The Sabotaging of the Kingdom of God

In any study of the Kingdom of God, the mission of the Kingdom of God inevitably becomes the focal point of the study.  After all, the Kingdom of God was ushered into the realm of God’s creation as a mission of God through the incarnation of Immanuel.

So, what happened to this mission of the Kingdom of God?

The continuing proliferation of religious sects and denominations within both Catholic and Protestant religious institutions have pretty much killed the mission of the Kingdom of God.

With each sect and denomination arrives selective doctrinal preferences.  These doctrinal preferences, eventually, divide the mission of the Kingdom of God into slices like slices off an apple pie.  Until that small slice is made into a whole pie all by itself.

Evangelism pie.
Social action pie.
Evangelism with a slight tang of social action pie.
Social action with a slight tang of evangelism pie.
Half evangelism, half social action pie.
Double layered, evangelism on top, social action on bottom, pie.
Double layered, social action on top, evangelism on bottom, pie.

Oh yeah, then, there’s the branding game.

Wholistic mission.
Holistic mission.
Integral mission.
Transformational development.
Integrative mission.
Integrated mission.

What happened to the person who ushered the Kingdom of God who sought to personify being the Harvest so that all of God’s creation can receive abundant lives?

This, after all, is the mission of the Kingdom of God.

There is no quantitative measurement to the goodness the Kingdom of God seeks to offer people.

There is no qualitative measurement to the goodness the Kingdom of God seeks to offer people.

There is only the metaphorical image of the Kingdom of God bringing peace and good tidings to all of God’s creation.

There is no pie.

There is no slice of any pie at all.

There is only the Kingdom of God through which the personification of the harvest is to walk among all of God’s creation, and seeking nothing but to bring peace and good tidings.

This is the mission of the Kingdom of God.

If we can’t understand that, leave it alone and let it be.

Calling the Kingdom of God by any other name will not change the core of the Kingdom of God.

Wholistic mission.
Holistic mission.
Integral mission.
Transformational development.
Integrative mission.
Integrated mission.

“Bah, humbug,” as Ebenezer Scrooge would say.

And it could very well be that God feels the same way towards how Christian religious institutions (Catholic and Protestant alike) have killed the mission of the Kingdom of God.

Meanwhile, away from the aesthetics that these religious institutions have decorated around the Kingdom of God, the Spirit of God continues to walk among His/Her creation stopping here and there to confront those who killed the mission of the Kingdom of God.

My Fear of Americanese

Recently, Jeffrey Lord, a former Ronald Reagan administrator, labeled Trump’s accusation against Obama’s wiretapping as “Americanese.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/03/21/trump-didnt-lie-jeffrey-lord-says-on-cnn-he-just-speaks-a-different-language-americanese/?utm_term=.d7b8cba77989).

So, what is Americanese?

As far as I can surmise it, Americanese is a symbolic construction through language articulation of telling blatant falsehood (i.e., lie) even when evident data otherwise contradicts the falsehood.  Inherent within this falsehood is constructing a narrative around the falsehood.  Americanese also seeks media-play to provide it with a semblance of normality and make a claim to reality.

Regardless of the political preference of each American, for better or worse, the global community is forced to re-construct its image of “What is an American?” as it is currently evolving.  And “Americanese” is going to be part of the American face that the world will visualize when meeting Americans.  Unfortunately, as impressions tend to be generalized, Americans are adding the description of “overt falsehood bearers” to their global identity.

Sadly for me, this unfortunate evolution of American attitude will affect those who refuse to be identified as and speak “Americanese.”  The majority of my American friends are non-practioners of “Americanese.”  They will now carry the burden of proof to demonstrate their distance from being and speaking “Americanese” to gain back their credibility from the global community.

The behaviour that “Americanese” projects is underlined by its “overt” attitude.  This is not propensity anymore.  Being overt owns up to a wilful volition to normalize a particularly desired behaviour, which in this case is falsehood (i.e., to lie), in front of anyone who is listening (passive or aggressive).

This is very different from the “face saving” behaviour that is widely practice in East Asia (north and south included).  The Japanese calls this behaviour “ura-omote” (private-public) and is always framed to keep a peaceful relationship with “others.”  An appropriate response to this is to learn the anatomy of “honne-tatemae” (true feelings/desires-speaking what the “other” is perceived to want to hear).

In the Philippines, Filipinos engage in “face saving” behaviours for the sake of “kapwa” (i.e., others).  The primal behaviour is not to hurt or offend the “other” or anyone whom one has a relationship with (which in Filipino culture is practically everyone).  This “kapwa” or “other” can include family, relatives, friends, co-workers and even institutions.

In “Americanese,” however, the “other” is pretty much negligible.  In fact, it seeks to overcome the other by engaging in a strategic process to win over (i.e., convert) the other by imposing its will of falsehood (which is ironically presented as normal truth).  In its crudest form, it also looks like McCarthyism at its worst.

As my profession calls me to engage in both theological and religious discourses within the framework of cultural anthropology, I am fearful how “Americanese” is now beginning to seep into both religious and theological institutions.  The consequences are grave to me.  I can only see two possible responses in the horizon for the time being.  One, these institutions will construct processes to deal with a behaviour that is seemingly incongruent to Christian behaviour.  Or, two, it will embrace it resulting in a renewed will to re-formulate how “colonization” is conceived in its proselytizing agenda.

Decolonization

(As a response to an article published in NowToronto <https://nowtoronto.com/news/canada-150-what-s-to-celebrate-for-indigenous-people/> , this essay is an interpretation of Leny Strobel’s concept of decolonization based on her book, Coming Full Circles, applied to the Canadian context.)

Colonization and indigenous communities will always be about negative narratives.  Plain and simple, the damage and destruction on indigenous communities are permanent — unless we can turn back the clock and that is not going to happen anytime soon.  But even this idea is a privileged statement reserved for the colonizers.  As it is now, indigenous communities do not have that privilege to even wish for it because their power has been stripped from them.

Enter the term “decolonization.”

On the one hand, to those who have benefitted from the spoils of colonization (and that’s pretty much anyone who is not from an indigenous community), the term is a scary term.  It would seem to be a negating frame of reference demanding not only for the colonizers to accept and to confess the evil consequences of their colonizing intent and actions.  It is also relinquishing the power they have acquired through imperialistic intent, colonial subjugation and posturing to have the superior culture.

On the other, decolonization is as much about the indigenous communities as well.  Not only do they have to starkly face the unending darkness of their colonial experience, they are equally haunted by a colonial mentality that has been trained to affirm the privileging of the colonizers.  It would seem that their only recourse out of this seeming eternal nightmare is to volitionally construct a new path that will stop the bleeding.  This path is then to open new roads that will allow them to regain their rightful sensibilities and identity as indigenous peoples.

Decolonization, then, is not about constructing one common road for both the colonizers and colonized to walk together.  This is the temptation of the fallacy of a utopian ending, which is the crux of imperialism to begin with.  So, chuck this notion to the garbage and lit a fire to it, never again to be an option for anything at all.

Decolonization, instead, allows for two parallel paths with several points of intersection so that two continuous transforming narratives correct the wrongs of their shared history.

To the colonizers, decolonization demands an imperative that they acknowledge their imperialistic intent.  At the same time, affirming a confession that seeks to build a path to demonstrate how they will honour their commitment to correct and amend the consequences of their colonial actions is equally important.

To the indigenous communities, decolonization is re-membering the evil stories that engulfed their colonized past.  In the same re-membering, as well, they can exercise their own indigenous power by constructing a path ahead that will not only re-claim their rights to a pre-colonial life but also transforming an indigenous way of life that will honour both their pre-colonial and post-colonial way of life.

Decolonizing, sad to say, binds the colonizers and the colonized because of a shared common history based on the evil of colonialism.  This includes all the privileging for the colonizers and the evil consequences for the colonized.  From this common path, however, two separate parallel paths with two distinct transforming paths may be constructed.  One for the colonizers (and those who shared the benefits of what can be termed as colonial history) and one for the colonized (and their descendants).

The past is not forgotten.

If any, as the common thread that sews their distinct histories together, this shared colonial history is a permanent part of their narratives.  The emerging two separate but parallel paths, however, is collectively all about the exercise of power.  The post-colonial history for the colonizers is to construct narratives that will bring about changes in their relationship with post-colonial indigenous peoples.  And the post-colonial history for the colonized is to construct narratives that will both regain for them and renew for them their indigenous ways of living without the subjugating evil of their former colonizers.

In short, decolonization is about re-membering the evils of colonial history with particular attention read from the eyes of the colonized.  This re-membering by both the colonized and the colonizers, ironically, is the common thread that brought these two groups together.  In that re-membering, the exercise of power that does not subjugate is the evidence needed towards constructing two separate but parallel paths as post-colonial narratives are constructed.  At several points, however, these parallel paths intentionally seek to intersect to share how each path’s transforming narrative can benefit the other.

A Problem with Sustainability in Community/Transformational Development

When speaking of the gospel within the discourse of “word and deed,” so often, the “word” is associated with the Logos found in the Scriptures while the “deed” is associated with works of mercy.  The latter, in particular, finds a synonymous companion with the work of community development.  In fact, the theological discourse of community development in missionary work is called transformational development.  This is to distinguish the missionary participation in doing community development in the context of missions viz a viz community development in the context of sociological environment.  In short, transformational development is to the spiritual realm while community development is to the secular realm.

In truth, however, this distinction matters not.  The end goal for both is sustainable social transformation.  Period.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Still, the missionary enterprise, especially within the past ten years, would like to think of itself as motivated by integral mission.  That is, the deed (i.e., community development engagement) is accompanied by the word (i.e., proclamation of logos), and vice versa.  Bottom line, this is the intent in the term “transformational” development.

Notice, though, that such transformation is predicated by the word “sustainable.”  To be sustainable is a reference to the intent to keep carrying on into the future the affirmative change(s) that is put in place by local people through local means.  Traditionally referred to as the 3-Self principles (3-S), this capacity towards sustainability is measured by the concrete dynamics of self-organizing, self-financing and self-governing.

Simply, when the foreign (and outside) workers are gone and the local congregation is being managed by local people; when dependence on funding from outside organizations has been weaned out of the local congregation; and when the agenda and direction of the congregation have found leadership within the local congregation — these are the desired outcomes of sustainability.

Where the economic strata of the rich and even middle class are concerned, these 3-S principles are easily visible.  Yet, where the economic stratum is that of the poor class, self-financing is a failed outcome.  For obvious reasons, the problem of sustainable income is a key primary issue within this economic class.  Either no jobs or the jobs are low-paying.  As these are not enough to cover the average cost of living allowance, there is not way to justly expect them to self-finance the financial needs of a supposedly sustainable congregation.  And since upward economic mobility takes at least a generation or two to realize, it is irresponsible for the missionary enterprise to both expect and target self-financing as a desired outcome in the name of sustainability.

Without a doubt, there is no amount of transformational development projects that can alleviate the poverty in this economic class, let alone expect a congregation where the members reach the capacity to raise sufficient income to support a full time pastor.  The same is true of all economic development projects where livelihood projects are easily started like popcorn only to die months later.  This is because the income generating component of the project lacks a sustainable market for whatever products are offered in a very highly competitive market.

For clarification, though, the participation in community development projects I am addressing are those being initiated in stable and non-stressed communities.  Then there are the stressed or traumatized communities where its people are:

1)  experiencing trauma because of natural calamities, or

2)  civil war leading to internally displaced persons and migrant refugees, and

3)  where emergency relief assistance is immediately needed.

These traumatized communities are excluded from the expectations of sustainability.

Personally, after 25 years, I can wholeheartedly say, “Been there, done that.”  And I continue to see that this approach’s failed expectations only adds to the trauma of being caught in the cycle of poverty.

So, where can we turn to find a viable solution?

Business development programs for the poor.  But one that is not implemented through the framework of community development (or transformational development).  Even more so, it cannot be an agenda predicated by the missionary enterprise.  It may assist but the implementation of the program could never be subjugated where it becomes a means to an end for the missionary enterprise.  Simply said, a business development program cannot serve the agenda of the missionary enterprise.  The end goal is to produce viable business enterprises that will add to the local people’s capacity to sustain personal income.  As a result, this should lead to non-dependence on outside or foreign funds.

#economicsustainability   #integral mission   #transformational development   #community development   #business development

A Good Friday Reflection

Time … 7:30am

For this Easter weekend, we went to Davao to time a visit with a former teammate, Edna, who is now serving with the Free Methodist in Hong Kong.  Driving from Cotabato City on a Good Friday was supposed to be a quick trip with hardly any traffic on the road.  Sure enough, the traffic was  non-existent.  But halfway though our trip, our 660cc “super-mini” van apparently blew a radiator hose (unknown to us then).  So, a 4-hr trip became a 7-hr “self-pity” ordeal of stop and go as we had to cool off the engine and drove 20km each time before we had to cool off the vehicle again.  We couldn’t even consider stopping for the evening because the car repair shops won’t open until Monday and there were no nearby hotels or inns to check in.  Then, through it all, the superstitious part of me mocked myself, “This is what you get for driving on a Good Friday.  This is sinful.  This is now your punishment.  Tolerate the imposed penitence.”

Time … 2:30pm
Finally arrived at our place of accommodation.  Engine still intact and just in time before it reached the HOT end of the temperature gauge.  The superstitious part of me turned into the theologizing part but the mocking continued, “Well, it rains on the good and the evil.  It’s Good Friday, so just be happy Jesus is your friend and your sin is forgiven .”  Still I felt “out of sorts” that I was being punished for nothing.
Time … 9:30pm
After a good visit with Edna at her mom’s house in the south-eastern end of Davao, we waited for a taxi.  But being Good Friday, we shouldn’t be surprised that there was hardly any.  We decided to take a public transpo (i.e., jeepney).  There were only 5 passengers in the jeepney.  It just happened one of them was Dodong, a street youth we met when we’re involved in street-level ministry in Davao (2005-2010).  Dodong used to watch parked cars in the downtown area and receive small tips for the service.  He recognized me and immediately he told me of his “Good Friday” nightmare!
“Six months ago, I was hired by this cop to work for him in Tagum (a small city about an hour and half east of Davao City).  He promised me a good job.  Well, I ended up washing cars.  I was supposed to get 30pesos per 100pesos car wash.  He never paid me my wage.  I used the tips I got to buy my meals and I slept on the streets as usual.  Finally, I decided this morning that I’ve had enough.  I didn’t want to be a victim to this cop anymore.  My friend here (sitting next to him) worked with me and decided to come with me, while my friend there (at the front) was good enough to help us with our fare from Tagum.  I’d rather ‘watch cars” again than stay enslaved by that cop.”
Quite shocked by his news, all I could muster was, “Have you had anything to eat today?”
His quick reply, “We haven’t eaten at all today.”
He continued, “You guys are not like that cop.  You’re always good to us.”
When we got off the jeepney, I handed him some money to buy food and pay his fare.
11:30pm
As I turned off for the evening and went to bed, Dodong’s last words kept repeating itself, “You were good to us.”
He didn’t say, “I wish you were still with us.”
He didn’t say, “I missed you guys.”
He didn’t say, “I wish it was like the old times.”
Rather, “You were good to us.”
Then, it dawned on me.
He was telling me a story.
It was about how he remembers our team when we were with him and the other street youth.
Our story in his “broken” street life is a remembrance of good.
As for me, with Good Friday coming to an end,
I was reminded that Jesus in my life is about God pronuncing to me, “You are good.”
Perhaps, Good Friday is not about the death of God in Jesus’s humanity after all.
Rather, it’s the advent of pronuncing over and over again to His creation
that through the humanity of Jesus which culminated at his death on the cross,
“all my creation is good.”
Our 660cc “super-mini” van is still waiting to be fixed.  It is still broken.
But God’s creation, no matter how broken we may be,
you and me,
because Jesus “did good” on this Good Friday, “we’re good.”
Before dozing off, I remembered a song we were listening to just before our vehicle started to break down …
“You are good,
you are good,
and your love endures forever,
Jesus, friend of sinners …”  (by Casting Crowns)
Happy Easter Sunday to all!
May the goodness of God be your testimony because of whatever evil that Jesus experienced on the cross.
Out of chaos of nothingness, He created.
And his creation were all good.
Out of the chaos of death, She re-created.
And she pronounced, “You are good.”

The Mamasapano Tragedy and Racism

Since Monday, as soon as national TV news agencies started updating the nation about the tragically doomed PNP-SAF operation in an MILF territory in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, without exception, the national news agencies have shared the following common news traits.

1 They have heralded the lost lives of PNP-SAF personnel as heroes, which means they are the protagonists in this event while the MILF & BIFF are the antagonists (i.e., enemy).
2 They have represented solely the perspective of the relatives of the PNP-SAF personnel who lost their lives in the encounter.
3 They have called the PNP-SAF personnel who lost their lives in the operation as victims.

Even when I scan regional TV newscast, I still have to catch one single segment where a Magindanon Muslim is interviewed and where the individual is allowed to tell his/her story of the encounter. And this is not because these news agencies could not access these individuals. Nor is it because there are no Magindanon Muslim willing to share their story-version of this event.

There is, however, something worse for me. Three days after this ill-fated event, the evidences continue to grow that the decisions leading to this operation was an internal PNP tragedy-in-the-making state of affairs. Still, the nation’s TV news agencies continue to propagate a narrative that the victims were victimized by the MILF and BIFF.

I still have to watch a news segment where the relatives of the dead PNP-SAF personnel were asked for their thoughts about this developing part of this awful event. Not one of the TV news agencies has had the courage to ask or even entertain the public about the possibility that the dead PNP-SAF cops were placed in that violent position of facing death by both the current head and a suspended previous head of their agency; which if they did, would’ve shifted the “victimizer” label over to the dead PNP-SAF personnel’s agency leaders. This missing piece has yet to be investigated by any of the national TV news agencies as a form of self-critique.

This lack of evidence-based critical reporting has victimized those whose narrative is ever so silent in this state of affairs. This is the narrative of the Muslim peoples. These people include:

1 the internally displaced families and individuals in the five or so barangays affected by the operation in Mamasapano,
2 the MILF story,
3 the BIFF story and
4 the story of BBL, where anyone admitting to belong to the Bangsamoro hinges their hope for peace after decades and decades of armed conflict in their own ancestral land.

We don’t talk much about racism in this country. Suffice it to say, the manner that Philippines TV news media has reported on this tragic event does not only border on racism but it demonstrates the systemic negative, prejudiced, biased and discriminatory attitude inherent in the Filipino culture against Muslims. In sociological studies, this describes racism itself. And the key word here is “systemic.”

If anything else that Filipinos, as a whole, can learn from this tragic event, I hope it is that the Filipino culture has an inherent problem of racism.

The Philippines Phenomenon: An Economics for Peace

The reported event.  Jan 25, 2015.  National news agencies were reporting that some 30 “elite” PNP (Philippines National Police) cops were killed in an encounter with the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) and MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) in Mamasapano barangay near Sharif Aguak, Maguindanao Province.  The news mentioned that the encounter was between the MILF and the PNP, while the 30 PNP killed in the encounter were against the BIFF.  The reason for the encounter was that the PNP was under the directive to search and arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan.  The news agencies were also reporting that Marwan was killed.  In the ensuing clash, the PNP apparently ran out of ammunitions and were pinned in a situation where there was no way out of the encounter they initiated.

The actual event.  Jan 25, 2015.  The PNP entered Mamasapano barangay without coordination with the Philippines military around 2:30am.  Under the current peace treaty, any military operation in a MILF-held territory by the Philippines military (Armed Forces, Marines, etc.) is to receive clearance from the MILF and a coordinated effort between the two entities will ensue.  Again, the PNP entered without requesting permission and coordinating with the MILF.  The Mamasapano area is under the MILF’s command.  To make matters worse, whether by mistake or receiving wrong information from its informant, the PNP entered the house of the commander of the 105th brigade of the MILF.

What went wrong.  Jan 26, 2015.  After the dust has settled and negotiations are now underway, there are a number of issues that need to be raised as to the timing and significance of this event.  A day later, the PNP is now saying that the “maneuver” is a trial test for the elite PNP cops.  Gone is their original objective to capture bin Hir. No matter, there are obviously several questions which need to be asked of the PNP.

The burden of proof needs to be pressed upon the PNP because they initiated an encounter that has clear protocols in place and one that could’ve been easily avoided.

1)  Why did the PNP not coordinate this military maneuver with the Philippine military authorities?  After all, the latter are more versed in any armed encounter against the MILF, and also versed in the current protocol in place since the signing of the Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro.

2)  If this was to be a trial test for the PNP, then, it is that much more prudent to ensure that the current protocol was observed, since lives are at stake.

3)  If indeed this is the “elite” personnel of the PNP, it is hard to imagine they would be so ill-prepared as to run out of ammunition and so un-informed about the “lay of the land” resulting in their being pinned in a corner.

4)  So, what happened to Manwar now?  A test maneuver as an objective is incredibly different from the original report that the PNP initiated the encounter to capture Manwar.

5)  Why are the Philippines military authorities silent on what appears as a misstep by the PNP?

6)  As for bin Hir (also known as Marwan), the Malaysian terrorist had been pronounced dead in 2012 by the Philippines military during a military maneuver in Sitio Lanao Bato, Sulu.  If the Philippines military is to be believed, how then could he have resurrected from the dead to be captured yet again?  Then again, a supposedly 5M US$ reward for capturing Marwan this time could very well be a bait for the PNP to go after Marwan without coordinating with the Philippines military authorities and the MILF.

7)  It is widely known that the BIFF is not under the MILF scope.  The two are different entities.  For their part, the MILF has been coordinating and helping the Philippines military deal with BIFF insurgency ever since the military protocol was put in place.  So, what is the BIFF doing in MILF territory? The “educated” response is that the BIFF made it clear that they separated from the MILF in order to ensure that if the Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro is not properly facilitated, as promised by the Philippines government, the BIFF claims the right to continue an armed conflict towards an independent Bangsamoro in the Philippines.  Obviously, the PNP maneuver was viewed by the BIFF as a violation of their trust. Thus, their involvement.

What really is at stake?  There are elements in Philippines politics which are still against the establishment of the Bangsamoro, which becomes a reality once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified by the Senate and Congress and signed by President Ninoy Aquino.  It is now documented that there are political maneuvering among the allies of the President and also among the current ARMM governors to erase about 10-15 key points in the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law).  In so doing, the BBL and the emerging Bangsamoro state would be rendered as no better than the ARMM as initiated by Ramos but which PNoy has basically declared to be useless and dysfunctional.

In addition, BBL would be stripped of its integrity and the foundation upon which the Bangsamoro would claim self-governance.  These anti-BBL elements would like to see the Bangsamoro capitulate to them in the same manner that the MNLF in 1995 surrendered all its self-governing ideals to Ramos and his allies.  The reality is that these anti-BBL elements in the Philippines political-scape are the ones who have the most to lose when the Bangsamoro becomes a reality: they would lose the “lands” they have acquired illegally from the true owners of the lands.

Since the Philippines government military withdrew its personnel from key areas in what is being claimed as Bangsamoro territory, the PNP stepped in to occupy those places. But the PNP is not as well trained as the AFP and the Marines. And it was easier for someone with political clout and money to influence this mis-informed and ill-fated maneuver. The sad and unfortunate consequence of such intentions is the lost lives of “well-intentioned” but “mis-informed” policemen, who were most likely obeying orders from their commanders. To these policemen, the nation should offer its sincere condelences.