As for my trip up to Varanasi my connecting flight back to Chennai means a stop over in Mumbai.
Thanks to my hosts I got a beautiful, if brief, look at the city – home of Bollywood stars … the playground of India. It was a lovely evening, the temperature was 29 degrees and there was a lovely cool breeze. It is hard to say what influences our impressions of a place. It may be because the city still bears so many marks of British architecture and culture, but it just instantly seemed like a welcoming city (unless you take the train during rush hour when you have to literally push people on so that you can get in.)
As I sit in the very modern Mumbai airport (having missed my flight I’ve got lots of time until the next one 🙁 ) I am reflecting on why Mumbai ‘feels’ like a great city. I really enjoyed my time in Varansai but do wonder if, however subconscious, it felt more ‘Eastern’ than southern India. It was sooo humid – one of the reasons why GB is doing so well in the Olympics is that I picked up a haul of medals myself in the sweating category; occasionally I reached a stage when I wanted my whole shirt to be wet and then the big dark blotches wouldn’t stand out. So perhaps, with globalisation, it is just that Mumbai feels more western, more familar.
The ‘Gateway to India’ (below) was made to mark the visit of George V in 1911. With poignant significance the very last battallion of British troops stationed in India marched through the arch before embarking for dear ol’ blighty in 1948. Britain left India nearly 70 years ago and yet the western (mostly American) influence is gaining momentum, fast. The church in India faces a generational divide very similar to the UK. Even in villages in the north the way people dress betrays that influence – young people in jeans and t-shirts, older people in traditional dress.
This is an interesting issue when it comes to the church. I hear two opposite opinions when it comes to the future. Some say that we need to stress the eastern origins of Christianity in order to combat the perception of it as a ‘white man’s religion’. However, others say that this is not a real issue for the younger generation. In fact the night clubbing, Bollywood world of Mumbai views western influences as aspirational.
This leaves a lot of questions. Another book I am reading is The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins – currently he is stressing that Christianity, historically, can be classified as neither eastern nor western. Therefore I think it is important that we help people to understand that. The gospel transcends all cultures. Nevertheless it is always found in a particular culture. The incarnation demands that we ‘move into the neighbourhood’. Therefore the church must not try to become cultureless (some kind of global brand) but rather as we express it in our own culture find ways to make it clear that the gospel speaks across all cultures and no one nation or people group ‘owns’ it. In a multi-cultural church like RLBC we have a great opportunity to put this into practice. Let’s strive to become a church where we believe in one gospel but no one feels that they have to lose all of their cultural identity in doing so. In order to remain a united community this will inevitably involve some assimilation (by everyone, Brits included) and some celebration of diversity.