How to be a Christian: As Told by Hindus and Children
COURTNEY M. BAXTER
It was last September and, emotionally, I was perhaps in the worst place I had ever been. I had experienced my first real heartbreak and was not taking it well at all. Between anger and grief, I a felt like a burden to be around, even to myself, and then I received an email invitation to a special celebration, Ganesha festival.
About a year prior to the invite, I met this family, the Pattekars, through my work at a children’s museum. I was planning the next in the series of events that were to celebrate the cultural and religious diversity of Peoria and Central Illinois. In this one facet of my job, I was responsible for reaching out to people in my new community about sharing who they were with children and their families. We would plan art activities together, demonstrations, and such. Over time, I met and collaborated with all kinds of people. In the process of helping kids learn to recognize and appreciate the differences and similarities of us all. I have found that, at their best, children many times are the most Jesus that I encounter on a daily basis. When nurtured properly, I have known them to be accepting and full of awe. I’ve seen children bow down in prayer with Muslims they don’t know or ask curious questions. It stands in bold contrast, to hateful ways, I have seen adults react to differences. We could all learn a lot from children.
Out of all the people I worked with, the Pattekar family held a special place in my heart. After the first time collaborating with them on a Hindu holiday event at the museum, we exchanged numbers and became Facebook friends. I was embraced (literally) with immediate affection with a surprising sincerity. Here I am Black and Christian and them Indian and Hindu; it’s frankly, not a combination you ever see in America. They invited me into their home and called themselves my family. Even in my grim attitude, my curiosity was peaked and I felt humbled someone wanted me around -- so I went. Plus, I was promised a full belly. How could I not?
First, let me say I thought there would be other non-Hindus there. There was not. What was there though was a quiet acceptance of me being unfamiliar as chants and music played out in front of an altar to Ganesha, the elephant headed deity (“remover of obstacles”). Others showed me how to play an instrument, smiled, and passed me marigold petals to put on the altar. Many Christians I know would have felt wholly uncomfortable amongst what some would call “idol worship”. Yet, that night I was reminded of a more important lesson about humanity, divinity, and being a Christian. I was told that in Hindu belief everything and everyone is a part of God and if that was true then how could one person not accept another? I thought of “imago Dei”; the concept that all of us are in the image of God (yes, even non-Christians). That night I had an unfamiliar sense of community as we all sat on the floor to share a meal after the worship; maybe this was like the early Church. To some in their community I could have been considered “unclean” and some in the Church would consider them the same but here we were simply having conversations and eating. I was invited not for show or to be converted but because someone wanted to share a little piece of their good thing with me.
I have been reminded that being a Christian is also about welcoming the supposed “stranger”/”the unclean” with a child-like acceptance. Christianity is a big invitation after all.
Courtney is native of the south suburbs of Chicago, a museum educator, crafter, lover of history and sociology, and much more. She likes to spend her time talking too much (once you get her started), writing lists, being creative, dancing around her apartment, being curious, and making people cackle with laughter. Talk to her anytime and bring tacos.