as some of you know i have been doing a lot of thinking and meditating on issues of poverty, (in)justice, inequality, and my responsibility in engaging such issues. well, all this reminded me of an experience had a few weeks ago.
while wandering the back lanes of a small indian town, orchha, i met a middle aged man that started walking beside me as i strolled along. in india this can mean two things; either the person is genuinely friendly or they want to ask you for money after they have 'guided' you around. this man was genuinely friendly. i was just walking around watching people, taking photos of children and trying to converse with people. he was my silent companion. after a while of walking i asked, via hand signals, whether i could take his picture. he smiled and shook his head yes. i then snapped a photo of him standing in front a washing line and thanked him. in return he bowed to me and touched my feet and then his chest. not wanting him to think he was below me, as his gesture indicated, i bowed and did the same. this startled him and he began motioning to me like he was eating and then pointed at me and shook his head no. i realized then that he was an 'untouchable'. for the indians these people are the lowest of all people and if you touch them you must be ritually cleaned in order to eat again. as i realized his meaning i shook my head and said it's okay and i reached out and touched his shoulder. in retrospect i don't know if my attempt to treat him as a normal human worthy of touching was right, because his face never showed me a smile, just strait lips hiding discomfort.
now i think back and wonder if i am the only person beyond his family that has ever touched him. if so, then i am glad of my gesture, culturally inappropriate or not. almost daily, as i read of caste violence in india, i find anger rise up in me at the idea that someone is outside social bounds to the extent that they are impure or polluting. my heart rises up against that. my heart was to communicate brotherly love to that man, to let him know that he is human and worth knowing, touching. i think if Jesus had lived in india he would have spoken of the untouchables, the dalits, instead of the lepers. i think these people occupy a large potion of God's heart. and therefore, they should occupy mine. that is what i am working on, giving my heart to the emotions and desires of the Father, so that the people of the world can encounter Him. often i fail. but i continue to try.