Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Preaching To The Needy

I was watching a TV program about Heather Veitch on Channel 4 today, 'The Holy Hottie'. It was all about how Heather was a topless model, stripper and porn actress who found God and became a sincere follower of Jesus Christ. She proceeded to network with other Christian women from her church in order to form a ministry; "JC's Girls".

What I found remarkable about this is the way the JC's Girls took the message of the Gospels directly to those who needed it. Capitalising on her experience with the porn industry and having first-hand experience of the suffering that exploited women undergo, Heather and the JC Girls go directly into the topless bars and strip clubs - and even the Adult Entertainment Expo festivals - and gently persuade the strippers to give up their vocation and accept the love of Christ into their lives. The endeavour was surprisingly successful and is still going strong, even though it naturally has it's critics.

The part which I found most touching is how the pastor of the California church who hosts the ministry was being pressured by the 'higher-ups' to discontinue the project. As the pastor was wholly committed to the ministry having seen it's remarkable success first-hand, he set an ultimaturm in front of his congregation that if he did not receive the support of the congregation then he would leave and go elsewhere. He was willing to sacrifice the whole church in order to support the ministry. They were initially stunned but then, slowly but surely, they all arose and made their way to the stage in a 100% show of support. Wow! And it was all started off by one woman.

This inspired me to think about the love of Nitai and Gaura. People supported the "JC's Girls" ministry by citing Christ's own example of associating with the prostitutes and the drunks in order to transform them with his love. Well isn't our Caitanya the very Patita-Pavana himself? And isn't our Nitai dayamaya? How could anyone resist the love, compassion and forgiveness of these Two? They saved Jagai-Madhai and so many others, They incarnated for the very purpose of loka-upakara, and They took their gifts directly to those who needed it.

As devotees of Nitai-Gaur, we have a responsibility to extend Their compassion by humbly taking up the same duty of preaching and, even though I loathe the term, "save the fallen souls". I was also reflecting on the preaching activities carried out by ISKCON; book distribution, chanting parties, pandal programs and so on, and their success thereof. I am always amazed at those who advocate or are more inclined towards concentrating on their own progress and are not much inclined towards proper preaching. I have to admit that even though I was full of the fire of preaching when I was younger, time and experience have taught me that some approaches are not always successful. It is not the type of "Speaker's Corner" preaching that will be successful although that may have some advantages. I was thinking that it is time to think of strategies that make up an ideal of intelligent preaching.

I have not heard any stories of devotees being so bold as to enter strip clubs and the like for preaching. There is a wine bar next door to the ISKCON London temple, and I remember once how one devotee went down there in his enthusiasm during the street chanting-and-dancing party. He did it just for a joke and promptly came up the stairs again, whereas the other devotees looked at him and laughed with a look of mock horror and concern. Why did they do that? Is it really so bard to enter wine bars or pubs in order to preach? Isn't that directly taking the message to those who need it, regardless of their receptivity to it?

Another factor to consider is that the "JC Girls" are preaching about Jesus after all. This is possible in the USA which is a Christian country and the whole population is familiar with the idea of Jesus. It is not so easy to talk about Nitai Gaur (what to speak of Radha-Krishna) in a "foreign" country. Even in India Nitai-Gaur is not so well known except in Bengal, while at least Radha-Krishna is known everywhere. So in that respect, Vaishnavas have a harder task than others in regards to first introducing the whole subject from the beginning.

The JC Girls used the strategy of entering a strip club and booking a dancer for a so-called private dance in a dedicated booth. They then told the dancer that they didn't want a dance and they only wanted a chance to chat about Jesus, offering to pray for them right then and there, and then paying them for the "dance" that never happened. This endeared them to the owners of the club since the dancers were not losing any money by talking to the Christians. The funny thing was how most of the dancers were receptive to the preaching and were happy to accept invitations to attend church, accept a free Bible and so on.

Anyway so these are the main points circulating in my mind after watching that show. There is opportunity to harvest a broader field by way of intelligent preaching strategies that bring the all-encompassing love and forgiveness of Nitai-Gaur directly to those who need it.

16 Comments:

  • At 18 October, 2006 08:02, Anonymous Myrla said…

    Pranams

    Funny that I was thinking of that stuff this morning – strategies for effective “preaching”. Though I am not happy with where ISKCON is heading , I greatly appreciate their programs: street harinam, street book distribution, etc. and the enthusiasm of ISKCON devotees . That is one of the limbs of bhakti !!! Though of course, there maybe other reasons for selling books such as economics. But that is another matter. We advance in our spiritual life based on our adhikara, are we not? Any spiritual endeavour is sukrti. Having done that myself in my youth in the Philippines with ISKCON, (out on the street the whole day selling and street-harinam, etc) I do not rule out the possibility that I will do it again here in Australia. But of course, I have limitations, not just logistics and cultural considerations but also cooperation from initiated devotees in Melbourne, who might think I am “showy” or "acting" like I am advanced etc..

    To be honest, once I sort out my personal life and get some cooperation, I will be considering either book distribution or if I get to have my own place -- setting up a part-time centre in my own home – the specifics I am not sure yet. I am the only devotee in this household, so it is a hard call. For young people, rock concerts are good places to go to, to distribute literature, and also going on group-driving holiday in the country to do some door knocking. I actually miss harinam and dancing in the street.

    Gaurasundar, you have to hook-up with a group to be able to do it more effectively, though.

    This might be my last post for now as I am leaving for the Mathura-Parikram 2 days from today. Be back Nov 01.

    Be well, be Radha-Krisna conscious and keep on blogging.

     
  • At 20 October, 2006 03:52, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Very interesting and exciting views there! I agree with the part about rock concerts; I've only been to two in my life so this is a good place to start. How to reach them? One way would be to have a credible alternative: Hare Krishna rock bands!

    Now I know that this has already been done by groups like 108 and indirectly by Kula Shaker, George Harrison etc., but just as there are many rock groups there must be many Gaudiya rock bands that cater to each particular taste. Some may like Motorhead better than Metallica in much the same way as someone may like 108 better than Kula Shaker. So one has to reach people by way of intelligent preaching.

    Book distribution? Newer books need to be written that deal with more current and modern issues, and which also take account of recent developments in the scientific and technological fields. If the current debate is about Creationism vs. Evolution, for example, then newer books need to be penned that outline the case for creationism, and so on. If Richard Dawkins can write about selfish genes (and biological atheism) in an accessible way for the layman, so can we. Write our ideas in accessible ways, that is, unlike such expensive and highbrow books like Sadaputa's and Drutakarma's.

    Anyway these are just some more random thoughts after reading yoru comments. Have a great time in Vraja! :-)

     
  • At 20 October, 2006 16:55, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Gaurasundara,
    ever seen the film 'The Missionary'?

     
  • At 22 October, 2006 23:28, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Hi, no I haven't. Is it any good? What's it about?

     
  • At 23 October, 2006 17:41, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    No, it’s not a particularly good film, and I have never been able to watch it the whole way through. But it does convey an interesting moral:

    The well meaning ‘missionary’ of the title tries to preach to the local prostitutes, but due to his libidinous nature instead becomes seduced by them. I was trying to make a point in a light-hearted way (anonymously, as I don’t want to appear too often on Vaishnava blogs [some may consider me an unwelcome presence] - the problem is if one reads them, one is often compelled to say something).

    Anyway the joke is a bit wasted now that you admit to not having seen it!

    Though of course, the implied question still remains; don’t you think that it would take quite an exceptional soul to be able to preach in such places as brothels and bars, without becoming degraded?

     
  • At 24 October, 2006 01:30, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Haha, I got it in the end. Don't worry about it, everyone is welcome here.

    About your question, yes I do think that a sufficient amount of "qualification" is necessary to do such things. It's a very interesting concept when you consider all those stories about how Sri Bhaktisiddhanta was willing to cook meat to people if they would stay in his hostel, or the fact that he was willing to roll up the cigarettes of the construction workers so that they would build a temple quickly. I guess such things are classed as "the end justifies the means" or something similar.

    Even if I do say so myself, Heather Veitch is a particularly good-looking woman, what many people would refer to as an "ultra-hot babe". See a Google Image Search. Veitch herself appears to be a very humble and modest woman (which is quite an achievement considering her past activities, cough cough) but she did come across as very genuine. In that way she saw her good looks as a way of gaining credibility with the adult film stars and strippers that she targets, she is not an "ugly hairy feminist lesbian" as many people tend to be. Excuse the stereotyping.

    One of the interesting points the documentary made was about if Heather would be tempted to fall back into her old ways. She was in league with a porn producer who helped her with printing literature and whatnot as well as providing contacts in the porn industry. It was his opinion that "sex is part of human nature" and that the "truth will out"! as far as Heather was concerned.

    So even while the documentary showed Heather going to strip clubs and adult expo festivals to target people, the "strong sensual energy" of the places was noted by the narrator and even he wondered if Heather would be tempted to fall back into her own ways. She actually ended up gorging on a box of doughnuts, haha.

    Maybe a little bit of detachment and discrimination is needed. The thing with Heather is that she had personal experience of how soul-destroying the porn world can be and she is not just some preachy Christian on a soapbox. Maybe it's something similar, only an alcoholic (or recovering alcoholic, and ditto for ex-drug abusers) can be properly "qualified" to talk about the evils of alcohol and drugs.

    It's an interesting to think about, I'll agree with that.

     
  • At 24 October, 2006 01:36, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Oh, I just found some videos on Google too...

     
  • At 24 October, 2006 17:13, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Gaurasundaraji,

    I’m glad to hear that like me, you have an open door approach.

    It’s difficult to say what keeps the woman’s preaching focused there in particular, isn‘t it? It may well be, as you seem to be implying, an act of compassion - borne out of an understanding and experience of that world - her desire to liberate others from their suffering then would be, to a certain degree, similar to that of a Bodhisattva’s. But then again, on the contrary, I’m sure there are those who would charge her with being unable to let go of this ‘community’ due to an inherent addiction to it.

    I don‘t think there can be any doubt that "sex is part of human nature" - however one considers it; but pornography, in my opinion, isn't part of human nature. Personally, I’ve always found the whole thing absurd - the idea of sex as a ‘spectator sport’!

    Preaching, ministering, in those places inhabited by the forgotten and the forsaken, is, to my mind, completely essential though.

    Whether one looks to Nitai, to Jesus, to Avalokitesvara, or to the Lord Siva (who accepts those who have been abandoned by all others) we will this salvific theme being played out again and again.

    Years ago when I was living in Dublin, I heard tale of a Buddhist monk who was going around the prisons of Ireland speaking with the inmates, and distributing religious literature to them. I remember mentioning this to an older devotee ( a Bhaktivedanta Swami disciple), suggesting that we perhaps do likewise; his reply was “you’re not gonna make men that way” - his only concern, it seemed to me, was to ‘make men’ so as to ensure the smooth operation and longevity of the institution. Sridhara Maharaj used to call this phenomenon ‘head counting.’

    Anyway, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this type of thing myself recently - your essay is, in this regard, synchronistic, and I think you raise an important issue - one that is (as you have indicated) all too easily swept under the asana; how can the devotees of God (however one realises Him/Her) sleep easy whilst all around them people are crying -
    is it not incumbent upon those with maturity to run to them (no matter how depraved their habitat) dry their eyes, and try to heal their hearts?

     
  • At 25 October, 2006 03:27, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Yes I completely agree, especially with your last paragraph. Sadly it looks like some devotees may be content with sitting on an asana, while others have bleeding hearts.

    Only yesterday I was telling my mother that I would like to do something to help people, like join the Red Cross or something so that I can go to those places and help transport and give them food, clothing, medicines or whatever. Too many people are suffering in this world and not enough seem to be doing something about it. I feel that this itself is an unsung tragedy.

     
  • At 25 October, 2006 17:45, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's sad that many people would consider such preoccupation with the 'world' and it's suffering (in the way you have expressed it) to be either secondary, or a deviation from our deepest spiritual concern.

    I'm glad we had this exchange.

    Gaurasundara, lest I be thought of as some kind of proponent of a Neo-'Mayavadin' cult, I should point out a misprint in my last post; it should read:

    'Whether one looks to Nitai, to Jesus, to Avalokitesvara, or to the Lord Siva (who accepts those who have been abandoned by all others) we will FIND this salvific theme being played out again and again.'

    By the way, I really like your photos on here. Particularly the photograph of Jaganatha in tartan - He looks bonny! I lived in Bhaktivedanta Manor '77-'78 when He (and not Ram) was on the other altar beside Radha-Gokulananda.

     
  • At 12 November, 2006 17:39, Anonymous Myrla said…

    Radhe Radhe

    I do not exactly agree with your "catering to their needs" line, rewritting books catering to a certain type of people. If that is the case , we will be bogged down with analyzing the "market" and writing books. I believe there are enough books to get any group going on a "preaching mission" (for lack of a better term) if we are serious enough. Religion and spirituality are outside the natural law. Yes, logic and commonsense are needed to explain things, but that is not the be all and end all.

    A simple booklet grounded on the question "Who am I " can touch on many areas of the GV philosophy.

     
  • At 12 November, 2006 19:43, Anonymous Myrla said…

    Gaura: It's a very interesting concept when you consider all those stories about how Sri Bhaktisiddhanta was willing to cook meat to people if they would stay in his hostel, or the fact that he was willing to roll up the cigarettes of the construction workers so that they would build a temple quickly.

    Whether, that is true or not not, we, who are alive today would have no way of confirming that allegations.

    Whatever, GVism in the western world was facilitated a lot by his branch. And we should'nt forget that.

    As to the question of real GVism, whether we go by ISKCON or GM, there is no harm !! but many things to gain.I definitely appreciate also the traditional group's effort in reaching out to the modern society.

     
  • At 13 November, 2006 04:26, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    I believe the part about meat-eating originated with Prabhupada himself. The story about rolling up cigarettes originates from Jati Shekhar das (recently deceased I have heard), a disciple of Sri Bhaktisiddhanta who witnessed this during the construction of the Alarnath temple, somewhere in Orissa I believe.

     
  • At 13 November, 2006 04:27, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    It's perhaps not necessary to rewrite books but I was very inspired by what the JC's Girls are doing and how they had discovered the knack of taking their message straight to the people who needed it, cutting out any middlemen as it were.

     
  • At 15 November, 2006 16:37, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Whether, that is true or not not, we, who are alive today would have no way of confirming that allegations.

    Sridhara Maharaj also spoke of this to his disciples.

    He also told us that Siddhanta Saraswati gave instructions for goat meat to be cooked outside the Math compound in Calcutta, brought in and served to a British dignitary; who in the end, did not show up, and therefore the plan was abandoned.

     
  • At 16 November, 2006 14:33, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Very interesting!

     

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