CRYING-OUT, RESISTING, ASSERTING, CELEBRATING
A Spirituality of Resistance
In the first State of the Nation address of President Aquino, all the 1st year students in our residential program at Union Theological Seminary went to the streets with us. One student asked me, ‘why are the people rallying on the streets?’ I answered, they are in the streets because they are desperate. Their voices are not heard in Malacanang, in the Senate, and in Congress. During the processing with the same students the next day, the same question was asked by another student, ‘why are the people rallying on the streets.’ My colleague, Rev. Luisito Saliendra of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines answered,‘they are in the streets because they have hope.’ We had different answers. Who do you think was right? Are the people in the streets because they are desperate or are they in the streets because they are hopeful? I think that we are both right. The people in the streets have recognized the desperateness of putting their faith in those who have power and, at the same time, realize that genuine hope lies in the collective movement and resistance of the people. Resistance is the secret of hope….
Domination is grounded on control and silence. Resistance begins in the utterance of a divergent/opposing word. In the Exodus story, the Hebrew people in slavery cried out to God. They resisted. Shiprah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam, and Bithiah, they all resisted when they conspired to save Moses. Jesus’ preaching, feeding, healing and forgiving were all acts of resistance to the Roman Empire. In the face of poverty, corruption and human rights violations, the greatest crimes in our societies today, our response must be resistance.
In the Alice Walker novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, which talks about female genital mutilation, the main character, Tashi, is incredulous that Westerners who colonized Africa would still dare to ask – “What is the secret of your joy?” To the Westerners, the black people seem to have joy despite their poverty and oppression. In the earlier part of the novel, she retorts, “Why don’t they just steal our land, mine our gold, chop down our forests, pollute our rivers, enslave us to work on our farms, fuck us, devour our flesh and leave us alone? Why must they write about how much joy we possess?” At the end of the novel, as she is taken to her execution for killing the woman who mutilated her and many more like her, a banner is unfurled by those who loved her the most, to celebrate what she has done in the struggle for women and for her people. It read, “Resistance is the secret of joy!”
Resistance is grounded in the Biblical texts. The Israelites resisted against slavery under the Pharaoh of Egypt; Jesus resisted the Roman empire by proclaiming ‘the Kingdom of God;’ and Christianity was a product of re-visioning by the Jewish followers of Jesus. Christians today have learned to resist and re-vision what the Bible says about gender roles, war and globalization, racism and ethnic and religious strife, and the environment. Christians should not be fearful of resistance or a resisting reading of the Bible as an uncorrect or unfaithful reading. According to a literary critic,“the most faithful reading of all is a resisting reading.” It has been practiced by peoples struggling for dignity, justice and life. A spirituality grounded on resistance is an essential expression and movement towards the reign of God.
For my Master of Theology thesis, I developed a theological construction for looking at texts and life situations in our task of working towards liberation. It has four movements: Crying-out, Resisting, Asserting and Celebrating. In many of our churches today, our congregations celebrate with praise and worship, some people get all excited about P-Noy dating his stylist, Liz Uy, and the whole nation is celebrating Manny Pacquiao’s eighth title. But really, what is there to celebrate? For our biblico-theological reflection, I will invert the theological construction, so it will be from celebrating, asserting, resisting and finally, crying out.
II Kings 5:1-18 tells the story of the healing of Naaman, the victorious commander of the King of Aram, from leprosy. He and his people are enemies of the Israelite people and had in fact taken a young girl from her family and home in Israel as a booty of war. Without a doubt, she is just one among many. Despite her situation as a slave, she proposes healing for Commander Naaman, saying, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”(v.3) Her desire for his healing brings together the most powerful men in the land. The King of the Arameans and the King of the Israelites, despite their distrust of each other, put aside their fighting to cure a military man from leprosy. At a time of war, two political leaders create an alliance for one man. A third man, the prophet of God, Elisha, consummates this act.
In the healing, we celebrate with two kings, a prophet and a general. Even God proves to be the one true God who denies no one mercy and healing. But they forget the cry of a slave-girl-child. Perhaps, when she voiced out the healing through Elisha, she envisioned her own liberation from slavery. For how can she wish for the healing of her enemy and not want freedom for her oppressed self. The most powerful men in two kingdoms and the most powerful prophet of God came together to heal a man of privilege and yet do nothing for a slave-child. So what is there to celebrate? A celebration of life must include ALL. Not just of commanders, prophets and kings. True celebration is not a celebration of privilege but a celebration of life and dignity for all.
Now we go to ‘asserting.’ Elisha asserted his authority as a prophet of God. Showing no prejudice against a commander who had killed his people, he summons the commander to come to Israel, saying, “Let him come to me that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” Then orders him, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” Notice this, nowhere in Elisha’s proclamations does he attribute his power to God. An assertion of authority is never intended to exhibit power but to manifest God’s vision of wholeness for all. Nevertheless, in this act of healing, Commander Naaman proclaims,“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”(v. 15) Elisha’s assertions fall short in our task of working towards liberation. When he was being offered gifts by Naaman, he could have asserted for the freedom of the slave-girl-child. Instead he says, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will receive none.”(v. 16)
Celebrating, Asserting, now we go to Resisting. In the seminary, I have encountered students who still assert that Israel is God’s only chosen people. I felt it necessary to reiterate again and again that God does not take the side of Israel because they were special but because they needed God the most. God took the side of the slaves. God journeyed with them when they resisted those who dominate and abuse their power. Going back to our text, Naaman’s slave also resisted. We must remember that she was a foreigner, a girl, a child and a slave – it took courage to speak out as the most marginalized person in the household of Naaman. She proclaimed her faith and the power of Elisha, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria…cure him of his leprosy.” How many times did she have to say it before she was heard? How many people rejected her before somebody listened? What kind of humiliation and persecution did she have to endure to even propose such knowledge to those who believed they knew more? Every word she uttered was an act of resistance to those who wanted a slave to be silent. Resistance is vital in our task of working towards liberation. Resistance is essential to uphold life and dignity for all.
Finally, in our journey towards liberation, the most important voice come from those who cry-out for life. Who is crying-out in our text? The two kings, a prophet and a commander all celebrate but do not hear the cry of a slave-girl-child. In Christian tradition, the narrative is interpreted as the conversion of a commander of the enemy by a slave-child. Thus, we say, it was all for a purpose, God’s purpose. Her cries are drowned by in the triumph of our faith. But really, what does it mean for the slave-girl-child to be taken from her home? Were her parents and siblings killed as they tried to protect her, was her house burned down so that she will not have anything to return to; was she violated and abused so that she would be silenced; was an entire village destroyed to subdue her people? Were they dispossessed of and driven from the lands that they have lived off for generations? Who is the nameless and forgotten slave-girl-child among us? In Old Testament times and today, she is not one but many. And they ask, what is there to celebrate?
Who are the kings amongst us celebrating? GMA has been elected to Congress and has already formalized her pursuit of Charter Change. How do we seek justice for the anomalies and human rights violations during her presidency? P-Noy has been hounded by the issue of Hacienda Luisita Massacre and agrarian reform even before the elections but he has not made any commitments. How do we make him accountable? And since his inauguration, 22 political activists have been killed, and the Morong 43 and many others continue to be political prisoners. Who shall give them justice? P-Noy was explicit in his inaugural message, “there can be no reconciliation if there is no justice!” There can be no celebration until there is justice!
Naaman needed healing. Yes. But the slave-girl-child needed liberation. As millions of Filipinos do. The measure of true celebration is liberation. There is reason to celebration when the Morong 43 are set free; as well as all political prisoners. There is reason to celebrate when GMA is held accountable for the gross violations of human rights and the grave cases of corruption during her watch. There is reason to celebrate when Oplan Bantay Laya is junked and militarization in the rural and urban communities grounds to a halt. There is reason to celebrate when the peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP, under the Hague Joint Declaration, are resumed. There is reason to celebrate when CARPER is junked and the PhP 125 across the board wage increase is implemented. There is reason to celebrate when the RP-US joint military exercises under the VFA is abrogated. The measure of true celebration is when those who need God the most no longer cry out for human rights, just wages, land, healthcare, education, clean water and most basic of needs.
The measure of true celebration is liberation. And for this, we must embody a spirituality of resistance.
LIZETTE G. TAPIA-RAQUEL
Union Theological Seminary