Posted in: history,Spirituality by bill-o on January 26, 2010

Who will receive the greater honor? That is the question for any social event where two or more dignitaries are present. For example, at a formal dinner, who will have the honor of speaking last? You may not have realized it, but social planners have already prepared lists to deal with such contingencies. These lists are called orders of precedence.

The concept of precedence is distinct from orders of succession or formal chains of command. Precedence is the ceremonial order of respect. Being higher on a list of precedence does not necessarily imply having greater authority or power. In fact, someone high on a precedence list may have much less power than someone lower on that same list.

What precedence bestows is the greater honor. The list of precedence for the United States is at: You’ll find the list for England and Wales at:

Precedence echoes through great historical moments in American history. For example, President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address after the featured speaker Edward Everett because the president had the greater honor. At inaugurations, the President is sworn in after the Vice President. The Supreme Court of the United States maintains its visible order of precedence with its seating order: The Chief Justice sits in the center, the most senior associate justice to his right, the next most senior justice to the Chief Justice’s left, and so on, alternating between right and left for all 8 associate justices as per seniority on the court. After all, to sit to the right implies the greater honor. Yet to sit closer to the center of the court is an even greater honor.

In England and Wales, proximity to the throne grants the greater precedence. Then, the greater titles take precedence. In the United States, a mayor of a city has the greater precedence while in his or her city than almost everyone else. For within the proverbial walls of the city, the mayor is the honorary king or queen, able to give the ceremonial “keys to the city” (the proveribal city gates) to others. Regarding mayors, the American order of precedence recognizes that a mayor is, in a sense, a monarch within one’s own home town.

And so it is with each of us: with the measure of spiritual rule that we have each been given. There will be others with more power, money, and authority in this world. Yet within our own homes, whether actual houses or within the lives of those few who are close to us, we are kings, queens, princes, and princesses. In a way, we each have a divine precedence given to us that takes effect within our own “personal kingdoms”. And that precendence is not given to us to “lord it over” others. Rather, it’s given to us for the sake of love.

The Wandering Kings of Slumdog Millionaire

Posted in: Popular Culture,Spirituality by bill-o on February 14, 2009

The movie “Slumdog Millionaire” is a 2008 film that tells the story of three children from the slums of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. Slumdog Millionaire follows the lives of two brothers and their friend from their childhood in Mumbai to the lead character’s winning of the Millionaire television show in India as a young man. The film is a wonderful story in its own right, but there also a few “symbols and shadows” in the story line that you might not be aware of.

Consider the names of the children. The last name of the two brothers is Malik, which means king. The protagonist’s name is Jamal, which means handsome. The older brother’s name is Salim, which means peaceful, and Latika means creeper or vine (or elegant). Salim spends his short life searching for peace but really never finds it. Jamal’s name points to his being looked upon favorably by the viewers in India upon his winning the grand prize. After the brother’s are displaced from their family after anti-muslim riot and then are forced to flee a bad orphanage, they, in effect, become “wandering kings”. Jamal’s quest from then on is to return to Latika (the vine).

The concentration of the game show on the number 100 is also significant: There was one question about the one-dollar U.S. bill and one about centuries in cricket. The number 10 often symbolizes the end of one order and the beginning of another (thus we have ten fingers and use a base-10 number system, where to get from 9 to 10 we must add a digit). The number 100, 10 times 10, symbolizes a major change in the order of things.

Jamal’s life-story takes an important turn when he meets a blind girl who is begging on the streets. Being a blind, begging girl is perhaps as low of a social status as one can have in India. Yet it is this girl who points the way back to Latika, Jamal’s long-lost friend. The girl also knows that Benjamin Franklin is the face on the $100 bill, something that she really has no need of knowing. The girl points out that Benjamin Franklin’s portrait has unusual characteristics: he has long hair like a girl. This scene is in contrast to another part of the movie where the police officer jokes with Jamal that everyone in India knows whose picture is on the Rupee note: Gandhi. That’s common knowledge.

Money can serve as a symbolic representation for a way of doing things (a “currency”). In this movie, Indian money represents the typical or common order of things. The $100 U.S. bill, on the other hand, represents what is not common. It is a larger currency note than most poor Indians would ever see, and it is foreign. However, it is the unofficial currency of the world at large. It represents the atypical order of things that lies beyond the present, everyday reality of the characters in the film. When Jamal and Salim start (without sanction) working as tour guides for Western tourists at the Taj Mahal, the movie subtly, and almost unconsciously, shows their change from dealing with Indian money to dealing with American money. Jamal, as a tour guide, acts as a bridge between these two worlds. Notice in one scene how Jamal takes two Americans to see “the real India” (when their rented car is, shall we say, involuntarily relieved of much of its contents). (This particular scene is also a subtle nod to the Western audiences of this movie, most of whom are not familiar with the poverty and injustices that are sometimes are a part of life for the poorest of the poor in India.)

The film’s turning point comes when Jamal must prove his identity. At the end of the first day of the television show, the police assume that he is a fraud, arrest him, and subject him to harsh interrogation. Through various flashbacks in the movie and rough questioning by the officers, the crux of the matter for the police comes down to this question: Is Jamal Malik a fraud or does he really know the answers to the show’s questions? Through telling the story of his life to the police officers (in other words, by being completely transparent with them), Jamal demonstrates that the truth is inside of him. And by doing so, he gains the victory and is able to return to the game show to answer its final question.

In the film, Salim symbolizes law (religion without love), and Jamal represents love. The respective heart-attitudes of the two brothers is demonstrated to us when Salim sells, without permission, Jamal’s autograph of the famous Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan. To Jamal, this autograph was priceless, but to Salim it was just a piece of paper to be bartered for something else. Later, Jamal did not even care if he would win or lose the game show prize; he only wanted to be reunited with Latika. In the middle of the film, Salim imprisons Latika and treats her only as a commodity, whereas Jamal is genuinely interested in her welfare without any conditions placed upon their relationship. At the end of the movie, Salim finally releases Latika and entrusts her to the care of Jamal (he gives her his mobile phone, knowing that Jamal will be calling it later). This is a picture of the law finally dying and giving way to love. Salim dying a bathtub full of money is perhaps a more obvious symbol of the ultimate emptiness of riches.

Even though Jamal was a humble servant (serving tea as a chai-wallah at a call center), in the end his true identity as a handsome king (in this case, king of the game show Millionaire) is shown for everyone to see.

Something Greater Than Solomon Is Here

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on January 01, 2009

Jesus said many radical things. One of the things that he said was that “something greater than Solomon is here”. Jesus said this in response to certain religious leaders of his time. These religious teachers and scribes had asked to see a visible, miraculous sign from Jesus.

It was clear in the rest of the gospels that Jesus could and did perform miracles (signs). Yet Jesus never performed miracles because he was commanded to do so by other people. If he had done so, it would have demonstrated that he had had the power but not the authority to do what he was doing. It would have shown that he was working under the authority of earthly authorities, religious or political.

To Jesus, authority was more important than power. It was the authority of Jesus that first impressed the people who had first listened to him (see Luke 4:31-32). And, later on, the direct question of authority from the religious leaders led to the puzzling response that Jesus gave back to them: A question about authority that they chose not to answer. This led Jesus to say to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” To Jesus, you must know who truly are before you can know what to do. To humanity, the natural thought process is usually reversed: in other words, might makes right. If you have the power, then others must obey you. For Jesus, this was not the way of life, … the way of love.

For the people of Jesus’ time, Solomon, the son of the great king David, was the most powerful and most wise king. Solomon reigned almost 1,000 years before Jesus. His kingdom’s boundaries were greater in extent than at any other time in the history of Israel. The capital of Jerusalem was so wealthy during his rule that silver was considered to be as though it were worthless: only gold was valuable. And, of course, his wisdom was legendary. In Jesus’ time, the authority of Solomon as a great king was unquestioned.

For Jesus, however, Solomon the king was a symbol, a shadow of something greater that would ultimately come later in history. Solomon’s reign was one of visible displays of greatness. Yet, with this story about Solomon in the common thoughts of everyone in his society, Jesus made the amazing statement that something greater than Solomon was there.

Rather than the restoration of the kingdom of Israel to the greatness of the days of Solomon, Jesus spoke of another kingdom, the eternal kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? Rather than answer that question directly, Jesus invites us here to think about the greatest rulers that the world has ever seen. (And don’t restrict yourself only to thinking about political rulers: think about business leaders, scientists, and others, also, who have made significant contributions for the greater good.) Then, once you have carefully considered the greatest qualities of each of these rulers and their kingdoms, then consider each of them, even at their very best, to be a mere shadow and preview of the goodness of God ruling in and through people. … And what is goodness? It is power carefully constrained under proper authority to do things that will be beneficial to others, especially the less powerful, in love. … When goodness is reflected from God into the world, then this is the kingdom of God, and this kingdom has a king.

The familiar leads to the unfamiliar. The knowledge of the best of the kingdoms of this world present a shadow and a type of the kingdom of God.