Thank You to Those Who Left

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Photo is taken from thebiblegirl.com.

tl;dr- There are many reasons why people choose to leave the ‘Indian Church’ and this blog post explores just a few of those reasons and how the ‘Indian Church’ can respond today. 

It’s hard enough to grow up ethnically Indian immersed in American culture, but add in a layer of conservative Christian culture and you may understand why the hashtag #malupentewoes was created; shorthand for Malayalee Pentecostal Woes. In my 26 years of life, I’ve seen the Malayalee Pentecostal Church grow and evolve in ways that my nine-year-old self could not imagine. This nine-year-old self who was told with a beaming smile by my mother that maybe at the age of 15 she’d let me wear clear nail polish. Clear nail polish. Can you even imagine something more bland? But wearing nail polish at all was an idea that felt so rebellious that I bragged to my Sunday school class friends about it.

Despite how much the Indian church as a whole has evolved over time, it would be naive to assume that these changes, that I and many others now enjoy, came with open hands. Instead, they were often fought for, and I believe they may have never come unless some people in generations prior to my own and even in my own age bracket had the courage to leave.

The Old and New Cycle 

You may be wondering: why thank those who left? Shouldn’t they have stuck it out? Fought for real change and made it happen, rather than running to the megachurches already filled to the brim with loyal and tithing members? Well, why do people boycott companies? Why do workers go on strike? There is value in leaving; value in showing what you will and will not stand for.

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It became an unwritten rule that there was a way the Indian church cycled people out. You stay from birth and fight in your corner, making changes where you can, and then you get married and after a year or two, you are done. You have paid your dues. No more fighting for things that are just expected in other churches. And after some time passes, some of those ‘prodigal sons’ return; but this time, with their arms holding children, filled with nostalgia for the slightly traumatizing but somewhat homey childhood they left in the Indian church. Though I’ve never seen this myself, I’ve heard of this happening. 

I know that I’m not alone in holding this belief; when I asked Charles Samuel, who wrote the blog post, ‘The Indian Church Must Die’ and later wrote, ‘I Still Believe the Indian Church Must Die’, about whether it was the ‘norm’ for him to see people leave his church growing up, he admitted, “I want to say I was probably the first person in my church who left on my own terms.” He explained how he had also seen a similar ‘cycling’ of people, “Prior to me leaving, it was totally normal to see people get married and then immediately bounce (or go to school and stay away for a long time). It was a running joke as teens that we couldn’t wait to get married so we could all finally leave. It just felt like the necessary step to the exodus.” For many millennials, it felt as though the only real way to ‘escape’ the overly conservative Indian church was to wait to one day be able to leave. 

That was the way things were supposed to happen, and then the script was rewritten.

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People began to leave earlier than a few years into married life, much like Samuel who left on his own terms. They left as college students. They left the minute they lived on their own and didn’t have to face the ramifications of disappointed parents. They broke the familiar pattern that our churches began to depend on, and then our churches were left with this void that their talent once filled. And this new cycle brought to the surface larger issues within the Indian church that needed to be addressed. Issues that reached beyond traditions that could be seen as conservative, and into bigger grievances within the Indian community.

Pastor Cecil Mathew acknowledged the impact of this cycle, “Yes it has changed but change is slow. The pace is not satisfactory to many who have left. Some have thrived outside the Indian church while others have wandered and now disconnected from church and maybe God. That’s not to say that if you attend any church you are automatically connected to God.” He brings up an idea that could be explored in a different post. What about those who are so jaded by the Indian Church that they leave their walks with God altogether?

The Pros & Cons of a Deeply Connected Community  

After taking time to talk to people from different regions across America, I realized that some reasons why some of my friends down South chose to leave the Indian church were very different from the issues I personally saw. 

One friend, who asked to be anonymous, shared that she had developed somewhat of a bad reputation in her church and wouldn’t consider attending another Indian church because she felt as though anywhere she went, those churches would know what other people had said of her. Because of how interconnected the Indian church was in nature, having a bad reputation was hard to really ‘escape’. She recounted that for her home church, she once felt such passion that she was,  “willing to die for this church.” Ultimately, her reasons for leaving her Indian church stemmed from issues within her church community. 

I was surprised to hear that her church was, for the most part, willing to adapt and change in many ways. But this felt contradictory when she also shared how she was treated somewhat poorly for making the decision to pierce her ears. She explained that her home church was relevant because, “If the song ‘Blessings’ came out, next week their choir was singing that.” Ultimately, some of the division within her church came from their differences in opinion on what was permissible within a church environment; “Some of the youth wanted to play Travis Scott. Others would feel that wasn’t right, that this was a church.” 

Choosing to incorporate certain music is one thing, but division grew further when her youth disagreed over whether drinking was okay or not. She recounted stories of her church youth drinking on Friday nights and then leading worship the next day. 

But this community that was the reason my friend did not feel safe to return to a different Indian church, was the same community that Dr. Rhema Jacob, from Texas, appreciated, “I value the Indian sense of community especially during times of crises as well as shared cultural and spiritual values.” This community is so interconnected that when one person is sick and in need, chances are that many churches, sometimes across the country, will know and be praying for that person. This was something shocking I experienced when my uncle, who is also my pastor, first became sick. I didn’t need to tell any of my Malayalee Pentecostal friends what happened. They all knew and reached out to me, extending their prayers to me and my family. 

However, Jacob argues that true contentment in a church is not reliant on a leader or the community within a church. “I’ve learned over time that the key to being happy in a church cannot be rooted in trust or faith in a spiritual leader or a specific social group/circle of friends – it has to be totally God-focused… “ I’ve often heard people say that they leave churches because they didn’t feel they were ‘fed enough’, rather than asking what they can offer to whatever church they are attending. 

We aren’t done just yet

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In case you missed it, I have a recording of a talk I had with Simi John  that was originally shared through my instagram. John shared this very idea of shifting our focus to what we can offer whatever church we are attending.  This talk was inspired by a random Instagram conversation between John and myself. She is now the wife to a pastor at a multicultural church, but comes from the Indian and specifically Pentecostal church. Despite not being a part of the current Indian church, she still saw the value in this church today; voicing how many people could be better used in their ‘small’ Indian churches than if they were to leave for the megachurches of the world. 

Even Samuel acknowledged that there are reasons why people would still choose to attend a cultural church, “Asian-American church exoduses over the past few decades (e.g. the Korean-American community) is seeing a resurgence because second-gen kids who left a few decades or so ago to “American churches” are RETURNING for various reasons, including seeking cultural commonalities for their own kids and a sense of underrepresentation in those American churches”. At our core, there is something comforting about going to a cultural church even if one identifies as ‘American’. Minorities are often invisible in mainstream media and the cultural church can be a reprieve in which one does not have to ‘explain’ themself. Even while writing this post, I realize that I could take time and clarify myself more to the ‘white gaze’. The ‘white gaze’ is an idea that Toni Morrison, an American novelist, has written about and admitted that at the beginning of her writing career, she was cognizant of this ‘gaze’ and felt the need to explain herself in her writings that tackled issues related to race.  I find solace in knowing that there are people who understand the community of Kerala Christians, even without me needing to explain it, and this same ease is often what I experience in the Indian church. 

Dr. Rhema Jacob who attends an Indian church in Texas appears to mirror Samuel’s sentiment, “I have attended several Indian and American churches and I prefer the Indian church for spiritual as well as cultural/social reasons.” She continues to explain, “Also, the Indian churches that have been responsible for my spiritual growth did not resort to only social activities and feel-good sermons, but would preach the unadulterated word of God that is life-changing, unlike diluted sermons to attract the masses”. From Jacob’s point of view, even the messages that she heard within the Indian church resonated with her more than those she heard in other churches. 

However, it is important to acknowledge Samuel’s point that, “We probably won’t see totally community-centric churches in the South Asian community until the older generation of decision-makers pass on.” He argues that some of the real ‘change’ that millenials and gen-z long for may only be possible further in the future. But if the Indian church waits too long, their pews may be empty before new people from these cohorts can step into positions of leadership. 

Samuel does acknowledge that “the underlying thing that’s worrisome about a lot of Asian churches is the idea of phyletism […] Conflating the success and progress of one’s culture with the success and progress of ‘The Church’ leads to more bad than good — isolationism, focusing inward rather than outward, doing community work but keeping the community at arm’s length”. And it makes sense that this same community that feels comfortable for Malayalee Indians can leave others who try to join this ‘Indian church’ feeling like the ‘other’, and ultimately unable to be a part of an authentic community simply because of their ethnic background. 

Pastor Cecil Mathew’s church in Elmont, New York seems to have addressed this issue. His church began an an ‘Indian’ church and later transformed into a multiethnic one, “We have Indians in our church. We have transformed into a multiethnic church. We still have ministries specific to the Indian demographic because that’s how our church started.” 

Sometimes it is better to leave 

Ultimately, there are many reasons why some choose to stay or leave, as Samuel mentions, “Some feel called to stay or leave. […] There are deeper reasons worth digging into about any of those decisions”. Those who felt deeply unhappy with the Indian church should, without judgement, be able to find communities that they did feel happy to be a part of. 

The decision to leave can lead to healing in a church because ultimately, if people are unhappy while attending a congregation, this inevitably leads to conflict. Reverend Abe Joy from my church once pointed out the scripture about Paul and Barnabas to me. Acts 15:37-38 shows how there was a disagreement between them, “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work”. In verses 39-41 we see how this disagreement ultimately led to them parting ways, “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches”.

Some would view this separation as a failure, but Joy pointed out another way to look at it: this separation allowed both parties to experience peace while continuing to minister for God’s kingdom. Even within my own church, it was really hard to see people leave over the years. But many people in my church youth have admitted that it was only after some people left that they really had a chance to get involved because there was now a need for them to minister in a particular area of the church. 

Whether you choose to stay in the Indian church or go to the multiethnic church or the megachurch or choose a completely different type of church, it is okay to part ways and seek out the community that you want to be a part of. And for those who are still a part of the Indian church, I believe that there is still potential for real growth and community that we would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. 

 

Edit (Thursday, May 21, 2020): This post was edited to include information from a few responses from Pastor Cecil Mathew at First Church of God in Elmont, New York.

 

What Mental Health Counseling Is Really Like

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Image is taken from Texas Public Radio

If you need help finding a counselor, please look at this video from my YouTube channel. 

Back in college I saw a mental health counselor for the very first time. I was frankly overwhelmed with life and I needed help. After a semester, I felt better and it wouldn’t be until a few years later that I got help from a counselor again. Here’s what I wish I knew before beginning that journey.

There are different types of therapy

When I was in college I had received something called “talk” therapy. I now receive Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with my current counselor. I’ve been seeing my current counselor for 1.5 years. Though there were small lessons I learned through talk therapy, I definitely like CBT better.

Talk therapy is the kind of therapy you would see in tv shows growing up. I would talk and talk for almost the full hour and my counselor would only occasionally interject a thought or question. The biggest lesson I learned from a semester of taking therapy was to be comfortable with being alone and to even enjoy my own company. Prior to that therapy, I dreaded walking to the train by myself or pretty much any time alone.

CBT is focused on changing your response to situations. Yes, something awful can happen- but how do we react to that? [Edit- In my case, sessions have looked more like a conversation. My counselor and I talk and share and she will ask questions and spend time offering direct advice. I was never given direct advice in talk therapy. She’ll even walk through strategies or give me worksheets or recommendations for books to read or things to try outside of session.] 

Mental Health Counseling Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Trust God

There are people who are resistant to medicine because of their faith and I know that others would scoff at such extremism. But why do we then act as though we might not need help with the things going on in our heads? It seems okay to take a Tylenol  but admitting that you need help with mental health is for some reason not okay.

CBT, as mentioned earlier, focuses on your thoughts. And the very idea of reorienting your thoughts is inherently biblical. Philippians 4:8 instructs that, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

The counselor I see is Christian and will often mention the bible to me or even recommend Christian books or authors to me. The irony is that for many- my choice to seek counseling would make me seem weak or “unbiblical.” But choosing to have a counselor has grown my walk with God in incredible ways.

You Are Not More “Broken” If You Seek Help

I remember going for this class on finances and a friend of mine would often say that none of us in the class should offer advice because the very fact that we need that class means that we’re not qualified. Maybe there’s some truth in that but I wouldn’t apply this logic to counseling.

I like to think of it like going to the gym. I consider myself pretty fit and I wasn’t when I first started working out. Maybe that’s the same for you when you first seek help with mental health. You go and initially need a lot more help and over time, you don’t need to see your counselor as often.

When I go for counseling, sometimes there are a lot of things I need to work through. Maybe there’s a lot I’m struggling with. But other times, I’m honestly feeling okay but go out of discipline and over the time I’ve sought counseling, I’ve learned invaluable lessons.

I don’t think that choosing to seek help means that one is more “broken”, we’re all broken. It just means that one is willing to try and get better. [Edit- There are times people do go for counseling and are going through extraordinary pain or need, but this isn’t always the case. I honestly think counseling could help most people as well as people with more severe need. And to clarify, both times I sought counseling, I was in need of help.]

You Get Out What You Put In

Counseling is not a magic pill. It is hard work. Maybe you’ll match with the first counselor you see, maybe you won’t. The unfortunate truth is that it is hard to find a counselor but if you are persistent enough, I’m sure that you will. I could write another blog post on just how unfair it is that it is so hard to get counseling but I’ll save that for another day. (BTW: Hasan Minaj has an excellent special on this topic.)

Once you get through the already unfair hurdle of starting counseling, it will be a hard journey to grow.

There have been many times that I have been tempted to focus on things that I want to complain about or seek our old destructive patterns. but I put in the work and choose to think better thoughts and this has led to so much joy in my life.

Closing Thoughts & Lessons 

Do not let the stigma around mental health counseling stop you from getting help if you need, if you believe you would benefit from it. At the end of the day, you are the one who has to live your life, not people who pass judgment or who categorize you as “less than” for seek help. To end off, below are some of the major lessons I’ve learned from counseling through CBT from that around 1.5 years hat I’ve been receiving help.

  • Even when I desperately want to spiral into negativity, I know to instead choose positivity. It feels so good to be negative in the moment but choosing positivity is a flourishing foundation to build your life. And you’ll find that over time- you were so right to be positive.
  • Sometimes we can’t give people exactly what we want, but we can offer our best yes.
  • You never know what’s right around the corner.
  • If there’s pain you need to process, journal it!
  • When someone isn’t listening to what you’re saying and//or saying hurtful things- let them know and leave the conversation.
  • Boundaries are so SO good.
  • Rewrite your narratives about who you are.

There are countless other lessons, but these are just a few I wanted to share. Best of luck to you if choose to start counseling, please always feel free to reach out.

-Nina

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COST BREAKDOWN: AROUND A WEEK IN PARIS

This cost breakdown of my Spring break trip was inspired by The Luxe Strategist. She is one of my favorite bloggers and my favorite financial blogger. If you haven’t already  started following her, I highly recommend you do!


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To me it meant a lot to travel to Europe. My entire life I had flown back and forth to India almost every year from the time I was eighteen years old to twenty-two. Despite all the stamps on my passport, I had never visited Europe and really wanted to experience what that was like. This past July I went to England for the first time and this past week, I visited France.

I traveled to Paris, France with two co-workers and we all had distinctively different styles which I believed added a lot to each of our experiences.

I decided not to include any pre-trip expenses as well as shopping while there. I did shop a lot and will be sharing a diary of that at the end of the month.

Cost Breakdown 

I spent $1,651.46 for my time in Paris. We had stayed there for 4 full days and two half days.

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You can also get an idea of how much everything cost day by day. I decided to divide this by 5 because with the half days, we really had 5 full days in Paris. I actually only had four because I got so sick one day and couldn’t do anything. However, that doesn’t influence any of the categories except for food/transport.

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Flight= $745.35

We payed a pretty penny for our flight, it was $745.35. I think if I were to visit Paris again, I would go during February and go through London first. Though I will admit that it much easier to get through the airport in Paris than it was in London. A friend messaged me that he was planning to do that with his wife and got tickets for under $400, but at an off peak time.

Our airline was pretty much the international flight equivalent of Spirit airways. It was super barebones. But it did provide an in flight meal as well as a free checked bag. Those were two things I tried to not compromise on when booking my flight.

Housing=$296.52

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I need to offer a huge thank you to everyone who recommended the neighborhood of Le Marais. Many people confirmed that this was a great neighborhood to stay in. Several years earlier my financial counselor had visited Paris and stayed in this very neighborhood and was kind enough to even share walking tours of different neighborhoods with me. It was much cheaper than other neighborhoods and was pretty close to almost everything we wanted to do. We could walk, take the metro or split an uber to everywhere we wanted for a super small cost.

I adored my airbnb. It was pretty small for three people but beautifully decorated and a good compromise because I didn’t want to spend anymore on housing costs.

If you’re interested in trying Airbnb, use this link for $40 in travel credit. After your first trip I get $20 in travel credit.

Food- $225.63

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The meals in Paris were not cheap but everyday we unintentionally skipped at least breakfast or lunch. We ate lots of pastries and croissants to compensate for this. I thoroughly enjoyed our food as well as the delicious desserts.

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I should have guessed it, but I didn’t realize how important potatoes were to French cuisine. It did feel super heavy to eat though!

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There’s a huge coffee culture in France that I really enjoyed. People also drink orange juice with a lot of their meals. It’s also almost always cheaper to get the combo meals that you can then spilt with others.

Local Transportation= $84.96

This number includes the cost of an uber to and from the airpot. Super cheap, right? In most instances, ubers were a great option because we could spilt the cost 3 ways. Most rides ranged form costing between $2.50-$5. At times I opted for the metro which is around $2 or we would just walk because so many things were within a 20 minute walk from us.

Activities=$299.00

I’m so happy we didn’t get the Paris pass. But we still overspent on activities. We didn’t realize how tired we would be once we reached Paris and didn’t even do everything that we had payed in advance for.

It was really helpful to pay in advance for museums though and buying a “skip the line” ticket for the Palace of Versailles was one of my favorite experiences from the entire trip. The tour guide was funny and we literally saw ourselves skip a huge line of people.


 

Overall, it was a great trip! My inner frugal person knows I could do it again just a  bit cheaper and one day I intend to do that. I think it’ll be a few years until I visit Europe again (or at least, European cities).

Have you been to Paris? What was your experience like? 

The Dress That Doesn’t Fit

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*See the original post on Instagram*

Fun fact: The dress I’m wearing here was thrifted for less than $30. It seemed like such a steal, it still had the tags on and was from Nordstrom. I bought in on a whim, assuming it would fit me. Another fun (or not so fun) fact, it doesn’t. It zips halfway and then meets the point of no return and lies open. The two halves of the zipper just decided that they refused to meet and the distance between them was too large to travel.

In the past, when I put on clothing, I felt as though it was my responsibility to fit in my clothes. That my body should change to meet the demands of changing fabric.

“When I lose weight, I’ll wear those pants”

“I’ll fit that dress after I start working out”

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Newsflash, I now eat (pretty) clean and workout regularly but as I tried my best to zip up this dress I realized that it just wouldn’t fit, that it may never fit. That my torso is the smallest part of my body. That it’s pretty much as small as it can get for me while still being healthy and that even if I lost more weight, my naturally medium frame would need to be smaller to fit that dress.

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So I decided to be okay with this dress not fitting. To be content with the fact that my bones and chest are broader than this dress is willing to wrap around. Instead of running after an unattainable and likely unhealthy perfect, I decided it’s okay for me to love my body even if it would never be a size 2 or 0. That maybe it means there’s just more of me to love.

Dining alone at The Ritz London

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While going out to eat with friends we would toy with the idea of dining alone. Would we dare? As if eating alone were some kind of accomplishment. But in a society in which many people are uncomfortable with themselves, in some ways I guess it is some sort of feat.

Some friends thought it seemed exciting, others said that it was something they would never want to do. Traveling alone to London has managed to teach me more about myself than I imagined, which is a topic I’ll explore more in upcoming blog posts. But today I wanted to write about dining alone at the Ritz, London.

At times I am exceptionally frugal, as evidenced by my decision to buy salads at grocery stores or cheap eats from Borough market for a lot of my trip. But I also love the occasional taste of luxury and at 57 pounds for an afternoon tea at The Ritz, London. It was definitely luxurious but worth every darn penny.

First of all, it is an experience. You start off with sandwiches and light desserts like a macaroon and lemon tart. You have your choice of tea and can add milk and little squares of sugar. Later you are given scones and jam and at the very end you have the choice of cake.

I often feel like spending time alone traveling is glamorized and as an extrovert/introvert I have to admit that I missed having a friend’s company. There were moments of awkwardness when realizing that there was no random conversation to fill the silence, just you and yourself. But there was also a feeling of freedom in taking as long or as little as I wanted to eat and feeling almost invincible in knowing there was a freedom in being in your own company with no-one to really judge you other than yourself.

Regardless, if you ever have the chance to ever have afternoon tea or afternoon tea at the Ritz, I couldn’t recommend it more.

 

How To Make: Momma’s Beef Curry (Kerala)

I’ve taken AP classes, graduated from high school and college, worked full time- the list goes on. Yet, the idea of making beef curry is more intimidating to me that any academic endeavor I could ever take. In this blog post I’ll be walking you through poorly taken pictures that outline very simply how my mom makes beef (in our case pork) curry. This blog post is for me to look back on but hopefully it can serve as a guide to you as well.

image-1Spot my mom’s feet in the corner- agh this picture quality is cringe worthy but please bear with me.

Sauté ginger + garlic + oil (lots)

The bottom of the pot was coated in a layer of oil with ginger and garlic beginning to brown. 

Add in onions gradually.

We added enough to also cover the bottom of the pot completely. 

 

Add one heaping tablespoon chili powder

Add 2 heaping tablespoon coriander (gives the gravy)

Add 1 heaping tablespoon garam masala

Add 1 teaspoon of cumin powder

Keep in mind, this is not a science, it’s an art. My mom adds in spices based on what she sees is necessary. 

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Add a Sprinkle of asafoetida powder

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Add in beef, in our case we actually used pork instead.

Add water as needed so the pork won’t get dry.

Again, add in as necessary. Too much water and it was watery, not enough and it dries out. Use your discretion. 

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Cook, stir occasionally on high heat (approx 30-40 mins, we ended up needing to wait 50 minutes)

We added 1 additional tablespoon of chili-powder because the dish seemed to be lacking color.

We also added 1 tablespoon of tumeric to adjust to what the dish seemed to need.

When the dish is almost done, add in 1 more tablespoon of garam masala.

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IT’S DONE! This ended up taking 50 minutes instead of the 30 minutes we anticipated.