One of the definitive Indian experiences is to travel through the dirty and chaotic city of Agra, turn a corner, and be stunned so suddenly by the marble magnificence of the Taj Mahal.
This juxtaposition of rubbish and beauty captures so much of India.
You see it on any visit to any bazaar. Noise and filth and chaos may afflict every single sense - but then you see it: the brightness and beauty of onions and cucumbers, oranges and bananas, stacked with care and order.
I have been teaching at the South Asian Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) - here in Bangalore - for the month of November. The beauty of the campus is breathtaking. Every morning I marvel as I walk. But take a few paces outside the campus and the trash piles up everywhere. That juxtaposition - yet again.
I see it every morning as I read my Times of India. The front page - every single day - has been obsessed with corruption among the powerful. More rubbish. Then on page 2 they have run a month-long series entitled 'Bangalore Patrol' with the results of a study into 'civic services' in the city: measuring mobility, water, sanitation, public anemities, environment, and crime. It is not a pretty sight. Lots of rubbish going down (and lying around). At times I sense embarassment and shame with the reporters. But then turn to the back pages of the paper and the collection of photos and stories to do with beauty on a daily basis defies belief. Never have I been in a society so fascinated by beauty and the beautiful. That juxtaposition - yet again.
None of this should be too surprising. Any reader of the New Testament and student of human nature knows that the juxtaposition of rubbish and beauty fills its pages while capturing so much of who we are in whatever country we find ourselves. The wonder of the gospel is that God created us and our world as things of beauty - but sin and evil have rubbished this. And now, through the gospel, our own rubbish can be transformed and we can participate with God in his mission in the world to see that rubbish restored as well.
What a life! Here's to beauty for ashes...
I look forward to returning to Agra next month and revelling in the gospel once again - and renewing my commitment to participating in the restoration of beauty in the world wherever that may be.