The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Restlessness, India and untouchables

Imagine planning a trip that requires a vaccination for polio, hepatitis and Japanese encephalitis. Imagine having to ingest live typhus bacteria and take malaria pills on a daily basis. “And why are you going there?” asked one person after another as I recited this list.

I was going to India, I thought, to satisfy a nearly lifelong curiosity about the place. But I’m beginning to wonder whether it was more than mere curiosity that led me there.

I spent January 2007 in Tiruvannamalai, India, volunteering at Quo Vadis Interfaith Dialogue Center as part of my master of arts degree program at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. It was the fulfillment of a childhood dream to touch the so-called “untouchables”—outcasts of India’s oppressive caste system.

But fulfillment may be the wrong word. For rather than a sense of completion, the experience created a restlessness to return. The inexplicable feeling is so strong that it changed the trajectory of my life.

I graduated from Luther in May. But the secure, career-furthering jobs I envisioned for my post-Luther life now seem unbearably mundane. I’ve passed up pursuing what I once would have considered dream jobs with generous paychecks and titles befitting one in her fifth decade of life. Instead, I’ll eke out an existence with part-time and freelance work as I make plans to lead a women’s interfaith dialogue study trip to India next year.

India—with its aromatic cuisine, frenetic urban life and beautiful, raven-haired inhabitants—is a feast for the senses. For me it was also an experience of passionate personal connections, a broadening of my theological horizons and a profoundly meaningful experience of Christian community.

Seminarians are frequently asked to describe their call to ministry. I never felt that the unanswered questions or the dissatisfaction with shallow theology that impelled me to seminary constituted a call. Was that grade-school social studies lesson about the untouchables or my passion to return to India a call? I don’t know. If somehow the mortgage gets paid, the student loan payments are kept up to date and I find myself at the travel clinic getting a hepatitis booster, I might have my answer.

This week's front page features:

What's the difference? A look from the ELCA at the company we keep. (Illustration at right.)

Across the wide Missouri divide: Why Lutheran kin are so separate.

Turning to Ecclesiastes: This book is controversial—and a favorite.

A surprising new role: Swartling prepares to serve as ELCA secretary.

Also: After storms, Lutheran recovery efforts kick in.

Also: Parting insights.

Also: Lutheran laryngitis.

Read these articles on our front page > > >

Discuss Ecclesiastes:

Join Ray Waddle (right) to explore the fascination that the book of Ecclesiastes continues to have for generations of Bible readers.

Waddle is the author of Against the Grain: Unconventional Wisdom from Ecclesiastes (Upper Room Books, 2005).

Join him today through Oct. 2 to discuss this strange, paradoxical, controversial and favorite book of the Bible.

Share your experiences with Ecclesiastes.

Consider reading "Turning to Ecclesiastes," "Just what is vanity" and "More from Ecclesiastes" before joining in.

Join the conversation > > >

This week on our blog:

Amber Leberman writes about being invited to a Wisconsin congregation.

Julie Sevig (right) blogs about "Kid Nation."

Sonia Solomonson writes about writer's block.

Check out our blog > > >

Tell us! Peace sharing preferences:

A staff blog on The Lutheran’s Web site about hugging vs. shaking hands during the sharing of peace resulted in 11 responses and an idea for a future story in the magazine. Share your opinion about sharing the peace — handshakes vs. hugging, comfort zones vs. uncomfortable zones.

Send your response to julie.sevig@thelutheran.org by Nov. 16.

Members: Respond online > > >

Take our 2008 topics survey:

Every year The Lutheran gives our readers the opportunity to help select the major issues we'll cover the following year.

Now it's time for you to contribute to our 2008 cover stories. The Lutheran staff has collected your comments and suggestions throughout the year and has used them to create a list of 25 potential cover stories. Choose 10 from our list, or suggest your own.

The deadline to complete the survey is Oct. 31. Results will appear in the January issue of The Lutheran.

Take the survey > > >

Subscribe to The Little Lutheran:

We at The Lutheran think it’s important to nurture the faith of the little ones in our midst. We developed The Little Lutheran for children 6 and younger to help them learn about God’s love for them and the world in which they live. We want them to know Jesus as friend and savior too.

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