Building Your Foundation On Tradition
One of the ancient customs still practiced in India is called Gurudakshina. This is a societal accolade offered by a student to his or her teacher for the education, knowledge and wisdom the teacher imparted. Touching the feet of older people as a sign of respect and source of knowledge is commonplace in this ritual.
The feet I most frequently touch are those of my parents and in-laws, because of their proximity to who I am and have become. I credit their roles in my life as a part of the tradition of who I am as an Indian. Many of my American friends cringe when I share these rituals with them. They are amazed that an educated person would not want to stop these rituals in the name of progress. I remind them that I don't practice the ritual out of subservience. I do so out of the tradition of respect that I cherish as part of my roots.
There is a difference between respect and subservience. I seek to honor my parents for the role they have played in providing me the tools to master a campaign against life. This gives me dignity. I seek to honor my in-laws for the trust they placed in me when they allowed me to say "I do." This brings personal discipline and accountability to the forefront. I can imagine the confusion people feel when they read this, because it is easier to sacrifice tradition in the name of progress than preserve the dignity of what you believe. Human beings will never know the joy of the moment when the father embraces his stooped child and says, "God bless you, I love you and I am so proud of you." Believing in tradition has its reasons and partaking in the respect demanded of tradition has its reward.
On a personal note, I promised my bride when we wed that I would be a traditional son-in-law to her parents and in spite of our choice to live in another corner of the world for our own gain, I would always try to honor her parents for the trust they placed in me when they agreed to give me her hand in marriage. I made a vow to her parents that I would always respect, love, honor and cherish their daughter and would try to be worthy of their trust all my life. I don't know if I will ever get there because so many things happen in life, but here is a letter from my father-in-law validating my personal choice of the dignity of tradition.
6th May 2001
Dear Krish who is more than a son:
It is a strange feeling when you raise a daughter for 20 years with all love and attention and she comes home from college one evening with a boy by her side and introduces him as a classmate. I was used to seeing several friends of hers--which included you, Krish. But the sky came down on me when she told me a few days before she was going to migrate to the USA . . . that she intends to marry that special young man - You, Krish. As a father you suffer from mixed emotions--has she made the right choice or not.
It took me time to see you as a son-in-law. To appreciate your good qualities and not see you as a person who is going to take my daughter away from me. Two years of waiting by both of you when Anila was in the U.S. made me sure that you had made the right choice. Your waiting for Anila for two years proved that you loved her and would care for her. Whatever little time we spent together, Krish, I could see a kind and genuine person in you--a person who had affection and could show it at the right time--a person who had integrity and proved it also--a person who was capable of loving my daughter through sickness and health, sorrow and happiness, and through all kinds of trials and tribulations. You are a wonderful father to our grandson Nicolas--a loving and caring husband to our daughter Anila--a wonderful son-in-law to both of us.
We enjoy every minute that we spend in your company. Your sense of humor, your love and affection and little things you do for us shows that we have a wonderful son-in-law and I could not have asked for anything better than you, Krish. May God bless you and keep you under His wings all the time as you grow spiritually strong each day in your faith. May God give you good health as you shoulder the family responsibilities and take care of Anila and Nic. We thank God for His many blessings that He has given to us, specially our children who care for and love us. I want you to know that we love you.
How many of you who just read the letter felt that it was worth the wait? In a culture that is quickly eroding because of the sacrifice of tradition in the name of progress, I wish we as free members of a prosperous society could go back and revive some of the traditions that made America so great. Traditional things like respect for the clothes we wear, the words we utter, the patriotism we display and the pride we feel. It is better to finish the race with dignity based on tradition than to arrive at the end with no one around to share the spoils of a so-called victorious life.
On July the 7th of 1994, I had the rare privilege of meeting one of the most effective top performers of our time. I was entrusted with the task of taking a donation from my employer in Dallas to a little missionary worker in the backward slums of Calcutta. I was asked to meet and greet Mother Teresa and offer the donation as a gesture of goodwill for all that she had accomplished. Little did I know that the encounter, which would last about twenty minutes, would give me some incredible leadership principles that were going to last me a lifetime. In my haste to part with the money and capture a picture with the future saint, I kept egging this icon of patience to come to where I was standing so a memory of our meeting could forever be recorded. It was clearly evident from what transpired that the memory I hoped to create was of less significance than what was to become the results of the events of that day. My camera malfunctioned and any number of efforts to get a picture were thwarted by fate, coincidence or happenstance. I left India disappointed and blamed myself for having come so close to greatness only to fail to have something to show for posterity.
The Saintly Leadership of Mother Teresa taught me some valuable lessons. She was consistent in her quest to save the very poor, calling them "distress in disguise." In an audio series called "Thirsting for God," she tells of the many times when she faced the impossible just to be rewarded because of her consistency. She was loyal to her cause. In her acceptance speech when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize she simply said "I accept this in the name of the poor." These were the people she was called to lead and amidst the degradation and decadence of human decay she found the self-reliance to be loyal to her cause. She believed in succession planning. Even though the world knew her name and her deeds, she knew that one day her role as the visionary for the Missionaries of Charity would end. She knew that she needed a successor whose vision could take this humble organization forward. Sister Nirmala was appointed the successor the day Mother Teresa passed on and continuity was established.
The role of top performers is to learn the various attributes that allow people to go from normalcy to greatness. Great people don't start out to be great. They follow their vision with consistency and loyalty. When I wrote a letter of gratitude to Mother Teresa she replied with a picture and a personal note to me. She taught me humility. This great lady wrote me a letter thanking me for mailing some letters for her that were sent to encourage the sisters representing the Missionaries of Charity in the USA . Along with the picture and letter were the words, "Be a little instrument in God's hands, so that He can use you any time, anywhere. We have only to say 'Yes' to Him. The poor need your love and care. Give them your hands to serve, and your heart to love. And in doing so, you will receive much more. Keep the joy of loving through serving." In doing this she proved to be a great encourager.
I call this segment Saintly Leadership because most of us reading this know she got her skills at a venue more prestigious than Harvard and from a teacher who was called just that--"Teacher." I call her a top performer because this Roman Catholic nun who lived and served amidst the poorest of the poor had her home in the only Marxist state in a predominantly Hindu society. (Dominique Lappierre called this infested maze of degradation and filth "The City of Joy.") Yet when she died she was given full state honors and was sent to her resting place on the gun carriage that carried some of the great martyrs of India. She transcended circumstances and societal assumptions and rose above the plateau of mortal expectations while practicing servant leadership of the very highest order. While many of us will not be called to live a life of such exemplary servitude, we can conclude that all top performers can practice the principles of Saintly Leadership.
GOD'S IMAGES & MAN'S WORDS
On a blistering hot day in a small coastal town in the country of Haiti , I wondered why
God had called me there. Was there a Divine reason for the experience I was having
and was there a reason for me to have this experience at all? The scenery that unfolded
before my very eyes told a story of human suffering, and the magnitude of the collective
images of plight and desolation left me drained. Could the great Artist in the sky have
painted such a contrast in visual depictions that left the heart feeling vulnerable, excited,
and despondent at the same time? Many like me had come to this place to share His
love and sow His plan. Some stayed to continue their own efforts and complete the
efforts of those that could and, like me would -- leave. I will never know why I got to see
those images or what I was supposed to do with that new found knowledge that now
clashes with mortal reasoning and limited human intellect.
On a slightly cooler day in Dallas , I received an e-mail from my spiritual mentor who
simply asked if I wanted to go again. The purpose would be the same, the output would
be the same but the outcome and destination would be different. Hearts and minds are
usually in sync when plans and purposes are understood. Without thinking through the
ramifications of an emotional decision that was predicated on showing God's love, I said
yes. The images I had of the results of this odyssey were very different from the ones I
This second effort to pursue a path of self-discovery was scheduled for the week of
Thanksgiving in the historic city of Alexandria , Egypt . The ones I love would once again
be told slowly about the decision to be half a world away, sharing translated words and
interpreted thoughts during this supposed time of personal thanks. Once again the
choices I would make would require sacrifices and the explanations by the words I would
use would be a pittance.
Joyously my bride asked me to go serve our Lord and Savior in the land that played an
important part in the early history of my belief. Her image was one of redemption. She
could still remember when all she wanted was to see me in a church pew holding her
hand and sharing her faith. The new picture she had drawn for me in her mind's eye was
so different from the eager suitor searching for a date, a mate and a future together. Her
words were, "You must go as I am now returning to God what He delivered to me in the
first place." In a moment it was more than the absence caused by marketplace greed
and materialistic need.
It was beyond roles and responsibilities and the supposed order they create when
people decide what God wants them to do. She was convinced and convincing that we
would be able to thank God again when I returned as the great thanksgiving never
required a long weekend and an opportunity to be there for the day after for the best sales day of the year.
A fellow brother, Christian soldier, admired friend, and trusted confidante accompanied
me on my second and his solo sojourn for this new frontier. Steeped in tradition and
shrouded in generosity, Egypt-- which is in Africa geographically and elsewhere
ideologically -- gave us a new view of God's creation. The busyness of everyday
included visible cultural antiques and the cacophony of reverence that seemed forced. It
looked as if amidst the symbols of modernity that were arched and fried lay an oasis that
time had forgotten. The intent of the baby that had been brought to this land and was
later crucified not too far from where we were seemed to have little effect on a populace.
When will the others see and how will those we equip show them what to see were the
questions that needed to be answered.
Horse trots and camel rides amidst the monuments of idolatry from five thousand years
ago gave the heart the obligatory jolt as we witnessed the majesty of man's architecture
against the crowded backdrop of humanity's fog-filled cities. So did the figures of
authority, which guarded my shadow with as much will power and fire power as a former
leader guarded her shoe collection while an entire nation stood on the brink of a
revolution. My words would compete with lore that would challenge my view of peace and
harmony. Here I was in the center of it all over again. Partly picturesque, partly desolate,
partly receptive and widely shut, we presented words to a nation's minority on the shores
of the Mediterranean Sea . How much more auspicious could it get? A believer's dream,
an expositor's stage, and a missionary's goal culminating for a couple of days in a tent
that housed pastors fighting for religious space in a country that discreetly thwarted their efforts with secret smiles. If my Sunday school class saw this, their image of Christianity
would change and they would simply say "wow."
"All's well that ends well" are just words that tell me that everything will be okay. How do
you finish a rendition of a picture when the inspirations for its components change by the
minute? Is there a canvas big enough to truly capture the purpose God has for humanity
and the journeys He makes them take to see His creation? Why did an Egyptian pastor
embrace me and kiss me on both cheeks and in one simple gesture allow me to
physically and physiologically cross a boundary that had a different cultural identity and
a unique Biblical identity? Why was a prayer said in Arabic for the salvation of the Hindu
father of a child from India encouraging them in English about the language of hope and
eternity? God's images are too big for man's words.