Design experiments with a Word Cloud of John 15 – Part 1

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I still haven’t gotten round to reading up on typography. In order to make things easier and have some preset typography, I created a Word cloud using the amazing site Wordle. It allows to you to choose your colour set, create the cloud with the words going vertically or horizontally or as a mix. And then, for editing I made use of another amazing site – PicMonkey.

I still haven’t finished going through their entire collection. Hope you enjoy Part 1.


On Activism…

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What determines the impact of what we do? There are varying schools of thoughts on how involved we should be in creating an impact on the world. Yes, the world and future generations is the largest umbrella that we can think of currently on which the sphere of our influence can extend.

There were people like Napoleon, who influenced the political and social climate of an entire continent, primarily for his self – seeking end to be proclaimed an Emperor. History was lucky, that along with ambition and supreme military skill, he was blessed with good sense. His legal reform in France, the Napoleonic Code, has influenced many civil law jurisdictions worldwide. But his cause was himself.

And then there were people like Mahatma Gandhi. Known as the Father of the nation, he was instrumental in winning Swaraj through his non-violent methods. He led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, building religious and ethnic amity and ending untouchability. A nation was delivered, 350 million people now had the freedom to choose their own destiny. Because one man was relentless unto death in his belief that the miscarriage of justice must be stopped.

We also have people like Jonas Salk, who discovered the Polio vaccine. Wikipedia says his desire was to help humankind in general rather than single patients. When he undertook a project to determine the different types of Polio virus, he saw an opportunity to make his dream come true – to help human kind, by developing a vaccine against Polio. He devoted seven years to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit. When he was asked in a televised interview who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk replied: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

On a smaller scale, we have people like Terry Fox. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated, he embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres , and ultimately cost him his life, his efforts resulted in a lasting, worldwide legacy. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries and is now the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research. A legacy that will benefit thousands of others started because Terry understood what it meant to have cancer.

A vast majority of us go through life with minor inconveniences. Rarely are we ever faced with a gross miscarriage of justice like apartheid or communalism or racism or even poverty. We go through life with a decent home, a fairly decent education and usually a decent married life. The quest to provide a secure future for ourselves and our dependents being the only cause that drives our life. Some of us do have our pet causes, promoting sports in schools, promoting reading in the community, volunteering with NGOs at blind schools, something that brings fulfillment to our lives as we go to bed every night. Something that makes us feel good that we have given something back to society for all the good that we have enjoyed.

I guess we can term it as a hobby. We can attend to it when we have the time and convenience. The matters of everyday life always claiming precedence. How can we do otherwise? How many weekends can I sacrifice? How many night vigils can I keep? For how long? How many government offices will I visit? How many department officials shall I see? I have a life to live and cannot give that up for what maybe a lost cause. And the streets remain unsafe, the women remain targeted, the disabled remain ignored and the exploited remain less-than-human. Till someone in my own family becomes a victim. And the pain becomes real. And the air of apathy unbelievable. How can one live with such injustice?

What can I do? Am I being an irresponsible citizen by not jumping on the bandwagon of the first worthy cause that comes to town? Am I guilty of handing down an oppressive and unsafe world to my children? I don’t think so. The deep rooted feeling of pain and hurt at the injustices we see around us is testament to the fact that we were all created in an image that was modeled on someone that was intrinsically and morally just. The hardness of the world has done its bit in dehumanizing us, yet like in Jean Valjean, there exists a chink in every hardened heart through which the light of virtue can filter through and perhaps transform us into real human beings.

This light we must allow to infiltrate our lives. This light of hope, of goodness, of mercy. We are teachers, doctors, mothers, gardeners, managers, scientists, and the lot, usually not very high in the pecking order. We are limited in our talents and abilities and even resources. But we are all members of this body called humanity. And like the human body, we are all unique in our positioning and capability. I believe that we are called to use this uniqueness in our lives to give back what we can. To invest in the lives of others, so that they come out in the mould of virtue, strong against the winds of oppression.

Can we sacrificially give of ourselves and our particular talent – that of cooking, organizing, visiting, advising, listening, sewing, administration, networking, anything that we naturally excel at, to the good of our community? Do we dare to make that a lifestyle, one of the goals of life? I believe therein lies the power of transformation. To live a life of service, committed to the ideals we believe in, free from prejudice towards one and all. A life that dares to invest in the life of others, remaining committed in the face of indifference. Victory lies in the perseverance of everyday tasks.

NB: Inputs from Wikipedia regarding the biographies of the 4 notable persons mentioned.


A tryst with the Lord of the harvest

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ImageLast night I took a journey
To a land across the seas.
I didn’t go by ship or plane –
I traveled on my knees.

I saw so many people there
In bondage to their sin,
And Jesus told me I should go,
That there were souls to win.

But I said, “Jesus, I can‟t go
To lands across the seas.”
He answered quickly, “Yes, you can –
By traveling on your knees.”

He said, “You pray, I‟ll meet the need.
You call, and I will hear.
It‟s up to you to be concerned
For lost souls far and near.”

And so tiny, tiny groups of people went out from my city to the farthest corners of the state I live in. To the almost unreached state of Maharastra, India’s third largest state and according to wikipedia with an area almost the size of Italy. What does happen when one heeds the command to pray for the lost? When one  is beset with an ocean of perishing souls?  Are there rising waves of inadequacy? Or a surging fount of compassion? Here’s what four of my friends who are associated with a student ministry came back with.

Deepa hoped that she would meet a lot of students. That she would get a chance to interact with them and share her experiences of Jesus Christ with students who had never heard of Him. But she met only one student. This young girl took Deepa up and down the lanes of her city, pointing out the colleges, one by one. Colleges with tens of thousands of students, who live in darkness, children who have spent their entire lifetime without the knowledge of the living God. This one student was enough for Deepa to see the enormity of the unsaved souls in that city. Deepa has now come back with a burden to pray for the students of that city to know the living God.

Shobhan was called upon to translate a sermon. In the midst of a crowd hungry for the word of God. A crowd, simple and humble and naked in their desire to know God. How could I let them down? How could God ever trust a guy like me to speak to these people? I am not worthy to carry God’s message…Young, easy going Shobhan was overwhelmed by the tremendous trust God had placed in him. He has decided to live a disciplined life, to be prepared for the next time God wants to use him.

Nagalakshmi was told the story of how there was nothing happening last year in the city that she visited. And how this year, God had opened to door to many new students who showed an interest in attending a bible study. Nagalakshmi, encouraged by this act of God has come back convinced that the God who worked in a far away city can work the same miracle in our city too.  She has now come back with a renewed burden to pray for the dry area of West area.

Manoj was in a dilemma whether to set out for his city since he had a job interview lined up for just after he got back. Entrusting the preparation and the interview into God’s hands, he decided to keep his commitment. A young guy on a bike happened to stop next to him as he was walking the city streets. Noticing a christian sticker on the boys bike, they struck up a conversation. Miraculously receptive, the boy took them to his Pastor. Who again was miraculously receptive and called a youth meeting in church so that they could speak to them about salvation and a personal relationship with Christ. Manoj looks back and now says, when one is ready to leave one’s comfort zone, watch out for miracles coming up.

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It is easy to be ungrateful. It is easy  forget. To stop feeling thankful when a kindness becomes an everyday event.

Introducing the love of God

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barbequeThey say that a family that prays together stays together. Is that true? Why not one that lives together or talks together or goes out for movies together or have book discussions together or barbeques together? And why not a family who drives to church together or hosts prayer meetings together?

Because when I pray, I am talking to my Heavenly Father. When I pray, my Father sees through all the words that I speak to look into my heart. So I can dispense with the formality of nice words and speak with Him face to face. I choose to acknowledge His goodness over my life. The unadulterated constancy with which He has upheld the thread of my life moment by moment. A God worthy of worship. Just imagine the naked picture of God my child would see.

My heart is then overcome with the filth that resides in my heart. The vast gulf that’s there between me and God’s standards of holiness. I cry out, I shout out to God to have mercy on me, in His infinite grace to forgive my rebellious willful nature and remind Him that He has promised “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” In His infinite grace to open my eyes to see the sin in my life, to see it through His eyes, to hate it, abhor it with all my heart. Will He not do this? Now, my child is confident of repentance and restoration.

Love-of-ChristAnd then I ask my Lord, my Saviour, the one who has claim to all my life, the one has claim to all the Universe to change me, in His grace to to teach me to love Him, to teach me to how to fear Him, to teach me the meaning of obedience, to kindle a flame of love for Him and that it may never go out because He first loved me. And this love would defeat every sin, every temptation, every justification for rebellion in my life. Then the greatest treasure my child covets would be the love of Christ.

Which if he hankers after would make him a blessing to innumerable others. Where else would children learn of such a God, of His goodness, of the power that He gives us and His enduring love? If you are a parent, or are involved in a youth ministry, or have an opportunity to work with young people, pray with them. Pray that they see God in all His splendour and majesty and glory and power and love. That they learn to call this God, Abba Father.

The Apple of His Eye

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Whump!! They come out of the blue. What is the purpose of your life? What will you have gained at the end of your life? What is your life worth? These questions are innocuous in themselves. It is what they insinuate. That I did not have a purpose in life. That what I did until now, was of no consequence to anyone. That I was worthless and useless and my choices meant I would end up alone and friendless. My significance roller-coastered to nothingness in the blink of an eye. Till I remembered “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour:

It happens to the best of us. When we’re least prepared for it. An event, a word, a meeting, a comparison will set us off questioning our self-worth and actions. What is my ministry accomplishing? Am I a good Mom? Am I making the right choices? Should I be making more money? Am I obedient enough? Maybe I should just listen to my neighbours. Maybe I should invest in some real estate. Will I ever make a difference? Questions that never end. Questions that depress, gnaw and takes one to edge of sanity. Questions that dam the flow of hope and evaporate purpose from life.

Though such reactions are natural and sometime bog us down for days and weeks, what we must understand is that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy“. To destroy our peace, to destroy our relationship with Christ our strength and to destroy the Church. Nothing affords the evil one greater joy.“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” says C.S.Lewis in his celebrated book The Screwtape Letters.

But what a pitiful foe he makes. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” Jesus has given us the assurance that no one, NO ONE can snatch us out of the Father’s hand. In Zec 2:8, an angel declares about Israel, “whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye“. We are the apple of His eye. We are the people, for whom when we were still enemies of God, He sent His Son to die for us. We are the one of whom He has said “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I am reminded of an illustration I heard the other day about David, when he was a shepherd boy tending his sheep. I would imagine that the sheep he tended would be part of his inheritance later on. When a lion or a bear carried off a sheep, he went after it, struck and rescued the sheep from it’s mouth. David knew who it was he had placed his trust in to rescued him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear. That is all we need. To wrench our inheritance of peace, of righteousness, of holiness, of sonship from jaws of the roaring lion. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”


So long, Will Estes

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It was a beautiful autumn day in October, a Saturday. I was having lunch with my cousin at the corner Italian restaurant. He had flown in from Houston to help me house hunt. To find a place to live, to call home for the next year or so, in Stamford.

There was a big stone church, yellow leaves chasing each other in their annual fall ballet, grand parents taking their grand children out for a stroll. I maintained I would never stay anywhere else. Not after the sidewalk cafes, the promise of farmers markets in the summer,  the public library in walking distance and two theaters that existed to screen movies that were Oscar winners in some obscure category and almost never ran commercially. I was already overwhelmed by the stark beauty of New England, and I felt that Stamford was where Robert Frost met Lorelai Gilmore. Where I would meet poets and dancers, and investment bankers and plumbers and just plain “neighbours”.

I moved in a month later, on a wintry day in November. It’s proximity to New York and my proclivity to travel was my justification to moving into so horrendously expensive a city. It was New York without steroids. We had no subways, but the Metro North Railways of the MTA was what we in Stamford depended on. NYC, New Jersey, Chicago, Houston, Providence, all these journeys started at the Stamford Railroad station, the only reason I never needed a car.

The days and months that passed by was magical. Postcards to India, fairy lights that lit up the streets at night, parades where the whole city turned up with children on their shoulders and wonder in their eyes. The rappelling down of Santa and his reindeer, Santa and his elves on the elf mobile to light the tree at Latham park, the Police Day parade, the St. Patricks Day parade, the Arts and Crafts where the local artisans turned up with their wares. Yes, gypsies and artists, traveling to each city in New England. The Bridal shop and the chocolatier.  McDonalds and the Ferguson Library. How ever, ever can I forget you?

The Mexican super market that slaked my craving for coke late at night, my quiet ache when it closed down when they couldn’t afford it any longer. The over-conscientious guy who was a staff at the local CVS. I never told him how much I admired his attention to detail. The cab drivers, almost without exception, happy to be in a land much fairer than their own. I liked the cabbies. They were available almost any time of the day. I was returning home after watching the Macy’s fireworks on July 4th when heavy rains brought down a tree on the train track. I reach Stamford 3 hours later, but lo and behold, at 1am in the morning, the taxi drivers are out there waiting to ferry us home.

I wouldn’t say that the star dust fell out of my eyes as the months progressed, but I had settled into a routine. I would take the train to South Norwalk to catch a connecting train to Merritt 7. From there, a shuttle to my office building with Leo and me chatting away to glory about the weather. I have to admit, I was far mare accurate than he ever was :). In the winter months, I started taking the train back as well, mainly because any waiting could be done in enclosed environs. And that’s how I met my Will Estes.

I have a voracious appetite for books and TV shows. Even without a TV, being in the US allowed me to surf for good shows, and one that I really ended up liking was Blue Bloods. It had a host of actors already well known, it was a police procedural drama set in New York, with the show revolving around a Catholic Irish family and their lives enmeshed in maintaining law and justice. Mostly, I liked it because it had my favourite ingredient – a moral to every story. Will Estes plays Jamie Reagan, the youngest son of Frank Reagan, who is the Police Commissioner of NYC. Jamie is a junior Police Officer with the NYPD, who has chucked a career as a lawyer after graduating from Harvard, since he feels he could give back more as a Police Officer. He is a moral compass, constant in his integrity. He faces temptations, but always decides to do the right thing. Now you know why I like Will Estes.

I would take the 6 o clock bus from Stamford Train station to my home. And there was this guy who was a dead ringer for Will Estes on the bus every day. The Stamford Will Estes had mousy brown hair and a much slighter build, wore a blue jacket everyday, and a worn out back pack. He always allowed the other passengers to go first and was usually the last to get on the bus. It was his unfailing presence, everyday, at 6pm, in the line to get on the bus that has come to signify everyday life for me.

He may not be Jamie Reagan, but his quietness and ordinariness egged me on to be better than what I am right now. Victory lies in the perseverance of everyday tasks. To keep reading my books, to keep writing, to keep in touch with people near and far, to go the extra mile, because there is such joy in service. I have lived in Stamford for 15 months. Every tree, every crack in the sidewalk, every aisle in CVS is etched in memory. The Ferguson Library will never cease to hold my heart in raptures. I have seen the snow and the sun. As my assignment winds up, I wonder how I can say goodbye. To the wonderful card shop that always brought a smile to those who received a card I’d sent them from there. To the McDonald’s that remained open even at 12am when I wanted some comfort food. To the public library that remained open even in the face of an impending blizzard. To the railroad station that was located exactly 1.3 miles from my apartment and took me everywhere I wanted to go. To the downtown ambassadors. To the folks who put up the lights every winter and made Stamford a magical place. To the dog walkers and picture takers. To the bus driver who let me travel on the bus even though I didn’t have change. (“You ride my bus at least 3 times a week. It could happen to anyone”, he bellowed before I meekly went and sat, offering no more excuses).

How do you say, so long, Will Estes?

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