The Problem with Combined Malayalam/English services, explained in a Songbook

I get it. There isn’t enough Youth or only English speaking people attending church meetings to justify a separate service. I understand the logistics but it doesn’t change the fact that combined services are ultimately unfair to those who attend. It all comes down to the song book. I just attended my first combined service in a long time and of 765 songs, 723 were in Malayalam.

If you have never attended a combined Malayalam/English service, let me explain. Malayalam is my mother tongue, the language spoken in Kerala, India. I don’t speak or really understand this language. My parents, as well as many of my friend’s parents came to this country and naturally wanted to attend a church that would speak their native language. It makes sense.

Their children grew up and didn’t feel the same familiarity with Malayalam or even grow up with the same jokes and culture and this ultimately created tension. Malayalam/English services don’t really work because regardless of how equal the service tries to break down time between the two languages, we still spend at least half of the service listening to a language we don’t understand. Or, I spend at least half of combined services listening to a language I don’t understand. They don’t work because we look at the songbooks, see the space left for the “English” part of the meeting and inherently know that the service isn’t for us, even if it claims to be.

Another problem is the fact that now, our English speaking youth or just our English speaking audience, has options. It’s hard to convince someone to compromise and try to enjoy a service when we can go to so many different churches and hear a message that is catered for an English speaking audience. But the only reason why I, like many others, have chosen to stay is because I have a heart for the Indian church. I have a heart for those children who grow up and may miss out on God in between the parts they didn’t understand in a service that was only in part geared for them.

On my end I accept that I should grow in maturity. Towards the end of the service, I just didn’t want to listen to a message translated to English. The messages never seems to have the same impact. But I also hold unto a hope for a better future. I hope that we have enough youth committed to justify a separate service. I pray for opportunities for those youth to have a voice in pivotal conversations. Because I love ending service and seeing my mom and dad afterwards, but I still want to attend a service specifically geared for me and others like me.

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Being a Brown Girl in Nude Heels

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I started writing this blog post nearly two years ago. I’m continuing it now. Almost two years ago in June,  I took my first ever teaching course with the first professor to tell me to call him by his first name. After four years of undergraduate study I took the best class I had ever taken my first month of graduate school. My teaching cohort spent that month huddled in circles, crumpling up life stories, paired against each other defending our sides on various issues and growing close to one another as a teaching cohort. Of everything that teaching has given me, one of the biggest gifts was that summer with that cohort.

Of the lessons I learned in that classroom management class, the first that hit was: Privilege is having band aids match your skin.

Or in my case, my lack of privilege is wearing nude heels that stick out against my dark skin. It’s always feeling like you don’t just quite fit in and worrying that you never will. I first grew up in a predominately black and hispanic neighborhood. I was generally accepted by my peers and felt proud of being an Indian. I was surprised to find that when I moved to a high-school that was made of 99% whites students, it wasn’t as cool to be “Indian”. In fact, many people didn’t even know what it meant to be an Indian.

I spend a lot of time completely unaware of issues of race and class. It was always underlying every event and circumstance but I never knew what to call that feeling of knowing that my peers looked and grew up differently than me, despite the fact that we attended the same school.

Learning that bandaids didn’t match the skin was at first upsetting. But that summer opened me up to a whole new world in which I learned that when we become aware of a problem, we can do something about it.

I eventually found “nude” heels that matched my skin color. But I first needed to be aware that the shoes I had on before weren’t quite right.