It really was no surprise to anybody that I somehow ended up at a Diwali festival. I love India, or better put, I love the India I have built in my head from an overdose of Indian movies and music. In all honesty, I thought Diwali was a celebration of the Indian new year. Turned out to be the festival of lights, a celebration of Lakshmi, a Hindu god. It just happened to coincide with the Indian new year.
It started out good, and then there was the awkwardness to try not to be rude to my hosts. I did not want to be one of those who turn their nose up at other people’s “culture,” but at the same time, I was wondering how far I had to go before I was in full-blown betraying my faith mode. I didn’t know how to react to the fact that the music was great even though the words praised Lakshmi, the food was excellent, and I seemed to be enjoying myself ( I was just really excited to be with all my Indian kinsmen, I would probably have called sawdust stardust at that moment)
After they chanted their prayers, someone went around with a little tray putting little red ink on people’s foreheads. It was bad enough that I felt like I had betrayed Jesus internally. Putting ink on my head will be too much of an outward expression of my betrayal, so I decided I’d just say no. I mean, how hard could it really be to say no. Well, I was very wrong. When the young man stood before me, I just sat and stared. I remember he mumbled something about good luck and success as he placed the ink on my forehead. I just sat in a daze.
Just when I was about to start justifying my unnecessary participation, I heard someone pass up the offer. An actual no, and it was none other than one of the two young men I had accompanied to the event. This full-fledged Indian man said NO his reason “he isn’t religious and doesn’t believe in these things.” I wanted to scream I don’t believe in these things too! Instead, I sat there feeling how Peter probably felt when his eyes met the Lord’s after denying him the third time. Like a mess.
On the drive home, I kept asking why I chose to impress people that probably didn’t notice my action and wouldn’t have minded my inaction at the expense of my peace of mind. I replayed a thousand variations of that one scene in my head. Each one ending with me not getting the ink and a couple ended with me starting a sermon about Christ and turning Diwali into a revival. I tend to overcompensate in my imaginations out of guilt.
Although I am aware that not even a little red mark on the forehead can separate me from the love of Christ because
[I] am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The experience got me thinking about my faith, culture, and the concept of impressing others.
Here are a few things my I learned from musing about the situation
- Do not overthink things: overthinking and cooking up the worst possible scenario is why I was tongue-tied when the tray came before me.
- Having dissenting opinions is not the same as being disrespectful. Expressing your opinion rudely and without regard to other people is the real disrespect. No matter your stance, be respectful.
- If you do not want to participate in an activity, say no and keep it moving. Honestly, I was the only non-Indian in the room, and they were probably being courteous by asking.
- People that matter will not take offense because you refused to put yourself in an uncomfortable position to impress them.