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It was a privilege to listen to the lecture of Prof. Ingrid Walls on the Transatlantic Slave Trade which transported 6 to 60 million Africans from the coasts of Africa to Latin America for 300 years, beginning in the 15th century. These were African people from different tribes who were leaders, warriors, cultural bearers; mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Before they became captives and slaves, they were members of vital communities. Even hearing it from a woman who did not experience it herself is heart-wrenching.I was however struggling with her pronouncement that during the period in the slave ships and plantations – “God was present.” She shared that this has been the pronouncement of those who survived the slavery. This was very hard for me to comprehend. I thought, how could God be present in acts of rape, torture, slavery, genocide…? Perhaps, because our faith has always spoken of God as omnipresent or always present, we believe that God is present even in oppression and injustice. 

Thus, to make sense of this, I feel the need to differentiate between “the presence of God” and “the Kingdom of God.” These two are not the same. The first, “the presence of God,” is faith-based, gives hope amidst suffering. The second, “the Kingdom of God,” must be a concrete manifestation. The ‘presence’ is not equal to the totality of ‘the Kingdom.’ Why is this important? Because we must not find fulfillment in the ‘presence’ and pursue passionately and concretely “the Kingdom of God” on earth as it is in heaven.

Photo from Britannica.com

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What makes a woman beautiful?

Is it the bones and spirit of her ancestors embedded in all of her cells?

But what if they were broken women, can she create another story to tell?

Is it pronounced by those who desire her and repeated until it is believed?

But what if the spell is broken, will her charm be perceived as deceptive?

Is it the youth that comes for a moment that makes one blossom and sparkle?

What happens then when she is old will her brilliance dim and then be forgotten?

Should beauty be so compelling and palpable that it sways the powerful to bend?

Or can beauty be silent and unknowing, a secret to keep until the end?

BTR, children, hope, life, Reflection, theology, Uncategorized

The Goddess and the Girl God, Understanding the Self-Limiting God and Social Trinitarianism

My Master of Divinity thesis was on the Roman Catholic Church’s violence against the native Filipino women as a colony of Spain for over 300 years. It focused on the demonization of female priestesses called babaylans who held a leadership role in the cultural life of the people and who were respected alongside the males who led in the political and economic life of the community as datus and pandays. Babaylans were midwives and healers, matchmakers and ritual leaders; they determined when to plant and to harvest; and when to go to war and make peace. As a member of her community, her knowledge about their shared life facilitated peace and harmony. Her experiences as a daughter, sister, mother and wife, gave her wisdom in life that could not be found in books. She is trained by an older babaylan and is tested for her ability to connect with the gods and to respond to the needs of the people. When the Spanish missionaries came, they viewed the babaylans as ‘soldiers of the Devil’ and the rest of the natives as heathens and pagans. It was a holy confrontation and not a holy conversion as the natives resisted and struggled to hold on to their own native spirituality. The Spanish missionaries demonized the babaylan, all her life-giving qualities were inverted, and they created stories about the manananggal. The manananggal was a woman witch who sucked fetuses from the bellies of pregnant mothers, was a cannibal who had to eat all the members of her family to obtain her full powers, and was an ugly woman who deceived males by appearing to be beautiful before she ate them. All these were an inversion of the babaylan’s qualities as midwife, as a well-loved and respected leader of her family and her community, and a beautiful woman who embodied fertility, leadership, empowerment and freedom. The Roman Catholic Church wrested the power, freedom and dignity of the babaylan and the Filipino women and soon after, the women were at the bottom of the hierarchy where God was at the top, followed by the Church, the Spanish Government, the Spanish people, and the Filipino males. Today, in the Roman Catholic Church all over the world, there is still an all-male priesthood. Today, in the United Methodist Church, while there are tokens of females in leadership, it is still a male-dominated church. After a seminary education that has made me irreversibly feminist, I have felt tortured in church communities that continue to marginalize women and girls in their prayers, sermons and proclamations. At the center of this is the belief that God is male. And when God is male, the males are gods.
Jurgen Moltmann’s discourse in “The World of the Trinity” on how God created the world from chaos despite God’s omniscience, omnipresence and infiniteness exhibits characteristics of God that may be described as feminine. Moltmann proposed that God’s ‘self-limiting’ created a space which God did not fill so that ‘the Other’ can be created to be in the image of God but of an essence that is not absolutely God. Otherwise, God would just have created somebody like God. Through God’s self-limiting, God created ‘the Other’ with freedom, power and possibility to becoming something independent. In my earlier reflection, I already said that God in creation was like a mother who conceives and births, and raises a human so that he or she can become what they want to become. A few years ago, while sitting with the congregation and listening to a sermon on a male god who exhibited power, authority, and dominion; who demands our undivided loyalty and without whom we are nothing, I wrote this –

I am a child of the Goddess.

was imagined in many waking dreams even before I was conceived.

I was birthed with blood and tears by the Goddess as an entire community labored and awaited my coming

Many arms embraced me and many breasts nourished my soul.

Many hands raised me up when I fell down and when I was lost, many more led me home.

I heard so many voices. Some whispered sweet comfort and some cheered me on towards the goal.

And when I was ready to be on my own, they let go of my fingers and watched me with tears until I was out of sight.

I crossed rivers and climbed mountains, ran after my dreams and opened my soul to others.

I was changed and will never be the same. I birthed myself again and again.

Then the Goddess came to me in a dream. She invited me to come home and willed me to remember my beginnings.

I was afraid that she would think I was strange and send me farther away. But she said, you have come home and found your own soul.

You have discovered your own goddess within.

In articulating about a Mother God, the Goddess, there is another face of God that can be exhibited. The self-limiting God Moltmann articulated is experienced by so many mothers. Birthing a child is both a creative and arbitrary act, a powerful and restrictive moment and a life-giving and sacrificing juncture. And that is what Moltmann described in the creation process of self-limitation (or tzitzum). Unlike the ‘sovereign’ God who is always the authority, always in control and all-powerful, the Goddess creates a free Creation and an open future.

This self-limiting God also allows us to imagine a non-hierarchical and egalitarian understanding of the Trinity. The Social Trinitarianism proposed by Moltmann was developed to counter a monotheistic idea of Christianity that would validate political and clerical hierarchies and relationships of domination and control. In his discourse on the perichoresis of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, he deconstructs the three-pointed triangle where God, the Father, was at the top, with the Holy Spirit and the Son at the bottom. He emphasizes their relationship as relational and not hierarchical, and indwelling and in unity.

Again, I will look at the human relationship between mothers and their children. My mother, Lydia Galima, died at the age of 52 when I was only 22 years old. For the past few years, I have encountered many of her old friends and they tell me, “You look just like your mother! Even just by the way you stand and the way you turn your head…” When they hear me preach they say, “You are truly your mother’s daughter.” These words are music to my ears because I grew up wanting to be like my mother who was an educator and dean, a concert artist and a leader in so many circles. But until she died, I often felt like I will always be in her shadow. She was the greatest influence in my life and when people say I am like her, I imagine that she would be pleased with how I have become the person that I am. Reading, Matthew 3, 17 and Luke 3, 22, when God is pleased with the Son and is baptized with the Holy Spirit, I imagine the relationship of God the parent with the Son, in the relationship between me and my mother. She birthed and raised me and influenced me most of all, but we are separate persons. More importantly, she gave me the freedom to become who I wanted to be and still I was able to embody her most important characteristics.

When I gave birth to my own daughter, Lauren Francesca, I wanted to give her the ‘spirit’ of my mother. She is the one who performs and sings like my mother, the one who has the will to pursue her goals and the one whose compassion touches people’s lives. My mother and daughter have never met but I recognize that they share the same characteristics. Perhaps we three, like the Trinity, share the same characteristics. Three generations of men will exhibit hierarchy. Three generations of women, from my experience, exhibits a unity, an indwelling and equality. Moltmann’s Social Trinitarianism is a profound theological proposal that is a model for life-affirming relationships.

But let me push the theological imagination even further. From ‘God the Father’ to ‘Mother Goddess,’ can we imagine a ‘Girl God?’ The maleness of God has long been affirmed in tradition and the maleness of the Son has also been historically grounded, giving males power over females for centuries. Recently, I encountered a woman by the name of Trista Hendren who had publications for children and women. One of her first children’s books was entitled, The Girl God, which celebrated the Divine Female. After some conversations with her via the internet and her inclusion of one of my articles in her book, Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak, I began reflecting more deeply on this idea of a Girl God. Then I wrote this,

If God was a girl, every girl will be treated like God

Every girl will be awaited in her coming, and her birth will be celebrated by all creation.

Every girl will be nurtured, respected and honored for her innate power.

Every girl will be spoken tenderly to and listened to whenever she speaks. 

Every girl will not be insulted, slapped or hurt by a father, a brother, an aunt or her mother.

Every girl will be safe in her home and wherever she goes, and will never fear for her life.

Every girl can be a leader, an artist, a dancer, a poet, a priestess.

Every girl can have a dream and pursue it.

Every girl can say “no” and “yes” and change her situation.

Every girl will love who she loves and make decisions for her own body.

Every girl will know that she has power and empowers others whoever they may be.

So imagine God as a girl. It will change the world.

Some people will find it heretical to think about God as the Goddess and as the Girl God. But really, all our images and symbols of God are fiction. The Goddess and the Girl God are not threatening. They do, however, place females in positions males used to monopolize. But unlike males, they will not be characterized as authoritative and powerful, but as loving and empowering. Justice is first taught at home. When the home is a place where there is domestic violence, it is very challenging to create a society where there is justice. Imagining God with feminine characteristics and with a female body is necessary to transform relationships in our homes, churches and society. For me, the Mother Goddess and the Girl God is good theology.
Photo of Dalan Raquel by Dovie Raquel

hope, life, Old Testament, Reflection, theology, Uncategorized, women

Birthing the ‘Other’

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1: 1-2
 In “the World of the Trinity” of Jurgen Moltmann, he tries to explain how God can create from a formless void when God was understood as omnipresent and omnipotent. As all powerful and ever present, how can there even be a time and space where God was not present? According to Moltmann, God’s ‘self-limiting’ in the act of Creation to create “the Other” and allow the other to evolve with freedom explains our capacity to reason and act independently, the suffering which is the consequence of individual sin and structural evil; and the characteristics of our relationship with God which is consensual, liberating and empowering. 

 Pursuing this discourse, I would like to articulate from a feminist perspective: God is like a good mother who conceives a child in her womb, infusing the unborn with all her gifts, creating from the best characteristics and possibilities. God is pleased with the creature in God’s womb. It exhibits God’s fertility and God knows the child is of God. But God does not conceive to hold, to possess and to control. God creates out of love and to liberate. And so God suffers in the birth of “the Other” in a moment and in a space where there is uncertainty and vulnerability. At birth, God looks at “the Other” and sees that which has been created is unique and separate even if is in the image of God. God expresses love so that the Other can respond in love. God honors and respects God’s creation so that the Other can honor and respect in return. God liberates so that the Other can also be liberating. But God does not create the Other for God alone. God creates so that the Other can also love, honor and liberate other Others. 

 

We often characterize God as powerful, willful and in control. This discourse of a self-limiting God is a profound theological understanding. God denies self, creates space for others, honors the evolution of the Other and liberates. To be in God’s image is not just hold power and perfection but also to limit self and to be vulnerable. For the males and females, elder and youth, leaders and followers, this way of relating enables egalitarian, mutual, and life-affirming relationships where the power is not possessed by one but shared. In Moltmann’s discourse of the Doctrine of the Trinity and Creation, God does monopolize power but empowers. This is an important theological understanding for church and society today.

 Pregnant Woman doula by AlishaVernon

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Love & Suffering

It is very difficult for me to understand Moltmann’s Trinitarian theology of the cross. The belief that God, the father, abandons Jesus, the son, on the cross, is not God-talk to me. The idea where the forsakenness and connectedness of father and child are most evident at the cross is not God-talk to me. It sounds like sadomasochism, a disorder, where love is expressed through humiliation and pain. As a mother, I cannot imagine how a parent can abandon a child. The greater scandal is how a parent would make a child suffer for the sins of others! Can we, as parents, imagine any justification for the sacrifice of our own children? There is something very, very wrong with this theology.

How can one’s great love be made evident through the sacrifice of another? It is no different from Jephthah who sacrifices his nameless daughter in Judges 11: 30-39. It is no different from the practice shared by Alex, a classmate from Ghana, where a virgin girl is sacrificed to atone for the sins of another in her family. This kind of language about God and suffering is very bad theology. If we believe this to be true, do we then say that all suffering in the human experience is because of the abandonment of God? Are the hungry people in Ethiopia abandoned by God? Are the Syrians dying in Aleppo abandoned by God? Are the refugees being denied entry into safer countries abandoned by God? Are the faithful being killed because of Christianity abandoned by God?

Jesus’s humanity and divinity is a mystery. If I reflect solely on the human experience of Jesus under the Roman Empire, then the suffering which ended in a deadly crucifixion is the result of Jesus’s ministry and preaching of feeding the hungry, forgiving sins, healing the sick and visiting the prisoner. His preaching of the Kingdom of God is a direct challenge and rejection of the Kingdom of Rome. God did not kill Jesus. How could God have done that? It was the earthly powers of the time that killed Jesus. As a human being born in a manger, among people who were refugees, under the violent Roman empire, Jesus was vulnerable like any human being. Despite his vulnerability, Jesus created a movement of, for, and by the poor. He was not in Jerusalem, the center of power, but in the margins where fishing communities, farmers and the poorest struggled for life. Jesus probably knew he would suffer and be crucified. For this was the fate of many like him who dared to speak against the powerful. Did he know that he was going to be resurrected? The thought probably never crossed his mind as a human being. But like Archbishop Oscar Romero who spoke against poverty and killings in El Salvador and was assassinated while holding mass, like Bishop Alberto Ramento who took the side of the farmers in the fight for agrarian reform who was killed inside the parish residence, and like so many martyrs who stand with the poor until death, he probably believed his spirit will rise up among the people even if he were killed. For me, that is the power of Jesus’s resurrection. It does not just happen to Jesus! It happens to those who believe in what he struggled for which is liberation in all forms! Ultimately, and I will end with Jon Sobrino’s proclamation, Jesus’s resurrection is a symbol of utopia as it makes possible ‘freedom to incarnate, to liberate others and to practice love.’ The human Jesus taught us how to love. The resurrected Christ calls us to follow him and do the same.

(Reflections on our class on Moltmann)

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The Kingdom of God is irreversible, new and counter-history

There are three words I encountered in Moltmann’s discourse on the logic of hope in the Kingdom of God: ‘irreversible,’ ‘new,’ and ‘counter-history.’ These are so powerful and promising. First, ‘irreversible’ or the irreversibility of time proposes that the vision of the reign of God is not a ‘return to the Garden of Eden’ or any historical moment evident in the scriptures. It means that God calls us to move forward and not to go back in time. The problem is the Church is always talking about tradition and Biblical times, dissuading those who imagine and propose beyond what is already known. Which brings me to the second word, ‘new.’ Many churches talk about God being unchanging and constant, imagining God to be unmovable and unrelenting. Over centuries, we have seen many ‘new’ things which have made the world a better place – women’s education, rights and even ordination, ecumenism and inter-religious cooperation. These have been made possible in my context and it may be new to others, but it is the newness that God’s promises in the Kingdom of God. Finally, ‘counter-history,’ a very radical word, is exactly what God promises in God’s kingdom. When I encountered this, I thought, we often pray that there were no more poor people and pray that the rich share. Actually, to be counter-history is not just to eradicate poverty but also to make unlawful wealth and greed. To be rich in the midst of poverty is something that is not of the Kingdom of God. To be counter-history is also to remove all forms of inequality. Moltmann’s logic of hope enlightened me on the depth of God ’s promise. It is so good that it goes far beyond our expectations and imagination.

(I didn’t know pine cones bloom. I picked these two yesterday and when I saw them this morning I was surprised. They looked different. They ‘blossomed.’)

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You cannot go back in time

“You cannot go back in time,” says Jurgen Moltmann, a German theologian, in his discourse on the hope of the Christian faith. “A new heaven and a new earth” is not a ‘return to Eden’ but something beyond what has been evident in history, beyond our current realities and possibilities, beyond what we can even imagine. The future with God which we call the Kingdom of God holds something truly unique and new.It’s my birthday today, and now more than ever, I know I cannot go back in time. And more importantly, I do not want to. Not because I love where I am and who I have become. I still find myself in places where I wish I were somewhere else and have moments when I wish I could be more patient, less outraged, friendlier, not so straightforward and, yes, healthier, with more muscle and less fat. 

I do not want to go back in time because I know I have a community of family and friends who will walk with me and cheer me on in the paths I choose to take. I have so many meaningful experiences that make me believe that there is good in the world and we can work for a better world, and we can only do it if we move forward. And, lastly, I am certain that there is so much more the world has to offer. 

Ten years ago, I did not know I would love teaching in a seminary called UTS. A year ago, I did not have a clue that I was going to have the opportunity to study in Korea. Two months ago, I had the surprise of my life when Norman and some very close family and friends gave me an unforgettable surprise party. (where I got to wear a flower crown!) A week ago, I didn’t even know I would meet Jurgen Moltmann this school year. In June, my daughter will finally graduate from the University of the Philippines. (Finally!) And I will fly home to my people…

We cannot go back in time. God promises us something unique and new in the tomorrows yet to come. And the best part of it is — we create, participate and act with God.