Sunday. Despite the night going till 3:30 I awake somewhat early to attend church. I ask Captain, the manager of the hostel (His rank in the Salvation Army may be Captain, I don’t know), what churches are nearby. The closest is a Wesleyan church at the end of the street.
I enter twenty minutes after the service began finding the pews filled with only a spattering of people. I can barely hear the man making announcements over the blaring of horns in the street and the hum of the fans making it bearable to breathe in this city of humidity. Intermittently they break into hymns led by a pipe organ and a violin, or into a responsive reading from a raggedy blue book. The pastor speaks with a commanding voice overpowering the external racket. I find myself suprisingly moved while singing the hymns played on the pipe organ in spite of my usual dislike of traditional music, though I get a bit antsy during the rest of the service.
Documentary photographer Ritam Banerjee calls and asks to meet me at Café Mondegar. I later realized he made a major effort to come to meet me even without seeing my portfolio, coming by cab from all the way across the city. He came simply because I requested a meeting with him about his photography.
We meet for lunch and talk about his work and his travels around India, how he got started, etc. He has such an incredible story, over coming extreme depression that left him penniless and homeless for two years. Starting over from nothing with incredible drive he has become internationally recognized and published, represented by Getty Images and others. His work in Ladakh, a beautifully mountainous region in the northeast with very East Asian looking inhabitants, makes me want to travel there so much.
We spoke about how the spreading of ideas helps everyone, how the competition between photographers doesn’t truly exist – you only compete with yourself. How Ritam captures Ladakh and how I would capture are completely different. Ritam offers to help me in any way he can; he’ll give me any advice or contacts he can. He points out the window at the building next door. “There on the 5th floor is a fashion magazine called Verve. You should go in there and try to speak with their photo editor.”
On the street I meet up with a girl from Taiwan I had befriended in the hostel. She is in Mumbai with a large group representing the International Volunteers [Association?] from the Taiwan University (or something close to that). She splits with her group and asks if I want to go to the Prince of Wales museum. Sure, why not.
I tend to not be interested in museums. They are all the same – art, history, or whatever – they all make me tired. We walk and talk, I’m not sure if she’s paying attention to anything. I tell her about how two Muslim men somehow were trying to convince me that the Bible prophecies about Mohammad in Song of Solomon and that Jesus was only a prophet, just like every other prophet. She asks me if I am a Christian. “I am.” “I used to be,” she says. Her dad is a Christian and she through high school went to church with him, but found that all the religion was about was telling her what should could not do and making her feel guilty.
She asks me, “Why are you a Christian? Have you really thought it through?” I spent probably the next forty-five minutes describing to her and especially myself why I believe what I do, how my believes have been challenged and have changed. I told her the questions I still have and struggle through. She asked a few, well thought out questions. Its obvious she has thought about it and is searching for something, but she wants nothing to do with the Christianity she experienced growing up.
I love when I am ‘forced’ to evaluate my faith vocally. It is just as much for me as anyone else. I struggle so much and question constantly, but every time I run into a seemingly impossibly huge brick wall of a question or problem I receive an even bigger answer that makes me want to believe so much more. Several times recently this has happened. And these answers make it so much clearer for me why someone else would want to believe such things. For so long I struggled with why anyone not born into Christianity would want to follow all the stupid rules and go to boring services. Why would anyone want what I have? What the hell do I have? Repeatedly I find the answer to be freedom. FREEDOM! I am free from everything: my own selfishness and brokenness, my guilt, stupid rules, my need to control everything, slavery, and even boring condemning services. Jesus takes away all of that and calls us to something must greater, a life lived in service of others. I have no strength of my own and I am so dependent on other people; how can I possibly care only for myself? And my selfish self can only accomplish this with the help of someone much bigger and greater than I.
I ask the ‘Captain’ at the Red Shield House how to get to the Salvation Army church, which is quite far. I take a cab, expecting to meet Shweta at the church. The cab drops me down a somewhat seedy alley; I step over garbage and broken glass to enter the gate marked with the Salvation Army logo. Inside the muddy courtyard I ask where is the church and an elderly woman politely points behind me.
White uniformed ‘Soldiers’ sparsely fill the slatted wooden pews. I never imagined the Salvation Army was actually a uniformed army, that the great majority of the members wore identical white military uniforms, their rank the only difference. Most of the congregation, probably no more than 30 people, is elderly with the members of the band the exception. A few youth and a couple very elderly women come in wearing traditional brightly colored clothes, a stark contrast to the homogenous white of the uniformed.
Again I find myself singing and enjoying hymns, now with the accompaniment of an eight-piece brass band and drum set playing all the songs in a march. But I have a hard time devoting my attention to the ‘Bishop’ speaking with a thick accent. Its amazing to me how my brain can just shut down because it is having to work to understand.
Through all of this I continue looking for Shweta, but she never comes in. As I exit, she comes running up, apologizing for missing my call and the service. She takes me to her home, just in the courtyard of the Salvation Army compound. Her mother, after telling her my plan to move to Mumbai, says she will help set me up with a family that will rent out a room with separate bathroom and kitchen and such. It will be much cheaper than renting a studio apartment. Sounds good to me and would be a great way to work on my Hindi.