Sunday, June 03, 2007

Singing At The Gate

Sitting at my desk in New Delhi one early morning I head a man singing. He had a beautiful voice and, though I couldn't understand the words to the song, his voice was pleasant to the ear. I knew he wasn’t just a passerby as the song went on for serval minutes.

“Who in the heck is this guy,” I wonder as I got up from my chair and walked to the balcony overlooking the street below?

There, standing at the front gate across the road, was a man dressed in a red and orange robe. He was a Sadu, a Hindu religious man. As he continued to sing, he looked up to the second floor of the building, hoping that the residents would come down and give him some money for his spiritual song of blessing.

In every culture there are holy men (and a few holy women). For Muslims they are the Imam’s and Mullah’s. The Buddhist have their Monks, the Christians have their Clergy (preachers, pastors, reverends, etc.). Even the tribal people I worked with in Kenya had their animistic spiritual leaders called Mganga (witchdoctors). Functionally all holy men do the same thing. They interpret sacred writings, explain how God or the spirits want them to live and set boundaries for moral behavior. Most of the holy men depend on the financial gifts of the faithful. The Buddhist monks, like Sadu’s, walk the streets each day asking for offerings. Priest’s at the Sikh, Hindu or Jain temples are paid through the money received the daily ritual services.

As I got into my car yesterday to travel to another city to speak, I thought about the Sadu at the gate. I don’t wear religious clothes, smoke hashish for a spiritually high or get to let my hair grow long. I don’t go door-to-door blessing people with a song, don’t have a sacred cow I lead through the neighborhood and don’t evoke the name of Sai Baba for miraculous healing. But in a way, I’m not that much different, functionally.

Who set up this system of support for sacred messengers? Not really sure, but I know it’s been around for thousands of years. Jacob, in the Old Testament, had twelve sons and one son was named Levi. It was Levi’s clan that was in charge of the Jewish rituals and the other eleven sons of Jacob was commanded to support the “priestly” tribe with their tithes and offerings. The tribe of Levi was not looked down upon; their work was as valid as the work of Judah or Benjamin. I wonder if the sons of Judah ever said, “Those Levites don’t know what it’s like to live or work in the ‘real world’”?

After I speak this weekend the treasurer of the congregation will hand me an envelope, which will be an honorarium. It’s a gift -- I don’t charge people for what I do. I will use the money to offset the expense of travel, to provide for my family and hopefully have enough for further ministry projects. Though I believe in what I do, in Whom I serve and the services I provide for His Church, as I put the envelope in my coat pocket I will walk away feeling, right or wrong, as though I’d just finished singing at the gate.