22 March 2016

Dignity

I think every human has a point wherein she or he will activate a “self-preservation mode” to save what dignity she or he has left. I am activating that “mode”, if I can call it such, now.

Many of you have known me prior to the incident on 23 June 2012. Since that date, I have progressed emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually for the worse. I am not the same Joshua you once knew. I have mentally unravelled to the point that some of you can no longer recognise me. In comparing myself now with who I was then, I was very stable, quite independent, more confident, more patient, and very articulate. As I can no longer rely on the skills that have carried me through, simple tasks have become challenging.

Despite my hopes, prayers, and dreams that I will recover from my illness, I have gradually come to realise that like a dream, who I was then is gone. Who I was then is now dead and I will progressively become worse. Any hope I have for justice and for healing is now lost – I cannot be helped. And I know some of the dreams I have (including some of the dreams I ramble about on Twitter) realistically can never be fulfilled. Gradually I will lose my wits and become more childlike, more dim, and more reliant on others.

Life has dealt me a heavy blow: I must accept my fate and bear it with dignity, bravery, and courage. I suppose that in accepting the God of Calvin I must not resist what has been done to me, but rather order myself lowly and humbly, surrendering and resigning myself to what I hope is God's mercy. If I must walk through hell on earth, I must do so with my head held high. I can choose to see myself as the victim and wallow in self-pity or choose to see myself as the victor. In choosing the latter, I must overcome my emotions and grit my teeth through what I know will be challenging for me in later years. I am a bastard, I survived infancy beyond anyone's expectations, I have survived taunts in my adolescence, car accidents, slippery showers, food poisoning, a rape and an attempt on my life in my adult years, yet I am still here. And despite humiliation, insult, and injury, I have trudged on.

I hope that whilst there is time, that is, whilst I have my wits, I can live joyfully, seizing every moment before I descend further into mental darkness and physical illness. I know not whether my time with you will be long or short, but I pray God make it meaningful. But as time progresses, I will become become more eruptive in expressing my thoughts, less patient, unreasonable, less discriminating about the information I share, and more infantile. I know some of you will turn your backs on me. And I know it's not because you hate me, but rather you can't bear to see the gradual loss of the friend you once knew. Please remember the good times we shared. I hope when you think of me they will only be happy memories. But as I confront my future, I will do my best to affirm life and to maintain composure throughout. I have no strength to fight anymore.

I am what I am: I am the sum of my ancestors. As life continues in revolution, I can only persist with head unbowed save only to the One before whom all must bow and obey. Sometimes we pay a heavy price for who we are. But difficult as it may seem when beset by so much traumatic change, I can only extend grace, compassion, and forgiveness. I must faithfully carry on with pride, dignity, and integrity.

Because I know who I am and I know what my duty is. God help me, because I can place my trust in no other.

But if I have only one regret, it is solely that I did not live life to the fullest prior to that fateful day in the summer of 2012. I could have done so much good with my life. Indeed, I could have accomplished great things. Alas, it was not meant to be. 


Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 

13 February 2016

On revenge

"Justice is the constant and perpetual desire to give to each one that to which he is entitled. Jurisprudence is the knowledge of matters divine and human, and the comprehension of what is just and what is unjust."
Institutes, Bk. 1, title 1.
Several times in our lives we will entertain thoughts of revenge. It feels satisfying to somehow give someone their “due” as if it will make us better people. But vengeance is a paltry salve for a deep, festering emotional wound or injury. One could say it is a small bandage over a large gash. And it's not okay to leave it at that. One must clean the emotional wound and apply a “poultice” of love and care to draw the bitterness and emotional toxins out.

At least in my experience, the desire for vengeance stems from a sense of powerlessness. In receiving emotional trauma, one succumbs to the dominance of another and is left feeling inadequate or inferior. For many of us, including myself, we are already conditioned to submit to the authority of another, sometimes because of race. Members of my own family would shrirk back in fear when their white bosses scolded them and this left an impression on me that remains with me today – the tears, drunken complaints, or angry shouts when a parent or a relative comes home from a hard day's work. Growing up in the Filipino American community, I was told not to play with white children, despite being part white myself, as white people were litigation-prone, and should anything happen to their child, they'd sue. When Filipinos are caught in a dispute with a white person or an Asian of another ethnic group, they feel bound to let the other win, believing somehow that in gracious defeat and outward obeisance, things may be a little better than losing everything.

And lest anyone think it is solely a racial or cultural “thing”, Filipinos hurt fellow Filipinos too, sometimes to the point of abuse and even slavery or exploitation. Colonial mentality has been cited many times as the malaise afflicting post-colonial Filipinos; this is an example par excellence. As justice must be tempered with mercy, so can power and authority be abused instead of tempered with justice. Colonial mentality is not always the conditioned inferiority we show to others because of race, but rather the desire to oppress, to steal, to kill, and to destroy because we have no other example but what has been handed down to us by oppressors. 

So whilst we may cower in fear, in the storerooms and backs of restaurants, in the janitor closets and maid lounges, in break rooms and offices, we commiserate in our bitterness, swallowing it in, allowing the poisons of anger and hatred to cloud our judgments and give rise to delusions of dominance. Again, whilst it feels good temporarily, it makes us no better than those who hurt us. Meeting dominance with dominance simply replaces an oppressor with another oppressor. The cycle repeats. An injustice cannot be met with another injustice.

There is an oft-quoted maxim that “Equity delights in equality.” In what ways do we deem ourselves inferior or superior to others? In what ways do we deem others inferior or superior to ourselves? Is it racial, cultural, related to gender or sexual orientation, or perhaps even religious? And here's the tough question, in what ways can we forgive AND assert our human dignity without degrading the human dignity of the other?

I don't think vengeance is the way. I admit forgiveness is something I'm working hard on, but failing miserably at. Perhaps forgiveness is something you are working at too. It is a healing process. It doesn't help when we are told to forgive continuously by those who hurt us. In the backs of our minds, our torturers will get away because of privilege or won't be brought to justice. And it's alright to feel angry at inequity, inequality, and injustice. But it's not alright to let that anger become and consume us. Somehow, we must allow God's grace to transform and transmute our hurt and anger to pursue the ends of justice: Compassion, love, and charity. By such reparations, a moral debt - an obligation - is extinguished and reconciliation achieved. And that, I believe, is justice. 

Pray for me as I pray for you. God bless you, and may we share God's blessing. Amen.  

21 October 2015

On Inter-Asian Racism

When I was in high school, I was accused of something that was taken out of context by a white teacher. Now, I'm not against employing white teachers in areas that happen to be majority Asian, but there must be some effort on part of teachers to understand their students, the dynamics, and the community wherein they live.

I grew up in Milpitas, which transformed from a majority-white town to a majority-Asian city with sizable white and Latino minorities. There a paradigm shift between old and new, and a cultural 'battle' between the descendants of Anglo-Celtic, Spanish, Mexican, Portuguese settlers and its new Asian residents. Of course, some Asian residents weren't that new, as a sizable Asian minority did live in Milpitas back then. Some white residents were blatant: "Asians are taking over" or "Go back to Asia". Whilst some were bitter and angry, I cannot forget those who did welcome Asian and Latino groups with open arms - churches and hospitals began offering more services in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalog, and Cantonese; whites began to speak Asian languages and Spanish - to cite examples.

Indeed, Asians aren't one cohesive group - we are different ethnic groups, of different religions, languages, and cultures. The 'orientalizing' factor projected by some is a product of a Western mindset that seeks to objectify the 'other' as 'foreign' and un-American. I have been a victim of this, and many of my fellow students then were - having been subjected to the assumptions of teachers who told us, mostly Asian students with American passports, "that's not how we do it in this country" or "that's not the American way".

I happened to be a student right when Asian students would be the majority in Milpitas schools. Into this pan-Asian mix were also entrenched community rivalries from the 'Old World'. It's not crude to call it racism. If Anglo-Americans could bully Irish-Americans, bringing old prejudices from Europe to the 'New World', certainly Asians can do it to Asians. It was and is racism. And it's not fair when racism is projected on another who is used as a convenient scapegoat.

Of course, once I tell you this, there will be some who won't believe me - I can't blame them. But it is a memory that haunts me to this day.

There are wonderful things about Chinese culture and there are wonderful things about Filipino culture - but as prejudice against Filipinos and other minorities in China must stop, so must prejudice against Chinese and other minorities in the Philippines cease. The same pattern can be found all over Asia - a harbored prejudice toward minorities similar to South African xenophobia. That isn't to say that some Chinese Filipinos don't have prejudices against the Philippine majority as some Filipino Chinese have their own prejudices against the Han majority in China.

But let me get to the point: I am a mixed-race Filipino. I have indigenous Malay, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Sephardic Jewish blood flowing in my veins. And when I told two pure-blooded Chinese students, Jason Lau and Jennie Chen, to stop bullying me, even citing a Chinese aunt, who said such racist behavior is 'disgraceful', I was assaulted and battered in an empty brass section room, punched and held to the wall by the neck. (He was tall and I was/still am short, so I was effectively being choked.) Another student, Peter Neddersen, walked in and Mr. Lau promptly stopped.

I ran to the color guard room and wept for an hour - I was excused from band class by the instructor, but only told the instructor, Chris Kaldy, that I had been battered. After class, Mr. Lau and Miss Chen, yelled at me, saying that my tears were only to make them look bad. But that wasn't the case. I was severely traumatized.

The next day, I received a referral notice - which is a disciplinary notice - for suspension. On it, Mr. Kaldy had written that I had told Mr. Lau and Miss Chen that I called them a disgrace and that it was a racist remark on my part. Mr. Lau and I were sent to the assistant principal's office where Mr. Lau made it appear as if it he were defending his girlfriend's honor. I defended myself, saying it was not my intent to be racist. Racism was then projected on me, and I couldn't defend myself sufficiently, even though I was only the mixed-race messenger for another Chinese person's admonition. I knew Mr. Kaldy and the assistant principal (whose name I do not remember) wouldn't understand the dynamics of Chinese-Filipino relations and how these were and are also played in American communities.

Obviously, in many ways, the Philippines was and is the weaker player in the Asian region; China (the PRC and Taiwan) is economically powerful. For many Californian communities, Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans are more dominant socioeconomically; this is why Filipino Americans requested a separate box on forms in California as they would be underrepresented by other Asians.

Filipinos have been discriminated by Chinese (in both China and the Philippines) as dumb, ignorant, subservient, dark-skinned 'dogs of Western masters', fit only for servile tasks. In the Philippines, Chinese have been portrayed as corrupt, immoral gangsters who only want money at the expense of conscience. Of course, these are stereotypes. However, Chinese and Whites do have privilege in the Philippines, and unsurprisingly this can sometimes play out in interracial or inter-Asian community relations in the United States.

I refused to serve the sentence of suspension and my parents approved of my action. When a parental conference was called to resolve the matter, my parents adamantly refused to attend, knowing that it would be manipulated again to place all the blame on me. I didn't serve the sentence, but I'm pretty sure the referral remained (and remains) as a blot on my school record.

After all, it was unbelievably unfair. While I was to receive punishment (which I didn't serve), Mr. Lau would escape (not to mention that he smiled at me as he walked out of the assistant principal's office) scot-free even if he assaulted and battered me. Mr. Lau knew he was in the wrong and did everything he could to make it appear that I deserved to be battered and harmed.

Did this experience embitter me against Chinese people? No, absolutely not. I think the opposite happened, as my appreciation for my partial Chinese ancestry deepened. Being multi-racial is a multi-faceted blessing - one has a variety of cultural sources to draw upon. The majority of Chinese people are good people - indeed they are part of my family. And because of my family that I can stand proud in the knowledge that I am right, even though I was falsely accused.

So does it help to have a judge who is so far removed from the context that impartiality becomes a hindrance to justice? Justice isn't that blind.

6 November 2014

Chris


“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” 
For which I am prepared to die. 

Those words struck me as he handed me a postcard at the Nelson Mandela Gateway in Cape Town. He looked into my eyes and nodded. I knew what he was planning to do. Something was wrong, and whilst I could only respect his choices, I knew something was amiss. Nevertheless, he saw my pain, and he knew – oh yes, he knew that hurting himself would also hurt me.

As a gay white South African clergyman (at the time he was a transitive deacon) of English, Afrikaner, and Dutch-Indonesian descent, he was planning to take the sin of Apartheid to himself and slowly mortify himself into oblivion. White guilt exists in the United States and in other places, but there in South Africa, one will find it to the extreme. In the process, he would also sacrifice his own sexuality and human rights, and leave me feeling awful over what we did.

Dear beloved one, do you really want to die? Striving for a democratic and free society wherein all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities does NOT require your figurative – and God forbid, your literal – death.

Guilt can be useful: It can convict someone into acknowledging their ‘sins, ignorances, and negligences’. It can persuade someone into repentance and charity with all. However, like many good gifts (such as anger), it can be abused. It can be used to destroy someone into submission. It can tear a person’s self-esteem and confidence down that they feel nothing but worthlessness and self-loathing. When guilt leads us to hate ourselves more instead of gently lifting our heads up, that is very wrong. When guilt fails to transform everyone to see their own beauty and belovedness in the eyes of God, that is very wrong. When guilt is used to bind others to fear and remorse, effectively controlling them, that is very wrong. Guilt becomes sinful instead of useful. 

Heads that bow too long may not see the grace afore them. All of us ought to quit staring at the ground. Salvation is at hand.

Years ago, as a young Asian Pacific American Studies major, I reacted with shock to the suicide of the author Iris Chang. She had taken the violence and the atrocities of the Rape of Nanking and the Bataan Death March to herself and suffered from depression. Ultimately she shot herself through the mouth with a revolver. She left a grieving husband and a young child behind.

The same too, can be said of another American, Minnie Vautrin, who witnessed the Rape of Nanking first-hand. Having witnessed the horrors of an invading army, she also committed suicide.

In seeking to understand the one I love, I also travelled this route – in seeking, researching, and learning about Apartheid. The more I discovered about Apartheid, the more it hurt. It became all too tangible and real to me - it was/is a fact in our situation. It became painfully known in my life. It made me wonder what in God’s name inspired human beings to commit such atrocities toward other human beings.

The injustices of history should not be forgotten. It should be remembered and never repeated. Repeating an injustice - such as the prosecution of homosexuals under Apartheid under the Immortality (Sexual Offences) Act - perpetuates an unjust system. 

I began to empathise with my lover's guilt, and I saw myself as a sign of contradiction to his vocation. It after all was a mistake and shouldn't have happened. Just like I am a mistake and shouldn't exist - I was conceived in sin - an adulterous affair. Like parents, like son.

I began to believe such sacrifices were needed to in order to heal the people of South Africa. I counted myself blessed to be the sacrifice, and to offer my sorrows, pains, suffering, and heartache to God who willed it. I began to slowly kill myself. I felt unloved, worthless, and miserable.

Was my relationship with a gay priest a gift from God? Did I not feel grace in his tender love? Was it sinful? Was it sinful that we gave ourselves to each other? Will all of you also consign me to hell for being a fornicating slut and a whore? Will all of you rebuke me too? Will all of you damn me?

In travelling the same road, I was sharing in the guilt he currently feels. I was hurting myself emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I found joy in the pain. I justified it, saying ‘I am doing this for love’. I thought, ‘He could not shepherd me. Let me lay down myself for him.’ I took every accusation upon myself that he may go free. I laid my reputation down for his sake. I was wrong. And I repent. I want to live.

Life is short. It's precious. I know deep inside he's still alive, wanting to be loved, to be accepted, and to be cherished. He exists. And most of all, he matters to me.

But I can’t walk with him down that road of self-abasement and self-deprecation. I can’t anymore. I can’t follow him there. It’s not healthy for me. I can’t continue further with him. I don’t have the strength to make him see how much he is hurting himself and how much he is hurting me. At this point, I can only stop in my tracks. 

I can only be true to myself. There is a fork in the road, and a choice must be made. We can walk apart. He can continue on a path of self-abasement, or walk with me on grace-filled journey toward God, the source of love.

The guilt and unworthiness that pervaded our daily conversations was difficult to bear. It was like trying to love a wall. I will not deny the historical baggage – but please, please leave it at the Cross so that we may begin the healing process. In fact, he should get off the cross, we need the wood. Everyone deserves love, grace, compassion, and mercy – including him.

I love him, but I give up trying to be what I’m not. I’m not Superman, and I’m certainly not God. I am human just as he is human. I saw him – his love, his compassion, and his tenderness – not his skin colour. His love, his compassion, and his tenderness are what I most ardently yearn for – I ache for him. I ache for him to kiss me again and again and again, over and over. Love is what makes things holy, right? I know he is in there, yearning to be free, yearning to love freely. And this is the gift I confirm he possesses: The power and freedom to determine his own future and life – not a tyrant, the bishop, not homophobic colleagues, not his job, not his family, not the Anglican Communion, nor the congregation he serves.

I don’t have much – I may not have anything to give him, but I can at the very least offer my love, support, and friendship first. I would be honoured if we can walk down together, hand in hand. It would make be the happiest man alive.

It does not serve anyone – including the people of your country – to slowly kill yourself with despair. It does not serve your country to hate yourself for being white and to sacrifice your sexual orientation for the ‘greater good’. When you shine, you give others the courage to shine their light too. For my sake, for all our sakes, won’t you live? You are the only one I want and need. You matter to me. Won’t you roll the stone away so I can unwrap the linen shroud that binds you, fold it, and put it away? There is life, love, and light. Would you let me tend to you and love you, as you deserve?

Dear readers, I ask for your prayers. Pray for us. And I am not ashamed to ask for your help, guidance, and assistance. I am helpless, and I need grace. I ask you to intervene and save us.

Please, please dear beloved one – don’t die. Don’t kill yourself. You have so much living to do. Live.

You are not guilty.  

3 November 2014

Prayers to Saint Dwynwen

In the Name of the Father, + and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

O Blessed Saint Dwynwen, you who knew pain and peace, division and reconciliation, you have promised to aid lovers and you watch over those whose hearts have been broken. As you received three boons from an angel, intercede for me to receive three blessings; to obtain my heart's desire [here you may mention a name] or, if that is not God's will, a speedy healing from my pain; your guidance and assistance, that I may find love with the right person, at the right time, and in the right way; and an unshakable faith in the boundless kindness and wisdom of God. And this I ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saint Dwynwen, we beseech you: Comfort lovers whose vision is unclear. Send mending to those with love lost. Protect our companions. In your name we seek to do the same. In your name we choose love first. With the love of you, Mary and of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Recite one Paternoster, Avemaria, Gloria Patri, and Trisagion.

Saint Dwynwen, pray for us.

+ The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.

29 October 2014

An Innovative Double-Arras (Wedding Coins) Ceremony

There are two traditional ways of performing the ceremony. I have dispensed with both. Dribbling coins into each other's hands is quite risky (dropping coins is seen as bad luck) and the cleric and partners passing the coins among themselves seems to be outdated. Instead, I have created an 'arras-exchange ceremony' wherein both partners commit to a life of stewardship. 

After the ring ceremony, two trays, boxes, or pouches/purses of coins are brought to the altar. The Celebrant may say 

All things come from you, O Lord.
And of your own, we give you.

The Celebrant blesses the coins, using one of these two forms.

A long form for the blessing of the wedding coins

We give you thanks, O Father, for all your blessings:
For the bounty of gifts, talents, and knowledge;
for values, wisdom, experience, and expertise;
for reason, memory, and skill;
and for who we are and what we bring in offering.
Bless + these coins, O Lord,
as signs of the spiritual and temporal blessings
wherewith you enriched N and N;
and as they commit themselves to a life of stewardship,
daily renew in them the choicest gifts in your Holy Spirit,
and grant them the abundance of your grace,
a spirit of generosity and hospitality,
and such creativity, inspiration, and compassion,
that they may sanctify, use, and multiply these gifts
to the advancement of your Kingdom and the spread of the Gospel,
and to the attainment of everlasting life.
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

A short form for the blessing of the wedding coins

Bless + these coins, O Lord,
as signs of the spiritual and temporal blessings 
wherewith you enriched N and N;
and as they commit themselves to a life of stewardship,
grant them the abundance of your grace, 
that they may use and multiply these gifts
to the attainment of everlasting life.
through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

The Celebrant may say


N and N, be good and faithful stewards of each other and of God’s gifts.

Each partner gives the other the coins, and repeats these words after the Celebrant

N, I give you these coins as a pledge of my dedication and concern for your welfare, and as a sign of my commitment to our marriage, in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Each partner may respond, saying after the Celebrant

N, I accept these coins, and the dedication, love, and support you offer, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

If desired, a symbolic tithe from each each box, tray, or pouch/purse may be given to the Celebrant.

The service continues with the Pronouncement. 

Joshua Ligan 2014.
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26 October 2014

On the middle finger

In 3rd grade I sat at my desk reading a ditto. Across from me sat a classmate named Freddy Goerlitzer. It’s odd that I still remember his name. We quietly began our seatwork, and reading the instructions, I pointed the words out with my middle finger. Freddy saw this, raised his hand, and yelled, “Mrs. Rode, Mrs. Rode, Josh stuck out his middle finger! Josh stuck out his middle finger!”

Outraged, Mrs. Rode bellowed, “In the hall... NOW!”

I was shocked. What had I done? What was so wrong about pointing with the middle finger?

My name was written on the chalkboard, and I was given a thorough berating in the hall. “I know you come from a Christian family, and this, with all your knowledge of the love of God, is totally unexpected. I am disappointed in you.” She wagged a finger in my face, continued berating my Christian background and my family, and told me how bad I was for pointing with my middle finger. Freddy also accused me of pointing it at him. The tip of my finger may have been pointed in his direction, but it lacked the intent of insult or non-verbal injury to his dignitas and fama.

Now that I think about it, I actually feel sorry for Mrs. Rode. What was her problem with the Church and Christians? But I digress.

In my shock, I stood there in the hall with my mouth agape, not knowing if I should defend myself. I didn’t ask what I did wrong or what pointing the middle finger meant. I was totally clueless, but she presumed I knew what that gesture meant. She had never bothered to ask if I knew the meaning.  And I simply accepted her verdict.

I do come from a good Christian family, and an immigrant family at that, and they did not teach me the idiosyncrasies of American body language. For many Asian American families, the home is practically a cultural capsule. Step inside, and one is in the old country. Step outside, and one is in the United States. The language spoken at home may be English, sometimes with another language mixed in, but culturally one remains in the old country. I was this sheltered from the realities of American life.

For many East Asians, pointing the middle finger has only begun to take on the American meaning. Many still point at things (although it is more polite to use one’s hand or a full swoop of a hand), words, and even people with their middle finger. I shudder when an old lady points to something with her middle finger at the supermarket, because I remember that moment  the cultural barrier came down when as a child.

That day, I went home, cried, and told my parents what happened at school. My mother, being a devout Protestant, blankly looked at me as I told her I was scolded for pointing with my middle finger. Flummoxed, she asked my father, “Whatever does that mean?” In a hushed tone, my father, also a devout Protestant who lived in the fear of an ever-watching Almighty God, whispered, “It means ‘Fuck you’.”

We all gasped over tea. My Roman Catholic aunt choked on her tea and violently coughed. “Aba, yung ang meaning?” Lo, is that the meaning?

But something I do wish my parents had done was to speak to my teacher. They did nothing to confront an injustice. We let someone else define who I am. We accepted her truth. And I’m not going to say it was a racist incident. It was simply a cultural misunderstanding. This is American multiculturalism.

Sometimes, it makes me shudder. Is this how badly we think of other people? Have we, as an American people, become so judgmental that we transmit our negativity to others? Do we assume the worst of others? Are we that inclined to think of others so unjustly? When did the presumption of innocence cease as an American cultural value? Or are we entitled to galloping around the village on a witch-hunt?


That day, among many days throughout my childhood, was a day when my eyes were opened. I had lost a bit of my own innocence. Sometimes, I wish never had.  

2 December 2013

A meditation for the first Sunday of Advent

In the Name of the Father, and of Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We are a gentle angry people; and we are singing, singing for our lives.

Some days are imprinted on the consciousness of a particular people. They might observe memorial days, remembrance days, national days, or independence days. Year after year, they serve to remind people of an event or person that meant a lot to them.

We have our own special days too. We might observe a birthday, a death anniversary, or a wedding anniversary. In our own way, we set these days apart from the rest, and give significance to them.

I’ve never forgotten Christmas Eve 2009. Christmas Eve is now one of those days that continue to spark some emotion within me. As families and friends gathered to prepare for Christmas Day, I was housesitting alone in San Francisco, crying over an e-mail I had just received from an ex-lover.

He was and still is a member of the clergy in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, where LGBT clergy are permitted to be ordained, but must remain celibate.

He could not restore our relationship. He ended his e-mail, saying, “I’m sorry that I fall short” – a clear reference to the motion passed by the Church of England’s General Synod in 1987, which said “that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.”

He was apologising for being gay. He needn’t apologise. And why he should apologise for the beauty and grace that transpired between us?

We are a gentle angry people; and we are singing, singing for our lives.

That was the moment I became aware of my own privilege as an American Episcopalian. That was the moment I cried out to God for justice. That was the moment I realised how different I am. That was the moment I knew I could not feast on the table without sharing the meal with all.

I had been made aware of those still behind a wall of apartheid that drives fellow Anglicans apart.

I somehow dried my tears, dutifully trucked up Nob Hill, and made it to midnight mass at Grace Cathedral. It was cruel to be there, in the midst of all those happy people, glad with their carols of praise. I could not find it in my heart to sing joyfully of the birth of Jesus Christ. It was like the Grinch coming to steal, kill, and destroy any blithe that I might have partaken on what was otherwise a cheerful occasion.

That Christmas Eve still hurts me. It still makes me angry. It still causes me to grieve. And every Christmas Eve, I am reminded of what happened between me and the man I’m I still love. I might be misdirecting all my hurt and pain to the wrong person. Nevertheless, his words cut through my heart like a sword of grief. How appropriate to see that on his diocesan coat-of-arms.   

We are a gentle angry people; and we are singing, singing for our lives.

I find today’s lessons to be quite distressing. One will be taken and one will be left behind. We go up God’s mountain to partake of God’s kingdom and the benefits thereof.  But what of those left behind in the valley? What of those begging for a crumb from the full menu of human rights? Can they not have a place at the table too?

We are a gentle angry people; and we are singing, singing for our lives.

I believe our work still continues to include all at that table; this is the struggle we face. This is what we work, pray, strive, and give for.

I am angry at the Anglican Communion for grieving gay Anglicans worldwide. I am angry at the Anglican Communion for causing gay couples to split up for the sake of church unity. I am angry that I became an unwilling sacrifice to a corrupt system that continues to dehumanise people who try to live truthfully and honestly. I burn, outraged and indignant, knowing full well that a Church who cannot represent its people in their integrity, must be transformed to truly reflect itself. To be catholic, a church must be transformed.

We are a gentle angry people; and we are singing, singing for our lives.

As LGBT North American Anglicans receive God’s blessing on marriages, partnerships, or covenants, I am angry that our Anglican-Episcopal counterparts in the Anglo-Celtic Isles, South Africa, and elsewhere are merely acknowledged and welcomed into God’s house, but cannot partake of the fullness of God’s lavish grace. You can partake of the Holy Communion, but please, please don’t spread your germs, lest everyone partake of your contagion.

We who are LGBT are marked not as Christ’s own, but are made to wear yellow stars by ecclesio-Nazis. This is repugnant to the baptism that makes all Christians equal to each other.

We are a gentle angry people; and we are singing, singing for our lives.

I find it difficult to reconcile to a Church that cannot recognise the gifts of LGBT people and bless our relationships. And I cannot reconcile myself to my ex-lover without him being true to himself. The South African experience has taught us that reconciliation must be founded on truth.

We are a gentle angry people; and we are singing, singing for our lives.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Each week we light a candle in anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. In darkness and gloom, they symbolize hope. But they aren’t merely candles. They also represent us.

As we prepare for Christmas, I’d also like to take a moment to remember those whose lights have gone out on this earthly plane. This Christmas might be or will be subdued and muffled for those who remain.

We remember those who have died as a helicopter crashed into the Clutha pub in Glasgow. We also remember Colin Eglin, an anti-Apartheid fighter. We might also remember Paul Walker, a life cut short.

These lights have gone out, and the night is much darker.  

We also remember LGBT clergy who long to generously encounter the grace of Jesus Christ in another person’s love. Some of them remain closeted, just like my ex-lover. We remember those living with HIV/AIDS. We remember those rights have been infringed, and those longing to partake the fullness of those rights.

Their lights will burn, although the cold winds blow.

Be you mindful of your own light, and think of them. To those still living, hold out your candle to them. To those who have gone off, light your candle in memory of them.

We are a gentle angry people; and we are singing, singing for our lives.

Our scripture lessons today also remind us to keep awake. Just like the Grinch, who stole unexpectedly, redemption and freedom will come unexpectedly too. Be prepared to receive the fullness of what is rightfully ours. In order to know our need, we might do well to recognise our lack.

So we wait for the coming Messiah:  “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

May we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world, through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

19 September 2013

A lost world: What happened to Hindu-Buddhist, Animist Philippines?

When the Spaniards came to the Philippines, they halted the spread of Islam already taking root with the governing class. Although Islam was already entrenched on parts of the southern Island of Mindanao, the people of Luzon and the Visayas still clung to traditional beliefs as their rulers began flirting with Islam. Decades later, after the arrival of the Spaniards, the Islands were almost entirely Roman Catholic. The majority of the people, as subjects of the Crown of Spain, were won for the Cross of Christ.

Before colonization, Filipinos worshipped anitos, nature spirits called diwatas, and a variety of Hindu-Buddhist entities such as the goddess Saraswati, the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (in his Indic male form, not Guanyin, the Chinese female form), the bodhisattva Tara, and Kinnari. Hindu and Buddhist statues have been found all over the Philippines, attesting to the links the Islands had with the South Asian region, China, the Srivijaya Empire, and the Majapahit Empire. Sanskrit words entered many Filipino languages – a telltale sign that Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism (treated as one religion) had taken root instead of Theravada Buddhism. (Theravada Buddhism uses Pali as a liturgical language.)

So what happened to the traditions of Hindu-Buddhist, Animist Philippines?

I believe many of the pre-colonial traditions survive under the guise of Folk Catholicism. Many Filipino Roman Catholics, Anglicans (Episcopalians), and Aglipayans don’t realize that some of these traditions unique to Filipino Christianity, are actually of so-called Pagan origin. Many Christian liturgical traditions are, so it is nothing but a continuing tradition of adaption, inculturation, and renewal of the old.

Ancestral traditions are pretty difficult to shake off.  The early Filipino Catholics might have simply adapted these old traditions, or creative Spanish Friars might have adapted Christian liturgical tradition to fill the vacuum left by the abandonment of traditional beliefs.

These old traditions may have survived when Filipino Catholics light votive candles and lightly tap the flame or wave a hand over it, then make a sign of the cross. This is similar to actions done in Hindu pujas (aarti) and worship of Agni, the fire god.

These traditions may have survived when devotees wave candles at the statue of the Sovereign Christ Child in the Sinulog, a traditional devotional dance. This is similar to the act of waving candles in front of a statue in a Hindu puja.

These traditions may have survived in the Filipino Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a replacement for Saraswati, Tara, and the various moon and sea goddesses worshipped all over the archipelago.

These traditions may have survived as every Holy Week, Filipino Catholics chant the story of salvation and redemption, from the Creation to the story of the early Church, in a practice called Pabasa (literally ‘reading’) or Pasyon ('Passion'). This is similar to the chanting of Hindu epics such as the Ramayana (which survives in non-Christian Filipino minorities).  Ethnomusicologists have found that the traditional tunes, although now Hispanized, are pre-colonial in origin. These tunes still contain melismas reminiscent of classical Indian, Sundanese, Javanese, and Balinese music.

These traditions may have survived in the fertility dances many Philippine women perform for the Blessed Virgin Mary and a myriad of saints.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics hang garlands of sampaguita on crucifixes, statues of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints. Floral offerings may look like traditional Balinese floral offerings. Palm leaves are also woven into many shapes like crosses, monstrances, chalices, churches, and these are blessed on Palm Sunday.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics wash statues with Agua de Florida, Agua de Colonia, rose water, or orange flower water, and vest them with miniature copes. This practice is similar to the bathing of Buddha on his birthday with sweetened tea or perfumed water, and how many Buddhists clothe statues of the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics ask their ancestors (as part of the communion of saints) to intercede for them, that they might be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

These traditions may have survived as more traditional Filipino Catholics place food on a plate for visiting ancestors on Christian holy days (so that the dead might dine with the living), or offer food, fruit, flowers, and candles before pictures of the deceased on their death anniversaries. Another reminder of the communion of saints - the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering/Aspirant, and the Church Militant.

These traditions may have survived as flagellants literally crucify themselves on Good Friday in rites reminiscent of Thaipusam. Medieval European Christians might have whipped themselves, but some modern day Filipinos are nailed on crosses – quite extreme.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics place a basket of exotic fruit on the family altar and dining tables at New Year’s. Mind you, “exotic" fruit in the Filipino sense might mean apples, pears, grapes, peaches, and cherries. Growing up in the Filipino American community, New Year’s fruit offerings consisted of mangoes, papayas, granadillas, mangosteen, lychees, soursop, pomegranates, coconuts, and longans – exotic in the Western sense.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics still show respect to old trees (particularly banyan trees – venerated in pre-colonial Philippines) in the vicinity, believing a diwata dwells there. The Paternoster, Ave Maria, or Trisagion might be said whilst passing by, or the sign of the cross might be made. Others might leave an offering of sweet rice cakes and arrack. 

These traditions may have survived in the form of San Nicolas cookies, which are arrowroot shortbread biscuits shaped in a form that looks akin to a Buddha or a Kinnari.

These traditions may have survived as processions of saints visit homes during fiestas, and when devotees wave scented handkerchiefs as processions pass by.

And because of my High Church Anglicanism, some of these traditions comfortably survive with me – nothing too extreme that my grandmother might have done. For example, I lightly touch the flame after lighting a candle and make the sign of the cross. Every Easter and New Year’s I open the all the doors and windows to let the morning light in, and recite the Paternoster in every room. At sunrise, I might go outside, close my eyes, and feel the morning sunshine on my face.  I ask my baptized ancestors to stand beside me and encourage me. I leave floral offerings and fruit to statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and vest her every May. I sprinkle gravestones with holy water or scented water when I visit my ancestors.

I can’t imagine abandoning what has been cherished for generations.

I believe the story that best captures the triumph of Christianity and the adaptation of pre-colonial tradition is the story of the dancing Santo Niño de Cebú. The Spaniards left the statue of the Christ Child with the Queen, only to be placed among non-Christian anitos and deities. People began to revere the statue of the Christ Child simply as another anito, and miracles were wrought among them. One day, one of Rajah Humabon's advisers was gravely ill. He was placed on a bed to lie in front of the Christ Child. A few hours later, a racket could be heard from the hut, and Rajah Humabon rushed thereto, to find his adviser standing and shouting, whole and completely well. Rajah Humabon asked, "My Lord, what is the problem?" His adviser angrily pointed at the statue and answered, "That child! That naughty, naughty child! He played a prank on me! Then he started dancing around the room and taunting me!" The adviser was completely oblivious to the fact he was miraculously healed. 

For me, that describes the seamless transition to Christianity. 

4 August 2013

On the Christian hope

The most stirringly beautiful declarations of faith and hope are the anthems appointed for Christian funerals and burials in the US Book of Common Prayer 1979.

At the church:
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's possession. 
Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labours. 
(pages 491-492)
On leaving the church:
Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and giving life to those in the tomb.

The Sun of Righteousness is gloriously risen,
giving light to those who sat in darkness
and in the shadow of death.

The Lord will guide our feet into the way of peace,
having taken away the sin of the world.

Christ will open the kingdom of heaven
to all who believe in his Name, saying,
Come, O blessed of my Father;
inherit the kingdom prepared for you.

Into paradise may the angels lead you.
At your coming may the martyrs receive you,
and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.
(page 500)
At the grave:
Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me;
I will never turn away anyone who believes in me.

He who raised Jesus Christ from the dead
will also give new life to our mortal bodies
through his indwelling Spirit.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also shall rest in hope.

You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fulness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. 
(page 501) 
These are texts every Episcopalian should be familiar with. They're very comforting when in a transitive process. Life is a constant funeral, and I don't mean that in a depressingly negative sense. Our lives are a cycle of dying and being made new. At times and in all places, we joyfully look to the Resurrection of Jesus with hope.

I'm going to toe the official line, and reference the Catechism of the Episcopal Church found in The Book of Common Prayer:
Q. What is the Christian hope?
A. The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fulness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in  glory, and the completion of God's purpose for the world.
Q. What, then, is our assurance as Christians?
A. Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
(page 862)
I really believe this is how we ought to live life: Hopefully, with this assurance that nothing can separate us from God's love. We rest in that love in life, in death, and in life beyond death.

To God we belong, and to God we shall return. God is our constant refuge and strength now and unto eternity. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Saranam.