Sunday, April 29, 2007

Preparing for Asian Baptist Congress 2007


I'm leaving for 7th Asian Baptist Congress 2007 in few hours. I'm cramming packing my stuff and writing our church bulletin for tomorrow's worship. I will also attend the two-day pre-congress conference, Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Living Water Conference. This is a conference for Baptist leaders and people who are interested becoming more effective leaders. The truth is I don't have any idea what is this pre-congress all about. I'll find out tomorrow.

Somebody paid for my hotel, food and registration in exchange for my services. The offer is too good to be true that I find it impossible to refuse. I just hope I could be useful and be of service. I know that there will be internet connection but I don't know if I have the time to post during the congress.

The pre-congress is on April 29-30 and the Congress proper will be on May 2-6.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What is Tribal/Indigenous Theology?

My wife and I went looking for a house. We consider our present house to be too big and expensive for missionaries like us. Our friend recommended a house near their neighborhood and offer to go with us and talk to the house owner for us. When we came to the house, our friend talked to the owner and I noticed that the owner was looking at us in a weird way. After a short talk, the owner refused to give us the house, which was alright because we also didn't like the house. Our friend told us the reason for a quick refusal, the owner thought we were from particular tribe. I asked my friend what made her think that we are from that tribe. He said because of the bag that wrapped around your body. The obviously tribal looking bag was the owner's criteria for refusal. It identified us with a particular tribe that crossed the border either legally or illegally. The bag is a gift from our pastor. I could almost feel the discrimination that these tribal people are experiencing from the general population.

But who are the tribal people? The United Nation Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities gives us a working definition of who they are.
Indigenous communities, people and nations, are those which having an historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generation their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institution and legal system.

Tribal people are the most exploited and divided people in the world. Theirs is a history of defeat, suffering and oppression. Throughout generations they suffered discrimination, genocide, exploitation and alienation. They lost their self-esteem because of conquest and slavery. And in recent years, globalization make the situation worst, it causes further marginalization to their continuity as people.

Longchar cites two example of the causes of the tribal people suffering. First is displacement. In different parts of the world the tribal people have become victims of development. They are evicted from their ancestral land because of mega projects--dam, wildlife sanctuaries, mines, reservoirs among others. And these are being done without due compensation. They are simply ignored, silenced and despised.

Second, indigenous people suffer from suppression. Dominant societies do not listen to their cries and do not acknowledge their human rights and dignity cause them to resort to arm struggle. The dominant government instead of recognizing the movements as a struggle for justice attempts to silence the movements by hostility. Soldiers killed innocent people, raped their women and burned their villages to ashes. One may think that these atrocities are not happening today but such human right violations has been going on and on.

Tribal theology came out of these experiences of various forms of injustice and exploitation. Their theology is an attempt to express Christian faith in socio-cultural, traditional and liturgical thought patterns of people. Tribal theology can be considered as resistance theology. It is a resistance to the destruction of the dignity of life, dances, songs and tribal people's spirituality.

Tribal theology is a contextual theology. Like liberation theology it is a theology from "below" and "underside of history." Longchar says that it seeks to reflect on the faith experience of the tribal and aims to liberate people from their inferiority complex, from oppressions and discriminations. To achieve al this , it attempts to rediscover the liberative motifs in the tribal culture and reinterpret the Bible and Christian traditions. Hence, the focus and goal of tribal theology is liberation. It embraces the social, economic, cultural, political and ecological dimensions. In the process of working their own liberation, the tribal people pursue the liberation of both the oppressors and the oppressed. It is, therefore, a theology that includes liberation of the whole humanity and of God's creation."

A. Wati Longchar, An Emerging Tribal/Indigenous Theology: Prospect for Doing Asian Theology.

Picture from http://www.mythsandmountains.com/graphics/tripPhotos/061108155637_myanmarTribalPeople.jpg

Monday, April 23, 2007

Indigenous Tribal Theology


Northern Thailand is the home of numerous hill tribes. Since we move here we have been a part of a multi-ethnic church and welcome all people from different ethnic origin. Ministering with them made me ask some theological questions on how they do indigenous theology. Although tribal people share some religions and worldviews, it is amazing to know how diverse their cultures are.

I know I need to learn more about the recent issues in tribal theology. But there is a scarcity of materials and my resources are limited. Yesterday, while I was looking at our collection of books in my pastor's cabinet, I happened to find The Journal of Theologies and Cultures in Asia (JTCIA). Obviously, an inaugural issue and I don't have any idea if there is succeeding issues. I hope there are because the journal is delightful to read and rather enlightening. If you, my readers, happen to know if there are succeeding issues please let me know. I would really appreciate it.

Nevertheless, I would try to post some of my reactions and reflection to the articles I will be reading and hoping to share with you the emerging theologies here in Asia. I will look at the emerging indigenous tribal theology. A paper entitled An Emerging Tribal/Indigenous Theology: Prospect for Doing Asian Theology written by Dr. A. Wati Longchar, a Baptist Theologian from Nagaland in Northeast India.

The paper is very useful in understanding the presuppositions of the tribal people in doing their theology. This understanding is very helpful for missionaries and Christian workers who are ministering in Asia. Here Dr. Longchar traces the origin of the indigenous tribal theology. This theology emerges as a response to different forms of barbaric atrocities, human right violations, ethnic conflicts, poverty, injustice, ecological destructions, philosophical and anthropocentric traditions of Christian theology. Several movements helped in emergence of this relevant theology like Program for Theology and Cultures in Asia (PTCA) and programs organized by World Council of Churches (WCC) around the theme of indigenous tribal people. These movements strongly influenced the formation of the indigenous tribal theology.

From the very beginning, the PTCA has been engaing in doing theology within the rich traditions found in Asia. One of the significant contributions of it lies in its effort in making apparent that it is impossible to achieve an authentic and meaningful theology without taking into account the unacknowledged richness of God's movements in the living traditions in Asia. This endeavor helps us to recognize that God has been working through and in all religions and cultures of Asia and thereby widened our understanding of the mystery of God. More specifically, by pointing out that God has entered into a dialogical relationship with humaity, religions and cultures, the PTCA has made many people hesitant to say that indigenous people's relgions are "devilish," "satanic," "pagan," "irrational," "immoral," and "untrue."

As I said, I will post on my reactions and reflections on the papers I will be reading. I hope this will give us another perspective on how theology is being done in the different people groups in Asia. Theology that is radically different from the traditional Western formulations.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Discipleship

It's Saturday. All of us in the house thought that today is Friday. The five-day summer Bible camp has somehow disoriented us. It had been a busy week for us.

Meanwhile here is a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer about discipleship. I'm delighted to find a copy of book in a Resource Center in Chiang Mai about a month ago.
Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and , because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship. An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole conception of following Christ.

With an abstract idea it is possible to enter into a relation of formal knowledge, to become enthusiastic about it, and perhaps even to put it into practice; but it can never be followed in personal obedience. Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. And a Christianity of that kind is nothing more or less than the end of discipleship.

In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ. Because the Son of God became Man, because he is the Mediator, for that reason alone the only true relation we can have with him is to follow him. Discipleship is bound to Christ as the Mediator, and where it is properly understood, it necessarily implies faith in the Son of God as the Mediator. Only the Mediator, the God-Man, can call men to follow him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, pp. 63-64

Monday, April 16, 2007

Faith or Fatalism?


Some sociologists consider fatalism as one positive Filipino cultural values. However, I think too much fatalism contributes to the increasing poverty in my beloved country. I have been living and working with the poor almost all of my lives. I ministered in a church located in a squatter area east of Manila. They called themselves "Urban Poor." They are living in the city but do not have their own home and construct their shanties in abandoned land they can find.

We moved to the province before coming here to Thailand. I pastored a church whose membership is composed of, again, the poorest of the poor. But even these people are poor they are not squatter. They inherited the land and house they are living from their great grandparents. But they are poor nonetheless. They till a farmland they do not own, sell their crops and the income they get is just enough for them to last until the next planting season. They are poor but I can tell you they are happy.

Why are they happy? The answer? Fatalism that people mistakenly called faith. Teodoro Benigno commented about this. And I believe he points out the real issue for the continuous increase in poverty in the Philippines and nobody can stop it.
...I couldn't consider suffering people, a deeply deprived and oppressed people happy. I mentioned our poverty, the fact majority of our people lived in slums or squatter areas. I added our people were getting hungry, only able to eat one or two meals a day. Then I poured it on. How could the Filipinos be happy when many were getting sick, when babies were dying because they had no milk to suckle, when children were literally dying in their parents' arms?

I do not see how anybody can be happy in the midst of all this poverty, when the poor get buried much more often than the rich, when the curse of sickness deforms the human being, when a baby, who has all the right to live, shivers greatly and sinks into permanent darkness. Isn't life the gift of God? Isn't life to be nourished and preserved at all costs?

I couldn't stand the assertion that Filipinos were the happiest people on earth..., life on earth mattered little. What mattered was getting into heaven and if poverty hastened this, then so much the better. The more impoverished he is, the happier the Filipino becomes. Heaven swings into view.

Elsewhere in Asia and other regions and continents, millions worked very hard, sought jobs, sought education, struggled from morning to sometimes almost midnight not just to keep alive, but extricate themselves from poverty. They had a vision. They looked at tomorrow, well into the future. They had leaders that prodded them to struggle more fiercely at the oars. That way, progress would materialize, eventual access to better jobs, health, education, a decent, caring society, a leadership conscious of the common weal, love of self, love of God and love of country.

Against poverty and wretchedness, the Filipino had a coping mechanism. If everything was God's will, then his unhappiness was illusory. He was meant to suffer on earth, because this prepared him for the rewards of paradise, eternal happiness. And yet, even if I try to go along, it is crap, unadulterated crap. It somehow excuses the sins, the sordid shortcomings of the rich. It flattens out all reason, leaves one to the mercy of a medieval theology. Might is right. And when might is the sole arbiter of earthly things, so be it. The succor of heaven will come anyway. Whence this culture of ours? Are we Filipinos fated just to sing and pray, fall on our knees, accept every misery because this is the will of the Almighty?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Praise the Lord for the motorcycle!


We have been poor and although we still are poor, we are blessed to become God's servant. As I look back at our life I considered it a miracle that most of my siblings five of us were able to finish college and most of us have post graduate degrees.

It is only through God's grace that we are now in the mission field considering the expenses of coming here. And it is through God's provision that we are surviving here as we are not earning any income at all. God continues to touch people's heart in answer to our prayers. He uses people to provide for our motorcycle, people we don't know personally. The motorcycle is the only vehicle we have and there are five of us in the family. I believe that this is all we need to go around places to teach and share about God's saving grace through his son Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hailstorm and Songkran

It’s one of those days, when it seems many things are going on with life that I really can’t think of writing anything for this blog.

Songkran is going on. It doesn’t affect my thinking in anyway except that in rural Thailand this community celebration gives us something to laugh the day away. Young people and children on pick-up trucks and on the streets splashing tons of water to each other using hose, water guns, dipper and whatever they had. It was really an incredible experience. It’s like a war except that the ammunition is water. There is laughter and love instead of weeping and hate. The magic will last three more days and life will be back to normal again.

We had a hailstorm last night. Ice, the size of a ping pong ball, fell from the sky. The wind lifted up the waiting shed near our house and dropped in the front of the gate of somebody else’s house. The storm lasted for 45 minutes. The kids gathered the melting ice after the storm. It was scary. The men in the community fixed the waiting shed even though it was late in the evening.

Yes, we are busy and yes I'm making excuses for not posting. After attending a 3-day seminar on Inductive Bible Study and Church accounting, I am now part of the Church Summer Camp as one of the organizers and resource speakers. I am preparing my “speech” while writing this blog. A PowerPoint presentation would be neat but I don’t have that luxury of using that here.

After this, I will be traveling to Chiang Mai for the Asian Baptist Congress and after that we have the Summer English/Bible Camp and after that…. (The list is getting longer).

Monday, April 09, 2007

Costly Grace

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, for the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinners. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ye were bought at a price," and what cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 47-48

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lent Traditions

It's holy Wednesday, but of course this day does not happen here in Thailand. So I can't help but reminisce what we should be doing during the holy week if we were in the Philippines. You bet, all people seems to become very religious.

I was born and raised up in Cainta, Rizal. Most of my years were spent there. And for me, I may be biased here, the lent season have never been observed magnificently and meaningfully than any other provinces in the Philippines. (If you want to dispute it write me an email and I will post it here).

In spite of modernization or maybe because of it, the practice of the traditions become more glamorous and sophisticated. These traditions are: Pasyon, three-day or one-week non-stop singing or chanting of the passion of Christ based on the four gospels); the Cenakulo , a stage play of the passion and death of Christ; and Penetencia, dramatization of the arrest and walk of Jesus to the place where actual crucifixion will be reenacted. It was a week full of activities that will reach its climax when Jesus have supposed to die on the afternoon of the Good Friday. After this, the whole town will become unusually quiet, no children are allowed to play games, no singing, no drinking (at least out in the open) and the most weird thing of all--no traffic. This quietness will last until the Easter Sunday when churches will held a worship service or a mass, celebrating the resurrection of our Jesus Christ.

Surprisingly, I find an article about this tradition at the wiki and it is unusually accurate in its depiction of the events.

Cenakulo is a soul-nourishing cultural salads mixing all parts of Filipino psyche, faith, folk tradition, literature and penchant for bravura performances: The Cenakulo is a religious ritual, theatrical extravaganza and a personal expression of faith deliciously served in a platter of colorful costumes, eye-catching sceneries, ingenious effects, soothing verse and high energy performances. But the most sumptuous facet of the cenakulo is that it is a living, growing heritage; the cenakulo has become a force majeur that continues to bring together several generations of a community of various persuasions in preserving folk tradition in a proud expression of the town's distinct cultural identity. Staged during Lent’s Holy Week, the cenakulo derives its sequence of events from both the Gospels of the Bible’s New Testament and from the Book Martyr of Golgotha. Its translation into richly textured Tagalog prose sets the tone for its melodramatic rendering. Cenakulo is loosely derived from the Spanish term “cena” meaning “dinner" in obvious reference to Jesus Christ’s Supper at the house of Marcus. It is during the last supper prior to his crucifixion that Jesus instituted the Holy Sacrament of Communion: an act of supreme faith relived by Christians during Holy Mass. This particular scenario of the Last Supper forms the core of the cenakulo. Today it has been expanded to include various relevant chapters from both the Old and New Testaments. Its performing time runs to about 24 hours broken down into 3-hour segments performed every night of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.
The wiki also has to say this about penetencia:
On Good Friday, the town witnesses a yearly depiction of the station of the cross in the crucifixion of Christ. A devotee, in hopes of being absolved from sin plays the role of Christ and voluntarily sacrifices himself to be flailed and whipped and be "nailed" on a cross, although most of the wounds are shallow and superficial. This spectacle might seem barbaric to a foreigner, however it has been a long-held tradition accepted by many of the inhabitants not only of Cainta, but of other parts of the country as well. This is held by 10 different groups at the Liwasang Bayan (town plaza) and in other parts of town.
It only not seems barbaric to me, it is indeed barbaric. I know this because my uncle pledged to do penetencia every year. My poor uncle would loss consciousness because of the beatings and his body looked would be full of bumps and blood in assortment of colors black, blue, purple and red. I knew because he would proudly show his body to us. Surprisingly, he would feel good. He was forgiven and free from guilt again. I guess, for him it's all worth the trouble.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Holy Week and Songkran Festival

We had a wonderful Palm Sunday worship service yesterday. It was a good occasion to start the observance of the Holy week which begins today. I’m surprise that the holy week comes early this year. I always thought that lent happens at the same time as Songkran Festival here in Thailand. This is the first instance in four years that as far as I know (and it is not that far) that these celebrations happen on different dates. There is weird feeling when Christian and Buddhist religious festivals occur on the same date. As a Christian, I ask myself, if it is okay to join the festival. I mean, I don’t have much choice, do I? As a part of a community I can’t refuse a person much more stop them from splashing icy cold water all over me. Nor I can refuse someone who does it within the bound of reason and decency. They are the ones who stop people and ask permission to pour water on your head and shoulders as he personally blesses you. This is more of a community ritual with religious overtone. Songkran Festival is just around the corner. My children are looking forward to it. Where they can play with out neighbors squirting a state of the art water gun to them and got high pressured water jetting out from the hose. It will be a lot of fun. A celebration of a close knitted big community. Where total strangers speak to each other and treat one another as friends. I guess even enemies become lovers.

But for a while, we will be observing the Holy Week. We will be commemorating the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. We will try to reimagine our Lord's triumphal entry, the Last Supper with his disciples, the drama of his arrest, his crucifixion, his death, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. We will have a nightly worship service in the church starting tonight until Saturday and it will conclude in the celebration of resurrection as we will hold the Easter Sunrise Service on Sunday Morning at 5:00 AM. Our prayer is that our reflection would remind us of God's great love for us.

Unlike Songkran, this celebration of lent and Easter will go unnoticed by majority of people. But for us here, a handful of Christians who believe that Jesus is the Lord of lords and he is the King of kings, we make the holy week really holy and we will celebrate Easter Sunday with the anticipation of the actual coming again of our King to liberate us from all kinds of poverty and oppression.