving towards daughters, portraying active fatherhood by being positive mentors and inspiring daughters to greater life achievements with the view to demand greater accountability from other fathers to carry out their roles responsibly and ethically.

In the lead up to today’s 61st Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the culmination of the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and with crimes against the girl-child recently coming to the fore in the media, this competition and exhibition addressed the role of fathers in the nurturing and development of their daughters.
As parents to both a boy and a girl, my wife Maelin and I often share with each other our hopes and fears regarding bringing up little children. To be honest, I struggled to contain my outrage when I heard of little Sadikuini Yalewavukivuki being murdered by her father in a ritualistic sacrifice to "save his district spiritually", the murder four-year-old Mereseini Burelevu in Beqa and the sexual abuse and murder of toddler Unise Tareguci. Then there are the cases of forced marriages of under-aged girls.
I recently came across a 2006 report for UNICEF on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child. The report, compiled Ms. Shamima Ali of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, focused on Violence against the girl child in the Pacific Islands region. The report highlighted that as a consequence of vulnerabilities of the girl child to violence, there were high numbers of girl children engaged in child labour, higher health-risks for the girl child, low self-esteem and psychological damage among girls, higher risk of sexual abuse among girls, and higher rates of commercial sexual exploitation of girls. The vulnerabilities include gender inequality in socialization; discriminatory application of “custom”; early and forced marriage; and social change and poverty.

At nearly four years old, my little Antonia is a princess in her own world. She loves to dress up and do all the “girly” things. Her favourite colour is pink. But she will inherit a legacy from her grandmother, mother and aunts of strong women who advocate gender equality as an essential expression of human dignity. She wants to be a ballerina but insisted that daddy make her a Wonder Woman costume for the Library Week character parade this year. It is a constant struggle to maintain a balance between nurturing this fiercely independent soul; encouraging to enjoy her femininity while at the same time trying to ensure that I do not enforce stereotypical attitudes of women; that I am not an overbearing father who cages his daughter while at the same time wanting to protect her from the violence in this world.

According to UNICEF, “Emotional abuse is an extremely prevalent form of child maltreatment.”
Violence permeates all levels of society and is not limited to physical violence. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Mental violence has no potency and injures only the person whose thoughts are violent. It is otherwise with mental non-violence. It has potency which the world does not yet know.”
Next year, 2010, will be the final year of the Decade to Overcome Violence, the World Council of Churches initiative to call all the world’s people to engage in violence prevention, the pursuit of justice and peacemaking. The Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace will be one of the culminating points of the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) by the end of 2010.It will be International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica in 2011.

In 2008 the DOV initiative focused on the Pacific region. According to World Health Organisation statistics, injuries and violence cause an estimated 1.2 million deaths annually, or nearly 3300 deaths every day, with suicides, traffic accidents and drowning accounting for the majority of cases. The top five causes of injury deaths in the Region in 2000 were self-inflicted injury or suicide (approximately 318 000 deaths per year), road traffic accidents (292 000), drowning (137 000), falls (109 000) and poisoning (73 000). Over 93% of injuries in the Western Pacific Region occur in low-and middle-income countries, involving the 5-44 year age group in particular. Violence against women is often committed by husbands or intimate male partners. Physical violence in intimate relationships is often accompanied by psychological abuse. One third to over one half of cases of physical violence are accompanied by sexual abuse. Drink-driving and domestic violence related to alcohol consumption is a growing problem. Suicide is believed to be a hidden problem (undocumented).

The following prayer, titled Atua of Peace was written by M. Aunoa of American Samoa as a contribution to Decade of Violence focus on the Pacific:
Atua of peace, allow us to drink from the tanoa of Your peace, Right the course of our canoes to overcome the currents of violence, hatred, war, abuse, Give us peace of being at rest, so that peace prevails over any wind that gusts through our islands,Tattoo in our hearts Your righteousness and purity,Through all cultures and walks of life, we pray as instruments of Peace and as the people of Pasifika.

“The violence done us by others is often less painful than that which we do to ourselves,” wroteFrançois de la Rochefoucauld.

May the rest of your week be blessed with the love, light and peace of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Rev. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as Librarian/Assistant Lecturer (Theology & Ethics) at Davuilevu Theological College and as an Associate Minister at Dudley Methodist Church in Toorak, Suva.
All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

One Step at a Time

Published in The Fiji Times, Friday 4th December, 2009 (p12, 15)

In preparation for my sermon for this Sunday (7.30am Dudley Church, all welcome or listen to the broadcast at 10am on Radio Fiji One), I happened to come across some “Off the Wall” articles from the previous year. In an article written for New Year’s Eve 2008, I noted that the United Nations had declared 2009 to be the International Year of Reconciliation, calling on societies that have been divided by conflict to adopt reconciliation processes in order to establish firm and lasting peace.

Last New Year’s Eve, I invited the people of Fiji commit ourselves to playing our part in creating a firm and lasting peace in Fiji. It was a cry for us to renew our trust in ourselves and in others; to forgive and respect others. It was a call for a commitment that required no international monitors; a commitment in which you set the time line. It was a call to a commitment to which only you and God know that you are being faithful. Nevertheless it was a call to a commitment which everyone could make.

Less than a week away from the conclusion of the 16 days of activism for the elimination of violence against women and the commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the saddest realisations remains that the majority of people in Fiji, who consider themselves Christians find themselves struggling to accept their responsibility as agents of reconciliation and peace. Even though biblically, all Christians are called to commit to the message of reconciliation: “All this is from God, who reconciled himself to us through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

On Wednesday afternoon I was walking through downtown Suva, when I noticed a commotion ahead of me. As is our habit in Fiji, I decided to “avorosa” and find out what the fuss was all about. Upon enquiry by those who had witnessed the whole event, I learned that a destitute woman, unkept and unwashed, had been refused entry onto a bus even though she had the required bus fare. Those to whom she turned, for a sympathetic hearing and in the expectation of support did not, in spite of their uniform, enforce her right to travel on the bus. By the time I reached the spot the bus had departed and the crowd was dispersing.

It occurred to me that perhaps we have missed a significant step in our attempts at reconciliation. We have thus far only looked at reconciliation between two major communities in Fiji. We have neglected to reconcile the various factions and divisions within those communities. Divisions based on religion, social status, economic situation, culture and perspective. How can we expect reconciliation between neighbours when there is conflict within the home? How do we successfully inculcate a culture of gender, racial and social equality when we continue to hold on to prejudice that has been ingrained over generations and that we are indirectly passing on to the next generation.

Perhaps we have been conditioned by the use of the word, “Division”. Our country is split into four geographical divisions for government administation. The Methodist Church has 51 divisions, including a Rotuman, a Rabi and an Indian Division. We are constantly divided by ethnicity, gender, age and sexual orientation. We are a people who have well and truly been divided and conquered. What is worse, we continue to divide ourselves.

I have come across a number of interpretations of “Reconciliation.” From the traditional, culturally-based rituals, to special events where groups perform items from a different culture, too often we rush through the motions. Observing protocols and rituals that only hold significance on the surface, with no lasting change made. This underlines the failure of superficial acts of public forgiveness in Fiji in the recent past which had no effect in terms of national reconciliation because the on most occasions groups petitioning for and granting forgiveness did not include wrongdoers, who were unrepentant or victims who were not willing to forgive. The symbolism in cases such as these proved to be empty.

The dilemma of forgiveness and justice is also an important issue. In his book, Forgiveness and Christian Ethics, Anthony Bash makes the point that forgiveness is a moral response to wrongdoing and that it is an interpersonal phenomenon, not possible on a corporate level. From a Christian perspective, understanding forgiveness as a moral ideal rather than a moral duty helps Christians in their struggle to forgive even the unrepentant and to find consolation when after striving to forgive, they find that they are unable to do so.

Forgiveness is an ideal; a moral response to wrongdoing. As a Christian, forgiveness for me is a response to God's grace and in participation of the ministry of reconciliation. Yet I recognise that forgiveness is also a struggle by victims who yearn for justice. After all it is very difficult for the oppressed, dressed in rags and with an empty stomach to forgive the well-dressed, well-fed oppressor. Ultimately, though, forgiveness is a core element of the greater good.

In our context the issue of forgiveness and reconciliation has been compounded by the fact that due to our pluralistic society, often the wrongdoer and the victim have different religious and cultural understandings of forgiveness, repentance, atonement and justice. This raises the question of how interpersonal or even any attempt at corporate forgiveness can take place between people who hold to different theologies and cultural practices.

Reconciliation is about restoration of relationship, not return to the status quo. Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness, which in turn requires an acknowledgement of responsibility and generosity of heart.

On Monday and Tuesday this week I was fortunate to attend a Retreat for Ministers, Pastors and Deaconesses working in the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. Held at Nasikawa Vision College, the Retreat included sessions with Rev. Baek, a Methodist Minister from South Korea and an inspiring speaker. Late on Monday evening, I climbed up the steep hill that leads to the Vision College’s chapel. As looked out to the ocean and watched the waves crashing on the reef in the light of the setting sun, I reflected on the huffing and puffing that it took me to climb the many steps to reach the summit and the resulting view.

The goal of a reconciled and compassionate society of free and equal citizens may seem to many of us like the peak of Mount Everest, far away and seemingly out of reach. But with each step we get a little closer. Our personal commitment to taking a step forward at a time, no matter how difficult the terrain or how steep the climb, is necessary to achieving this goal. It is a goal that must be achieved collectively or not at all. There is no such thing as half of a reconciled and compassionate society of free and equal citizens.

May you continue to be blessed with light, love, peace and joy this Advent season.

Rev. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as Librarian/Assistant Lecturer (Theology & Ethics) at Davuilevu Theological College and as an Associate Minister at Dudley Methodist Church in Toorak, Suva.
All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with. Visit the Blog- or email