human sexuality, LGBTQI, life, poetry, Uncategorized

Pride

The Other I remember is not whole

I remember the face in a glance from the past

The stride

The laughter

The voice, heard and read

The presence felt

The Other I remember is a maze

I seek to find

But cannot meet

But in my mind

Moves

And there, I create

Piece by piece

In infinity

The Other within is unknown

Unnamed

Unspoken

Unexpressed

Untouched

But real

Different

But the same flesh

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Of Churches and Dry Bones

Of Churches and Dry Bones

The Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37, 1-14 brings to mind so many suffering peoples today. The Palestinians, Syrians, the Rohingyas, and the victims of the War on Drugs in the Philippines, are just some among many. But after hearing the stories on the struggles and pain of some LGBTQI persons and those who love and advocate for them, I want to read this text to enable us to understand how our homophobia and our rejection of sexual diversity denies LGBTQI persons life and dignity.

In verses 1 to 3, it is the Lord that takes Ezekiel to the dry bones and asks him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” To which Ezekiel replies, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” In this exchange, the Lord asks Ezekiel but Ezekiel, even as a prophet of the Lord, replies, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

God alone knows. And yet in so many of our churches, we absolutize our knowledge and beliefs, our doctrines and rules of discipline. Our statements of faith include and exclude, affirm and demonize. We perpetuate hierarchies and sexism, and presume to know the mind of God. In the text, Ezekiel, the great prophet of God, says, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

In verses 4 to 6, the Lord commands Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the bones…” And Ezekiel says to them, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’” And even if he was the one who prophesied, Ezekiel looked and had to witness the coming to life of the bodies: bone by bone, tendons and flesh.

It is a creation of new life and a denial of death, a valuing of the human flesh and the promise of breath. How many LGBTQI persons have we really seen as human flesh and bones, as human bodies? How many have we looked in the eye to behold and to understand? How many have we touched or embraced? How many have we affirmed as created in the image of God? The dry bones were in a valley which Ezekiel has probably never seen. It is the Lord who takes Ezekiel there. It is the Lord who commands that he prophesy to them and pronounce their coming back to life. Even a prophet of God can be blind to the dry bones; blind to death. In the text, the Lord denies death and pronounces life, transforming dry bones to human bodies. What transformation is possible in our churches when we begin to affirm LGBTQI persons as human bodies not any different from our own?

In verses 9 to 10, the Lord commands Ezekiel again and he says, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.” And the text says they breathed and came to life to become a vast army.

The transformation from dry bones to a vast army is a revolution. From dry bones and death, the bodies are given breath and have power. Because it is through human bodies that we breathe. It is through human bodies that we live. It is through human bodies that we act. It is through human bodies that we love. LGBTQI persons are not just bodies to include and to accept in our churches or communities. In the creation of LGBTQI bodies and beings, they are endowed by God with powers and gifts, will and choices, and come to us as equals. The breath given LGBTQI persons by the Lord is the same breath given to all. More importantly, this breath given so that there may be wholeness for each body is no less that the Spirit of the Lord.

In verses 11 to 14, the Lord says, “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ These words seem to express the pain of exclusion and condemnation some churches have caused upon LGBTQI persons and their families who have been ‘cut off.’ But the Sovereign Lord says, “My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.”

The Sovereign Lord promises resurrection, life and land. It is not merely about dry bones becoming bodies but also about healing, reconciliation and community for those who have been ‘cut off.’ And, consequently, for those who have caused the separation and suffering of LGBTQI persons. In my heart, I believe there is no joy, peace and wholeness for those who cut off others because of homophobia. Hate and prejudice hurt both the victim and the perpetrator.

Finally, in the text, it is the Sovereign Lord who takes Ezekiel to the dry bones; it is the Sovereign Lord who gives breath and gives them life; it is the Sovereign Lord who gives them land and community. Perhaps the dry bones are not just the LGBTQI persons. The dry bones are also those who have condemned and excluded them. Until we are able to uphold God’s sovereignty and our equality as human bodies before God and as a community, our churches will remain a valley of dry bones.

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Some questions for some churches

Why do we proclaim about the beauty of Creation and not preach against humanity’s destruction of the earth?

Why do we speak of being created in God’s image, and say nothing when people are dehumanized and oppressed?

How can we talk about stewardship when we bless institutions that destroy and plunder the earth?

How can we preach about justice when we seek wealth and privilege in the midst of suffering and death?

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On my 50th…

Today, I have lived for fifty years. Half a century! And as I look back at my life, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for those whose lives touched mine.

My mom, Lydia, always reminded me as the eldest child to commit to what is good, to pursue excellence, to not be afraid to be different, and to love life. My dad, Jose, on the other hand taught us to be kind and gentle, to live simply and, most of all, to laugh much especially at ourselves. My siblings, Jb and Leah, and I were raised with a lot of scolding, but also a lot of affirming. In my head I often hear mom saying, “there’s nothing you cannot do if you put your heart to it” and my dad assuring me “that I will be with you in triumph and defeat.”

My faith in God has found grounding in the church as a child going to Sunday School, as a youth leader in the UMYF, and later as an adult singing in the choir. It was at Central Church that I met Norman, where my children performed in their first concerts, and where we found friends who will remain perhaps for life. For this extended family, I am grateful.

For a decade now, I have learned and unlearned with the seminary community at UTS, my students and colleagues, and radicalized my understanding of God and Jesus’s solidarity and love for the poor. They have deepened my journey with the most vulnerable and the Filipino masses. Along with them, I have sisters in the ecumenical movement who stir my soul with stories from ‘below,’ who nurture my being with poetry, and who are empowering not just to me but to many. With them, I have cried, laughed and protested in the streets. They have given my existence greater meaning and I believe I have been changed for the better.

In June, Norman and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We have raised two beautiful children whose dreams are far greater than the ones we can imagine for them. Thank you, Noah and Lauren, for the joy and awe you have gifted us with all these years. To my husband, with whom I have built a home, raised kids and has been my greatest adventure and my most constant sanctuary, thank you. I could not have chosen a better man.

In my journey, I have encountered God in the most unexpected places and people, among the brilliant and the broken, by allowing myself to be vulnerable with others and mustering my own strength when I have to stand alone. For me, it is not about balance but about authenticity and a passion for life for all. For those of you who are near me and for those who cannot be beside me but have challenged me to become a better human being, stay with me and never allow me to fade away. Remind me to be fierce and to continue to struggle for the life and dignity of all humanity and Creation. This has been my call, our call, and the presence of those who dare to meet me where I am has given me courage and joy to journey on.

And so to the brave, brilliant and beautiful people who have been and are a part of my life, thank you!

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Jesus’s wounds in the resurrection

I didn’t go to church today. So here’s a reflection I wrote on the gospel lectionary.

John 20, 19-31 tells of Jesus’s appearance to the disciples after his resurrection. Often, this text is used to criticize Thomas who pronounced that he would believe only if he would see with his own eyes. When he finally sees Jesus and believes, Jesus rebukes him saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We do not want to be like Thomas who had the least faith among the disciples. He had to see Jesus before he could believe.

Reflecting on this text today, I would like to focus on how Jesus, even in the resurrection, bore the wounds given him in his torture and crucifixion. The marks on his hands and sides are mentioned three times in the narrative. Despite the ‘sui generis’ or the uniqueness of Jesus’ coming back to life, his body exhibited his vulnerability as a human being. He appears before the disciples wounded! His body bears the marks of his suffering. I think there is great significance in this. It should remind us that bodies are made broken by the empire, even the body of the risen Christ.

Josephus reports that in Jesus’s time, as many as two thousand could be crucified in a day. What if we read this text today and believed in the suffering of all who continue to be crucified by grinding poverty in the midst of greed, by political-economic agenda expressed in wars of aggression, by ecological disasters which push us all at the brink of extinction? What if we read this text and believed the malevolence in the killing of 17 in Palestine, the killing of the 17 in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool in Florida; the gravity of the oil spill in Indonesia affecting the communities and flora and fauna, the impunity in the killings in Brazil, Syria, the Philippines, Congo and so many places in the world?

I think we miss the point of the text when we think of Jesus’s return as a moment of glory. He invites the disciples to believe but not just to believe. He says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and then he says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” At a time of fear, Jesus appeared to the disciples to show his wounds, to comfort them and give them peace, and to send them forward to change the world where bodies continue to be tortured and crucified. I think we are called to do the same.

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Do You Love Your Life?

John 12, 20-33

23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Jesus’s pronouncements in the gospel lectionary text this Sunday exhibits the radicality of our call as followers of Christ.

The “grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies” reminds me of so many peasant and labor leaders, student activists and church prophets today, who “hate their life in this world.” What is there to hate in this life? If you see the posts in social media, many continue to celebrate life: enjoying sumptuous meals, travelling luxuriously, acquiring and exhibiting wealth, defending and worshipping those who have power. They love their lives!

We may say that there is nothing wrong with living according to one’s means if they ‘earned’ it. If they ‘worked’ for it. If they deserve it after making their own ‘sacrifices.’ But Jesus says, “Those who love their life lose it” and this is not because he was an ascetic who thought life was to be lived with self-deprivation but because he was aware of the suffering of multitudes under the Kingdom of Rome. Under Roman rule, a few lived luxuriously while many suffered hunger and thirst; a few monopolized power while people were killed because of the impunity and violence of those who abused their power; so many remained silent and even ‘worshipped’ those who played god because these became their ‘God.’ Thus, there is a cost to the privilege that so few are enjoying. It is a cost that many innocent and vulnerable lives are forced to pay. So much so that they hate their lives!

Then he follows these statements with, 27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

For those of us who say that our churches are Christ-centered or that we are disciples of Christ, what do these statements mean. The world we live in is no less violent and not more peaceful since Jesus was crucified and killed on the cross. Are we troubled with the impunity of those who have power or do we find justification for it? Are we taking the side of those who are oppressed and suffering or are we taking the side of the already rich and powerful? Are we willing to be like the seed that falls into the earth so that there will be life for others or do we go on loving and living our lives as if there were no children dying of hunger in this world?

There is nothing romantic about Jesus’s death. To be more precise, there is no glory in Jesus’s killing. He was a victim of the state, the Kingdom of Rome, because he dared to preach and live out an alternative social order – the Kingdom of God.

Today, are we still following Jesus and serving God? How we love the lives we live in the midst of injustice, violence, and killings is a good measure.

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Of Davids and Rizpahs, and Just and Lasting Peace

Ideas are like seeds. They are like seeds that grow to create a culture that promotes individual salvation, exclusivism, triumphalism, fundamentalism, passivity, patriarchy and apathy. But ideas can also create a culture of communal salvation, inclusivity, compassionate service, radical hospitality, advocacy, partnership, and prophetic witness. Jesus used the seed as a metaphor, in the Gospel according to Matthew, to describe the “Kingdom of God” when he described it as a mustard seed that grows into a tree. Ideas create culture, and culture empowers people to act. Thus, ideas are dangerous.

When Trump began to talk about America for Americans during his campaign, it was just an idea. Today, he has set back America by at least 200 years, bringing back racism, sexism, classism and Islamophobia. Trump’s ideas are dangerous to minority groups, women and LGBT, the working class and the poor, and nations that dare to go against the U.S. Empire. Jesus’s idea of “the Kingdom of God” was and is also dangerous. It was a critique and a direct challenge to the Kingdom of Rome then. Jesus could have used so many other words besides ‘kingdom:’ family, household, community, people, but he did not. He preached about “the Kingdom of God” to dismantle the empire, the dominating force that denied people life and dignity. Then it was Pax Romana. Today it is Pax Americana. But is the message we preach about “the Kingdom of God” still dangerous for the oppressors? Or worse, is the Church’s preaching now dangerous for the oppressed? We must reflect on the following questions: What seeds are we planting in our congregations? What ideas are we preaching in our pulpits? What culture are we promoting in our society? What actions are we allowing to be institutionalized and perpetuated in our Motherland?

War on drugs, martial law, charter change, cancellation of the peace talks, tax reform, federalism. The killing of criminals, the bombing of Lumad communities, the closure of Lumad schools, the arrest of political prisoners, the curtailing of freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. The government under the leadership of Duterte is planting seeds, promoting ideas, creating a culture, enforcing actions. Are these dangerous to those who abuse power and authority, or are these dangerous to the already powerless and oppressed? Are we challenging these ideas or are we enabling them in our silence? Does Duterte still embody the struggles and aspirations of the Filipino people, especially the 16 million who voted for him in 2015? Why is it that people can continue to support him and defend him? Finally, can Duterte bring peace to our land?

As I was reflecting on the current Philippine political, economic and cultural context, I was reminded of the story of David, the so-called ‘greatest king of Israel.’ At the beginning of his story, he was the underdog. Not unlike Duterte. His father did not think he was important among all his sons and he was not even asked to be present when the prophet, Samuel, came. Then, as small he was, he defeats and kills the Philistine champion, Goliath, with a sling and a stone. He was the anointed one and even Jonathan and Michal, the children of Saul, chose him over their own father. David, the underdog, rose to power and became the champion of the people and the chosen one of God. Most of us repeat these stories again and again in Sunday school and in the pulpit. David in our minds is the greatest king of Israel. But was he?

Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar, points to the stories we have forgotten in glorifying David. After escaping from slavery, after entering into a covenant with God and becoming a nation called Israel, Israel becomes like their oppressors and builds a kingdom. Brueggemann critiques the dynasty of David, saying that this king ‘paganized’ Israel and inverted everything that Moses and the Israelite people fought for. In the Exodus story, the Hebrew people escaped from slavery to create an alternative community where each of them was accountable for the quality of life of the other. In David’s monarchy and dynasty, a new kind of tyranny oppressed the people. And like any empire, David’s monarchy was not content in ruling over one nation. Like other kingdoms, David wanted to expand his empire. However, this was not David’s greatest sin. In the creation of a dynasty and in building a temple for God, David ‘owned’ God. No longer was God to be worshipped in the mountains; no longer did God lead the people through a cloud of fire. The acts of God were limited to one bloodline and God was contained in one place, the temple. David’s greatest sin was to claim that his dynasty embodied God. And as John Dalberg-Acton said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The story in II Samuel 21: 1-14 reveals the corruption of David. It begins with a famine of three years during David’s reign. In the narrative, when David asked God what caused it, God said that Saul was guilty over the killing of the Gibeonites. David, then, asked the Gibeonites what it is that he can do so that they may have justice, and they answered, “let seven of his sons be handed over to us, and we will impale them before the Lord….” (v.6) David, the king, handed them over. He took the two sons of Rizpah, the concubine of Saul, and the five sons of Merab, the daughter of Saul, and the Gibeonites impaled them, a form of torture where a victim’s body is pierced with a stake, like an animal for roasting. Seven sons from the house of Saul were tortured and killed. Rizpah guarded the bodies “from the beginning of harvest until rain fell on them from the heavens; she did not allow the birds of the air to come on the bodies by day, or the wild animals by night.”(v.10)

Two characters play vital roles in this Biblical narrative on human rights violations: David and Rizpah.

David, the king, has power of life and death over the people. He may attribute to God and the Gibeonites the judgement upon the seven sons, but as king, he chose to have mercy on the son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, who was the grandson of Saul. David, the king, chose to let one live and let seven die. Who is David today? Who has the power to dictate who lives and who dies? Who authorizes the killings and empowers the killers with impunity? Who uses the name of God to justify violence and death? Do we dare to name their evil deeds and reject them?

The other character, Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, guarded over the bodies of seven sons: two of them were her own and five of them were the sons of Merab who was silent in the text. But we cannot condemn Merab. We must condemn those who strike so much fear in the hearts of mothers like her. It takes a mother to raise a child, but it takes a brave woman to struggle for justice. Rizpah’s struggle took courage: she left the comfort of her home and community; she stayed for months on a mountain which had the stench of death; she defended the rotting bodies of seven males from wild animals. Her very presence in the face of death was a challenge to David, the king, who would have wanted her to accept the death of seven sons in silence. Just as her sons were victims of human rights violations, she could also be the victim of the same. Who is she today? Who is she whose son or daughter has been killed even if they begged for their lives and claimed to be innocent? Who is she who has to suffer the pain of burying her own children? Who is she who refuses to be silent and demands justice from those who hold the power?

Furthermore, the seven sons say nothing in the text. We do not hear their cry as they are taken away from their loved ones; we do not feel their pain as they are tortured to death; we do not see their dead bodies after they are killed. Who are they today? How many have suffered the same violent deaths? Did they have any dreams for themselves and their loved ones? Did their deaths end crime and bring peace to their communities?

Today, if we allowed the Davids of our time to torture and to kill, will there be peace?

Today, if we asked the Rizpahs to accept the punishment and death of their children, husbands, wives and friends, will there be peace?

Today, if we sacrificed the sons of Rizpah, and sacrificed more, will there be peace?

David, in the Samuel text, believed that the killing of the seven sons in the household of Saul was the way to peace. We have been told by the Duterte Government that the killing of ‘terrorists’ and those involved with drugs, and more, is the way to peace. But we know that violence and death is not the way to peace.

But what is peace? Is peace the absence of conflict? Is peace achieved by the laying down of arms by those in a revolutionary army? Is peace ensured by building alliances with world powers like the United States and China? Is peace attained by uniting everyone in Congress and Senate to act as one body under the president? Is peace fulfilled when foreign investors invest capital and profit in their operations in the Philippines? Perhaps, these can achieve the kind of peace desired by those who have power and authority. The rich will become richer and the powerful will become more powerful. And when this happens, the ordinary people will be denied more and more the most basic of human rights.

There a definition of peace that makes sense for ordinary people like you and me. It is simple. Peace is the absence of fear.

Peace is the absence of fear.

There is peace when a mother is not afraid that her children will go hungry or be killed in the streets.

There is peace when a student is not afraid that he or she may no longer be able to go to school for lack of money.

There is peace when a farmer is not afraid that the land his family has tilled for generations will be taken from him.

There is peace when a laborer is not afraid that she has to leave her children to work in a foreign land to earn just wages.

There is peace when Lumad children are not fearful for their lives in their own land.

There is peace when a nun, a priest and a pastor is not fearful of persecution and death as they preach, teach, and advocate for fullness of life for all.

This is the peace we seek. It is not about wealth and power but about the most basic services and privileges being available to the Filipino People. It can be achieved through socio-economic reforms which ensure the common good, justice, and equity.

Finally, in the pursuit of peace, we must choose between the Rizpahs and the Davids. We cannot be in the middle. Shall we join the Davids who hold the power and authority, and sacrifice and kill those who they call their enemy? Or shall we stand with the Rizpahs, the powerless and the victims, who will not allow those who have been killed to die in vain but will struggle for a world where mothers no longer have to bury their sons and daughters, and where there is just and lasting peace.