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

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BTR, children, hope, sermon, theology

Launching Into the Deep for Justice and Peace

Many summers ago, when my son Noah was just 5 years old, we went swimming in Batangas. The beach resort had a net to define the safe area and keep inside  not very experienced swimmers and children. Because I wanted to emphasize the point in following rules and staying safe, I asked Noah, “Why are children not allowed outside the rope? Why is there a cordon that separates us from the other side?” His answer totally surprised me. He said with certainty, “Kasi Ma, masyado nang maalat ang tubig sa kabila.” (The water is too salty on the other side) Now, of course he knows that is not true. We may create divisions and borders through floating buoys but the water is just as salty on the other side. Similarly, we may create fences, walls and barriers; governments may create physical barriers to keep out refugees from Syria or to keep out the Palestinians from Israeli occupied territories, but we inevitably share vulnerability and, yes, our humanity. 

The National Council of Church in the Philippines, this year, has for its theme, “Launching Out Into the Deep for Justice and Peace.” It is an invitation for our communities and congregations to leave our comfort zones, our churches and sanctuaries, to go where only a those who have faith have the courage to go. The NCCP of which we are all a part of, invites us to create caring and compassionate communities for people living with HIV-AIDs; to march for climate justice and advocate against large-scale mining, dams and mono-crop plantations; to stand with laborers, farmers and fisherfolk whose livelihood and rights are denied them by those who place profit over people; to help communities devastated by Yolanda and Lando to rebuild their homes, and to stand with the Lumads of Mindanao who are being driven away from their ancestral land because the government favors the transnational mining companies. To engage these life threatening issues as churches is to launch into the deep towards justice and peace.

Most of us like our safe spaces, our comfort zones. We have worked so hard to be in these places. To be on the shallow water is to feel the sand, even if it is unsteady; to be just a few steps away from dry land; to be certain that the waters will not drown us. The shallow waters are safe and comforting. To launch into the deep, requires us to overcome our fears, to use all our senses, to go where we have no control, to swim where we can drown. But launching into the deep has always been a central discourse in our Christian faith. When the Hebrews, in the Book of Exodus, escaped from Egypt, they had to cross the Red Sea. The text, of course, describes that the people who were escaping slavery in Egypt walked on dry land, but this does not diminish the courage, commitment and faith they had to leave their homes, even if they were slaves, to go where God called them to go, to launch into the deep. Even in movie and cartoon depictions, the Israelites had to walk into the sea with the water at their side, threatening to submerge and drown them. It was a journey full of uncertainty and fear. In Matthew 14, we find a similar narrative where Jesus invites Peter to leave the boat and walk on water. We often read the text and emphasize the divinity of Christ who alone walked on water and calmed the storm. But I want to point to how Peter, of all the disciples, dared to leave the boat. The others did not. Launching into the deep is never easy but the bravest and the most faithful dare to leave their comfort zones. 

In human and divine history, we as people of faith must recognize the greatest act of courage, the greatest act of launching into the deep towards justice and peace, as the one taken by no less than Jesus himself. Jesus had nothing to gain for himself when he came into the world. Jesus, though he was divine, became fully human to lead the way towards justice and peace. On this first Sunday of Advent, let us remember what it meant to await the coming of a savior.

Most of us grew up with Christmas celebrations filled with abundance and merriment: glittering Christmas decor; feasting and reunions on the eve and on Christmas day; lavish gifts which may even surpass our wish-lists; a liturgical mass made more touching and joyful by children dressed as Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men, and even as sheep or whatever animal they imagine would visit Jesus. And at the center of it all,  a peaceful Baby Jesus who embodied hope. These celebrations are a direct inversion of the Christmas story we find in Matthew and Luke: a manger for animals covered with hay for a newborn child; visits from angels, shepherds and wise men who were not family but were all strangers; gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh which are unfit for children; and the survival of one child and the massacre children two years old and below, in and around Bethlehem, because King Herod felt that he was tricked by the wise men. Jesus was born at a time and place in desperate need of justice and peace.

In the “Song of Mary” read to us and today, Mary makes a powerful declaration. If those words were uttered in the Philippines today, in the presence of those who have power, this would cause disturbance and may be perceived as a threat. It could also be interpreted as rebellion and one may be marked as an “enemy of the state.” We must remember that Mary and her people were under the Roman Empire and  the people experienced hunger and human rights violations on a daily basis. In the text, she proclaims what God intends for her people. She says, “he (God) has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He (God) has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he (God) has filled the hungry with good things,and sent the rich away empty.” Mary was not just meek and humble, as we would often depict her in movies and children’s stories. Mary was a woman of courage who wanted to change the unjust realities evident around her.  She must have seen the brokenness of the lowly and the dehumanization of the hungry. She must have lived a life that was committed to help and defend the poor and oppressed. She must have been raised to defend those who need God the most. 

This is the Mary that would have raised a savior. A messiah. Jesus did not live a sheltered life like some of our children but was more like the children we see on the streets who are streetsmart. Mary taught Jesus about the realities he had to live with every day under the power of the Roman Empire. She probably told him everyday to take the side of the lowly and the hungry. She must have taught Jesus not to revere and allow himself to be used by those who have power and authority but to fear and serve only God. To submit only to God.

Today, in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, the escalating violence by the Israeli State against the Palestinian People, the evacuation of over 40,000 Lumads from their communities in Mindanao because of the terror and killings perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the paramilitary groups, we are confronted with the sad and painful reality that many children continue to be born and raised in vulnerable situations like Jesus. Today, like Mary, women and mothers bear the burden of conceiving, birthing and raising children in communities where the powerful must be brought down from their thrones to be able to fill the hungry with good things. Today, like Joseph, men and fathers cannot ensure the life and dignity of their children because the empire demands their sacrifice in the name of power and greed. Then and now, Christmas was not about divinity. It was about humanity. Jesus’ humanity. Our humanity. Until we fully understand that Jesus was a refugee, poor, marginalized, oppressed and vulnerable, as many of our Filipino sisters and brothers, and many children in the world are, we cannot truly embrace the hope that Jesus brings. Jesus did not come to be a prince or a king, he was born poor and powerless. Jesus’ birth did not usher in peace, but like in any child’s birth, we are made to seek the peace we all want for all our children. Jesus’ birth does not even strengthen our faith in God because I would like to believe that Jesus’ birth, life and struggles until his death should strengthen our faith in the human spirit. Jesus did not come as God, Jesus came down at Christmas to be like one of us – a vulnerable human being. And Jesus, in his humanity, launched out into the deep towards justice and peace.

Finally, let me end by sharing a little bit about the movie by Martin Scorsese, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” The movie is not based on any of the gospels but is a reflection of the writer’s own struggle as a human being. In the movie, which was banned during the 1970s by the Marcos regime, my favorite scene is towards the end where Jesus is nailed to the cross, tortured, humiliated and suffering. An angelic looking girl at the foot of the cross speaks to Jesus and says something like, “Poor Jesus, you have suffered enough. If you wish it, you can come down from the cross. God does not want you to suffer any more. All you have to do is to wish it and this will all be over.” Well, Jesus, in the movie comes down from the cross and walks away from Calvary. He goes on to marry Mary Magdalene, has a child by her but both mother and child die. Then he proceeds to have other children by Mary or Martha, or both, and one scene even depicts Jesus drunk under a palm tree. Jesus had no cares and seemed content. But the story does not end there. The last scene shows an older Jesus at his death bed, while Jerusalem was burning. The disciples come in and they lovingly tell Jesus, “We missed you, Master,” “We have all been looking for you.” The last one to arrive was Judas and he angrily said to Jesus, “Traitor! You deserted us when we needed you in the struggle! Who gave you the right to live as if there was nothing wrong in the world? Now, you will die and your death will be meaningless!” Jesus replied to Judas, “But the angel said, God does not want me to suffer.” “What angel?” Judas said. “That is the devil.” And true enough, when Jesus looked at the angel who watched him all those years after he came down from the cross, it was the devil. The final scene shows Jesus crawling on Calvary, calling out to God, saying, “God, forgive me! Let me be your son again. Let me return to the cross.” And Jesus was back on the cross, suffering. The last temptation of Christ was living a life separated from the struggles and suffering of his people. We have the same temptation as churches and individuals. I hope, like Christ in the movie, we will all choose to return to God and serve and struggle with and for those who need God the most. Amen.

Art by Tamara Adams

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BTR, children, hope, life, Old Testament, sermon, theology

CRYING-OUT, RESISTING, ASSERTING, CELEBRATING

A Spirituality of Taking Sides and Solidarity

Introduction

When my children, Lauren and Noah, were eight and four years old, they would quarrel very often. When Noah who is younger cries, I would scold Lauren because she is the older one. One time she confronted me, “Why do you always scold me when Noah cries? Why do you always think that I am the one at fault?” After some thought, I asked her, “So do you want me to scold Noah more than I scold you? Do you want me to tell him to just let his “Ate” have her way so that there will no longer be any quarrel? Do you want me to remind him that “Ate” is bigger and stronger and so he should just be quiet and submit to her all the time?” Lauren was not happy with my response but I think she understood better why she as the older and stronger sibling must be held accountable, and why Noah, the younger and smaller child, must be protected and defended. As parents, we share this sacred task of teaching our children to protect and take the side of the weak. Justice and charity begin in our homes.

On a larger scale, Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Furthermore, the very essence of our faith is about taking sides. In the Exodus narrative, God chose the Hebrew People because they were slaves, the poorest and most oppressed. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor….” It was not followed by, “and then blessed are the middle-class or the rich.”Jesus only and always took the side of the poor. Today, in the face of injustice and inequality, hunger and suffering, we must take sides. Matthew 25: 31-46, explicates that in the Day of Judgement, those who helped the poor, hungry and suffering will enter the Kingdom of God, while those who did not will suffer eternal damnation. Especially in scriptures, it is very clear what is demanded of us in the face of inequality and injustice. Laws may be used against the poor, but the Bible is clear about God and Jesus taking the side of the slaves and the poor.

It is simple. But is it really? 

This Bible Study on II Samuel 5: 1-18 will have four phases or movements: Crying-out, Resisting, Asserting, Celebrating. It is intended to challenge us more deeply to look at the text and to determine whose side we must take. Because often, even people with the greatest intentions fail to see the most vulnerable and who needs God the most. The text is familiar to us as it narrates 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. 

Who is crying-out?

There have been many interpretations about this text but I think there is a need to re-readthe text. Let us begin by asking – Who is crying-out in our text? 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 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 submit? 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 today? In Old Testament times and today, she is not one but many. 

Last month, the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao brought in our midst about 700 of our Lumad sisters and brothers. They travelled long and hard, and endured the sun and rain, the heat and cold, to be heard by us in Manila who do not know their suffering. They cry-out to us, their Filipino sisters and brothers, to stand with them as they call to “Stop Lumad Killings,” “Save Our Schools,” “Pull Out the Troops from Mindanao,” “Disband Paramilitary Groups,” and “No to Mining.” These are urgent cries following the brutal killings of three men in the presence of their relatives and friends inside a Lumad community school campus in Surigao del Sur on September 1 this year. Emerito Samarca was the school director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development. (ALCADEV) Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo are indigenous leaders. The Lumads are crying-out. To God and to us. 

The Hebrew word for ‘cry-out’ is ‘za-ak.’ It is not a cry that is weak and hopeless. It is a cry that demands justice. Thus, it is followed by resistance. 

Why should we resist?

Resistance is grounded in the Biblical texts. In the Exodus story, the Hebrew people in slavery cried out to God and resisted. Shiprah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam, and Bithiah, all resisted when they conspired to save Moses. Their escape from Egypt, from an oppressive power, was an act of resistance. Jesus’ preaching, feeding, healing and forgiving were all acts of resistance to the Roman Empire. In fact, every time Jesus proclaimed that he was the son of God and preached about the “Kingdom of God,” he was resisting Caesar, who also declared himself to be the son of God, and resisting the powerful Kingdom of Rome. 

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. 

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. 

In Mindanao today, over 500,000 hectares of land are covered by mining concessions. Over 700,000 hectares of Mindanao land are covered by banana, pineapple, oil palm, rubber and other plantations. These lands are ancestral lands of the Lumads which are now militarized. Over 50 % of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are now deployed to Mindanao to secure the interests of investors in the government’s Oplan Bayanihan. Furthermore, over 20 indigenous paramilitary groups called Alamara, Magahat, Bagani Force, among others, have been unleashed by the AFP and are sowing terror and division in Lumad communities. The Lumads claim that they are the targets because of their resistance to the plunder of their lands. Over 40,000 Lumads have already been forced to flee their own ancestral lands due to militarization. Their livelihood has been disrupted and their communities, schools, clinics and farms have been destroyed. And out of the 71 indigenous leaders killed under the presidency of Benigno Simeon Aquino, 56 are Lumads.  They are peace-loving people and their act of resistance is to flee. The Lumads are not very different from the Israelites who escaped Egypt where they were oppressed. These acts of resistance are necessary to defend life and dignity.

For whom do we assert?

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.” An assertion of authority is never intended to exhibit power but to manifest God’s vision of wholeness for all. 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)

The education of Lumads have been neglected for years. For decades they requested for schools to be established in their communities because their people have been left behind in their development. There were cases where they experienced being cheated and robbed of their lands because they did not even know how to read and write letters and numbers. In recent years, in partnership with religious institutions and other non-government organizations, they established alternative schools to equip and empower their people,especially their children. About ten years ago, they were even awarded and acknowledged by the Department of Education for their brand of alternative education. The Lumads take pride in how they have built up their own schools without the help of the government. They thought the government would celebrate their initiatives and triumphs. Instead, after a few years of success, their schools were attacked. To date, 87 indigenous schools in Mindanao are being attacked by the military through encampment and outright demolition and burning of their buildings. There are also over 230 documented cases of human rights violations perpetrated against Lumad children. Finally, the Department of Education Memorandum 221 empowers the military to teach and occupy the Lumad schools!

It is necessary to critique Elisha in our text.  Elisha’s assertions fall short in our task of working towards liberation. When he was being offered gifts by Naaman to thank him for the healing, 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) When the Department of Education asserted their power to educate the Lumad children, their act only exhibited their power but failed to do what is right. Like Elisha who failed to hear the cries of the slave-girl-child, the DepEd Memorandum denies the call of the Lumads to “Save Our Schools.” They no longer need a school from the government. Much less a school run by the military! They assert their right to an education that is truly for the development of the Lumad children. The Lumads assert and demand to “Save Our Schools!”

What is there to celebrate?

In the healing of Naaman, our traditional interpretations celebrate the 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.

The Lumads cannot celebrate. We too cannot celebrate. Like us, they pray to go home to their lands, see their children get an education, have confidence that everyone is safe in their communities and obtain justice for the families of those who have been killed. Like us, they envision a future where their children can inherit the earth and live in peace. Until the Lumads can celebrate, our celebrations are only a celebration of privilege. 

Possible Guide Questions:

Who is crying-out in our churches? In our communities?
Is it an issue of life and dignity?
Who is responsible for their suffering?
How can we respond as individuals and as a church?

For the Philippines Annual Conference
United Methodist Church

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BTR, hope, theology

Thanksgiving and the Boy Who Began the Feeding of Thousands

Thanksgiving and the Boy Who Began the Feeding of Thousands
John 6, 1-21

What are we thankful for? What do we celebrate? Are we thankful for the privileges only we enjoy? Are we celebrating what we have that others do not have access to? There is in some of our churches a teaching that is contrary to Jesus’ teaching. It’s called the “prosperity gospel.” It is a belief that when you love God and give to God through the church, you will become prosperous. For some, it is a beautiful promise that gives hope for the future at a time when they have so little. For some it is a culture that validates and cultivates materialism and greed. When did God’s blessings mean material blessings? When did Jesus’ promise of fullness mean material wealth?

One of the things we discuss in our course Christians Ethics is the question, was Jesus and God anti-rich? Like I said earlier, Jesus preached “Blessed are the poor…” (Luke 6, 20) Jesus does not say “Blessed are the poor, and then the rich.” It is not in the gospels. Again, when Jesus encounters the young rich man who asks him “What must I do to have eternal life?” His answer was “go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; then come and follow me.” (Matthew 19, 16-22) Finally, in the text on Lazarus and the rich man, you will find that it is the rich man who is insignificant and nameless while it is Lazarus, the poor man, who has a name and is favored by God, In fact, God says to the nameless rich man, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here and you are in agony….” (Luke 16, 19-31) There are many more texts that emphasize that the love for money is evil, and yet the ‘prosperity gospel’ makes us believe that God promises material wealth to those who are faithful.

I get a lot of criticism when I speak about Jesus being anti-rich. And so let me explain further. A central theme in the Old Testament and our faith is the Exodus where God heard the cries of the slaves. God says in Exodus 3, 7, “I have observed the misery of my people… I have heard their cry…. I know their sufferings… I have come down to deliver them… We often speak about the Hebrew or the Israelites as the “chosen” people of God. Have we ever asked why they were chosen? Elizabeth Gravador Dominguez, an Old Testament professor at UTS who taught for over 30 years pronounces, that ‘God is the God of the slaves, and the people of God are those who need God the most.’ God did not choose the Hebrew because they were obedient, faithful or promising. God did not choose them because they were his favorite. God heard their cries and took their side because they were slaves. This is at the essence of Jesus’ option or bias for the poor. Like God, Jesus takes the side of those who need God the most. I really don’t know if God and Jesus hate the rich or the powerful. What I want say is God and Jesus always took side of the poor.

Who is rich? The middle class in the Philippines think they are rich because they can afford homes and cars. But the very moment somebody in the family gets seriously ill with cancer or loses his or her job and is unemployed for just half a year or even less, the middle class who used to believe they were secure and well-off would begin to sell off their hard-earned possessions and would begin to feel like beggars who survive through the compassion of those who have better lives. Many of us are not rich.

Who is rich? The rich that I am talking about are people who have the responsibility of choosing to profit more for themselves or of giving just wages to laborers; have the option to secure the future of their companies and their families or to invest in the education and healthcare of struggling communities; they have the privilege of building beautiful structures and playgrounds to cater to the few who can afford them or of helping families create safe and resilient homes and environments in the face of climate change. We are surrounded by the poor who are suffering from the choices of the rich. And even if some of us like to pretend to be rich and wish we were like them, we are not.

I have already proposed three understandings in relation to thanksgiving. First, the blessings of God are not material or wealth. Second, God’s reign or the Kingdom of God is a critique to all persons, structures and cultures that create inequality where the riches of the rich and powerful are built on the deprivation and oppression of the poor. Third, the God we serve is the God of the slaves and the Jesus we follow always took the side of the poor.

What then does it mean to have thanksgiving as a community? What does giving thanks and celebrating mean? In a world where there is hunger and poverty alongside wealth and greed, what is the challenge before us? Is it enough to just be thankful to God for allthat we enjoy?

Jesus’ stories of feeding are found in three gospels: Matthew, Mark and John. My favorite is the one in John. John 6, 1-21, is about a nameless young boy and five thousand hungry people. Actually, the five thousand is comprised only of men, and so there were many more. The story is familiar to us, a large crowd was following Jesus because they had heard that he was healing. They wanted to see miracles and, perhaps, needed hope. Under the Roman Empire and under the puppet king of Israel, Herod, the people experienced hunger, poverty and violence, not unlike what the poor of the world experience in our times. But this story is not about a king. It is about a young boy who had five loaves and two fishes. It is about a young boy who offers everything he has so that those who are hungry can eat something. It is about a boy giving all that he had and trusting that he will be given just enough when the food was distributed. What followed was what we call a miracle. Some people believe that Jesus multiplied the food like a magician. But some people say that when a young boy offered to share all that he had, the others followed and there was more than enough for everyone. After everyone had eaten, they gathered the leftovers and they filled up 12 baskets.

Who would have thought that a young boy who had so little can give everything he had? Who would have thought that simple and humble gifts can be enough to feed five thousand people? Who would have thought that if everyone offered everything they had, there would be so much leftover? In this story, common people, many of them poor and hungry, shared and experienced fullness. Jesus taught them that in breaking the bread and sharing them with others, all can experience fullness. It seems simple, but is it?

Today, in this country, there are 5.5 million child laborers, aged 5-17, working in hazardous environments. 1 out of 5 children, even as I speak, are working to put food on the table. Forty-three (43) percent of jobs in the economy or 16.2 million out of 37.8 million workers, are contractual employees which means that they are paid low, have no job security and have no benefits. For example, 9 out of 10 workers at SM Malls are contractual. Six thousand hectares of sugar land or what is known to be Hacienda Luisita remains with the Cojuangcos, the family of the president, even after the Supreme Court has decided in favor of the peasant farmers. When we read the feeding of the five thousand, we simplify it and call it a miracle. But perhaps it is not simple. Perhaps we must call it ‘radical generosity.’ Rev. Dr. Everett Mendoza says, and I quote, “Nothing less than a radical transfer of wealth and power can change the situation. The Christian faith claims that God though rich became poor in Christ that the poor might become rich. The world’s richest must become poor so that the poor of the world may live.” My son said it more simply when he uttered a prayer when he was just five years old. He said, “God, sana wala nang mahirap. At sana wala nang mayaman.” (God, I wish there were no poor people and I wish there were no rich people either.)

This Thanksgiving, I wish to leave with you two challenges: First, to be faithful to the God who heard the cries of the slaves and to follow Jesus who always took the side of the poor by advocating, supporting and serving those who need God the most among our Filipino brothers and sisters today. Second, to honor the good news in Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand in John, we must intentionally and concretely participate in the creation of a community, society and nation where there is fullness of life and celebration for ALL.

Amen.

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BTR, children, hope, women

What must I write about…

What must I write about?
Must I speak of the terror that I see with my eyes
Must I tell the world of Armageddons that threaten generations to come
Must I pronounce unknown pains and sufferings too many in the world endure
Must I repeat the cries of the broken and bare the fears of those we have made obscure

But will it be better if I wrote…
Of a home filled with laughter at the dinner table and reunions no one wants to miss
Of families who celebrate little triumphs and cry together in defeat
Of a love that is like no other and will endure for eternity
Of a life that has been well lived worthy of honor and immortality.

Then perhaps I will also speak of what is hidden…
Of crimes too violent they are only spoken in whispers by those who remember
Of dreams too great they must be shared only with those who are brave and dare
Of vengeance and of battlescars both evident and unseen
Of passions and imaginings that ignite the fire within

There is just so much in this world that one must declare and make known..
When we come upon a new learning and begin to sing a new song
When we meet a soul who makes us feel that we finally belong and have come home
When the children’s cries seem deafening and the world remains undisturbed
When we rise up with clenched fists because it is only in solidarity that our voices can be heard

Thus we must write and speak even when no one seems to comprehend…
For we must unearth the voices long buried in the earth
For we must pronounce the names forgotten for the revolutions they have birthed
For there are empires and powers that must be brought to its knees
For there are children and creatures for whom this world can be bliss

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BTR, children, hope, human sexuality, lilith, eve, adam, theology, deconstruction, women, Old Testament, theology, Uncategorized, women

Beyond Israel, Beyond Eden

David and His Women
I am not a great fan of David, the so-called “Greatest King of Israel.” In fact, one of the biblico-theological reflections I have written and am most proud of is on David and is entitled “The Conspiracy of a Dynasty.” It scrutinizes the rape of Tamar, the only daughter of David, by her half-brother Amnon, who was the heir to David’s throne, who was eventually killed by Absalom, another brother and second heir to the throne, who initially silenced Tamar to protect the dynasty, but eventually killed Amnon so that he would be the next in line to the throne. (Game of Thrones ang drama dito!) I then asked the question, “How could this happen to David’s household? How could David, the greatest king of Israel, have raised a rapist and a murderer?” The paper ended pointing to an earlier narrative where David himself raped Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. The narratives expose how the males in a household, even in the household of God, rape women and murder their own to protect and perpetuate their power.

Bathsheba is not the only woman in David’s life and if you look closely at the stories you will feel uncomfortable about how he treated women. He was given Michal as a reward by her father, King Saul, “at the price of one hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” (2 Sam. 3:14). The text explicitly says, “Saul’s daughter Michal loved David” (1 Sam. 18:20) Nowhere in the text does it say that David loved Michal. In fact, soon after, in Chapter 25, David woos and marries another woman, Abigail, the wife of Nabal, who David wanted to kill when he was not given the proper respect by Nabal. Furthermore, in 2 Samuel 3, six sons were born to David by six different women. The birth of the six sons of David meant that the House of David was strengthened. And as both of the children of King Saul, Michal and Jonathan protected and took the side of David, the House of Saul weakened. David had wives, sons, Jonathan and Michal. With the turn of events, Saul, the charismatic king is rejected as king, even by God.

From a tribal confederacy under Saul, David’s military prowess and political ambition created a dynasty. According to the narrative, God establishes the dynasty of David saying, “… I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. …Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16) David became the “it” male. The ultimate heterosexual lover, the virile king, the supreme male, the chosen one.

Yes, David was a great lover. But not of women.

David and Jonathan
In 1 Samuel 18:1, after David defeated the Philistine, Goliath, the text reads, “…the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” In 1 Samuel 20, Jonathan, the son and heir of Saul, made a covenant of faithful love with the house of David, to his father’s detriment and his own. He surrendered his father’s monarchy and his own right to the throne. This exhibited his great love for David. The text explicitly reads, “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.” (v. 17) After Jonathan revealed to David his father’s plan to kill David, the text reads, “…and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more.” (v. 41) In 2 Samuel 1, after the death of Saul and Jonathan, David mourns for Jonathan saying, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”

Seven women loved and bore sons to David. Jonathan and Saul both loved David. But David loved only Jonathan.

David is the “it” male. The ultimate heterosexual lover, the virile king, the supreme male, the chosen one. He was all that in Israel. He was all that for Israel. Israel and it’s monotheistic God required this ultimateness, virility and supremacy.

Beyond Israel
As a feminist, I have always taken the side of Bathsheba, Michal, and Abigail. These women’s lives were sacrificed in the creation of the greatest king of Israel. But an effort on a queer reading of the text reveals that, to be the ultimate, virile and supreme males, in the obligation to keeps wives and concubines and in the reproduction of sons and heirs, male lives are also sacrificed.

Beyond Israel David did not need to be king.
Beyond Israel David did not need to have wives and concubines.
Beyond Israel David was not burdened with producing sons and heirs.
Beyond Israel David could love Jonathan fully.
Beyond Israel David did not need to be ultimate, virile and supreme

Going beyond Israel is about resisting power and patriarchy.

I would like to end my critique on David with his acts of violence against the sons of Saul. The story in II Samuel 21: 1-14 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. The king took the 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.

Going beyond Israel is about resisting power and authority, and alongside it, the inclination towards violence and oppression. In a final act of ultimacy, virility and supremacy, David annihilated the sons and heirs of Saul. Perhaps it can be said, when males are consumed by the need for power and authority, they lose their own humanity. How much kinder would David have been if he had no desire to embody the power of Israel? How much kinder this world would be if males (and females) could allow themselves to become human, vulnerable, and, yes, sexual? How much kinder David could have been if he knew that there is a world beyond Israel?

The second part of my sharing is about escaping Eden.

Escaping Eden

The Perfect Garden
The Garden of Eden is a construct. In the Christian traditional interpretation of the text, Eden is the perfect place created by God. The perfect place with the perfect couple – Adam and Eve. In Genesis Chapter 2, the narrative gives an account of how Eve is created so that Adam, the man, “should not be alone.”(v18) Then, not only is her creation a response to another being’s need but she is a derivative. The origin and host is the male. (v22-23) Finally, the text reads “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (v24) The man, of his own free will, leaves his parents and becomes a separate entity, while the woman is subsumed and loses her self-identity and self-determination. In the creation myth in Chapter 1, the narrative states that humankind was created in God’s image and God created both male and female. (v26-27) Then, both are blessed and given stewardship of creation. (v28-30) In the creation of humankind in Chapter 1, there is no essential difference that separates the male from the female. This a sharp contrast to the Adam and Eve narrative where Eve is created second only to Adam, is a product of Adam’s body, and is then made one-flesh with Adam. In this creation story, there would be no Eve if there was no Adam.

With a critical perspective one can really posit some very relevant questions: Why should Eve be merely a derivative of Adam? Why could they not have been birthed or brought forth from a tree at the same time like in the myth “Si Malakas at si Maganda?” Whoever said that Adam and Eve are made for each other or must remain together just because their lives began together? What if they were not attracted to each other? On another note, why would they want to spend their life naming animals and plants; sustaining and nurturing them? What if they wanted to do something else? Finally, what if the garden was too small for them? What if they wanted to experience life beyond Eden? What if this departure from Eden is not as a punishment by God but an act of resistance of Adam and Eve? What if Adam and Eve escaped from Eden?

The idea that someone wants to escape from Eden is not new. Lilith, in Jewish myth, was the first wife of Adam. She, according to the Midrash, was created in the Genesis 1 narrative where males and females were created together. Lilith believed that she and Adam were created equal. One day, Adam, to assert his power over her, insisted that she be beneath Adam during sexual intercourse. She resisted, because she believed they were equal, and escaped from him. Adam, both angry and lonely, asked God to send out three angels to bring her back. They found her in the Red Sea but she did not want to go back to Adam. In response, the angels threatened her that hundreds of her children will die everyday. The myth ends with how Lilith is the spirit that causes infants to die.

Escaping from Eden is not a new idea. But, then and now, escaping Eden is considered a sin.

Beyond Eden
Marcella Althaus-Reid, spoke of “beyond Edens” in her book, Queer God. She says that we have limited God’s presence to Eden. Eden, to us, may be family, marriage, heterosexuality, a doctrine or the church. Eden represents all that we hold sacred. The problem is God is contained, limited and held captive. She argues that God can be found beyond Eden, wherever we experience life and fullness. And then she says, God is in the alleyways, inside the closet and in the darkest space; in the wilderness, the deserts and the most treacherous places. God is not just in the Garden of Eden. God can be found beyond Eden.

What is beyond Eden? In an effort to answer the question, I found a poem I wrote entitled “Wild and Free.” It reads –

If I feel the wind in my hair,
I must be flying free
If I can see beyond the borders
I must have gone where I have always wished to be
If I can run with the eagle above me,
I must have been riding strong.
If I no longer feel the ground beneath me,
I must be wild and to the universe belong.

All creatures have a wildness in them
Before they are tamed and caged.
They see a world without any borders
Follow the voice within and feel brave.
And then they find someone who steals their spirit
Possessing the wings that once soared
They are forced to the ground to kiss the earth
And feel fear as sharp as a sword.

The hunger for freedom is a wound that never heals
It summons the spirit to find courage.
It begins with a dream and a vision,
And it is nurtured by a healing spirit or a deep rage
All creatures have a wildness within them,
With a song they will weave courage and strength
The moment will come to leap and stride again
To feel the wind, to run free, in a journey that has no end.

That is my proposition, there is a wilderness and wildness beyond Eden. And we want to escape Eden because it places us on a leash, in a cage, in a box. It domesticates and tames us. We lose our powers and our very identity. We deny who we are and all we can be.

In the field of psychology, Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, a Jungian analyst and a cantadora or myth-maker, celebrates the ‘Wild-Woman’ as the archetype of wholeness for the modern woman. She says,
A healthy woman is much like a wild wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life-force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving. Yet separation from the wildish nature causes a woman’s personality to become meager, thin, ghostly, spectral. We are not meant to be puny with frail hair and inability to leap up, inability to give chase, give birth, create life. When women’s lives are in stasis, ennui, it is always time for the wildish woman to emerge; it is time for the creating function of the psyche to flood the delta…It means to establish territory, to find one’s pack, to be in one’s body with certainty and pride regardless of the body’s gifts and limitations, to speak and act in one’s behalf, to be aware, alert, to draw on the innate feminine powers of intuition and sensing, to come into one’s cycles, to find what one belongs to, to rise with dignity, to retain as much consciousness as we can.

The Garden of Eden narrative has been interpreted as a source of truth for centuries even when there are un-truths in it. It defines that male and female are created for each other, that human beings are sinful and in need of God’s grace, and that we are stewards of the earth. But feminist theologians have pointed out how Eve being created from Adam’s rib is a direct inversion of reality. Everyday, women give birth to bring forth new life. Men do not. In the narrative, God says that anyone who eats of the fruit from the tree of life will die. Adam and Eve eat but do not die. That was not true either. Actually, the serpent, the very embodiment of evil in the narrative, was the only one who was genuinely truthful in the story. The serpent promised that they would become wise and that they would not die. These two were proven to be true. Our constructs of Eden and sin has denied us all life and dignity. We must re-capture our wildness and, more often than not, we will find that it lies beyond Eden.

Lilith escaped from Adam and she is a symbol of those who want to be wild and free. Eve remained with Adam and is a symbol of those who will defend marriage and patriarchy. And I have been asked the question again and again of how I want the next generation to be. So I wrote down this poem entitled “Lilith Eve.” I don’t know if you will agree with me but this vision of a girl-child also brings to mind a boy-child that many of you may have wanted to be. I hope that as I read it, you will know that we have a shared vision for tomorrows children to be true to themselves, to dream beyond Israel and escape Eden for a more loving and fuller humanity.

LILITH EVE
Lilith Eve is the child of our tomorrows and eons past,
The daughter of Eden and earths beyond it.
She is the fruit of souls touching, of sacred pleasuring,
and of dreams of an unlimited universe.

She will be warmed by her mother’s fire
and lulled in the waves of her father’s song.
She will burn with passion for those whose only hope is the Divine
and slowly erode the oppressive lies and structures with both
gentleness and fierceness.

She will dance like a flame and enchant like her mother.
And inspire people of different ages like her father.
She will play with goddesses and mortals
and welcome them in the sanctuary of her universe.

Lilith Eve is the child of the universe.
She whispers to the stars, kisses the flowers,
touches the tenderest creatures, and charms the strong and the wild.

She will run to the mountains and explore the deepest seas,
sleep under the moon and swing on the boughs of trees.
At times she will be restless and want to be alone and free.
But there will be many moments when she comes to lay between you and me.

Poster by Metropolitan Community Church in Quezon City, Philippines

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BTR, hope, theology

Ilaw at Asin

May asin sa luha ng batang umiiyak sa gutom
May asin sa dagat na pinangingisdaan ng bangus at galunggong
May asin din sa mga lamang dagat tulad ng talaba at tahong
May asin na galing sa dagat na inaani sa tamang panahon

May ilaw na tila sumisikat tuwing tayo’y gumigising sa umaga
May ilaw na pakindat-kindat sa maliit o malaking kandila
May ilaw sa ngiti ng isang binatang may pag-asa
May ilaw na sumisilip kahit sa pinakamadilim na selda

Ang asin ay hindi isang handog sa Diyos sa isang magarang altar
Hindi rin kailangan ang kandila sa templong puno na ng kumikinang na mga ilaw
Ang asin ay nilulusaw hanggang wala nang matirang butil
Ang ilaw ay nagliliwanag lamang kung ang kapaligiran ay naninimdim

Tayo nga ba ay ilaw? Tayo nga ba ay asin?
Kung sa gitna ng kapighatian, tayo ay sa iglesia nakalilim.
Ang tunay na ilaw, ang tunay na asin
Handang malusaw sa bagyo at magbigay ilaw sa panahong pinakamadilim

Photo by Apol Laxamana