Thursday, May 11, 2006

State of Theological Education in the Philippines

“The Present State of Theological Education in
the Philippines Towards the 21st Century”

Melanio L. Aoanan, Th. D.

The topic assigned to me is so intimidating. To describe the present state of theological education in the Philippines in thirty minutes or even one hour is next to impossible. To give justice to the topic, I propose to discuss with you my insights and experiences having been involved theological education for almost forty years, inclusive of my seminary training and the thirty five years as a theological faculty in three UCCP seminaries and two Roman Catholic post-graduate schools of theology.

On the outset, let me say that I started my theological education in 1966, the year after Vatican II culminated. I consider my theological formation as through and through ecumenical from the start. In fact, as a senior college student (Philosophy major) in PCU-Taft, I saw to it that I attended lectures and symposia sponsored by the Jesuits of the Padre Faura campus of Ateneo de Manila. They used to have Lenten and Advent Series of Lectures which were always opened to the public. Almost all the lecturers, of course, were Jesuits as they expounded on the philosophical and theological thoughts of Martin Buber, Teilhard de Chardin, Bernard Lonergan, etc. The only exception, I remember was the presentation of a young faculty of Union Theological Seminary who has the singular distinction of being the only Filipino Protestant who participated in the sessions of Vatican II as a “delegated observer”. I’m referring to Dr. Emerito P. Nacpil, who later was elected to the episcopal office of the United Methodist Church.

When I went to Silliman University Divinity School for my Master of Divinity degree, I remember that a Roman Catholic bishop (Bishop Cornelius de Witt) visited us and distributed copies of The Document of Vatican II with a subsidized price of P5.75.[1] I trace my interest in Protestant-Catholic dialogue by getting a copy of that book from Bishop de Witt, a personal interest which was sustained until I took my doctorate in theology at Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University from 1989-1992.

Aside from the radical changes brought about by Vatican II, our theological education in the 1960s was like an open-ended experiment shaped by the progressive ideas from Europe and North America. The more popular and big theological names were Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Europe, and the Niebuhr brothers (Richard and Reinhold) in America. Of course, Harvey Cox’s The Secular City and John A. T. Robinson’s Honest to God were the theological best-sellers of the mid-sixties.

My New Testament professor (Dr. Proceso U. Udarbe) and, at that time, newly installed first Filipino dean of our seminary, expounded the “twin touchstones of theological education” which shaped our seminary formation.[2] The first touchstone is “the outward thrust” wherein theological education is directed outward into the secular world. “We labor on the proposition that the church that we serve is an outgoing institution… Our direction is undoubtedly outward. The regnant terms… in our seminary have been the catchwords “dialogue”, “relevance”, and “involvement”.[3] Because of this outward thrust, every seminarian was required to join inter-seminary programs of field education like rural-agricultural ministries where we were exposed to the problems of farmers and how they cope with life such as through organizing credit-cooperatives, modern farming with diversified crop production, animal dispersal, etc. Another summer program was with urban-industrial ministries in which seminarians were exposed to the struggles of factory workers and slum dwellers. The third program was hospital chaplaincy or Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Every seminarian was required to undergo two of the three summer programs.

The second touchstone in Dean Udarbe’s address is “the inward thrust”. This has to do with the ultimate concern of the gospel. Writes Udarbe: “Theological education must never lost sight of the fact that God acted in Jesus Christ for the radical transformation of all… Education for the ministry that is preoccupied with the intellect [but] does not touch the heart can only lead to a ministry of the ivory tower. Any preoccupation with the world’s life that does not plow deep into the sphere of the Spirit is nothing but ordinary humanitarianism and philanthrophy that the ‘children of darkness’ also engage it.”[4]

After finishing my basic theological schooling in 1970, I have a one-year of pastoral experience in Paranaque, Metro Manila. Then, I pursued my Master of Theology degree with the Southeast Graduate School of Theology under the guidance of a German professor specializing in Ecumenics and Ecumenical Theology. As a graduate student, I served also as a Research and Teaching Assistant. The focus of my thesis is “The Development of Ecumenical Thought on Economic Issues,” being a comparative study of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches social thought.

After more than thirty years engaging in theological education (in three UCCP seminaries and two Catholic graduate schools of theology), I embarked on a shift in professional work, a pastorate in an academic/scientific community, University of the Philippines in Los Banos. This shift to pastoral ministry requires the combined virtues and aptitude such as the venturous spirit of Abraham, the resourcefulness of a Jacob, the patience-persevering spirit of Job, the charismatic-artistic talent of a David, and the boldness of the Old Testament prophets.

The UCCP congregation at UPLB is a unique church. It has about 750 members, and in my latest count, there are about 78 people who are holders of advanced scientific-academic degrees like PhDs. On my first month, I committed a blunder of telling a disastrous joke in the pulpit. You know, I said, in Union Theological Seminary we have professors with PhDs, others have ThDs. Do you know the meaning of PhD, I asked. Of course no one gave the obvious answer. So, I said: PhD means “puro hangin ang dala.” But my degree, I continued, is worst: I have a ThD which means “talagang hangin ang dala.”

You know what happened? The former chairperson of the church council, a PhD holder, was offended and he did not talk to me for several months. Fortunately, the more than seventy others had the grace not to take themselves too seriously and so they appreciated the joke.

I learned through this incident that in order to survive as a Pastor in CAP, you need the virtues of humility combined with a sense of humor. But beyond the humor and the humility, one needs to have hard work and the readiness to learn from your members. These are the very virtues of my favorite pope, who brought the ecumenical revolution into the Roman Catholic Church, the good Pope John XXIII. When he was still the Cardinal Archbishop of Venice, he was involved in an ecumenical dialogue with other religious leaders. As they were about to go up the building, a young Jewish Rabbi wanted the Cardinal to go up first. With his witty sense of humor, the Cardinal said, “In the Bible it is the Old Testament first, then the New Testament.” When he was already elected pope, he was fond of visiting the different religious congregations in the city of Rome. One day, he visited the orphanage ran by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. When he reached the place, the Mother Superior was so excited saying: “Welcome, Your Holiness, I am the Superior of the Holy Spirit!” To which good Pope replied: “Your so lucky, my daughter, but I’m only the ‘Servus servorum Dei’ (Servant of the servants of God).

With this combination of wit, sense of humor and humility and the capacity for openness to new ideas, we now continue to consider our theme: “The Present State pf Theological Education Towards the 21st Century.” The start of the 21st century was a jubilee not only for the church but also for the wider human community. And as such, we who are religious and theological educators are challenged to live out God’s Jubilee in all aspects of our task. This is our commitment to contribute meaningfully to the realization of God’s reign that ushers in the transformation of church and society, i.e., the bringing about of God’s reign characterized by peace, justice, freedom and abundant life for all.

From a more personal level, I want to emphasize that we are part of the church as community of God’s people called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light [I Pet. 2: 9]. Jesus Christ, the light that shines in the darkness of this world, dwells in our midst and gives us the power to become children of God so that we can enjoy the abundant life that Christ brought into the world [Jn. 10:10].

Mandate for Theological Education
Towards the 21st Century

Part of the mandate for the Church, as the theme suggests, is to build vision towards theological education that is relevant in the 21st century. This means that as a Church, we need to relate our theologizing, our articulation of ecclesiology, and the praxis of our ministry to the concrete cultural expressions prevailing in our Filipino consciousness and imaginations. I suggest that our theme requires of us to formulate a vision for religious and theological education that is appropriate for our Filipino context in the 21st century. This vision, I suggest, must strive for the following. First, to strive for a clarity of theological foundations for the life and work of the church. Second, to strive for sensitivity and awareness of the realities that impinge deeply upon the life of people in community. Third, strive for the identification of essential needs, and thereby, establish priorities; Fourth, to keep the spirit aflame in unity and collegiality among those who must work in solidarity with the marginalized.

Building our vision for theological education for the 21st century requires of us to strive for:

a) a common obedience to the Lord who brought the church into being, and called us to be God’s servant for the world;
b) a common faithfulness to the Holy Spirit, to hold us together in unity in the bonds of collegiality;
c) a valid vision of the future of the Church grounded firmly on the living testimony of the Bible, the courageous history of the Church and in the light of the challenges of the present;
d) an authentic lifestyle, informed by the precepts and example of Jesus Christ, incarnating the community of love, justice, righteousness and peace;
e) a common humanity for all in dignity as created in the image of God, in wholeness of body, mind and spirit, where the people are the bearers of their destiny and agents of their own liberation.[5]

Bible as Motive Force in Our
Task of Theological Education

As members of the ecumenical stream of Christianity in our country, our motive force in the search for a life-giving theology is none other than the Bible. A key to our theological process and emerging spirituality is the word LIFE (Buhay). Our God is a God of life, who enjoins us to “choose life and prosperity” [Deut. 30:19]. It is, therefore, appropriate that the preparatory committee for this ecumenical conference has chosen II Kings 4 as our biblical text. What we have in this passage is a collage of Elisha's miraculous works: filling empty vessels with oil, granting a childless couple a son, raising a person from the dead, neutralizing poisonous food, and feeding a multitude with food for but a few.

In all these acts, Elisha demonstrated the power of God at work as a marvelous deed for the sake of others in need, specifically to bring, to sustain, or to restore life and avert death. The power of Elisha as “a man of God” testifies to the power of God over life and death. It is noteworthy that Elisha’s acts were a response to basic, human needs: freedom and life for the destitute, hope for the childless, restoration of a dead child to a desperate mother, food for the hungry. These were acts to address the mundane, personal needs of people living life day to day. In our country today, these are also at the heart of our prophetic calling and ministry.

To be sure, one may not have the power of Elisha to fill empty vessels with oil. Yet, in the face of the desperate plight of the destitute, one may take a cue from Elisha about the economic enablement of the poor. Elisha pro-vides a means by which the destitute widow is able to resolve her economic problem and save her children from enslavement. Indeed, the miracle of economic enablement may take many forms—it only takes the eyes of faith to discern those forms in our day and age. We may not be able to resurrect a dead child, as Elisha did. Yet, we are also confronted with critical moments in our ministry that demands our immediate, personal, direct, and prayerful involvement in the problem at hand. We may not have the technical know-how to detoxify poisonous food or to cause limited quantities of food to multiply. Yet, it is imperative that we feed the hungry with whatever resources we may find. Our preaching of the word of the Lord involves much more than words; it involves reactive and proactive action to bring life and to give hope to others.[6]

In this work, Elisha foreshadows the miracles performed by Jesus in the New Testament. It is important for us to anchor the foundation stone of our ministry in the words of Jesus that he “came so that we may have life in its fullness” [John 10:10]. We believe that when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he is talking about full humanity and full life as well as the integrity of creation, for the hidden plan of God is to bring together everything in heaven and on earth in Christ Jesus [Eph. 1:9-10]. In our time, it is the Spirit of the Risen Christ dwelling in us who gives life in its fullness [Rom. 8:11].

Our cry and struggle with our people is for life. As we involve ourselves in the people’s struggle for life, we experience God’s empowering Spirit, inspiring, comforting, sustaining with inner strength--the very same Spirit manifest in the people’s commitment to preserve in their search for justice and peace. People saying NO to forces and systems that try to diminish their humanity and their assertion of their rights as human beings are steady signs of God’s redemptive activity in the Spirit. In Isaiah, God is imaged like a woman groaning in travail, giving birth to a new beginning for a people suffering in exile. Blood and pain announce the beginning of a new life [Isa. 42:14-17; cf. Rom. 8:22-23].

Our quest for life is a quest for God’s reign as envisioned and inaugurated by Jesus. We believe that our struggles will bring God’s reign closer to reality. In the struggle, we experience a deep and enduring sense of satisfaction and encouragement as we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers. As our participation in the struggle bear fruit, we experience joy and fulfillment. By identifying ourselves with the suffering, we enter into the cycle of life where the cross preludes the resurrection and the resurrection draws us more into the wellspring of life to enable us to bear the cross when it comes again. This way we get a glimpse of the new life that is to come, we are given a foretaste of God’s reign.[7]

As the struggle continues, our anticipation of the fullness of God’s reign intensifies and our commitment is renewed once again. We will not settle for less than the glorious reign of God. In accordance with God’s promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where justice dwells.

“For I am about to create new heaven and a new earth, the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind....
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity,
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountains; Says the Lord.” [Isa. 65:17-25; cf. Rev. 21:1-4].

From the combined prophetic vision of Isaiah and Jeremiah, I want to outline with you five targets which, as members of the community of learning and faith being religious and theological educators, we can perceive the presence of God’s reign.

The first target is to see to it that children do not die prematurely. You know, there are disturbing statistical reports on the situation of children in our country. Consider the following: Children ages 0 to 18 comprise more than half of our population, and they are the most vulnerable; about 70%-80% of children below seven years old are severely malnourished. In fact, mortality rate is more than 65% per 1,000 live births. Of the total number of death each year in our country, about 70-80% are children. Roughly 5.5 million children are adversely affected by the political armed conflict that is raging in our country.[8]

Let us listen to a powerful declaration of a group of children about their dreams. This is in Filipino:

“Kami bilang mga batang Filipino ay nangangarap ng sapat na pagmamahal, pagkalinga at pag-unawa; sapat at wastong pagkain, tirahan at serbisyong pangkalusugan; pagkakaroon ng karapatang makapag-aral, makapaglaro at makapaglibang kung kinakailangan. Nais din naming magkaroon ng tunay na maka-Pilipiniong identidad at pangalan…. Nanga-ngarap din kaming lumaki bilang mga responsibleng mamamayan sa isang malinis, ligtas at mapayapang kapaligiran sa isang bayang tunay na mahalaga.”[9]

It must be clear to us by now that God’s agenda for children not to die prematurely is also very much related to the second target: it is God’s intention for older folks that they should live in dignity and die with dignity. Advancing God’s purpose for the older folks or senior citizens is not alien to our Filipino culture. We have an inherent respect and reverence for older people. We look up to them as the source of authority, source of wisdom and guidance. The biblical mandate is for us “to honor our father and mother,” all our elders. Let us see to it that they live in and with dignity; and when death comes to them, they can die in and with dignity.

Our third target in advancing God’s intention according to the vision of Isaiah asserts that every working family should have a place to call a home. Not being able to have a house of our own, especially after retirement is definitely an affront to human dignity. On the other hand, craving for many big houses or mansions (like that of Erap’s extended families) is definitely not wise nor responsible in our time considering that there are barely not enough trees to cut for lumber. There is, therefore, enough biblical sense to stop acquiring larger and larger houses for ourselves so that our energies and resources could be directed to helping the homeless acquire a permanent roof over their heads.

The fourth target in manifesting God’s intention requires that the church must be concerned also with the fair and just wages of the workers. In fact, part of our witnessing as a church is that enough people must have gainful employment especially at a time when close to six million Filipinos are unemployed. More than this, we must provide a deeper analysis about why there are big corporations like AMA Computer University’s global expansion has to retrench teaching faculty members because they have to make us of on line instructional strategy. Our understanding of the mission and ministry of the church must be related with how to resist the forces behind the manipulation and domination of global forces that affect the survival of our daily wage earners!

Finally, the fifth target in advancing God’s purpose and intention for our time means that we have to take seriously the challenges and issues being pushed by our women colleagues. Let us seriously reconsider what the Prophet Jeremiah said in 31:22b. Let me read it in five different translations:

“For the Lord has created a new thing on earth: a woman protects a man.” (RSV) “For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth: a woman encompasses a man” (NRSV) “I have created something new and different, as different as a woman protecting a man” (TEV). The Filipino version is more colorful and suggestive: “Ako, si Yahweh, ay nagtatag ng isang bagong kaayusan; ang babae ay siyang yayakap sa lalaki.”

Certainly, this is one of the most difficult texts in the Bible to interpret. James P. Hyatt makes a suggestion that in the light of Jer. 3:1, the best interpretation of this passage is that “in the future the land will become so peaceful that a woman will not need protection but indeed will be able to protect a man”[10] John Bright comments: “Quite possibly we have here a proverbial saying indicating something that is surprising and difficult to believe, the force of which escapes us.”[11]

Whatever is the meaning of this text, I believe, this text projects the urgency for advocating women issues. Our women partners are rediscovering their inherent strength and are asserting their God-given dignity. Sadly, for many of us males, having been accustomed to our patriarchal prerogatives, would feel threaten by the feminist liberation movement. But I would like to affirm the statement printed in one of my old T-shirts: “Men of quality are not afraid of women equality.”

The resurrection of Jesus has brought a radically new event in human history. A cursory reading of the gospel stories of the resurrection event tells us of the fact that it was a group of women disciples who first encountered the risen Lord. This is a validation of Jeremiah’s daring and disturbing word: “For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth: a woman protects a man.”

I believe that Jeremiah had an unusual insight into the place of women; he envisioned the new sources of women’s strength that have been there but have been silenced and subjugated, sources that have almost been erased. The women’s liberation movements, embryonic as they may be, are slowly blossoming all over the world. They have been critical of institutionalized and domesticating religions because, as Sr. Rosario Battung writes:

“Religion has had a great part in the domination of women or subjugation of women. It had been an effective carrier of values and traditions which made of women non-persons. Women’s movements have a distinct thrust to liberate religions from prejudices against women, from structures and practices against the dignity and integrity of women, and equal partnership between men and women. This problem is in all religions.”[12]

As we consider the present state of theological education in the Philippines, let us never forget the five target objectives of bringing about God’s agenda. The primary mission of the Church is to advance God’s agenda for people empowerment that leads to the transformation of church and society. I submit, there-fore, that if we have healthy children who grow strong and educated to be productive citizens; if we show respect and reverence to our elders so that they live in and die with dignity; if our own people are provided with decent homes to stay, and if our workers enjoy the fruits of their labors; and finally, if we promote wholesome partnership between men and women then we can work for the protection and preservation of the integrity of our environment.

All these, my sisters and brothers, comprise our collective vision and mission as disciples of the risen Lord. I suggest, therefore, that these five target objectives should comprise the core of our concerted vision for theological education towards the 21st century. We need all the concerted, creative imaginations and collaborative efforts to advance God’s agenda for people empowerment. This is the summon to our common action. These five targets are integral part of the task to proclaim and to live out God’s jubilee for transformation of church and society.

Creative Initiatives in Doing
Theology and Praxis of Ministry.

Beyond the dynamic spiritual renewal that we observe in many churches are examples of creative initiatives in the praxis of ministry and theologizing in our country. On May 18-22, 2000, I have the opportunity to participate in the 9th Pacific Rim Think Tank on Urban Transformation. It was under the auspices of Mainline Protestants in cooperation with Roman Catholic organizations. This is one more example of our ecumenical and prophetic involvement in the ministry of our church. Through that workshop we have learned and seen innovative models of ministry in urban transformation. Let me briefly describe two of these models.

1. The Center for Community Transformation was started in 1992 by Ms. Ruth Callanta, an Evangelical lay leader and former AIM professor of economics. The CCT approach to development is holistic and transformational, addressing both the material and spiritual needs of the poor so that they can reach their full potentials as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. They work in densely populated and highly depressed communities. Using micro-finance as strategy, they have transformed people’s groups into Christ-centered faith communities through Bible studies, child-care feeding program medical services and education. In 1999, they reached more than 40,000 individuals with medical care, spiritual nurturing, and informal skills training. Of this number, 6,132 availed of loans as working capital to start or expand their sari-sari stores. In addition, some 174 orphans, abandoned children, and those from indigent families were sent to school. More than 1,050 families were provided with social security benefits. Love in concrete action.

2. Parish of the Risen Christ, Smokey Mountain, Tondo. This ministry initiated and sustained by Fr. Benigno Beltran, SVD, for the last 22 years. This ministry has evolved out into a rallying point for the transformation of youth and poverty alleviation, environmental management and cooperative development involving business, civic groups and the government. Smokey Mountain used to be the livelihood source for over 20,000 families. It is now transformed into a government housing facility for 3,000 households, a livelihood/computer training center, and non-formal education center. During our visit, the Waste Management Project was officially blessed and turned over to the parish community. The project could turn solid waste into compost fertilizer in a period of three to five weeks.

During our visit last week, we personally met and heard the testimony of a 26-year person who was a former scavenger (naghuhukay ng basura sa SM) but now became a computer programmer. What a transformation indeed! This was realized because of the persistent and prophetic ministry of Fr. Beltran.

What are the implications of these new and innovative models of ministry to your theme “Building Our Vision for Theological Education for the 21st Century”? Ms. Ma. Sophia L. Bodegon recently wrote a paper entitled “Jubilee: Agenda for a Church in the City”. This paper incorporates UCCP Ellinwood-Malate Church’s second long-range plan, covering 2000-2009. According to this plan, EMC “aims at building a community of faith that … consistently grows in caring relationship with the people of God and vigorously works with others [toward] peace, justice and abundant life.” As a church, they seek to grow “from being merely a community of fate” and from “a community of convenience” into a “called out and covenanted community” that is committed toward personal and societal transformation. Their goal is to be:

“responsive to the call of the Holy Spirit, awakened to the life of Christ in them and in the world, equipped and empowered to serve the community of faith, committed to sharing of God’s saving and transforming grace, actively growing in faith and participating in worship, good stewards of God’s creation, gifts and resources.”[13]

This is the shape of what Ellinwood church hopes to be as it responds to the urgent task of “working for the welfare of the city” as envisioned by the Prophet Jeremiah in his letter to the Jewish exiles (Jer. 29:4-9). Lest, you are mesmerized by the cloud-nine of theological formulas, let me bring you back to earth; after all, Jeremiah’s counsel to the exiles is down to earth. He said: “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat your produce; get married and have children; seek the welfare of the city, and pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

At the start of the 21st century, our people in the cities are also engulfed by vast seas of suffering and misery. We are told that in 1995 about 48.5% of total Philippine population live in urban centers; by the year 2000 there were 52% who dwell in the cities. This is an irreversible trend. For the church to effectively work for the welfare of the city, we have got to devise ways of innovative ministries in the cities so that we could bring about urban transformation. In symbolic, biblical language, this is what John saw: the holy city, the new Jerusalem, is coming down from heaven. The dwelling place of God, God’s home base, is with peoples. God will be the God of peoples. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, more grief or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.”

How this drama of transformation be translated into concrete reality in the megapolis of Metro Manila and the expanding urban centers in our country? One thing is clear: urban planners are unanimous that as social problems in the cities are compounded every year with the influx of migrants from the war-torn country sides of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, the government has become so helpless and unprepared to intervene.

Government bureaucracies enmeshed in the culture of corruption and run by people whose primary concern is to enrich themselves could never alleviate the human misery in our ever-expanding cities. In fact, the recent Payatas tragedy wherein about 200 poor people were buried alive in the mountain of garbage is a painful consequence government neglect and uselessness. It is because of this that there is an urgent need for people in the churches and in NGOs to establish alliances and networks. The mission of urban transformation has become the significant challenge for the churches in the new millennium.

To bring about the reality where God is no longer far off but dwells in the midst of people, this is the goal of working for the welfare of the city. The coming of the new heaven and new earth is not merely something to look forward to. In Christ there is already the possibility, in the power of God's Spirit, to bring about that new reality in individual lives, though with painful and sometimes bloody struggle like the giving birth of a child.

Interconnectedness of Justice
Jubilee Spirituality

The Bible stresses that spirituality and justice are central concepts in our understanding of God who initiated the establishment of a covenant relationship not only with human beings but with all creation. The colorful history of the Old Testament conveys a unique covenant relationship established by Yahweh with Noah and the Hebrew community after the flood [Gen. 8:20-21; 9:8-19]. This portion of the Scripture conveys the meaning of genuine spirituality and social justice.

The symbol of the covenant is a colorful rainbow. After the flood that brought destruction on earth, the rainbow appeared in the horizon. God’s wrath and punishment due to the widespread violence, wickedness and corruption of people brought about the flood. But the appearance of the rainbow was a sign that God’s anger has subsided. To the perception of the ancient Hebrews, the bow and arrows [lightning] were instruments of war. The fact that the bow is hanged and the arrows are safely kept means that the anger of war is over. Yahweh, the warrior God, now assures the people against whom he was at war. Yahweh said:

“I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood to destroy the earth... This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth....” [Gen. 9:11-16].

“I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; Nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease!” [Gen. 8:23].

What do these words mean for us in the Philippines where crises after crises come without let-up; bank robberies, kidnappings, massacres; spiraling of prices of basic commodities, the Abu Sayaf hostage drama and the real threat of Jihad in Mindanao, etc. Our country is undergoing a catastrophic socio-political convulsion, trembling towards an edge of bloody destruction, violent killings, senseless kidnappings which will continue to occur for as long as our people would not learn to live and co-exist peace-fully and harmoniously. The story of God forging an everlasting covenant with Noah and with future generations, a covenant that is constantly and continually renewed every time we see the rainbow up in the sky, is part of our heritage of human hope. We who belong to that covenant community [through the Church] needs always to be reminded that we are prepared to face whatever tragedy that will befall us. Like Noah, we are called upon to build an ark of human hope, build an altar of human faith, and offer a sacrificial aroma of human love. This is the only way, I believe, how we could withstand the floodgates of violence and destruction cascading into our midst. That is why among the UCCP constituency, we are striving that each and every local congregation and institution should be offered as a sanctuary of shalom throughout the land.

The rainbow symbolizes God’s presence in our midst. It constantly reminds us of three things. First, the rainbow spirituality reminds us of God’s permanent dependability, generosity and goodness. Thus, God is our absolute ground of hope. God continues to assure: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” [Gen. 8:22]. Here, not only the dependable rhythm of the season is promised to us. More than that, God assures us that never again God will destroy life on the face of the earth.

Second, the rainbow symbolizes God’s justice and ecological integrity because it reminds us of our interconnectedness not only with each other but also with the whole of creation. The covenant relationship established by Yahweh with Noah continues to remain a foundational source of order and governance in our society. Each of us is a carrier of God’s image and therefore we are capable of creating societal framework that gives premium to peace based on justice, social responsibility, protection of the rights of women, children and senior citizens, and the preservation of the integrity of God’s creation.

Third, the God who is loving, merciful and compassionate is also a God of judgment and of righteousness. Therefore, each time the rainbow appears in the sky, we are assured of genuine hope, spirituality and social justice.

Let me end this talk with a “Parable of the Rainbow”.

Once upon a time, the colors of the rainbow were praised so much by their friends for their beauty until they were too proud to acknowledge each other. This created a conflict and they started to quarrel among themselves.

The RED color said to the others: “You are able to be noticed because I, RED, give you the life; You see, I am the color of blood which means life. I am also the color of love. Without me, none of you would be in existence!”

The ORANGE was so furious and said: “I believe, my fried, that you need to reconsider your statement. Do you know that I am the color of the sun? Don’t you know what happens when it becomes dark? People have no choice but to sleep. Even if they are awake, they still need artificial light and that is ME!”

The YELLOW looked at the two with irritation and said: “It is obvious that I mean more than any of you put together. You are able to be a rainbow because you try to get closer to me for warmth. I and I alone give meaning to your very existence!”

The GREEN thought that the argument was getting too much out of hand, and said: “Hey, none of you has any hope of existence without me. Don’t you know that I am the color of HOPE and Prosperity? You all keep hoping that it will rain so that you may get an opportunity of forming a rainbow. I give you that hope, otherwise you would all have given up and gone home.”

The BLUE color was so annoyed that she responded: “I guess you all have forgotten that I am the color of PURITY, that is why I am the favorite color of Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Lord. I mean a lot because you all know what incarnation means for the whole creation!”

VIOLET or PURPLE looked at every body and began to defend herself. “Well, well, my dears. Just look at me and tell me, don’t you see that I am the color of royalty? Even the bishops look so proud with their authority if they don their purple vestments. If these important personalities use my color, who are you not to recognize me? It is not obvious that I am the most important?”

So, none of the different colors was willing to acknowledge that the others was better or more important, so they were forced to part company and display their beauty separately. After a while, no one was praising them any longer. Suddenly, there was burst of lightning and thunderstorm. The colors were so scared that they ran and gathered together. The colors were so scared that they ran and gathered together. Their different colors blended once more beautifully, and people were able to admire the rainbow once again!

Like the diverse colors of the rainbow, people of diverse political and ideological colors, gender, class, culture and creed, can emerge and are empowered to forge solidarity towards a free, just, peaceful, productive, and harmonious society. The church’s messages of faith, hope, love and liberation are not alien to the human aspirations and dreams, joys and struggles for a better and brighter tomorrow. Let us, therefore, look up to God’s rainbow because it reminds us of our total dependence upon God’s goodness as well as affirm our interdependence with our fellow human beings and with all of God’s creation.

(Lecture Delivered by Dr. Melanio L. Aoanan at the First Ecumenical Conference co-sponsored by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the Religious Education Department of De La Salle University-Dasmarinas, held at the Tanghalang Julian Felipe, DLSU-Dasmarinas, Cavite, Philippines, October 20, 2004).

[1] At that time, Bishop De Witt, a Dutch National, was the chairman of the Commission on Ecumenism of the Catholic hierarchy. See my Ecumenical and Prophetic: The Witness of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Quezon City: Claretian Publication, 1998, pp. 58-59.
[2] See Dr. Proceso U. Udarbe’s installation address as the first Filipino Dean of the Divinity School, Silliman University, on November 1, 1965 in his The Christ and the Crisis. Dumaguete City: Silliman University Press, 2003, pp. 145-251.
[3] Udabe, The Christ and the Crisis, pp. 146-147.
[4] Op. cit., pp. 148-149.
[5]See Spirituality for the Struggle: Biblico-Theological Reflections. Quezon City: ECTEEP, 1988, pp. 65-66.
[6]See exegesis and commentary on II Kings 4 in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Electronics Edition, 1995-2000.
[7]This image of groaning and pain in childbirth is borrowed from Luna L. Dingayan, “An Alternative Way of Doing Theological Education,” Ministerial Formation 95 (October 2001), pp. 9-16.
[8]Elizabeth Protacio-Marcelino, “Filipino Children in the Crosswar,” TUGON, Vol XI, No. 3 (1991), p. 527.
[9]Ibid, p. 535
[10]J. P. Hyatt, in Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956, p. 1034.
[11] John Bright, The Anchor Bible: Jeremiah. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1965, p. 282.
[12]R. Battung, RGS, in Spirituality, the Activist, and the Social Movements, p. 77.
[13]Ma. Sophia L. Bodegon, “Agenda for a Church in the City,” (Typescript).


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