This is the preface to the Advent Retreat for clergy and dioscesan staff I will be facilitating tomorrow:
Our advent retreat is Watching And Waiting: The Practice Of Soulful Attention.
There will be some teaching and some exercises.
The purpose is strengthening our souls’ capacity to heal and reconcile
our lives and the lives of others through curious,
But as an American offering a retreat in the Philippines,
I need to say a little first about post-colonial theology.
I need to say this because the American role in your history has been oppressive.
Through Bishop Brent and others,
it has served to convey the gospel,
particularly the Anglican brand of the gospel,
but our colonial power distorted the gospel and in some ways,
made it harder for you to know Christ – not easier.
So I need to say a little about the need for a post-colonial theology
to overcome the obstacles we and the Spanish created for you.
I will say only a little because I know only a little.
But I need to say something because your generation’s challenge
is to work out a post-colonial theology in the Philippines.
The work has already begun.
Sr. Mary John Mananzan, for example has been at this since the early 1980’s.
But as movements in theology go, that is pretty recent.
What’s more the theology that matters most isn’t academic articles.
It’s what you do when you teach, when you preach, when you lead churches.
You develop a theology while giving pastoral care.
Most critically you develop a theology when you reflect
on the economic and community development work you are doing.
Such efforts have to grounded in faith
and linked to sharing the gospel
if they are to survive and flourish.
When you form a cooperative, process coffee, or manufacture soap,
when you help people come together to support each other,
then you ask “Where is God in this?”
You read your Bibles and ask, “What part of the salvation story
do we hear as an echo in our community development work?”
You look at the Holy Mass through new eyes and ask,
“How does this ritual express what we are doing in the community?”
You develop a theology of the cross as you address human rights issues.
You are doing post colonial theology in your liturgy
as you develop indigenous prayers and rituals.
You already have Filipino intellectuals writing post-colonial theology,
but, more importantly, you are all already theologians
doing your theology in this unique context.
What I have to say about post-colonial theology is relevant
to our Advent retreat for two reasons:
First, post-colonial theology does not yet exist as a doctrine.
Important work has begun; most of it is still emerging.
We are watching and waiting for the birth of this new theology in our time.
Christ is about to reveal himself in a new way;
so in Advent 2010 we wait for that revelation
as people in 4 B.C.E. awaited the messiah.
Second, because of who I am, because of my culture and our history,
I am unable to teach a theology that is true for the Philippines.
I can only express my personal regret and apology for the American occupation,
and I can teach spiritual practices that will help you pay attention
to your own experiences,
and pay attention to the situations arising around you,
then to tell the truth about what you see.
If you pay attention in this context and tell the truth in this context,
that will be the best theology for the 21st Century Philippines.
I understand just two things about post-colonial theology.
First, it isn’t about making Christianity politically acceptable.
It’s about telling the truth.
When we describe God as Trinity, we mean that God,
the heart of reality is a mutual loving relationship.
God is a dance and an embrace.
God is not a king or general barking orders.
God is more like a cooperative than the general of an army.
God does not dominate the world, but loves it into being.
And when the world falls away, God responds not with dominating power
whipping us into shape but with the suffering, reconciling love
manifest in Jesus Christ.
That is the gospel. It is a gospel of love and freedom.
Such a gospel cannot be imposed.
We cannot impose love and freedom.
So whenever the gospel is imposed, it is twisted.
It is twisted by colonialism but it is not made completely false.
It is a miracle and a grace that the gospel is so strong
it can survive even the twisting.
The truth of the gospel is so bright,
it shines through the clouds of colonialism.
I can see in your worship and in your service to each other
and the community that you have received the gospel very well indeed.
But the task of separating what is truly Christian
from what is just American or Spanish is essential to your mission.
The task of growing a Filipino Christianity is still a work in progress.
As you grow a unique Filipino Christianity, you are making the whole world richer.
You help us see the true faith better.
You proclaim the gospel in a new language
which we Americans may not understand but we can admire its beauty
as we admire your art.
The second and last thing I know about post-colonial theology is this:
The post-colonial world is still new.
The social structures are unsteady on their feet like a newborn lamb.
Vestiges of the old power system distort the newly emerging society.
Post-colonial theology has to speak to these realities
if it is going to have anything to say that people care about enough to hear.
That is what our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Latin America
have been doing – and getting in trouble for it
– as some of you have gotten in trouble for it.
It is the same task – to discover what the gospel says in the Philippines
about the distribution of wealth,
about political killings and violence against dissidents,
bout the rights and dignity of women and children,
about human trafficking, about care for our earth.
Before beginning our Advent retreat proper,
I want to suggest to you two subjects for reflection.
They will not give you answers to any questions.
Rather they are meant to spark your imaginations and free your thinking
to come up with your own new theological ideas.
First, I invite you to ask yourselves a “what if?” question.
We have the history that actually happened.
Christianity began in Jerusalem, then became the dominant religion in Europe.
Catholic Christianity then came to the Philippines with the Spanish.
Anglican Christianity came later with the Americans.
That’s how you got the brand of Christianity you got.
My friend Demi Prentiss, an educator in Texas, says:
Christianity began in Jerusalem as a relationship.
In Greece, Christianity became an idea.
In Rome, it became an institution.
In America, it became a business enterprise.
So that’s what you got.
But I just recently learned that Christianity spread from Jerusalem
to the East very early.
Christianity was a living wisdom tradition in China from at least as early
as the 300s until the 800s.
Christianity was first called “the Way” which sounds a lot like “the Tao.”
Christians were respected by Taoists, Confucians, and Buddhists
as fellow sages.
They were having a wonderful, rich interfaith dialogue.
All this lasted through the reign of the Khans.
It was after the Khans fell from power,
that the Ming Dynasty stamped out Christianity in China.
It had been a rather different Christianity from the evangelical version
taken there by American missionaries in the last century.
Now here is my “what if?” question.
What if the Mings had lost and Christianity had not
been crushed in 9th Century China?
Then the Philippines would almost certainly have received the gospel
from China instead of Spain and received it centuries earlier.
What would that gospel have looked like and what would it have become?
Second thing to think about:
You may well already have thought this through.
Perhaps I am saying it just so you will know that I am thinking about it too.
I am just now reading your great novelist and national hero, Jose Rizal.
But I gather his novels are quite critical of the Church.
When Rizal was asked if he intended to attack the faith, he said,
“I am aiming at the friars,
but since they were shielding themselves
behind the rites and superstitions of a certain religion,
I had to free myself from it in order to strike the enemy behind it.
Those who abused its name must bear the responsibility.”
Any post-colonial theology in the Philippines
must take Rizal’s critique of the faith seriously.
We must hear the voices of the prophets in our own countries.
But there is an irony in the life of Rizal that also deserves to be noticed
as you develop your theology.
Here was a rebel who spoke against the Church.
But he was a man, who gave his life to telling the truth,
to justice and to healing
to challenging authority and exposing hypocrisy.
For his integrity and his compassion, he was martyred.
No one has more clearly walked in the steps of Jesus;
no one has more faithfully followed Jesus’ way.
A theology for the Philippines has to take Rizal into account
– not in just one way, but in two ways --
both as a challenge and an inspiration.
-- Thanks to Fr. Joe Duggan for helping me correct substantive mistakes in the first drafts.