Wednesday, September 29, 2004

the last post on pizza (i promise) (maybe)

Following on from my last post, I have a story from India about how inter-faith relations can be extremely useful. I mentioned that dialogue should neither be proselytizing nor diplomacy, but rather a time of mutual witnessing and learning. I learnt a great deal from Hinduism while I was in India; both from the nation itself and from one of the other volunteers. His name was Ravi, he was born in the UK but his parents are from India, and have raised him a Hindu. He does not eat meat or drink alcohol. I am pleased to say that I even had a chance to share a little bit about Jesus.

After three months in India, rice begins to get a little bit old. I was hence delighted to discover a restaurant in the nearest town to me that served pizza (I swear this is coincidental and not some clever segway from the last post). Anyway, I told some of the other volunteers about this, and they were also very excited at the prospect of a non-rice based meal. One day, four of us set off for the restaurant: James, Si, Ravi and myself. I tended to avoid meat in India, as generally it comes from the dirty beasts you see walking down the side of the road and eating garbage. James, however, was having withdrawal symptoms and ordered the 'Iron Man' pizza, which comes with onions, peppers and mutton. The rest of us had a veggie Hawaiian each. After the normal waiting time for an Indian restaurant (about 45 mins) our meals arrive and we dig in enthusiastically. Suddenly, Ravi stops and looks at me.
"Is there meat in this?"
"Er... I haven't found any..."
"Well, what's that then?" he says, plonking a small bit of unidentifiable food on the napkin in front of him.
"It can't be meat, we ordered a veggie Hawaiian. It's probably a bit of some strange Indian vegetable..."
"No! That is meat!"
I begin scraping the surface of my pizza looking for evidence of meat. Nope. Nothing but cheese, tomato and pineapple. Si produces the same verdict. Then I turn to James:
"Is there any meat in your pizza?"
"Actually... I haven't found any yet. It is meant to have mutton in I think..."
Well, guess what happened. One hungry Englishman out of four orders a meat pizza and the waiters manage to give it to the devout Hindu. Ravi looked distraught. I suggested that maybe he had discovered the mix up before he ate any. He wasn't satisfied. He ran to the restrooms while we had a good shout at the waiters - I mean this is India for crying out loud! If you would expect people to be careful with vegetarians anywhere, it is in India!

Ravi spent the rest of the meal puking up, but came back to the table with a very unhappy look on his face. I admired his devotion, and wanted to offer some consolation. I said that if there is one thing Christianity has taught me, it is that God is forgiving. I remembered the words of Jesus:

"Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.'" (Matthew 15:17,18)

I promised to pray for him, and Ravi went home to do a penance, unsure to which of the Hindu gods he should offer his prayer. I reflected later that Ravi would do well to read some of the Psalms in his hour of need. David is constantly pouring his heart out to God, asking for forgiveness. In fact, the entire Bible is full of people who screw up, and still God receives them anew. And they probably committed far worse sins than the accidental eating of a forbidden food. The forgiving aspect of God is by no means alien to eastern thought - in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna continually calls Arjuna to come to him for purification and salvation. However, I don't think anywhere does it quite as well as the seventy times seven of Jesus Christ. Christ's forgiveness, which came from the cross to his executioners, knows no limits.

Yeah, it would be classed as a venial sin if it were a Catholic obligation to never eat meat. ;)
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