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

hope, life, poetry

I am thankful

I am thankful for the sun that never fails to rise everday
It brightens every morning so earth’s children can play
I am thankful for the air unseen and every breath we take
A steady ritual we fulfill whether we despair or have faith

I am grateful for the solitude I feel even for a moment
And for healings and forgivenesses which mend us after being broken
I am grateful for the little chances and surprises so unexpected
For the songs and words, endearments and conversations common and repeated

I am grateful for the rage I feel for injustices committed by those who have power
For I know that humanity’s suffering requires a protest for every soul offended
I am grateful for friends and strangers who struggle and resist domination
For they are the voice and soul that breaks the silence and oppression

I am thankful to God for courage that rises when truly needed
To speak, listen and create so that another door can open
I am thankful for compassion that swells within our souls
For only then can those who hurt can be lifted up and seek to be whole

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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