July 7, 2011

Help… I am almost lost: A Spiritual Ambivalence?

Dear God,

I have this ambivalent feeling.  Much as I want to live a stress-free life to enhance healing, the situation calls for participation to continue the change we started.  I may  again offend  other people. I know  truth hurts and  have no intention to do such harm to anyone. It is not even my desire to always stand for what is true, just,  and right for it will surely create tension, friction and even stress. I love peace and serenity.  I even avoid stressful task and confine my life within regular work, meditation,  and blogging to compensate my physical limitation in service.

Yet, deep within me is the guilt feeling when I continue to remain silent amidst the search for truth. More so, when  only a few dare  to speak up, which can be easily marginalized, as others have already mastered the art of cover up and pacification. No wonder,  the problem has  become systemic and complicated, difficult to unwind. For in my desire to follow you, I feel motivated to make a stand for the way, the truth and the life.

I long for  the days when I have no keen knowledge on exploitation, oppression,  injustices, human rights violation in any system, be it in the government, church, organization and institution. When my life is confined to  traditional  ministry.  When my only concern is to spread the gospel and win souls for Christ. You know very well how I enjoy the life of an evangelist, going  up to the mountains, unaware of the risks, just to spread the message of God’s love and salvation and invite sinners to come home and receive redemption. When we do street preaching in season and out of season,  people’s reaction do not bother us, be it favorable or otherwise. We commit to you the result, without minding our limitations. I thought that would be my lifetime call. I always feel  motivated to preach the gospel. And  consider  everything, literally everything as fulfillment of your will, even my failures, shortcomings, or sheer  negligence in our part.

But changes come, not necessarily on my desire or quest. I was exposed to another environment where I have to wrestle with my traditional belief. It started with the  issue of multi-ministry against mono-ministry. Later,   the social gospel,  theology of  struggle/liberation and related issues.  You know very well how I resist any attempt to downgrade  my  conservative  beliefs. How I defend my position against  radical and progressive students who appear  to  undermine traditional practice in the name of change.

Ironically, in my attempt to minister to the political detainees to convert them (and testify later on how the hard core ideologues  are transformed into a conservative Christian), I experience the other way around.  My conversion  takes place, instead, not necessarily to their ideology or cause. But  the commitment in service. Their undaunted spirit  and dedication to minister  to the least of our brothers and sisters in need. They appear to be better  Samaritans than we Christians, nay, ministers. Ashamed of myself, for lacking that zeal,   I try to make amends.

Worse, the situation during my realization is different  from  the context of the Good Samaritan. The  victims are many, and unlike in the previous case, they  are not  left on  isolated place, needing help. I could have done the acts of  the Good Samaritan  in similar situation, immediately caring for the victim and exhaust all the means to save him. However, I  am a witness to the action:  the robbery, the violence, the oppression taking place. Not so many responded, some fear for their own safety as the perpetrators are too powerful and rude.

Most of  those who responded come from different persuasions, belief and ideologies.  Many are non religious,  radicals, activists, and even communists whom we Christians avoid. I can count with my fingers ministers of God from different religions.

Somehow, I feel  the shame for failure to respond immediately. At first,  I think  of waiting for the robbers to leave the victim after looting and follow the Good Samaritan. But I know it would be a long wait. The situation seems to prolong unless many more would help to overpower the perpetrators. I have no other choice but to stand to my Christian principle and conviction and pay the price. Thereafter, I always experience this ambivalence.

(to be continued)

July 3, 2011

Learning lessons on faith, justice and grace

One of the unforgettable experiences I have happened  in General Santos City, the birthplace of the world renowned Filipino boxer- congressman, Manny Pacquiao.  It was during my active years while still the national president of the Convention Baptist Ministers Association.  We were conducting continuing theological classes for pastors under the Institute for Advanced Theological Studies (IATS). The institute is an outreach arm of the College of Theology, Central Philippine University.

As one of the resource persons, I took the privilege to promote the newly designed Master of Socio Pastoral Ministries (MSPM) program for pastors. Two subjects in the seminar were assigned to me, namely: Community Organization and Strategies in Church and Community Mobilizations. These are credited to MSPM program, should participants decide to pursue the course.

Awed by the relevance of the community organizing process in their pastoral work, participants actively participated in the discussion. I was presenting the stages in community organization designed by the University of the Philippines, a premier state university in the country when interrupted by a simple looking old minister. He was so excited to share his experiences similar to the theories presented. With hesitation, he asked whether the process they did can be related to the stages discussed. When I gave the affirmation, in disbelief he blurted out: “Kon amo, maalam gali kami, Pastor?” Implying how wise/intelligent they are to rightly practice the stages even without setting their feet on the prestigious university, nor even having a formal education.

The more he was surprised when I candidly affirmed the correctness of his thoughts and their practice. Thereafter, I discussed with them the interrelatedness of theory and practice. How theories are developed through observation of experiences. Just as how these theories are put into practice. Even touching the beauty of God’s creation and design, the wisdom in nature, and learning through life’s experience including the commercialization of education.  I pointed out their God-given wisdom and natural talents, including common sense, emphasizing not to be overly dependent on theories and academic preparation or the lack of it. I believe that wonderful encounter has boasted their morale, enhanced their confidence, bridged the gap between education and practice, and inspired them to continue their respective ministries.

I recall the aforementioned experience as part of my on-going journey, as I continue to wrestle with my lingering illness vis-à-vis faith and prayer. Losing my seemingly invincible stature, either real or imagined,   my health condition has exposed my vulnerability. I have been undergoing hands- on experience on issues of faith, prayer, sufferings, care of God, and all those things which can be easily resolved theoretically/spiritually.  Now, in a situation wherein the acid test of faith is required, I have to resolve these issues:  Can my faith indeed move mountains? If not, where lies the difference? Within me, or the kind of faith that I have? The care of God is out of question, here. It has become obvious by my own survival. If not for God’s care, I don’t think I would ever survive the test.

In the process of recollection, I found myself no longer the teacher but a student that has learned a wonderful lesson on theory and practice. I am no longer concerned with the theory to support my practice, of reason and explanation for my action. I just want to relate what I believe, regardless of correctness or soundness.  I want to speak out my mind and express my belief. Later, I will just analyze it or leave to the readers that task. Hebrews 11:1 has become real to me. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

One  night, while having trouble with sleep, I spent the time talking to God. Unlike in past when bothered by such situation,  this time I started  thanking Him for letting me experience the painful process of recovery. The delay has caused me a lot of trouble  and mixture of  thoughts and  questions on  God’s care, and his ambivalent provision. It has also exposed my faith when it  felt  short of getting what I asked for. On the other hand, the delay has given me  lot of lessons. I have experienced  significant changes within and without.Wonderful  ideas and  concepts have been developed. I have valued  the importance of health and holistic development of self. Just as I have realized my negligence and abuse of health. Likewise,  my  view of mission and God’s purpose has dramatically changed, as well as my understanding of church, ministry vis-à-vis the Kingdom of God.

After  the  thanksgiving narrative, my thoughts  turn into the issue of  justice. I realized that the slow and  painful process, including the long wait I have experienced  are  worth  the abuses and negligence I have done to my body.  Admittedly, I have abused my health, my body, deliberately or in deliberately, consciously or not. Hence,  I could not demand  for immediate recovery. Guilty, I felt I deserve the pain,  the price to pay.

I have resolved  to undergo the process and wait for natural recovery, while learn  to value health. As I continue to pray for the full recovery  sooner or later,  the meaning of  grace is becoming clearer to me. Should God hear my prayer and grant me the full recovery soon,  it would mean grace.  God’s grace that shortens the  justice demands. I realized, this is no longer a question of my  faith, for faith is not an unreasonable demand. It is an expectation of  grace beyond justice.