It seems I have gone on so many journeys these past few years. And the learnings I have come upon are so unexpected. They are unexpected, not because they are a new discovery or a total surprise, but because they are truths hidden from us. These truths have been intentionally and systematically diminished or denied by scholars, experts, and those in authority.
We have been taught to compete and to seek distinction as individuals. But, I have learned that it is only in a community where there is solidarity and a collective spirit that we experience wholeness and triumph. For how can one human being be truly whole when surrounded by people and communities who are broken and suffering.
In many of my journeys, whenever I return home, I feel I can never truly go back. There is always a part of me that remains where I have been: with the families who welcomed us into their homes and fed us, with the women who told their stories in languages foreign to us but whose laughter and tears conveyed what words could not, in the quiet acceptance of the men who quickly prepared chicken soup for us to express their hospitality and in the eyes of children who remind us that they are no different from our own. That was our experience at Maalan, Maayon. In one day, I felt differently about who I am, the people I encountered, and what matters in this journey called life.
We have been taught in church that when we obey and wait upon the divine, we are blessed not just in this life but also in the next. But I have seen that those who faithfully submit and follow, lose their own will, dignity, and even their own lives. Too many tyrants pretend to understand the hearts and aspirations of the people and pretend to be God.
But there is a collective and innate wisdom that comes from the people. Before we visited Maalan, we imagined that hunger would be evident and the land would be barren. We thought we brought with us the wisdom of rebuilding their homes. We imagined that people would sound desperate and be consumed with hopelessness. Instead, the community in Maalan, Maayon, had fields planted with rice and corn. Though they were heavily in debt for the seeds and fertilizers which were necessary for farming, they have planted despite the challenges and will soon reap the fruits from the land. We learned from the people that concrete and steel structures were broken down like crackers and wire as we saw the wasted remnants of these, and that bamboo slats for walls and floors withstood the winds and the heavy rains even of Typhoon Yolanda. We were welcomed by a community who lamented their cruel fate, understood the injustice and oppression they continue to experience, but celebrated how they have survived and continue to live on despite these.
But then I would not romanticize their plight. Yes, I felt their sense of community but the poverty was still evident. Many of their houses were built with scrap tarpaulin and wood. It is like an oven in the middle of the day and will not give shelter when it rains. The children, too, are sick and malnourished. The farmers are heavily in debt and they pay a ten percent monthly interest on their loans. The women and men are strong but there is very little they can do without support and opportunities. Most of them are caught up in a cycle of debt and slavery. This means that they no longer enjoy the fruits of their labor. Whatever they earn for their work or from the crops are not given them and are paid immediately to their debts. It is heartbreaking!
One would think all these sufferings would make a selfish and bitter people, but they sent us home with squash and gourd from their gardens. One of the men carried them on his back and accompanied us on the dusty and rugged road back. The entire community watched us as we walked away and repeated again and again, “Come back!” These words echo in our minds. We feel the urgency of the task ahead us, especially those of us who have the option to come and go. The quality of life of our newfound friends in Maalan, Maayon depends on our response and solidarity. The quality of our own lives, on the other hand, depends on the humanity the people of Maalan, Maayon, and other marginalized communities, share with and continue to reveal in us.
And so we participate in “Pray, Fast, Build.” And more.
Am updating this post with a response from Dr. Levi Oracion, a theologian I am fortunate to have as a friend….
My first visit to East Germany (The German Democratic Repubic) was in 1986 as I was about to organize my first consultation on ideologies. When I got off the train at Alexanderplatz, I must have looked to the people that milled around that beautiful plaza like a fish out of the water as I was completely helpless on what to do and where to go. It didn’t take long before a fairly large crowd of about 20 people gathered around me and kindly offered their assistance. I had a little German to help me get by in such situations, but that only accentuated my helplessness. But I was able to tell them that I wanted to go to the Bund der Evangelischekirchen in der DDR. One immediately haied a taxi, another one took my large suitcase and loaded it in the taxi, and still another took out his walled and paid for my fare. I felt I was suddenly thrust into a community of people who were moved by the better angels of their humanity. I could not quite believe what was happening, and all I could say was, “Danke, danke sehr!” And this took place in a Communist country were suspicion, envy and distrust were the principal modes of conduct. I immediately felt safe, secure and at peace.
I take it that your visit to the places your mentioned were also enclaves where their is so much oppression, exploitation and jnjustice and the people there hungered not so much for material things as they did for what is truly human. In such a place, one finds the human community to be reaching out for the better angels of their nature to experience in a deep and real way what it means to be human. In such places, it is easy to cast off your individualism for you know your heart, mind and soul are truly at home there.
But in normal situations—which are profoundly abnormal—-it would be difficult to simply cast off your individuality. There is truth in subjectivity for it is in subjectivity that one comes to know God (St. Augustine). Yet it is equally true that we find our truest self in relation to an other (Buber) As you may know, at the center of my theology is the idea of the “divine-human synergy” that posits an essential correlation between the human and the divine, and that the human can find the divine only in relationship to another human.
So the polarity of individuality and subjectivity (Tillich) is a basic relation in our search for personal authenticity. Of course, the problem is human communities are fallen, and horrendously so. And thus the quest for individuality is a very critical task; critical because to be the individual that one is, one has to break away from the imperialism of the crowd, but then to dive deep into individuality courts the probem of atheism.
It is true that those who truly does the will of God do not reap the rewards and praise of this world because the fallen human community will perceive such persons as a threat to their values and security. But they are eventually recognized, thus we have Rizal, Martin Lutheir King, Jr., Mahatma Gandi, Mandela to name a few. So, you are right; we have to pray for the truth that can deliver us is not in our power; we have to fast, for we live among evil doers, and we have to build for God is with us!
I have chosen to communicate to you by e-mail, as I am fairly certain that what I write will come before your eyes. Sayang, I could not find my other responses to you.