INSiGHT - December 2019

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December 2019


The painting, Tangiwai is currently exhibited at the St. Joseph’s Church, Hiruharama (Jerusalem), Wanganui River, New Zealand. (Photo by Jocelyn Mary Faith) Cover Image “Tangiwai” is the title of this painting by Julia B. Lynch (1896–1975), daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants in New Zealand. Meaning “tears” in Māori, the picture clearly shows Mary weeping for the suffering of the Māori people and all of humanity – including her little boy, as she considers the messianic prophecies and wishes there was another way for salvation to be achieved, other than through the suffering and death of her child. Tangiwai, ca. 1945. St. Joseph’s Church, Hiruharama (Jerusalem), Wanganui River, New Zealand by Julia Bridget Lynch (Sister Mary Lawrence, RSM) (1896-1975), Te Puranga Atawhai Mercy Archives. By permission of Nga Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand.


December 2019

1

CONTENTS

2

DEVOTIONAL

3 8

9

10 19 20 21 22

24

25 34 42 52 56 58 65 67

Advent Reflections 2019 At The Beginning, Hope

AT A GLANCE Member Church News Humanity Wins CWM News Ecumenical News In Remembrance

VIEWPOINTS Tears In The Archive Advocacy For Gender Justice Remaining Faithful In The Wilderness The Quest For Freedom And We Were Singing Hymns And Arias Ephphatha! Dare To Be Opened! Who Will Take Lead In Combating Racism In The Netherlands? It’s The Depth Of Christ’s Love That Counts

71

TAKE A LOOK

74

SEEN & HEARD

78

YOUR SAY

79 82 84 86 87 88

Voices For Today, Hope For Tomorrow Arising And Shining As One Living And Sharing The Love Of God In The Community As CWM Missionary Feeling The Pain Of Mother Earth The Voice Of Creation Forsaking Eden

June 2019 | 8


DEVOTIONAL


DEVOTIONAL

NEVER GET WEARY YET Advent Reflections 2019

In collaboration with Rev Tokerau Josephs, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ)

Advent is the period marked out by the four Sundays before Christmas where we prepare for the Lord’s coming in to the arms of Mary and into the hearts of our lives and systems. CWM invites you to reflect through Advent on the steps we need to take to rise up for peace and justice. This is particularly important as CWM looks to 2020 as a year where we make our apology and repent of our past complicities with enslavement and look to how we can rise up with Jesus in seeking racial justice. Some of the text is emboldened should this be used in a group setting, when people can respond in several voices. Where this is used in private reflection then this can be ignored.

Preface Unwearied and upheld let us take again the way to Bethlehem, Turn to the ever-increasing dawn and the cries of a new born child. Let us rise up from our comfortable places and start again in a journey that steps out into hope and step by step reveals the path of justice and peace God takes amongst the downtrodden. In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. Luke 2: 1 – 5 (NRSV)

Artwork via https://bit.ly/367fKYG

December 2019 | 3


DEVOTIONAL

In this Advent season, we wait in hope for the innocent one born into the legacies and histories of hurt and hatred. For one whose new life Begins to right the wrongs of the past And confront the injustices of today. In this season of Advent, we wait in hope for God to upend empires through a vulnerable child. For the one who takes the side Of the downtrodden to rise up in new life and power In this season of Advent, we wait in hope for the one who breaks the chains. We wait in hope for the one who shares our hope and whose liberating Spirit redeems our humanity.

Millennials participating in a Black Lives Matter protest. Photo by Johnny Silvercloud

Musical moment Sing an Advent hymn or song or listen to music. An option might be to listen to ‘Never get Weary yet’ by Toots and the Maytals.

https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=R62Sk6sBBRA

Litany at the candle A new life is promised A new dawn is coming The way of the Lord is before us. Let us repent of the sins and structures Whose legacies enchain us in hurt and hatred And live as Christ calls us. We light the way to the manger To rise up against discrimination And proclaim: [The following are to be read according to the date]

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DEVOTIONAL

Advent 1 Dec 1st 2019 You ascended the high mount, leading captives in your train and receiving gifts from people, even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there. Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death. Psalm 68: 18 – 20

Advent 2 Dec 8th 2019

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert Isaiah 35: 4-6

June 2019 | 5 8 December


DEVOTIONAL

Advent 3 Dec 15th 2019

Freeing of the Slaves by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946). COM:TAG United States

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness Isaiah 42: 5 – 7

Advent 4 Dec 22nd 2019 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep Isaiah 40: 9 – 11

6 | INSiGHT


DEVOTIONAL

Christmas Day

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this Isaiah 9:6-7

Candle lighting Let this light shine and grow As we repent of the wrong we do And the injustice we prosper from And embrace the changes to our lives and systems Christ demands Keep a moment of quiet

Closing AďŹƒrmation Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the chains of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn Isaiah 58: 6 – 8

When the powerful tell us we should be silent and give up God never gets weary singing new songs of freedom. When hope lies in tatters at our feet because of oppression: God never gets weary mending our brokenness with love. When we think nothing can ever change for the better: God never gets weary giving us life in all fullness. God never gets weary yet. June 2019 | 7 8 December


DEVOTIONAL

At the beginning,

Hope

by Rev Nikotemo Sopepa

Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed. “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 9 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. Joel 2: 27 – 29 Devotions were meant to inspire people preparing them for the day, that is, if the devotion is held in a morning. Or if it is done in an afternoon it is simply to encourage people to continue searching into the depth of God’s wisdom to help lead them in the task assigned to them. I want us to be inspired. I want us to be encouraged. Both of these come to us as long as we can breathe. Whenever we gather to inspire and encourage ourselves, we ought to remember that there are people, men, women, both old and young, children who are struggling to breathe. They find nothing in life that could inspire or encourage them. Some see death as the only way out of their current situations, whatever those may be. The lungs of their lives have been squashed from all directions, making it difficult for them to breathe. I put emphasis on breathing because it is for us a certain sign of the presence of life. I am not saying that without breath, something is dead, for I come from a culture that defines everything as living, including rocks and sand. The biblical text in Joel 2:27-29 calls our attention to the pouring out of God’s Spirit. I’d like to state it this way: God breathing God’s Spirit upon God’s people. It has an inclining of creation, freshness, newness in it. In the immediate context of this reading, we find that the pouring out of the Spirit of God happens after a people and a land is violated. I understand the word “violate” is a very strong word. But that is exactly what happened to the land and people of Israel in the Joel text. Everything that defines life for them has been violated either by nature, or by other people. And today we find similar circumstances across the world. Nature and humans violate lands and people – or shall I say, the entire environment, which of course includes us, humans. And now that we know that when we speak of natural disasters, we speak of our human doings intensifying the severity of their effects. The traditional interpretation of this text places hope at the end of narrative, when everything has been destroyed, and the environment, the land, and a people have been violated, hopes come at the end where the prophet sounds a promise that God will pour out God’s Spirit. 8 | INSiGHT

Although our mission is to bring hope to a world battered by evilness, I want to reverse the narrative and place hope at the beginning rather than at the end of every story. It sounds like a fairy tale to place hope at the beginning of a story. But what a beautiful story it is going to be when the rest of the details of the story is dictated by hope. How beautiful it is going to be when we create spaces for people and the environment to breathe because we were able to be there in the first place to give hope. I do not want to play tag-on in an environment where suffering has taken its toll. Doing so is almost like a clean-up campaign where many mission organisations come into situations at the end providing hope for the desolate, the violated, the poor, the victims of human atrocities and so forth. I believe there is going to be a drastic difference when hope is placed at the beginning of the narrative rather than at the end. I believe dreams and visions becomes more influential and significant when they become the drum beats to which life marches. This devotion begins with the importance of breathing because that is what I believe the prophet Joel is speaking about here – God breathing God’s Spirit into God’s people so they may have dreams and visions. These dreams and visions should enable one or many to breathe. Sometimes it takes an individual to have a dream, or a vision. Sometimes it takes a people to have a dream. Our dreams and vision should move from aspiration to inspiration. When the Spirit of God is breathed upon God’s people, they should prophesy. In Hebrew, “prophesy” simply means to speak out, or to inspire. Whatever we are doing, our theological, social, strategic, or missional aspirations, should, with the help of God’s Spirit, inspire many to tell their stories of hope. So, when we listen to them tell their stories, we hear how hope enables them to breathe. Remember my earlier reference that nothing is dead – everything is alive. Yes! Even after we physically stop breathing, our work of inspiring others will continue to breathe for us. To breathe simply mean to live. It has nothing to do with oxygen. For life can continue without oxygen. Life is made possible only where the Spirit of God is present and where it leads us – with or without oxygen. That is hope. It is beyond the tangible and the same time it makes the tangible complete. Life in fullness. Dear God, help us to breathe. Give us the breath so we may have dreams and visions. Give us the strength so we may move from our dreams and visions to living them, placing hope in the beginning of all stories. May our stories, begin with the hope you give us, the hope we dream of, and the hope we realise. We commit our lives and our work in your hands. Guide and bless us, so that we may become blessings unto others. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


AT A GLANCE


AT A GLANCE

MEMBER CHURCH NEWS AFRICA On November 1, the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) received an accolade from the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA) for their efforts in good governance and ethics. UPCSA was entered for the award in the NPO category and submitted papers showing their governance structure, risk matrix, finance and management protocols and strategic plan as part of their application. Out of 18 organisations, they were one of the five organisations which received the award, and was recognised for “outstanding contribution towards risk management”.

Besides institutional accomplishments, UPCSA also celebrated the achievements of their individuals in ministry. Rev Prof Dr Jerry Pillay who is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Religion and Theology at the University of Pretoria has been short listed for the position of General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Interviews were conducted by the Search Committee in late October, and the WCC Moderator was informed that Prof Pillay from the UPCSA is one of two persons who will be presented to the Central Committee in March 2020 for a decision. Rev Sauros Phaika, Moderator of the Synod of Zambia was recently elected as the President of Christian Council of Zambia (CCZ). It was considered an honour and recognition for both the role played by the Church on the ecumenical stage in Zambia as well as Sauros’ superb leadership exercised for many years both in the church and the broader Christian community. The Rev Mautji Pataki, minister of William Mpamba Congregation, within the Presbytery of Limpopo has been identified and appointed as one of the “20 Eminent Persons for Peace in Africa”. The team was put together under the auspices of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).

(Photo by UPCSA)

(Photo by UPCSA)

The UPCSA issued a statement earlier this year, noting a spate of “xenophobic violence, attacks and murders of fellow Africans, migrant workers and refugees occurring in Southern Africa”. In the statement, they urged the governments to “demonstrate leadership by bringing to an end this murderous cycle of violence and promote the observance of human rights and adherence to the standards and norms as enshrined in international human rights instruments.” Recommitting themselves to the “oneness of human life across the continent of Africa”, they declared that their churches and schools are safe places for vulnerable groups, and vowed to use their liturgies and homilies to “sensitise the perpetrators about the evils of xenophobic and gender-based violence”. The statement also noted their “call on the Church to raise public awareness of human rights and enforcement of existing ‘laws’ without fear or favour, to ensure that perpetrators are brought to book.”

10 | INSiGHT


AT A GLANCE

The new United Church of Zambia (UCZ) Synod complex building in Lusaka was officially opened and commissioned on November 10, following the thanksgiving and consecration service organised for the newly built facility in February this year. The occasion was graced by the first Republican President, His Excellence Dr Kenneth Kaunda, and the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) general secretary Rev. Emmanuel Chikoya declared the building officially opened.

Photo by Busokololo Media

The National Day of Prayer, Fasting, Repentance and Reconciliation was held in mid-October at Show Ground in Lusaka, with live-streaming of the proceedings. This year’s theme was “Receiving times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord through reconciliation with one another and the Environment for a prosperous Zambia” (Acts 3:19), with UCZ general secretary Rev Dr Peggy Kabonde as the Preacher.

Photo by Busokololo Media

Formally known as the United Church House, it was built for “prudent administration of the mission of the Church and “offering space to others for the Development of this Nation and the world at large”, according to UCZ Synod Bishop Rev. Bishop Sydney Sichilima who commissioned the building as a mission centre to the world. Earlier in the morning, representatives of all ten Presbyteries of the UCZ had gathered at the old UCZ Synod headquarters to participate in the dissolution of the old headquarters and to dedicate the new facility to God’s glory as they serve the Zambian people with the “ministry of compassion”.

Photo by Busokololo Media

CARIBBEAN

Photo by Busokololo Media

In partnership with United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI), international non-denominational Christian organisation Samaritan’s Purse has been facilitating life-saving heart surgery in Grand Cayman for children from countries such as Bolivia and Mongolia since 2017. Having made visits to Grand Cayman to seek the support of churches to host children, the Regional Team of the “Children’s Heart Project” realised the constraints surrounding those who host children in their homes. As a result, Mission House was gifted to and owned by the UCJCI’s Cayman Islands Regional Mission Council (CIRMC) in May 2018.

Photo by Busokololo Media CIRMC Mission House

June2019 2019 | | 11 8 December


AT A GLANCE

Each Mission House project has a host Mom and host congregation, which has agreed to host the groups whereby each group consists of two children, their mothers and an interpreter. They journey with the beneficiary groups in a caring, faith-centred way during their time in Grand Cayman, and meets the financial costs of their necessities. Post-surgery, they move on to the Mission House, for exposure to the church community. Besides relationship building and being taken on outings, the gospel is shared with them and many mothers have received Christ as a result of the experience. The children have been hosted by several different denominations on island, including UCJCI’s Council Office, John Gray Memorial, South Sound, and Savannah United Churches.

Rt Rev Dr Gordon Cowans blessing an infant.

Young adults from UCJCI attended the United Church Young Adults Action Movement’s conference earlier this year for a time of bonding, equipping and refreshing. Held at Madge Saunders Conference Centre, St Mary, there were discussions on building healthy marital and pre-marital relationships, and a career building session. 30 people responded to the Call to Ministry as Lay Leaders, indicating their interest in being trained in their local congregations. In keeping with UCJCI’s objective to improve stewardship of the environment, seven fruit trees were planted by Moderator Rt Rev Dr Gordan Cowans.

UCJCI Moderator Rt Rev Dr Cowans made his first official visit to Western Regional Mission Council (WRMC) in mid-September, as part of the Moderator’s schedule of visits across the four UCJCI regions. He addressed students at the Theodora Training Centre in Negril, as well as dedicated a monument to Ministers who have served the Stirling United Charge in Westmoreland.

The Moderator plants a tree after the service at Lance’s Bay United Church, Hanover, while chlidren look on. Photo by UCJCI.

Rt Rev Dr Gordan Cowans, Moderator, UCJCI (Right), presents a token to Premier of the Cayman Islands, The Hon Alden McLaughlin, during his first official visit to CIRMC. Photo by UCJCI.

12 | INSiGHT

His visit to Cayman Islands Regional Missional Council (CIRMC) in October included recording the CIRMC radio programme “Worship the Lord”, among other duties. Accompanied by General Secretary Rev Norbert Stephens, he covered Bethesda Counselling Centre, Savannah United Church’s After School Education Programme and Beth Shalom Mission. The Moderator also made a courtesy call on Premier of the Cayman Islands, the Hon Alden McLaughlin at the Government Administrative Building, presenting him with a token on UCJCI’s behalf.


AT A GLANCE Over two years, the Goshen Charge of United Churches - including Goshen, Welsh, Derry and Woodpark United Churches - in St. Mary has been offering a revolving loan scheme to their members to assist in small business ventures. This was inspired by the belief of the Charge’s leadership that the Church should assist members with economic opportunities for self-sustenance and to support their families. Several congregation members have each benefitted from the $10,000 loan ceiling paid to suppliers for agricultural inputs such as animal feed, Irish potatoes and broiler chicks. Upon profit from sale of harvested crop, a congregation member repaid the loan and even chose to donate the full amount to the programme. Another recipient also donated to the project half of the loan amount, on top of the mandatory loan re-payment upon harvest. This scheme has not only succeeded in empowering the Charge’s members and enhancing their economic viability, but also meeting ministry needs.

PACIFIC At least 8 died and over 30 were injured after a volcanic eruption on White Island, New Zealand (NZ). The eruption occurred with little warning on December 9, and casualties included both New Zealanders and tourists, many of whom were on a cruise ship touring the volcano.4 Shocking footage from tourists on nearby boats were posted on social media, which showed giant plumes of thick black smoke rising from the site.

A measles epidemic in Samoa has taken at least 70 lives, mostly of babies and young children, and infected over 4,200 people as of December. In response to the rapidly spreading outbreak, the Samoan government recently shut down non-essential public and private services for two days to free up resources for a vaccine drive and ensure that people were at home when medical teams visited.1 At the request from the Samoan government, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was also prompted to send experts to provide technical assistance in tracking and monitoring cases and vaccination campaigns.2 Medical help has arrived from Israel, New Zealand, and Maohi Nui, and in coordination with WHO, medical assistance has been sent in from Norway, USA, France, Britain, China, and Japan.

The White Island, or Whakaari volcano, is NZ's most active cone volcano according to NZ’s official geological hazard information website, Geonet. It has been built up by more than 150,000 years of volcanic activity.

#PrayforPapua

Vaccination rates in Samoa are among the lowest in the world, lagging behind other Pacific Island countries as anti-vaccination activists made false claims linking vaccination to autism and other medical conditions. Vaccination fears were bolstered after two babies died after receiving vaccination shots, even though it was later discovered that the deaths were caused by medications that were wrongly prepared.

The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) and the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches (PNGCC) released a statement earlier this year, condemning institutional racism against the indigenous people of West Papua, which had led to violent attacks against Papuan students in Surabaya and protests in Manokwari and Jayapura and led to an increase of Indonesian militarisation in Papua.

The measles virus had also devastated communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine, among others.

Close to 200 Papuans, mostly women and children had either been killed or died fleeing the conflict and 45,000 are currently displaced as a result of the conflicts, according to a combined report by Papuan local human rights NGOs, churches and the Nduga Regency administration on conflicts between Indonesian Military and armed indigenous groups in the Nduga region.

Rotary New Zealand World Community Service (RNZWSC) has issued an appeal for assistance from the Rotary Club of Apia to provide aid to the Ministry of Health and communities in Samoa. Specifically, the Ministry of Health are seeking health centre furnishing and supplies such as beds, screens, trolleys and wheelchairs.

The statement called on all member churches of PCC and PNGCC to pray for fellow Christians in Papua and also for people of Indonesia for a just peace to this ongoing crisis. In addition, there was a call on Indonesia to “immediately allow access to Papua by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN mandate holders”.

Visit http://bit.ly/3844Apn if you would like to know details on how to give.

1

https://www.todayonline.com/world/samoa-goes-door-door-fight-measles-combat-anti-vaccination-messages

2

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/11/26/deadly-measles-outbreak-hits-children-samoa-after-anti-vaccine-fears/

June2019 2019 | | 13 8 December


AT A GLANCE Khandallah Presbyterian Church minister Rev Ryhan Prasad is one of the first ministers to be involved in the 1,000 Abrahamic Circles Project, which is a new global inter-faith initiative pitched at the Paris Peace Forum, adopted by the United Nations. An Abrahamic Circle consist of an international Jewish, Muslim and Christian leader each coming together for one-week visits to one another’s hometowns for discussions, interfaith activities, and community service. 3

From right: Khandallah Presbyterian Church’s Rev Ryhan Prasad, with Islamic imam Ustad Oji Fahruroji from Indonesia, and Jewish rabbi Eliot Baskin from the United States. They travelled to each other’s home cities as part of a new global inter-faith peace-making programme.

With a Jewish rabbi and an Islamic iman on board, the organisers sought a Christian minister – specifically from New Zealand after the tragic Christchurch mosque shootings. Rev Prasad, a minister whose parish is in Presbytery Central - Nukuhau Tapu of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ), fitted the bill. The Wellington minister joined Ustad Oji Fahruroji, an Islamic iman from Indonesia and a Rabbi Eliot Baskin from America to visit each other’s cities in August, where they attended services of all three faiths in each city, had an inter-faith service and held panel discussions to break down stereotypes by showing their faiths were similar. After these immersive visits across three different global communities, the Circle leaders are asked to enter the public discourse and lead inter-faith peace-building efforts in their own communities. Rev Prasad has recently held a series of conversations on Three Abrahamic Faiths in Khandallah, as part of this grassroots movement. 3

https://www.1000circles.com/project

4

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/08/asia/new-zealand-white-island-eruption-intl-hnk/index.html

SOUTH ASIA CWM’s Mission Support Programme (MSP) accompanies member churches in developing missional congregations where fullness of life and hope are experienced and lived in community. Through MSP 4, participants from deaneries and Chittagong City Pastorate of Church of Bangladesh (COB) gathered for the Training of Trainers (ToT) programme which works towards peace and reconciliation in the family and community.1 Facilitated by the Thematic Technical Team, the topics covered included human, women and children’s rights and protection, gender-based violence and marriage counselling. It is hoped that the programme participants will deliver the lesson plans at the Deanery level next year. Another combined workshop to develop training curriculum on six topics was also made possible through MSP 4. 2 Deputy Moderator Rt Rev Shourabh Pholia, Bishop of Barishal Diocese, took part in this workshop held in Savar, Dhaka. In various parishes of Khulna Deanery and Jobarpar Deanery, focus group discussions were organised on COB’s strategic plan for the years 2020-2025. 3 14 | INSiGHT

Participants of ToT (Photo by COB)


AT A GLANCE

The Barishal Diocese organised several Women’s Fellowship Seminars at Jobarpar and Khulna Deanery in October, with discussions on several themes including “Women are worthy of respect”; “Creation Care” and “Thy Kingdom Come”. 4 Honourable Bishop of Barishal Diocese Shourabh Pholia visited Rajshahi City Church’s revival meeting in late October as the guest speaker, sharing about busy-ness and distractions from the pursuit of the kingdom of God. In addition, Barishal Diocese organised a prayer seminar at St Mary’s Church, Jobarpar together with Bangladesh Prayer Movement. This included a special prayer for the preaching service of all the denominations in Bangladesh for the furtherance of God’s kingdom. 5

Photo by COB

Photo by COB

Intense floods in Maharashtra in August submerged houses for weeks, impacting the lives and livelihoods of people living in the Kolhapur and Sangli districts. Many of these affected villages are part of Kolhapur Diocesan Council of Church of North India (CNI). As part of CNI’s disaster relief efforts, General Secretary Mr Alwan Masih requested support from Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), a humanitarian organisation in India. 6 Two large relief camps were set up, with ration kits prepared for and distributed to 700 families of Rangoli and Aitiwade villages.

The prestigious Mahatma Gandhi Samman award was conferred on The Rt Rev Paritosh Canning, Bishop of the Diocese of Calcutta during a presentation ceremony in the House of Commons of the British Parliament in London. Held in October, it was attended by both Indian dignitaries as well as dignitaries of the British Parliament.

Photo by CNI

Photo by CNI

CNI Gujarat Diocese launched the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK) Diocesan Bookshop with a dedication service in September. 7 Bishop of Gujarat Diocese The Rt Rev Silvans S. Christian introduced ISPCK General Secretary Rev Ashish Amos, General Secretary for Ecumenical relations Mr Sandeep Chaudhary, and General Secretary for Publishing and programmes Mrs. Ella Sonawane to those present, recognising their efforts to bring ISPCK to Gujarat. The sermon by Rev Amos was based on Isaiah 6, and he spoke about how serving God and being in His presence keeps one going strong amidst adversities and challenges in one’s country, community or personal life.

The Mahatma Gandhi Samman is awarded to an Indian who has been instrumental in forging better relations and stronger bonds between Indians and non-resident Indians, and embodies the values of peace, harmony and humility. 8

Photo by CNI

June2019 2019 | | 15 8 December


AT A GLANCE As part of fulfilling its commitment to being and becoming a Child Friendly Church, Church of South India (CSI) had disseminated its Child Protection Policy (CPP) draft in two regional workshops for review after it was introduced to CSI children earlier this year. To empower key people who will take this policy forward at the regional and diocese levels, a capacity building workshop was conducted at CSI Centre in September with eight members drawn from each language region. 9 One of the sessions dealt with the application and implications of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the Juvenile Justice Act, and how the church could comply with its provisions. Also, they identified gaps or issues not covered in the CPP’s implementation section, and suggested edits and additions. At the end of the workshop, they committed to devising ways to take forward policy dissemination, and planning programmes for the church to advance towards a child-friendly space at their local levels.

Photo by CSI

Photo by CSI

Photo by CSI

Photo by CSI

The “Visions in Frames”: Forming New Theological Narratives on Dalits and Adivasi concerns programme gathered 80 young CSI theologians to present new affirmations of 21st-century theologians from marginalised communities in September. The programme objectives included encouraging young Dalit and Adivasi Theologians to critically evaluate and articulate Dalit and Adivasi Theologies for today, and influencing and contributing to the future formation of the mission priorities of CSI with the Dalit and Adivasi perspectives. The CSI has taken up the challenge of mitigating plastic pollution through avoiding single-use plastics. In association with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Department of Ecological Concerns organized a Young Leaders Challenge at CSI Synod Centre in September. There were sessions on managing plastic waste and finding sustainable alternatives to plastic, and a push for implementing green protocol guidelines in schools and colleges under CSI.

1

https://churchofbangladesh.org/publications/news/941-tot-of-msp-4/

2

https://churchofbangladesh.org/publications/news/938-msp-4-combined-workshop-on-material-development/

3

http://churchofbangladesh.org/uncategorized/905-newsletter-of-barishal-diocese/

4

http://churchofbangladesh.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Barisal-Newsletter_Oct.pdf

5

ibid

6

http://new.cnisynod.org/arousing-hope-in-the-midst-of-adversity-maharashtras-flood-battered-kolhapur-and-sangli-limping-back-to-normalcy/

7

http://new.cnisynod.org/ispck-diocesan-book-shop-opened/

8

http://new.cnisynod.org/mahathma-gandhi-samman-conferred-on-bishop-paritosh-canning

9

http://www.csisynod.com/news_view.php?Id=6068

EAST ASIA “The scale of the youth participation in the (Hong Kong) demonstrations and protests indicates that our younger generation have recognised their civil identity and responsibility in the social and political issues. At this time of crisis, the Church has to ponder over our role in this city and revisit our responsibility for the people of Hong Kong. As we listen to the expectations of the young people and the voice of the grass roots, what should we do?” This was the question posed by Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC) General Secretary Rev Dr Eric So in a reflection earlier this year. He encouraged churches in Hong Kong to “go beyond their denominational boundaries and exercise mutual respect and appreciation, sharing each other’s heritage and working together with one accord for God”. He expressed his hope that “the Council could pursue the spirit of inclusion and harmony in the society and sow the seeds of peace so that hostility will be erased”. 16 | INSiGHT


AT A GLANCE Results of the first-ever nationwide survey of the homeless in Singapore were released at a public lecture in November. The independent study, funded by a research grant from the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, had found over 1,000 rough sleepers in Singapore, with many in hotspots Rochor, Kallang, Bukit Merah and in the city area. 1 There had been no official definition or systematic measurement of homelessness in Singapore before November. It appears that an official definition of “homelessness” indicates an emphasis on homelessness as a social issue, an acknowledgement of the complexity of situations faced by the homeless, which translates into partnerships across organisations. One such example is The Safe Sound Sleeping Places model pioneered by the Catholic Welfare Services, where churches and other groups open up their premises for the homeless to stay the night.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited two historical Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) churches in mid-September. After spending two days at Tan-Sui Church of Taipei Presbytery and Hsi-Meng Church of Jiayi Presbytery, she expressed deep appreciation for PCT’s “humble but influential contributions to Taiwan society”. 2 Addressing an audience during her visits, she commended PCT’s “early pioneering achievement in mission, medicine and education” that has benefitted countless Taiwanese people, and her resilient spirit in “proclaiming love and justice in Taiwan’s early democratic movement”. Accompanied by the Taiwan Church Press (TCP) Chairman and President, she experienced how the first printing machine in Taiwan was operated, and manually printed out “ping-an” (meaning “peace”), and “fu” (blessings) for Taiwan’s church and people.

With church leadership believing that this is a “living movement of Kingdom significance”, Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church – the oldest Presbyterian church in Singapore (PCS) - is testing a six-month pilot project to allow the homeless to stay the night in their premises. Located in the city where Rochor is a hotspot for rough sleepers, they felt that it would be a sign of the Church’s care for the less fortunate, and lead the way for others to be “empowered witnesses” to the world if they could manage the logistics, security and operations of their project. 1

https://bit.ly/2PbfzFT

Photo by PCT

2

https://tcnn.org.tw/en/archives/59244

During the last decade or so, over 1,700 in Nepal have died and over a million were made homeless by monsoon floods. Working with the National Red Cross Disaster Team, Nepalese-born researcher Komal Aryal and his team have been using Taiwanese bamboo technology to build flood-proof homes in a new pilot scheme in Terai region, Nepal. Senior Disaster Researcher and PCT representative Dr Yi-Chung Liu said that under this scheme, Taiwanese volunteers, who have been building and using bamboo houses for generations post-disaster, travelled to Nepal share their knowledge with the Terai people. Through PCT funding, the Taiwanese volunteers supplied seeds for growing straight bamboo, which are less prone to breaking during earthquakes and easier to construct houses from during an emergency situation. The volunteers also equipped them with the skills to plant, cut and build emergency houses with the bamboo in a safe manner, and taught them preservation methods to make the homes more durable. With the bamboo homes being cost-effective due to the use of natural resources and organic farming, a sustainable and self-sustaining system is set up.

Floodproof houses in Nepal. Photo by PCT

Floodproof houses in Nepal. Photo by PCT

December 2019 | 17


AT A GLANCE

A welcome service was recently held for Rev Yu-Fen Chen, a new Partner-in-Mission (PIM) sent from PCT to serve the United Reformed Church (URC) in the Taiwanese London fellowship. The image of a tree by Taiwan was decorated as an expression of partnership during the service, which was attended by Rev Nigel Uden, Moderator of URC General Assembly; Rev Ray Adams, former PIM from URC to PCT; and Rev Wayne Hawkins, CWM Deputy General Secretary. The CWM’s PIM Programme facilitates member churches’ response to God's call to mission by providing opportunities to offer and receive partners to accomplish specific mission priorities.

Photo by PCT

Photo by PCT

EUROPE

Photo via Roxton Congregational Chapel.

Roxton Congregational Chapel, which is affiliated to the Congregational Federation (CF), celebrated the completion of the rethatching of its roof in October. The largest grant for the rethatching project, which also involved new information banners and leaflets and training of tour guides to enable people to learn about heritage, came from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant. However, obtaining the HLF grant required parallel funding from other grant agencies. East Midlands Congregational Churches, private donors and CF were among those who helped fulfil this requirement with their donations. CF General Secretary Yvonne Campbell led the celebration service, supported by CF President Janet Wootton. Mrs Campbell preached from Mark 2, about people who made a hole in the roof to have a paralysed man healed by Jesus, and spoke about the possibility of this new project allowing many more people to come to meet with Jesus. After the service, visitors viewed an exhibition of photographs and artefacts showing the extent of restoration work in Roxton Chapel for the past 30 years.

Photo via Roxton Congregational Chapel.

Congregational Federation (CF), the Union of Welsh Independents (UWI), the Presbyterian Church in Wales (PCW), and United Reformed Church (URC) are among the member churches of Cytûn (Churches Together in Wales). Cytûn’s work in ecumenism has gradually been driven and shaped by the churches’ desire to collaborate in serving their communities through food banks, street pastors, and debt and employment advice. They have also participated in the public square, with their work this year focused on three main areas: the climate emergency, the new school curriculum in Wales, and Brexit discussions. Rural Chaplaincy.

18 | INSiGHT


AT A GLANCE Climate-related events have been held by churches in Swansea, and Cytûn also engaged regularly with the office of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Commissioner, whose work is increasingly focused on the climate crisis. Cytûn’s Wales & Europe Working party – which represents Christian churches and denominations in Cytûn – monitored Brexit news and its implications for Wales, and held a meeting with Lord Lisvane and Sir Paul Silk to discuss constitutional implications of the latest developments. Cytûn also partnered with JPIT (the Joint Public Issues Team of three member churches) to produce a series of briefing notes to help Christians pray about the General Election in December.

Photo by The New York Times.

United Reformed Church (URC) General Assembly Moderators, Derek Estill and the Revd Nigel Uden, with leaders from the Methodist Church and Baptists Together, have released a statement urging the UK Government to work for peace in Syria. Military attacks in the north-east of Syria have left unarmed civilians caught between two fighting parties, with families affected by disruption to the water supply, soaring food prices, being unable to reach their workplaces, and some aged under 45 being forced to join the fighting. The joint statement noted how “the diverse people of the region were just beginning to see some respite from the turmoil and destruction that has overtaken them during the past eight years of war”. It included an appeal to the UK government “to take urgent and decisive political action to ensure that a further escalation of conflict is averted” and for all parties to “work for a sustainable peace based on agreements that guarantee respect for human rights and a complete rejection of violence.” *

Sources: Websites and Facebook pages of respective member churches.

HUMANITY WINS A team of people is thinking of military families, and seeking to bring them Christmas cheer. Through “Trees for Troops”, a program of The Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, that provides free, farm-grown Christmas trees to military bases, volunteers will be delivering 16,000 Christmas trees in the U.S and abroad. Once the trees reach the military bases, they are given out to military families who can take them home. What happens to the trees, however, is up to the specific military base. About 20 states and many individuals have donated trees to brighten a military family's holidays over the past 15 years.1 Playing with Lego building blocks is a cherished childhood memory for many, and knowing this, Brendan Hoffmann from Cape Town started a project last year to make this experience possible for underprivileged children in South Africa. Brendan collected over 100 kgs of unwanted blocks, and separated the different pieces into shape and colour variations. After that, Brendan conceptualised what the blocks could be made into, and created step-by-step guides. This way, he had created a gift that can deliver the same experience of a full Lego set. He gifted these little Lego sets away to the Blessings School in Delft to not only bring them the joy of imagination, but also to give unwanted toys a new lease of life.2 After receiving news of a critical financial situation at the Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) in Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians expressed solidarity by making donations to enable the hospital to buy medication for cancer patients. Members of local communities, including an AVH nurse, took the initiative to organise a spontaneous collection. Close to 400,000 euros were donated over two days by Palestinians in Jerusalem and beyond, school children, patients, business owners and daily labourers alike.3 Thousands of people in Kiunga, a small town in Kenya have access to clean water everyday, thanks to a solar-powered desalination plant built by GivePower, an NGO on a mission to provide drinking water to people around the world. As many water plants are expensive to run, the NGO sought alternative ways of providing drinkable water, and this gave rise to using solar energy as a long-term solution. The area has suffered extreme drought for years, and with the plant successfully transforming sea water into drinkable water, 35,000 people can benefit each day.4 A Singapore-based venture capital firm has unveiled a US$106 million fund aimed at cleaning up Asia’s marine plastic crisis by financing companies focused on preventing plastic pollution. The firm, Circulate Capital, said in a statement that the new fund is the “world’s first investment fund dedicated to addressing Asia’s plastic crisis”. This new Circulate Capital Ocean Fund would both lend money to firms tackling plastic waste, such as waste management firms, and invest in equity stakes in these firms.5 December 2019 | 19


AT A GLANCE

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has been named Time Magazine's Person of the Year 2019, and is the youngest individual to have won the accolade. When she was 15, Thunberg launched a grassroots campaign demonstrating outside Swedish parliament every Friday, for her government to curb carbon emissions. Since then, she has addressed heads of state at the United Nations, met with the Pope and inspired millions to join the global climate strike in September.6

1

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/04/us/trees-for-troops-15-years-trnd/index.html?

2

https://www.goodthingsguy.com/people/lego-children-joy-playing/?

3

https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/palestinians-collect-avh

4

https://givepower.org/introducing-first-givepower-solar-water-farm/

5

https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/new-spore-based-us106m-investment-fund-tackle-asias-plastic-waste-crisis

6

https://www.todayonline.com/world/teenage-climate-activist-greta-thunberg-times-person-year

CWM NEWS General Secretaries’ Conference 2019 Every two years, General Secretaries of Council for World Mission (CWM) member churches are given the opportunity to carve time out from their busy schedules to reflect on their calling, share experiences and draw strength and inspiration from each other. This happens during the General Secretaries’ Conference, where CWM is privileged to bring them together and provide them a platform for reflection, rejuvenation and re-centring. Held in Rotorua, New Zealand in mid-September, this year’s theme was “leadership that inspires awakening and hope”, as it is believed that church leaders need to take the time to sharpen their awareness of today’s issues, reframe the purpose of church leadership, and seize the Kairos moment to position themselves to engage confidently and with relevance to the challenges facing all of creation. Hosted by CWM members Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) and the Congregational Union of New Zealand (CUNZ), the general secretaries visited the PCANZ national marae

General Secretaries of CWM.

20 | INSiGHT

at Ohope where they experienced the traditional Maori welcome and hospitality. The keynote address on the conference theme was delivered by Dr Jennifer Louise Te Paa Daniel (Te Rarawa), the first Maori in the world to gain an academic degree in Theology and the first indigenous Anglican laywoman to lead an Anglican theological college. Among the key highlights was the discussion of the Strategy Framework, led by the Chair of the Strategic Planning Group (SPG). Every ten years, CWM engages in a comprehensive process that engages stakeholders on what CWM should focus on in the next ten-year strategy period. The consultation process and framework itself considers all aspects of CWM’s life, including the theology, finances, governance and management structures, and past programmatic themes to inform and support the new strategy period. In addition to sessions for prayer, re-centring, worship, holy communion, and bible studies, lessons were shared on the leadership journey.


AT A GLANCE

ECUMENICAL NEWS Youths building communities of harmony and hope “Stewards of Hope, Seekers of Harmony” was the theme for YATRA, an inter-religious training programme co-ordinated by Council for World Mission (CWM), World Council of Churches (WCC), and World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). CWM’s flagship Training in Mission (TIM) Programme participants were among the youths gathered at Yonsei University Chapel, South Korea for the intensive training course in September. The programme, which is aimed at equipping Christian youths between ages 20 to 35, offered an opportunity to rethink in a creative and critical manner what it meant to bear an account of the hope that is within them in a multi-religious world, as they seek to love God and live harmoniously with their neighbours.

The name “YATRA” was chosen as it refers to “pilgrimage” in many Indo-Asian religions and languages, and is an abbreviation for “Youth in Asia Training for Religious Amity”, said Rev Dr Peniel Rufus Rajkumar, WCC programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation. General Secretary of National Council of Churches in Korea Rev Dr Lee Hong-Jung affirmed the importance of participating in this pilgrimage for justice and peace, voicing the hope that the inter-religious common experience would “strengthen their (your) transformative will to cultivate peace in the world”, and that they would “develop a collective wisdom and strategy to transform the broken and wounded world into a healed and reconciled world”. https://bit.ly/2PBqxU3

(Photos by WCC)

Strengthening cooperation between mission agencies The general secretaries of Council for World Mission (CWM), United Evangelical Mission (UEM), and the Communauté d´Eglises en Mission met with Bossey Ecumenical Institute director Rev Dr Ioan Sauca, and faculty members in early September. During the meeting, the three mission agencies agreed to deepen their collaboration and cooperation with Bossey by organising common summer schools and leadership trainings, and promoting Bossey’s academic programmes among member churches.

For more than a decade, the three mission organisations have been working closely with Bossey Ecumenical Institute especially in financing the Chair for ecumenical missiology, and ensuring missiological training for students. Founded in 1946 and located in Geneva, the Institute brings together people from diverse churches, cultures and backgrounds for ecumenical learning, academic study and personal exchange. https://bit.ly/2t1Zcmn

December 2019 | 21


We remember

Vuyani Vellem with gratitiude

A tribute to Professor Vuyani Vellem Council for World Mission (CWM) has received the news of the passing of Professor Vuyani Vellem with deep sadness. We knew of his illness and were in constant prayer and dialogue with him. We did not anticipate this sudden departure from among us. Rev Dr Vellem was an outstanding gift to the Church, the academia and the ecumenical movement. As a Church leader, theologian and ecumenist, he gave generously and passionately to the life-giving, liberative and transformative mission agenda of the community of faith. CWM pays tribute to Vuyani, our dearly beloved brother, colleague and friend. He has served this organisation with unqualified devotion as a member of the Board of Directors, and as a resource person on countless occasions. Vuyani loved CWM. He gave of himself as far as he was able. This year alone, he participated in the development of the CWM theology statement to inform our engagement with God’s mission for the next ten years. He also served as a presenter at the DARE global forum in Taiwan in June. From 2016 until his death he was a faithful member of our Programme Reference Group, a group that provides support to our programme team in the development and delivery of programme. He was also working with our Research and Capacity Development team as a coach in developing study material on economic justice, drawing insights from the Africa continent and South Africa in particular. It was his passion for justice, his commitment to life in fullness for all, his fierce opposition to the life-denying forces to holistic living and his uncompromising and unapologetic stance on liberation theologies and the dignity of black people that made him a leader among leaders in the struggle for peace and justice. His passing has created a vacuum that shall be felt by all who knew him for a very long time. We celebrate the treasured gift he was to all of us in the CWM family and thank his family and the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa for allowing us to share him with them. To his beloved wife, Phumeza, and members of his immediate family, the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa and the University of Pretoria, we offer our sincere condolences and assure you of our prayers and thoughts at this time. Vuyani Vellem lived a full and fruitful life. He gave much and took us far. His legacy and labour of love will live on in the contribution of those of us who learnt from him and are committed to continuing the struggle for peace and justice in God’s name. Rest in peace, dear brother. Your work lives on in those you inspired and influenced.


AT A GLANCE

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Tears in the Archive On Creating Memory to Survive and to Contest Empire by Associate Professor S. Lily Mendoza

Originally published in R. Lustig & J. Koester (Eds.). Among US: Essays on Identity, Belonging, and Intercultural Competence (Rev. ed., pp. 233-245). Boston: Pearson.

I had never cried so hard, and certainly not in so strange a place as a library aisle before. While doing library research for a graduate seminar paper, I chanced upon this immense shelf containing nothing but U.S. colonial discourse. I was not prepared for what rudely greeted my eyes. Slumped on the floor, feverishly turning page after page of the volumes on that shelf, I came face-to-face with a side of the U.S. I had never before encountered in the raw.

With angry tears burning my cheeks like live coals, I read the most rabid and racist discourse I had ever encountered; it was spoken and written by a people I had previously called my/our friends, and it was aimed directly at me! This is me, I thought – my people – being talked about in the third person as though we were not human beings but mere objects for others’ disposition. Here were the actual records of the U.S. Congressional hearings from the debates at the turn of the 20th century about “what to do with the Philippines.” We Filipinos were the subject of the debate, but we were nowhere present in the deliberations, nor were we speaking; we were only being talked about.

And one night late it came to me this way – I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) that we could not give them back to Spain – that would be cowardly and dishonourable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France and Germany – our commercial rivals in the Orient – that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves – they were unfit for self-government – and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there, worse than Spain’s was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilise and Christianise them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them... And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department, and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States, and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President!²

It is one thing to read, in narrative form, about the fateful events of the U.S. invasion and forcible annexation of the tiny Republic of the Philippines shortly after it had fought (and effectively won) a fierce battle of independence against Spain (thereby ending more than 300 years of Spanish occupation); it is quite another to read what was actually said about your people (and you), which was said to justify the most dastardly acts of murder, insult, and crime in the name of “civilising” you. That debate culminated in the infamous speech of President William McKinley to a visiting Methodist delegation, as he justified the U.S. decision to annex the Philippines forcibly, even if it meant the massacre of thousands:¹ I would like to say just a word about the Philippine business. I have been criticised a good deal about the Philippines, but don’t deserve it. The truth is I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us, as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them ... I thought at first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then the other islands perhaps also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night.

Political cartoon depicting U.S. dominion over the Philippines. (By Charles L. Bartholomew)

June 2019 | 25 8 December


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I had come to the U.S. as a Filipino international student to pursue a PhD degree. It was at a time in my life when the entire history of the Philippine-U.S. relations was just beginning to unfold starkly before my eyes. I had heard of the Philippine-American War before, but always it was obscured by all the good things that America is presumed to have brought to Filipinos in the course of colonising them: notably, the blessings of progress, democracy, and “civilisation” in general. In the U.S., official historiography so far has only admitted to diplomatic history, not to an imperialist one. Indeed, the picture painted of the U.S.’s occupation of the Philippines has always been that of a “peaceful civilising mission,” not the violent invasion and conquest that it actually was and which is only now grudgingly beginning to be acknowledged as, in fact, “the U.S.’s first Vietnam.” Although I had gotten my undergraduate degree at the University of the Philippines – which is known as the hotbed of student activism and nationalist studies – my childhood upbringing in a Protestant Methodist church (founded by American missionaries who came to our shores as part of the U.S.’s “civilising mission” at the beginning of the twentieth century), along with my subsequent conversion to evangelical “born again” Christianity in college, led me to embrace universalism as

a worldview. For a long time, I was a Filipino by sheer geographic accident; in terms of worldview, I took pride in being “non-culture-bound,” allied with the universal Truth of God-in-Christ that was supposed to be unchanging and true for all time, peoples, and places. Within this universalistic frame, any documenting of the brutality of the Philippine-American war – the massacre by the U.S. of over half a million Filipinos; the near-total cultural deracination that attended the U.S.’s doctrine of “Benevolent Assimilation;” the wholesale destruction of the nation’s social institutions; along with the rapacious exploitation of its economy and natural resources – ended up being soft-pedaled if not altogether denied or chucked up to being “expedient” within God’s sovereign plan in the world for the Philippines. ³ Shortly before I left for the U.S., a hybrid course in Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino Psychology) and Histograpiyang Pilipino (Philippine Historiography) shattered the imperial smokescreen for me. Much as I had wanted to hold on to the image of an innocent and benevolent America (having had close friendships with the American missionaries and Peace Corps Volunteers I had known growing up), I was beginning to hate the lies and denials that now sat like a giant white elephant in the halls of our two nations’ intertwined histories.

Kurz & Allison print of the Battle of Quingua, April 23, 1899 via http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/pga/03400/03400v.jpg

26 | INSiGHT


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The year I came to the U.S. was a crucial one for me. My marriage of eight years had just broken down irreparably. The faith that had been my life’s foundation to that point was unravelling fast and irreversibly. A series of life-threatening surgeries left my immune system compromised. I needed to get out of the Philippines quickly if only to save my sanity. Although the “belly of the beast” was the last place on Earth I would have wanted to be at that critical juncture, a standing invitation to apply to her school’s PhD program from a U.S. professor I had met years ago, was my primary beacon. There was simply no time to search for other alternatives. As fate would have it, I was to face empire no longer from a distance, but “up close and personal.”

That’s because “community” for my family and me primarily meant church – the local Methodist Protestant Church, specifically – where other kinds of traditions were taught to us – a legacy of years of tutelage by the American missionaries who came to save us from our “pagan, idolatrous” ways. Suffice it to say that in church and in the schools one learned all about this strange other world – one “far more advanced,” “more developed,” and in every way “better” than the world where we Filipinos lived. That world, unsurprisingly, spoke English.

My first year of encounter, like round one in a boxing match, left me pretty much reeling and bloodied. When one has grown up under a U.S.-oriented colonial education, with one’s imagination completely shaped by the rhetoric of empire, one does not expect to experience culture shock. After all, had I not been prepared all my life to know America? Has not my tongue spoken its language from childhood? Have my eyes not perused only texts by its authors? Yet what does it mean not only to survive the place of your debasement as a colonised subject but to live justly, with healing and forgiveness for the sins of the past? What kind of rapprochement is possible between peoples on opposite sides of the imperial-subject divide? How does a colonised subject make a life for herself in the heart of empire? Where does one find the resources to do so? There are things you never question. Growing up in a small barrio in the Philippines, I remember always being inquisitive, but often I was stumped when pointed to the taken-for-grantedness of things. My world as a child was full of contradictions, yet nobody seemed bothered by them nor had a need (as I often did) to resolve them. Throughout my years of formal schooling, for example – from the elementary grades all the way through college – the language in which we were required to speak, write, and communicate was English, yet no one cared to explain to us why; it just was. In grade school, infraction of that linguistic norm cost us five-centavos a piece for every instance we were caught speaking in our native tongue. Native tongue for me was Pampango (or Kapampangan) – a regional language in the Philippines that is regarded as “the language of the angels” by the old folks who still know how to break into a spontaneous poetic rendition when toasting a celebrant at a community gathering, or are able to display their linguistic prowess in verbal joustings called balagtasan, wherein the contending parties battle wits by arguing in impromptu verse. Growing up, I scarcely knew and had very little exposure to those traditions of my home province, Pampanga.

Indeed, our entire educational system was oriented toward that other world. Our textbooks, not to mention our history books, were written mostly by American scholars. As pundits often say, the winners get to write the history books. Conscious self-knowledge, therefore, came to us Filipinos primarily via the view from the outside. We were told who we were, and what we were like, by outsiders who presumed to know us better than we knew ourselves. And because their views were authoritatively inscribed in theories – the very instruments of knowing – we unsuspectingly took that knowledge as accurate descriptions of us. That internalisation (of the colonial view) proved to be our debasement. “Never rely on others; it’s a sign of weakness.” “Learn to stand on your own two feet.” “Let your ‘yes’ be a ‘yes’ and your ‘no,’ be a ‘no;’ don’t be a liar.” “Filipinos can never be leaders; they’re never on time.” “This is a duplicitous culture; people never mean what they say and say what they mean.” “Filipinos are lazy; they don’t value time.” And yet embedded in those claims about us is the looming figure of the taken-for-granted reference point, cunningly made invisible through omission of its explicit mention: the U.S. with its white Anglo-Saxon Protestant values and culture universalised as the default measure of what it means to be human. The implicit message was, to become fully human, you must become like us.

June 2019 | 27 8 December


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I remember, for example, being taught in grade school that there are three types of human dwellings: the “makeshift,” the “temporary,” and the “permanent.” The example often given of the makeshift one is the nipa hut commonly found among indigenous Filipinos who make use of local materials such as the dried fronds of a palm tree; the temporary one is that which is built from lumber logged and supplied by the timber companies; and finally, the permanent one, which is made of concrete, brick, or cement. Each of these types of houses had varying durability, so we were told, with the makeshift one not lasting very long,⁵ the temporary one lasting a very long time, and the permanent one lasting “forever.” Indeed, where the big bad wolf to come and “huff and puff and blow your house down” as the tale goes, you had better not be caught in one of those flimsy little nipa huts; your house had better be permanent or in the least a temporary one. And so growing up, I became acutely aware of this other world that, although not present in my immediate environment, constantly harped on my conscious imagination and commanded attention. When I learnt my alphabet, for example, I learnt that “A is for apple” even when I scarcely knew what an “apple” was, being more familiar with our local home-grown atis. In church, the hymns we sang extolled God’s eternal faithfulness all through summer, winter, springtime, and autumn, making one wonder whether having only “dry” and “wet” seasons somehow took away from God’s watchfulness over these tropical islands. In science class, we were taught not to believe in ghosts—and, dutifully, we didn’t; we were just afraid of them. It is as though we Filipinos were born “wrong” and the task of education, along with religious instruction and all the other institutions of government, was to set us “right,” to make us into the “correct” kind of human beings, speaking the “correct” language, taking on the “correct” worldview, and imbibing only the “correct” knowledge. 28 | INSiGHT

With Philippine institutional life thus saturated with such an alien(ating) body of knowledge, one wonders whether there was any space of autonomy left for Filipino subjects to chart their own course or write their own history. For that matter, I, too, wondered whether my incorporation into that other world had been so thoroughgoing and complete that that other world eventually became the only world I knew. My family lived for many years in the basement of a (“temporary”) house owned by distant relatives (an uncle, an aunt, and two cousins) on a street called High School Boulevard, right across from the provincial high school where all six of us siblings went. Prior to formal schooling, I had no notion that we were poor. I remember us girls inventing most of our toys – paper doll cut-outs with corresponding cut-out kits to make different characters out of them, cupped gumamela leaves serving as teacups, soft drink tansan bottle caps as miniature batya or washbasins, empty sardine cans that we fashioned into toy wagons or carts using four flattened out tansans as wheels. A favourite pastime we girls had was climbing the saresa tree not only to pick its ripe sweet little red cherries but to curl each other’s hair using its soft pliant twigs as improvised curlers. At night, when the stars were bright and the moon cast shadows, we liked to play kulam (witching game) with the neighborhood kids. With a tubful of water we would draw a huge circle halved in the middle on the dirt ground and we would run all bunched up and shrieking around the circular perimeter making sure we weren’t tagged by the center “it” or caught isolated on one side of the circle, thus, making us susceptible to the bewitching spell of the lord of the game. That was the time when there weren’t any television sets yet, or if there were, we couldn’t afford one.

Then there were the rainy seasons to look forward to when High School Boulevard would get flooded an inch or two, and we competed to see who could catch the most gurami (little fish) that seemed to appear mysteriously from nowhere, carried along by the current. I don’t remember now if we actually brought the squirming little creatures home to add to our dinner or simply let them go free after catching them, but, always, it was sheer delight if we spotted even just one or two performing acrobatic acts as they made quick jumps and disappeared again beneath the shallow waters. It is also during this time that the normally quiet creek by the house swelled and overflowed its banks and frightened us kids with its ominous rumbling as if it was threatening to swallow us if we ever got too near. During particularly strong typhoons that carried heavy rains, the basement we were renting would often get about a foot or two of water, and we would then temporarily relocate upstairs to stay with our landlord-relatives until the flood subsided. There, camped out in a small room, we improvised our living, dining, and sleeping quarters. Sometimes, the flood would stay long enough for us to run out of food, thereby taxing my mom’s culinary creativity. I recall at least once having a dish of kamaru, brown soft-bellied field crickets that would be in abundance, especially in the late afternoons, tastily cooked adobo-style using vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce. And then there was that other memorable time when a particularly scrumptious dinner of duck asado turned out to be a “stolen” fowl from our cousin’s stock generously gifted to us by a visiting relative of our relatives. He must have taken pity on my mom for having nothing to serve on the table, but he made sure he happily partook of the dish as well! It was to be our little family secret until much later, when we felt our cousins and aunt and uncle could laugh with us about that “desperate” time.


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Such fragments of childhood memories now serve as repositories of feelings, thoughts, and experiences that make up my world as a Filipina. Indeed, despite the determined imposition of that strange other world, there seems to be those parts of me that yet retain some remembrance of our own separate world as a distinct and unique people: the simple childhood delight in the gifts of nature, the pleasures of the technologically-unaided imagination, the joy of bringing things into being with one’s own hands, and the sheer fun of collective play. There was, too, the deep comfort and security of not fearing want, where scarcity was but an occasion for inventive resourcefulness and communal sharing but never of self-pity. Well and quite often while growing up did our Ima and Tang model for us that we were neither poor nor deprived but always sufficiently provided and cared for. Eventually, we managed to make a down payment on a small nipa hut that was up for sale a couple of blocks down High School Boulevard mainly through my mom’s boldness and initiative. It was about time we had our own place, she thought, what with all six kids growing so fast. The house was a typical nipa hut, with thatched roof and flooring of bamboo slats with spaces in between. It had a lalam bale (literally, “space under the house”) that allowed for cool air to rise from the damp earth below and circulate through the house when it made its way in through the slatted bamboo floor. I will never forget the excitement that

attended that move, no matter if the house we were moving to was only “makeshift” – supposedly the lowliest and least durable of all the types of houses – instead of “temporary” or “permanent.” Our nipa hut looked cute and lovely, and it felt good to have our own little place for the first time. The house was in a neighbourhood comprised mostly of kutseros and their families, drivers of horse-drawn karitelas or kalesas that were the primary mode of transportation around town during those days. I miss those days of the kalesa, when one could stand on a street corner for a ride and not be assaulted by the deadly smoke-belch of diesel-run World War II surplus vehicles converted into passenger jeepneys. Indeed, in those days, the kalesa was about the only form of public transportation that didn’t make me dizzy or nauseous from the smell of gasoline. I particularly loved listening to the click-clacking rhythm of the horse’s trot on the asphalt pavement as it made its way through narrow streets and alleys. Of course, living in a neighbourhood where horse stables abounded, one had to get used to the strong earthy smell of horse manure, especially at the height of the summer months when it became particularly pungent. But give me the horse manure smell and a languid kalesa ride anytime; I would gladly take it over any motorised vehicle.

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My father in those days did not earn a lot. To augment his modest income selling bibles, he raised pigs in our backyard to pay for our school tuition. Each year, he would buy a piglet or two and grow it until it was big enough for slaughter. He would then sell its meat and earmark whatever money he made from the sale for our tuition. All of us siblings had our regular assignment to feed the pigs. In the afternoons, we took turns going around the neighbourhood, pail in hand, to collect food leftovers door-to-door to mix in with the usual darak or slops that was the pigs’ daily fare (this way we saved some on the commercial feeds). I didn’t mind it at all – and the neighbors were always ready for us – for it gave me my chance to stop by a nearby local komiks stand en route to the neighbours’ houses. There, I’d rent my favourite serialised komiks for no more than a cent or two, stealing ten to fifteen minutes from my pig food collection schedule to read and read quickly. You see, at home we weren’t allowed to read these locally illustrated komiks magazines that were written in Tagalog. For some reason, they were supposed to be “bad for you.” Instead, our cousins from the old house would loan us the illustrated fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm, which we read in English. I knew all about the long-haired Rapunzel trapped in a tower, the legend of Sleeping Beauty awakened only by the kiss of a prince, the poor abused stepsister Cinderella turned princess, and the fair Snow White with her seven dwarves, along with many others. It was an enchanted world populated by princes and princesses, all with shining radiant white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. What my Ima and Tang didn’t know is that I actually knew much more than that imported fairy tale world. I knew, for example, about the taong tuod, the adventures of that wood tree figure that came alive at night, the long-legged giant tikbalang that went stalking in desolate places, the humongous hairy kapre that inhabited the forest and sometimes showed its face through the branches of giant trees, the naughty dwendes that played pranks on unsuspecting trespassers, and the host of other earth creatures or lamang lupa that relished playing tricks on the cocksure and the clueless.

Looking back now, I always felt guilty “sneaking out” that way. One mustn’t dirty one’s mind with those “low class,” “vulgar,” and “pagan” magazines, I could almost hear the reprimand, but I couldn’t help myself. The imported fairy tales were fine, but somehow, I found more pleasure and suspense in the native fantasy world of the local komiks. Suffice it to say that I didn’t mind paying for the pleasure with a little bad conscience. Feeding the pigs wasn’t always easy, especially when you fall a bit behind schedule and the poor creatures get really famished. Then you had to make sure you held the pail of slop mixture really steady; one false move and you could spill everything on the ground or on the pigs’ heads, making them go even crazier. Somehow, the daily feeding routine had a way of bonding you to the squealing creatures, making it the saddest thing when the time for slaughter came. Perhaps it is the thought that another living being has had to sacrifice its life to allow you to go to school that one never quite took the privilege lightly. Like church, school was a different world altogether. Because you had to learn English before you could acquire knowledge, you always felt dumb and faulted yourself for not learning fast or well enough. You also learnt quickly and at a very early age that your native tongue wasn’t good enough, at least not for acquiring an education; that prerogative is reserved only for English. But no matter the strict imposition, I never could quite make my peace with the mandated language as the others apparently could.

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In the elementary grades, we learnt proper pronunciation from the American Peace Corps Volunteers that we had as teachers. We were taught how to aspirate our t’s and p’s by holding a piece of paper close to our mouths and watching the paper move as we blew a bit of air when making the sound. We giggled and felt ashamed and embarrassed, trying to imitate the foreign sounds our teachers made in an exaggerated way. I learnt English grammar well enough but never to the point of being able to speak it un-self-consciously. In college, especially, I hardly recited in class. That’s because before I could complete the rehearsal in my head about what I should say in English, making sure I said it correctly, the discussion would already have moved on to something else. I was unlike Annette or Portia, who spoke quite easily as native English speakers – “collegial English” is what they called it, which is how girls from the wealthy exclusive schools in the city learnt to speak it. Once, I recall huddling with another probinsiyano (literally, “from the province”) classmate right after a Comparative Literature class and having a very animated discussion – in Tagalog – about issues in literary theory that we had just finished covering in class but on which neither of us dared comment orally. I remember thinking then, what a pity not to have such brilliance be expressed in class!—and all because our tongues were tied, disallowed from expressing ourselves in the language we knew best. To this day, I wonder what it would have been like to be able to learn in your native tongue, to acquire knowledge about the world using your own categories of thought. What would that world look like with my very own – no longer borrowed – eyes? But foreign language learning need not always be so psychologically wrenching. In college, for example, where I decided to take basic French, Spanish, Japanese, and Bahasa Malay as language electives, I felt no shame or inferiority associated with not being able to learn the language quickly or well enough. English was different in that it was positioned vis-à-vis all other languages as superior in every way. Not only was it the language of currency, but in the way it was mandated and exclusively required in our school systems it was also the

language of “class,” education, upward mobility, and privilege. To speak English was to bear the mark of intelligence, good breeding, and belonging, so much so that one felt shame for not being able to master it. Little did I realise the massive implications of that linguistic imposition until much later. There was a time when I thought the encounter of cultures was primarily only about the effective exchange of meanings, or a matter of arriving at common understandings about words and their referents. What happens when two cultures come into contact and attempt to arrive at mutual understanding? How might messages be translated accurately from one linguistic context to the next? How are meanings “preserved” and kept from “distortions” in the course of translation? These were the kinds of questions that preoccupied me then. At the back of my mind was the notion that perhaps the dissonance we Filipinos experience in our everyday life, from having to constantly navigate two clashing worlds (with one violently imposed), had more to do with distortions in the way that we had understood America’s “civilising message” and not so much with faults in the message itself. Is it possible, I wondered, that the message about the benefits of “progress,” “liberty,” “autonomy,” “aggressive pursuit of material wealth,” and “modern civilisation” was basically sound; that what was needed was simply proper “contextualisation,” a discerning of the objective, universal principles and meanings being communicated, but employing them using more culturally-appropriate (Filipino) forms and expressions? My master's thesis was an exercise in this neutral framing of the colonial encounter with insights from linguistic translation and cross-cultural communication theories derived mostly from the literature on Christian missions. June 2019 | 31 8 December


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I tried; I did try. Lord knows I gave all the benefit of the doubt to the colonial project, especially in those days when I was still a “true believer” and sincerely believed in my heart that God sent America to the Philippines for a reason. From what I now know, for a long time, Filipino immigrants in the U.S. tried as well. They tried to lose their accents, bleach their skins, think white, dress white, act white, talk white, and have their kids associate only with kids who were white. They called that mode of survival assimilation. Alas, it never worked; indeed, it failed miserably. As far as melting pot politics went, Filipino Americans remained among the “unassimilable others,” with an otherness that simply remained “too other” to melt into the otherwise bland, monochromatic white stew. It never worked for me either. Years of trying to learn by heart the lessons about God’s universal and unconditional love for all, as preached by the missionaries, somehow never cured me of a psychological malaise that I suffered as far back as I can remember. Call it low self-esteem, negative self-image, self-rejection, self-deprecation – name it, I suffered it. And yet there seemed to be no apparent reason for it. In school, I was a star performer. In church, I was a leader. Among my friends, I was the hub that kept the group together. The mystery of that affliction led me to suspect something else was going on – something that required more than just the routine spiritual(ised) answers. It was in a graduate class in the Humanities that I unexpectedly found an unlikely explanation.

Now I know that that different way of being was the way of being I had always instinctively shared but had [been forced to] repressed; hence, the intense internal contradiction. For the first time, here was an entire people I felt I could belong to and identify with, a legitimate human community not necessarily degraded because different (different from the invisible White norm).⁶ Thus began the journey that would take me (back) to a very different trajectory from the assimilationist one I had earlier tried to track zealously. I realised that in order to survive my sojourn in the “belly of the beast” I first had to have a ground on which to stand that was separate from that set out by imperial power. And that meant needing to understand what happens in a relationship of colonial domination, when our past – our history – gets distorted or destroyed.

The title of the course was “The Image of the Filipino in the Arts,” and it was taught at the University of the Philippines by a professor of ethnomusicology who conducted first-hand research on the cultures of our various indigenous communities. The professor was excellent, describing to us the various arts of the Filipino indigenous communities that had managed to keep their way of life despite centuries of colonisation – their dances, music, weaving, basketry, sculpture, etc. – and what these signified in terms not only of a different aesthetic sensibility but a different mode of being, including a different sense of the body and its relationship both to the natural environment and to the community. I was not prepared for the impact that the professor’s innocent aesthetic descriptions would have on me. As I wrote elsewhere: Suddenly, something very powerful ignited in the depths of my being. For the first time, I gained recognition of a self separate from the self that was always wanting to be other than itself. . . like self recognising itself for the first time, or like looking into a mirror and finding not a degraded creature staring back but someone human. I was like a fool, bawling my heart out as I walked out of every class session, not knowing what it was that hit me from all the innocent aesthetic descriptions of the indigenous communities’ art forms and what they expressed in terms of a different way of being.

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Filipino casualties on the first day of Philippine-American War. US Archiv ARCWEB ARC Identifier: 524389


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Overcoming colonialism’s long-lasting effects invariably entails a massive archaeological project whose objective is to uncover the history (or histories) of an oppressed people that had been buried under the avalanche of lies and denials. Such a project involves a passionate search for one’s culture even though fraught with pitfalls, dangers, and illusions. Indeed, in today’s “global” and “transnational” world, where unbridled cultural mixing, hybridity, and border-crossing is said to be the norm, such an archaic nationalist project may seem laughable. But to live in the heart of empire without confronting its (and our own) historic denials and distortions of the past is to live in complicity with the lies that perpetuate its power. Intercultural encounters among peoples who stand on opposing sides of the historical divide (such as those from the U.S. and the Philippines) can never be entered into innocently, no matter the level of goodwill on the interpersonal level. As Kenyan nationalist writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o warns, “Any study of cultures which ignores structures of domination and control and resistance within nations and between nations and races over the last four hundred years is in danger of giving a distorted picture.”⁷ Postcolonial scholar Gayatri Spivak likewise categorically asserts: “The idea of neutral dialogue is an idea which denies history, denies structure, [and] denies the positioning of subjects.”⁸

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It has been nearly nine years since my bout with culture shock during the first year of my sojourn in the U.S. I spoke of being bloodied and close to being knocked down, and that’s because my speaking of the newly-excavated history of my people’s relations with America often forced a head-on confrontation with that denial. To speak of pain, betrayal, and profound wounding doesn’t always win friends or a cheerful audience. As Mark, a (white, male, American) well-meaning classmate, asked me after a graduate seminar one evening, “Why is it that each time you speak in class, I feel guilty?” I haven’t found many ways to respond to his question that would invite an honest dialogue. Fortunately for both of us, what started out as a defensive reproach turned out to be one of the most remarkable intercultural friendships I have ever had. That’s because Mark – courageously, and to his credit – was willing to wrestle with his own relationship to that painful history with awareness, with deep regret, and without flinching. For me, the ongoing confrontation with that history does not depend on the responses I receive from people like Mark, but his response does provide a small measure of comfort to the woman with the burning tears who is slumped in the aisle of the library. And inside that woman is a people.

Historians suggest that over half a million Filipinos were massacred in the Philippine-American war. Daniel B. Schirmer and Stephen Rosskamm Shalom (eds.), The Philippines Reader: A History of Colonialism, Neocolonialism, Dictatorship, and Resistance (Boston: South End Press, 1987) 22-23. To this day, the Philippines is touted as “the only Christian nation in Asia.” During the 1960s and 1970s, evangelical rhetoric often mirrored that of the Cold War. Operating on the doctrine of the “domino theory,” both missionary and Cold War rhetoric feared the impending danger that the Philippines would fall into Communist hands, which justified the need to contain and evangelize the nation. Initially, Christianity was not imperialistic. But coupled with power and ambition, it became an instrument of oppression and domination. It is with these latter propensities that I became totally disillusioned. As I was to find out later, a well-made nipa hut can last 50 years. S. Lily Mendoza, Between Homeland and the Diaspora: The Politics of Theorizing Filipino American Identities: A Second Look at the Poststructuralism-Indigenization Debates (New York: Routledge, 2001) xvi-xvii. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms (London: James Currey, 1993) 28. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (Sarah Harasym, ed.; New York: Routledge, 1990) 72.

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Advocacy for Gender Justice by Van Lal Hming Sangi, Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM)

Van Lal Hming Sangi is the first Women’s Secretary of Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM). She is also a lecturer at Tahan Theological College, with a Master in Theology (Social Analysis) from Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, Madurai, India.

With the support of CWM as well as the fact that it is high time for Presbyterian women in Myanmar to raise questions on gender justice and equal opportunity, we raise our voice as high as we can within the church and society. Although women have the support of many church leaders, we have however come to realise and cannot deny that those who appear to collaborate with women movements do not really believe it, through their unconscious, biased comments such as "gender issues only matters to women" and "just do it, let us see how long will you last?"

Our women have almost lost hope when we heard many challenging voices from the church decision makers such as “you have organised enough trainings and awareness campaigns and yet, you could not reach any of your goals”. In any case, women still believe that it is their mission to forge ahead, showing them that we never lose hope despite facing constant criticism. Women’s Identity in the church: The main ministry within the church is called “Equal Partnership in Ministry” program. We have usually invited men and women to attend this training program and raise awareness of gender justice in the church, analysing theology and society. We had conducted it ten times within a year and around 800 church members had attended the training even though the actual expected participants were around 1,300 members. In fact, the initial name of this training program was "Women Ordination and Leadership Training." However, we came to know that when the church announced the name of the training, many church men tried to avoid the programme because the theme was not what they wanted to hear from the church. Finally, the organising committee changed the programme name to "Equal Partnership in Ministry." Even then, the take-up rate only reached 61 percent.

Van Lal Hming Sangi (centre) with women who finished the nurse-aid training.

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We also invited one of the senior pastors to deliver the keynote address, understanding that men will not come and listen to our voices if all the trainers were women. The keynote speaker mainly focused on Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM) Laws and Constitutions. His analysis included how gender bias can be seen in our own PCM Laws and Constitutions and how there is no consistency in our own written constitutions. One of the reasons we engaged our senior pastors is that many church leaders will not accept the analysis from women. There is no right for women to criticise church laws, since laws and constitutions are above criticism for women who are not ordained. We come to realise from conducting this kind of program that the identity of the church is symbolised by men, and only men are authorised to use and criticise laws and constitutions while women’s role and identities in the church is not visible and recognised. By conducting this programme, women came to understand exclusivism within our own local church and how the voice of the marginalised such as ours is still not heard. For instance, the hierarchical structure of PCM can be categorised as local main church, middle-age group (Pavalai), Women (PWS), Youth (PYF) and Children (NSS) departments. The last four departments have received few grants for their own ministry and activities from the main church annually. Since the grants are not reliable, all the departments have to raise the funds for their own activities. Each of the departments has raised different funds within the local members for their own ministry. In addition, church members are busy with their own jobs and cannot give much time for the church activities while the need for donations for the church is higher every year. Since all the departments have to give from their own pockets instead of giving time for church activities, the church itself becomes a burden for some members. At this juncture, every department’s leaders have faced difficulties to manage each department to persuade the members to pay attention to church ministry and activities. The biggest problem is that there is no place for those departments to share their problems and difficulties since no one from each department is appointed as a representative for the decision-making body from the local church to Presbytery meeting levels. The highest decision-making body in PCM is General Assembly meeting and there are only two representatives from youth, two from Women society, and zero representative for children department and middle-age group.

Christian family in Burma in the 1920s

Therefore, members have started to questions that if children, youth, middle-age and women cannot be representatives for the church, who owns the church? Whose voice are we listening to? Who make decisions for our own development? In asking those questions, women have always put forward in the General Assembly to allocate five seats for women to allow them to voice their concerns.

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Between Peace and violence: Peace and tranquillity can only prevail in the church, society and nation when there is equality between women and men. Women and children cannot enjoy their lives where there is discrimination and violence. Now, Myanmar’s Christians have come to understand that we should help our fellow Christians if they are in trouble. However, we still do not care about women who are in our own society, in our own ethnic community, in our own Christian community, or if our co-workers are facing sexual abuse, child abuse, and harassment at home and at their work place. The church needs to raise its voice that our society is not safe for women and children anymore. When will the church realise that the sinful behaviour among our community is the mission of the church?

Women in the church are doing their best to protect fellow women and children by raising awareness of different issues annually. The contribution of women in the church is very vital because women at PCM are working together with local NGOs and have saved and protected many women and children facing abusive treatment, with many cases being solved by the law. As long as the church says that “it is personal, and the church should not be involved in that matter�, it would seem as if the church does not really want to build peace among us; that the church is on the side of sin and evil; and sin and evil is stronger among us. Even if other religions or other ethnic groups are fighting against sin and evil, the church says that it is not good to co-operate with other religions and to follow other communities, yet the church does not try to take the first step to fight against sin and evil everywhere. We need to ask ourselves: what is the church waiting for? Whose authority is the church waiting for to take the first step?

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VIEWPOINTS Work and Educational Opportunities for Women: In every community, the percentage of women enrolment in education is becoming higher and we can say that the development of women in higher education is seen throughout the country. However, the government recently allowed visas for its citizens (especially women) to work as maids and other legally paid jobs in Singapore, Macau, Malaysia and Thailand. Some women as young as 14 years old from Chin State and Kale-Kabaw Valley under false identity cards stating their age as 20 years and above have been sent to those countries. Some young women are sent to China without any visa permission and many of them are trafficked. Some parents are even happy to send their daughters saying: "Even if they pass their matriculation and get degrees, our daughters cannot use their degrees and education for a living." Many people do not understand that education is not just for making money for a higher standard of living, but also serves to nourish, uplift and raise the moral standard of all citizens. Therefore, the need to educate the majority of citizens, especially those who are living in the rural areas should be one of our major missions for the church. Since many women who are persuaded to work in other countries do not reach the age limit and do not speak English, the majority are bullied at their work place and do not know how to protect themselves. Most of those bullied by their bosses are uneducated, non-professional workers or young ladies who have never undergone training at home or at a work place. But they still risk their lives to make USD 300 to 400 monthly and send their earnings back home. To prevent all forms of discrimination including human trafficking, PWGC organises three-month vocational tailoring training courses, embroidery courses and nurse-aid training courses every year. By organising these hands-on courses, many women church members are saved from trafficking to other countries and some even help with income for their families’ survival. Many church women benefit from these trainings since most of the trainees are from Chin State, one of the most remote parts and the poorest areas in Myanmar. Women Workers - Mawlamyine (Moulmein) - Myanmar (Burma), Photo by Adam Jones, Canada

For those who have daughters who are working abroad as maids: We are selling the powers and minds of our daughters if we only care about the money they are going to send to them.

For those who are going without the permission of their family: Parents should know that according to Myanmar law, children should be under the control of their parents until they reach 18 years old. We should especially encourage our daughters to get a good education first.

With women organising these types of hands-on training, we always encourage people to think twice about other options and to remember that:

If we want to send our children abroad to work, it is better to send them after they become 20 years of age, and only after they learn the language to communicate with others. Only then will they know how to defend themselves and their rights and only then will they have a chance to communicate with their own family at home.

If we want to send our children abroad to work, educate them first to score good grades and be trained in professions where they will be equally paid and not be bullied by other people.

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Apart from all those mentioned above, we still need to encourage young women to go into theological studies. Even though the church has started to be open to women in full time ministry, we still do not know how to effectively encourage them because many young educated women prefer to serve in the government and NGOs, or do business and build their families. The percentage of women in different churches who are at present studying in Tahan Theological College are: 28% of people training in Licentiate in Theology are women, of which 52% are women from PCM; 32% of those in Bachelor of Theology are female, of which 7% are women from PCM ; 26% of those in Master of Divinity are women from different denominations, of which 7% are PCM women. When we analyse the reasons why women do not want to study theology, some results can be seen:

We, the women in the church, feel surprised that the church never tries to stop the families who have sent their children abroad to do every type of work and risking their lives. Later, we came to realise that these young members who are working overseas save some side income and send money back to the church, hoping that the church will pray for their safety from dangers. When hundreds of members send their tithes to the church, the church seems to support even more members to go abroad to work. These members used to be the backbone of every local church, yet when they leave their hometown searching for jobs, the church authorities complain that there are no youth members in the church. How can the youth department develope their ministry and activities if there are no youths in the church? The church says that if there are no youths in the church, how can the church grow in the future?

Women who are involved in full-time ministry at the church, receive a monthly salary that is very low and and cannot survive with the salary. It is better for well-to-do families to do ministry in the church than those who will depend solely on the monthly salary. Therefore, women dare not risk being in full-time ministry since it is very obvious that they will be starving.

Meanwhile, the church has forgotten that there are some women who are educated and are willing to serve in various key positions and even becoming church elders. But the church authorities and decision makers have totally neglected these women with ability and they will never be considered even if their dreams are to be leaders of the church and to do God's ministry.

There are some women who want to risk doing ministry full-time but their family warns them on the difficulties in full-time ministry, especially if they want to build a family of their own and when they have children. Therefore, it is better not to do full-time ministry if they want to have a husband and children. Some women think that ministry and building family cannot go hand-in-hand, and therefore choose to serve their husband and family instead of doing ministry. Some women feel inferior since they will be the minority in full-time ministry and are afraid they would not be able to endure the treatment from men in ministry. Even though we have always mentioned that the church is open for women in ministry, the church does not do anything to uplift women who have the mindset of being inferior. Some of our top church leaders even say "do not bother about the ministry of women ordination, you will not find anyone who will do God's ministry." It is like a challenge to female intruders who try to invade a kingdom by saying "Now we open the gate. Let them come. Let us see who dares to?"

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Acknowledging the value of womanhood: For a very long time, there have been more women members than men in the church. If women vote for their fellow women for church elders in every local church, PCM would have many female church elders. This particular situation is pinpointed by men to say that women do not acknowledge themselves to be the leaders of the church. However, we need to highlight that women are born with compassion (“nghia-ta” in Burmese) for others. Our culture also suppressed women, making them anxious that whatever they do might make all women look undignified in the public eye. These two words, “compassion” and “anxiety” shaped the culture where women do not speak up in the public sphere worrying that their words will hurt others and people will not take their words seriously because they are women. Since only men are expected to speak up on family and public matters, women who speak up are seen as "shameless and worthless."


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Samuel Torvend, Luther and Hungry Poor: Gathered Fragments, Fortress Press 2008, pp 122 Andre Bieler,Calvin’s Economic and Social Thought, Translation 2005, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, WCC Publications, Geneva, 2005, pp June 2019 | 8 December 39


VIEWPOINTS The situation of women can even be expressed by a Mizo famous folk-tale which is called "The story of Mr. Chhurbura�. The name Chhurbura is metaphorically used among the Chin community to describe a person who is not intelligent and sensible. Mr. Chhurbura is a silly man who never grasps his ability to do things. One day, he went to the forest and felt hungry. He saw a fruit tree which was too so high to pluck the delicious fruits and wanted so much to eat them. He looked up and touched those fruits saying, "If brother Nahaia sees these fruits, he will be able to touch and pluck the fruits like these and eat them all." Mr. Chhurbura knows how short the tree was and how to pluck the fruits but he thought that only his brother can do things and he did not realise his own ability to do so. He had forgotten his ability to do things right for he was treated by all the villagers as a foolish man for so long. Women have the ability to be leaders or decision makers in every sphere but the patriarchal structure of our society has treated them as people with no capability for such a long time. Therefore, women’s ability to do things right needs to be made publicly visible. It seems like women are generous enough with compassionate love to give away everything to their forefathers, fathers, husbands and sons, including their rights to equal authority in family, church and society. Women are veiled from seeing their ability and value, with some trying to manipulate women who have the ability to play leadership roles by pointing out it is not possible for a woman to be involved in church and society. She will need 25 hours a day and will be exhausted, since women are busy at home 24 hours a day. The society knows that even if she becomes a full-time minister, her workload at home will not be reduced.

Proverbs 31 correctly expresses the value of women. In this text, we can see how women can do many things one at a time within one day. Women have received a precious gift from God - time and work management. Women can look after the children, cook food, feed the poultry and chat with guests at the same time. Who knows if a man can complete in a week the work a woman can complete for a day? If a man is always as busy as a woman, there may be no man who are capable to do ministry as pastors and elders full time. The reason why men can do ministry is that they are always supported by women behind them at home. We need to remind ourselves that if we can do 3 things at one time, it is not difficult to add one more area of work for women if we really want to serve in the ministry of the church. If other women from other parts of the world can do it, women in Myanmar also can do it. Therefore, each woman and man here in Myanmar should comprehend and accept the ability of women. Conclusion: Women receive the gift of understanding and compassion from God who never practises gender discrimination for the ministry of God. Likewise, women are the ones who understand Christ’s surrender and suffering for all the sinners. Women have endless love for all their children, whether they are good or bad. Only when women are allowed to serve in the ministry of God can the church open the door wide for everyone to come near to God. There is none like women who can surrender themselves to their husbands, families, children, parents throughout human history. Therefore, is not now the time for women to surrender their whole selves to serve Christ and the Church?

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Face to Face 2020 | Call for applications Building Life Affirming Communities

ABOUT

For several years now the Council for World Mission has been involved in the organization of cross cultural exchange to enable a wider global dialogue on theology, spirituality and mission. One of the means for facilitating this dialogue has been through the Face to Face programme which enabled the immersion of students from different parts of the world into a context different from their own. It was hoped that this immersion would enable theological students to reflect on both the motivation and method of mission in different parts of the globe and bring this reflection back to their own contexts. Over the last few years however, the Council for World Mission has moved away from just inter-cultural missional immersions towards a deeper engagement with the socio-political realities that were affecting different parts of the globe. This marked movement from inculturation to contextualization was an outcome of the Council for World Mission’s statement on Mission which insists that resistance to Empire is essential to mission. The programme will involve three separate but integrated aspects, immersion, reflection and seminars. Conducted in India Peace Centre, Nagpur the effort would be to bring exposure and reflection together. The exposures will include live in experiences, visiting organizations that work among the poor and intensive visits to centres of religious importance.

OBJECTIVES

• To enable theological students to engage in a global dialogue on theology, spirituality and mission • To enable intercultural exchange and theological reflection • To facilitate immersion programmes, Bible Studies and Seminars which would enable students to reflect on doing mission in the context of Empire • To engage students with the specifically Asian context of the many religions and the many poor

WHO IS THIS FOR?

This is open to students of Theology; either currently enrolled or has already graduated, but are not ordained ministers. PROGRAMME DATES The Programme will be from 30th March to 10th May 2020 HOW TO APPLY? Interested applicants may contact the General Secretary of the Denomination Church or the Principal of the Theological College. Application forms may also be downloaded from the CWM website at: www.cwmission.org. You may also contact Dr Sudipta Singh, Mission Secretary – Research and Capacity Development at (email): empowerment@cwmission.org. Duly completed application must be submitted via email at the above-mentioned email address or hard copy to this address: Research and Capacity Development Unit, Council for World Mission, 114 Lavender Street, #12-01 CT Hub 2, Singapore 338729, Singapore. Deadline of application is on 5th January 2020. To be directed to full programme details and briefing, please follow the link below. https://bit.ly/2YHbVqB June 2019 | 8


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Remaining Faithful in the Wilderness Prophetic Calling, Prophetic Presence, and the Highway of the Lord

by Professor Allan Aubrey Boesak

Allan Aubrey Boesak is a South African Dutch Reformed Church cleric, a politician and an anti-apartheid activist. Along with Beyers Naude and Winnie Mandela, Boesak won the 1985 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award given annually by the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights to an individual or group whose courageous activism is at the heart of the human rights movement and in the spirit of Robert F. Kennedy's vision and legacy. Boesak recently published Pharaohs on Both Sides of the Blood-Red Waters: Prophetic Critique on Empire: Resistance, Justice and Power of the Hopeful Sizwe – a Transatlantic Conversation, 2017.

Speaking of the traditional socio-cultural

oppression of women in Africa and the destructive reinforcement of these harmful traditions by oppressive strands of the Bible, respected African feminist theologian Mercy Oduyoye observes, “At this point, prophecy resumes its original character as a voice crying in the wilderness, ignored by the powerful and the respectable.” On the oppressive strands of the Bible regarding the position and status of women and destructive patriarchal readings of those texts by men, Oduyoye is right of course, and it emphasises the need for faithful prophetic witness, for liberational and inclusive biblical interpretation.

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The prophet chooses not to align herself with the powerful in the palace, the Temple, and the spaces of power where the powerful dispense their wisdom, their judgements, and their largesse to benefit the rich and rob the poor.

We have become used to reading the reference to “a voice crying in the wilderness” in Isaiah 40 as the prophetic voice of desperation, crying out in isolation and rejection, not heard nor heeded. Archbishop’s Desmond Tutu’s 1984 book of sermons carried this title conveying the same message.

The prophet takes the side of the poor and the oppressed, joins the people in the wilderness, standing with them in their loneliness and desolation, in solidarity and hope, seeking with them renewal of their hope in God and faith in the promises of God, knowing that the God of the wilderness is the God of freedom and justice. Just because the people have been banished to the wilderness, their faith and aspirations outlawed because these are subversive of the status quo, it does not mean that those promises and dreams have been abandoned, either by themselves or God. It is in the wilderness where Yahweh meets them, as Yahweh met Hagar, restored her hopes and her life as well as that of her child, letting her know that Yahweh is “the One who sees.”

But the point I want to make is a different one. Rightly speaking, it is not simply the prophet who is in the wilderness, isolated and rejected. It is the people who are in the wilderness, mired in hopelessness, confusion and self-destruction, cast there by the powers who dominate their lives, who fear the dreams and hopes of the people for freedom, dignity and joy and therefore do whatever is necessary to crush those hopes. Unlike the court prophets, the prophet of God makes the choice not to remain in the places of comfort, among the rich, the privileged and the connected.

Isaiah 40 marks a new beginning: the prophet announces the ways in which Yahweh will return justice to Yahweh’s people. They have been roaming in the wilderness too long - enough! Yahweh says. It is now time to “speak comfort to the heart of Jerusalem.” But please note that in this context, “Jerusalem” is not the city of wealth and power and corruption, where the poor are trampled to dust, where justice is turned into wormwood, and where the vulnerable are exploited, discarded and left to bleed to death on the streets.


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Long headed slave girls, Congo, ca. 1900-1915. Part of collection: International Mission Photography Archive, ca.1860-ca.1960.

No, “Jerusalem” here means the poor, the dejected, the oppressed, the despised, those classified as “sinners” by the religious elites, not worthy of inclusion or compassion or honour. This is the Jerusalem that needs to be comforted by the mercy, grace, and justice of the God who has chosen to take sides, to join their struggle for justice. Then the voice of the prophet cries out: “In the wilderness!”- in this place of desolation and hopelessness, of despair and loneliness where you have come to believe that Yahweh has forgotten and forsaken you – “prepare the way of the Lord!” Then follow the ever captivating, life- giving words in vv. 4-5: Every valley shall be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together. For the first time we hear of the “Servant of the LORD,” the One who will not grow faint or weary (40:28) and in 42:4 we hear that that is so because the chosen Servant will not rest until justice is established in all the earth. “He will not quench the smoldering wick,” the prophet says. That means that this Servant of Yahweh will not deride or despise those who are not as strong, wearied and made vulnerable by the pressures of life. He will not smother someone’s hopes, no matter how fragile, or reduce them to helpless hopelessness. He will not rob them of their dignity, steal their dreams, or mock their ideals for the sake of political expediency, ideological gain, or self-aggrandised arrogance, for he brings victory and is the hope of the nations. Those who are battered and shattered, excluded and discarded, broken down and looked down upon, despised and stigmatised – he will not send them away bleeding, untended, burdened, and empty-handed. This God is the God of compassionate justice and hope.

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The wilderness shall be tamed and overcomed. Where there is no way there will be a way - a highway - for the LORD; not for an emperor, with his armies, chariots, horses and weapons of destruction on the way to conquer yet another defenceless nation. This highway will be a highway to make way for truth and justice, for peace and freedom, for dignity and enhanced humanity. The prophet does not bemoan her loneliness and isolation. The prophet sees what is at present unimaginable: In the wilderness, a place of utter desolation and oppression, to where the people, their hopes and dreams and faith have been banished, meant to wither and die; there the glory of Yahweh’s compassionate justice shall be revealed, and all flesh, even those who now sit on thrones of power, oppression and domination, shall see it. And it shall come to pass, “for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The One “who comes with might” will not oppress, humiliate or destroy, but “will feed [God’s] flock like a shepherd; [God will] gather the lambs in [God’s] arms and carry them in [God’s] bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” (40:11) And not only shall the chosen One not grow weary or faint until justice is established, but all those “who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (40:31) No, the voice in the wilderness is not one that depicts despair, isolation and rejection. It is the voice of hope undaunted, dreams rejuvenated, faith renewed, courage restored, and love vindicated.

Slaves cutting the sugar cane on the Island of Antigua, 1823

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It is the prophetic voice who calls on the people, “waiting upon the LORD,” - which here means believing and trusting in God - to make the rough places plain, the crooked straight, and to build highways of justice for the LORD to walk on amongst God’s people. We should keep in mind that the voice is not speaking of God’s work in some eschatological vision. The voice is calling upon God’s people, in the wilderness, to level those uneven places, to lift up those valleys, to lay low every mountain and hill, to make those rough places plain – right now. In other words, to get to work. This redemptive roadworks programme is for us to do, and in doing so, we are preparing the way of the LORD. The wilderness is not for lamentation, and moaning and groaning about our loneliness. The wilderness is a call for engagement in the world against the ways of the world. When the powerful banish us, we work! When they exile us, we build! When they silence us, we cry out! When they dehumanise us, we flourish! When they make our lives deserts of injustice, we hold on to the vision and we build highways of justice – for the LORD. The comfort the prophet is instructed to speak to God’s people, the heart of Jerusalem, is not just that their sins are forgiven. It is that the wilderness to which they have been banished can be turned into a place of joy, into what John Calvin calls “the theatre of God’s glory.” Then, and only then, Isaiah says, shall the glory of the LORD be revealed. Then, and only then, shall all flesh see it together.


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From top to bottom, the children of Africa seem to be in the wilderness. Tormented by wars mostly not of our own making, as in Somalia, South Sudan, the DRC, and the Central African Republic. Still shackled by the irreparable vestiges of the enslavement of our people; still held hostage by horrific inhumanities of colonialism, what African American academic Joy DeGruy Leary, has called “Post-traumatic Slave Syndrome.” These are, even as we speak, like in Zimbabwe, exacerbated by the postcolonial betrayals by our own leaderships; their reckless gambles with the resources of our lands, the lives of our people, and the dreams and hopes of our children. We are wandering in the wilderness and the church, certainly in South Africa, has lost its prophetic voice, its prophetic presence, its prophetic courage. No, we have not lost it. We have given it up. In this sense, the prophetic voices in the church are indeed fighting a lonely battle. We are not immune to loneliness, disillusionments, disorientation, and fear. In Matthew’s gospel (11:7-11) Jesus turns to the crowds following him and asks three questions to which he apparently does not expect any response from his listeners. In fact, the passage makes clear that he does not give them a chance to respond. He answers his questions himself. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” he asks, and then answers with another question, “A reed shaken by the wind?” Before anyone in the crowd has a chance to respond, Jesus asks again, “What did you go out to see?” followed by, “Someone dressed in soft robes?” Immediately Jesus asks a third time, “What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”

There is a detectably impatient rush in Jesus’ speech here, a palpable, and rising, tension in the passages that make up Matthew 11 which begins with the question, via his disciples, from the imprisoned John the Baptist –“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?” – to the intriguing remarks about the kingdom of God and violence to the three-fold woes to the cities Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. It ends with the invitation to take on Jesus’ “easy” yoke and “light” burden through which action those who follow him will find “rest for their souls.” There is undoubtedly much to say about Matthew 11 as a whole, fascinating as it is, but it is those first rapid-fire questions and answers, Jesus verbally crowding out the crowd to make space for his own answers to his own questions, that arrest our attention, the three times-repeated “What did you go out to see?” The anxiousness in John’s question - “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another? - seems contagious. John is in prison because of his prophetic witness and he will not come out of there alive. Jesus knows this. This is, after all, what every prophet, however fearfully, must acknowledge: the life-threatening risks of speaking truth to power. When John is indeed beheaded by Herod because Herod recognises a power greater than his own at work in John - powers that he will also recognise in Jesus (Matt. 14:1) - Jesus, upon hearing this, got into a boat by himself, withdrew from the crowd and his disciples to a “deserted place to be with himself.” (Matt. 14:13) Jesus knew that he himself would not escape that fate. So the Jesus speaking here is not the rabbi asking a question and then patiently, perhaps indulgingly, waiting for his pupils to absorb it, think about it, and then giving their response. Jesus has an urgent point to make here.

Some scholars see in Jesus’ questions an attempt to draw a distinction between John the Baptist and Herod. Whereas Herod lives in palaces Herod did have a palace at Machaerus on the edge of the wilderness, east of the Dead Sea - at the edge of the wilderness on the banks of the river Jordan - and wore the fine robes of royalty, John wore a coat of camel’s hair, ate not the rich foods and delectable delicacies of the spoiled and privileged but locusts and wild honey. Herod, a conscienceless despot and murderous tyrant to those below him, nonetheless scraped and bowed and fawned before those above him: The Roman elite and the emperor in Rome. A true coward, he would do nothing to displease his colonial masters, and anything to gain their favour. He was, in Jesus’ words, “like a reed in the wind,” easily swayed by his passions, fears and instincts for survival. In stark contrast, John was the true prophet, solid as a rock, truthful in his witness, faithful to his God and his calling, fearless in bringing his message, not disturbed if he caused offense to the powerful. There is merit in this argument. But perhaps there is more to this. Jesus was indeed holding John up as an example of prophetic faithfulness. Hence Jesus was careful to tell John’s disciples – “Go and tell John what you hear and see” – that in his own work for the kingdom of God Jesus would continue to do the work John began, and more; and, he added, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (v. 6) Those last words are not a display of throw-away bravado I think, nor an attempt to play the pre-emptive dispenser of blessings in order to bar anyone from taking offense. They are uttered to show Jesus’ deep respect for this greatest of prophets “born of women,” whose faithfulness has indeed caused offense to the powerful, and for which he would now pay the ultimate price. The prophet in the wilderness would be an example to the prophet from Galilee.

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But I think there are at least two more things we could learn from this important passage. First, Jesus spoke in response to what he knew was John’s deepest struggle at that point: the crisis prophetic witness inevitably creates for the faithful prophet. I will die before my work is finished, John seems to say, and I am not sure just how much I have achieved. So much remains undone: was it all in vain, or are you the one who will somehow take this up and finish it, despite the terrible wrath of the powers against whom we are set to speak the truth of God’s kingdom? Every prophet has faced such a moment: from Moses and Elijah to Isaiah and Jeremiah. So would Jesus, and that intensely. So, on my reading, secondly, Jesus was not so much contrasting John with Herod, as holding up the real crisis every prophet of God will in some way or another come to face. And it is therefore good to remember that the true prophet never ends up in the palace, dressed up in the finery of royalty’s favourite spokesperson and comforter, sitting at the table with kings and emperors, partaking of the food of the privileged and the pampered, as reward for their loyalty. No, the true prophet will always be against the palace, outside the camp of comfort and complacency, outside the circles where power resides. And in those crises caused by confrontation and offense, the prophet is indeed “like a reed in the wind.” Not swayed by rewards from the palace but assailed by doubt. As one who has experienced the desolateness of isolation in prison, assailed by doubts and battered by uncertainties too many to count and too voracious to fend off, feeling the pain because of the conviction that one is called by God to speak truth to power; or who felt almost like a fraud, showing the face of courage on the outside while being mauled by the fangs of fear on the inside, I can only say, “how true!” It is no wonder that the prophet Jeremiah, in his matchless, audacious, ferocious struggles with God and with his calling has become such a refuge, such a sanctuary for those whose lives have been a turned into multiple contradictions, whose souls have never learned to deal with the turmoil of being called by a God who is determined not to let go. Is it indescribable grace or unspeakable terror? It is better not to speak too easily, or too glowingly, of “the prophetic calling.” It is even better, though, to ask with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Who am I?” and to discover the only answer worth knowing: “Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.” The prophet is not a rock of brave, stoic solidity. We are, as Jesus would come to know and experience in Gethsemane, more often like a reed in the wind. We do not rush to the cross, trembling with scarcely contained excitement of anticipated, triumphant martyrdom. We fight with God, through sweat turned into blood, to take the cup away from us. Nevertheless, the prophet stands against the power of the powerful, not because the prophet is so strong, but because the prophet is overcome by that other power: “But as for me,” Micah says, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might… (3:8)

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As Christians involved in the struggle we were confronted with apartheid, the heresy of its theological and biblical justification, and the challenge for people of faith to choose for justice in the struggle against evil. We discovered that it was not so much the survival of the church that was at stake. At stake was the integrity of the church and its prophetic witness in a world shaken by deadly convulsions. At stake was the Gospel itself. In moments like this, fundamental decisions must be taken and these are the decisions on which the life of the church depends. These challenges have returned with matching urgency. The world in which we live and are called to witness as the Church of Jesus Christ is equally a world shaken by deadly convulsions. The combined wealth of the world’s richest 1% overtook that of the other 99% in 2016. In that year, more than half of the wealth in the world was in the hands of just 62 individuals, more than was owned by the entire 3.5 billion of the world’s population. The so-called economic recovery of the last few years was in essence only a recovery for the rich: the richest 1% have seen their share of the global wealth increase from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, and has climbed to more than 50% in 2016. But that quickly became old news. By January 2017 Oxfam reported that the situation was much worse: just 8 white men own as much wealth as half the world’s population.

One in nine people do not have enough to eat and more than 1 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day. In 2019, South Africa remains the most unequal society on earth. Over half our population live in utmost poverty. In the meantime, though, we have over 13,000 dollar millionaires. According to a new study released in June 2019 by AfrAsia Bank, Durban, Belito and Umhlanga have seen the biggest growth in wealth of 25% among our dollar billionaires over the past decade, a time period which corresponds nicely with the Zuma/Gupta years. Time Magazine, reporting on our rich/poor gap, writes, “Poverty is so extreme in South Africa that even a lower middle class area looks rich.” People of faith should be outraged, but we aren’t. The late, and greatly lamented Stellenbosch economist, Sampie Terreblanche, constantly raised these crucial matters, pointing out the undeserved enrichment of whites and the undeserved impoverishment of black South Africans over more than three centuries. Terreblanche never tired of warning us that our present grotesque social and economic inequalities are the greatest danger facing our country. It is, he insisted, not only a socio-economic and political question; it is a moral question, prompting him to ask, “Why don’t the churches rise up in revolutionary anger at these conditions?” He actually talked about a moral question for white people, and that remains true. But we now know that the class struggle we are facing is a struggle against a predatory capitalism that has put on a black face. Why not, indeed. June 2019 | 47 8 December


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In fundamental ways, the Belhar Confession of my denomination has become a defining, prophetic presence for us in our witness to and in the world, though in the process it has become a witness against ourselves. There are good reasons why so many churches in the global Reformed family, (though not the white Dutch Reformed Church) have formally adopted it as a confession and faithfully trying to make it a way of life. In its bold and hopeful articulation of the essence of the prophetic church, it has indeed become the most potent self-critical presence in the life of my church. By far the most well-known words in the confession are the words found in the 4th article: We believe that God has revealed Godself as the One who wishes to bring about justice and true peace on earth; that in a world full of injustice and enmity God is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged, and that God calls the church to follow God in this… that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream; that the church as the possession of God, should stand where God stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others. Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel. For Belhar, following the Reformed tradition as a whole, it is clear: God’s preferential option is for the poor, the destitute and the wronged. Those of us who call upon the name of Jesus must stand with those, because God stands with them in any form of suffering and need, and against any form of injustice. Every form of injustice is a form of exclusion. Because of the choices God makes, because of where Christ stands, we are, Belhar says, obligated “to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another.” No exceptions, no maybe’s, no kidding. What Belhar is pleading for is the courage, compassion, and commitment to disrupt the works of evil in the world by the undoing of injustice, and by doing the deeds of justice, peace and love required by Yahweh. Increasingly, the church across Africa is characterised by the unholy emulation of that peculiar Christianised militarism of American “patriot pastors,” a so-called “spiritual warfare” wholly based on an unabashed, imperialist, violent jihadism across the globe, in tandem with a spiritually militarised bigotry aimed against women, the poor, the LGBTQI community, and everyone who is not a “born-again, Bible-believing” Christian. And, in the end, as the “prosperity gospel” fires up the imagination of the “set men of God” while capturing the purses of the poor and needy, it is all about power and greed. So, we should think twice before expressing unqualified pride in the fact that Christianity is now the fastest growing religion on our continent.

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We are bound to recall the invaluable distinctions drawn by Frederick Douglass in 1846, I love the religion of our blessed Saviour ... which comes from above, in the wisdom of God which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle … without partiality and without hypocrisy … I love that religion … It is because I love this religion that I hate the slave-holding, the woman-whipping, the minddarkening, the soul-destroying religion that exists in America… Loving the one I must hate the other; holding to one I must reject the other. So the question is not whether we are religious, or Christians: the question is what kind of Christianity are we embracing? I am speaking of the waves of Christian neo-fundamentalism imported from the U.S. washing over Africa and much of the global South with its toxic neo-colonialist package deal of scriptural selectivity, presented as “biblical inerrancy,” violent homophobia, patriarchal power, and anti-justice agenda. Its justification of war and violence in the name of Jesus, its religious exclusivism and Christian chauvinism, coupled with unbridled political ambition in its so-called dominion theology, and its prosperity gospel grounded in the embrace of and enslavement to capitalist consumerist ideology. In its neo-colonialist alliances with capitalist power and the global media, it certainly is dragging Africa, its churches and its societies, to the edge of a disaster every bit as devastating as colonialism. This is the new heresy which like the heresy of apartheid has to be named and combatted. What Belhar is calling for is the doing of inclusive, irrevocable, unstoppable justice: if justice does not roll down like waters for persons of colour subjected to racial discrimination, for women, for LGBTQI persons, for everyone at all suffering under any form of oppression and exclusion, justice will not roll down at all.

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In South Africa we are experiencing, on an almost daily basis, the tragic consequences of what Sampie Terreblanche calls the “secret elite conspiracy� of 1994 between the wealthy, white elite and the black elite within the African National Congress, under the tutelage of the United States and the Bretton Woods Institutions: a fraudulent economic policy that has increased the undeserved wealth of the already white rich; increased the undeserved impoverishment of the already desperately black poor while creating a small, new, unbelievably rich black aristocracy, the bedrock of our disastrous inequalities. Our negotiators felt themselves obligated, not to the interests of the people, but to the secret deals made with apartheid South Africa between 1985 and 1994. Because it studiously, and quite deliberately, avoided social justice, restitution, and the redistribution of power, wealth, land, and social goods, our reconciliation process, in which black South Africans have invested so much, including the social cohesion it was meant to produce and foster, is under savage strain. In other words, democratic South Africa came into

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being, in disastrous denial of the revolutionary struggles, sacrifices, aspirations and hopes of the people, as a triumphalist product of imperialism. So, the church must not only ask serious questions about our reconciliation process, we must face up to why we have failed to hold up the biblical demands for genuine political reconciliation for our nation, and why we have failed to set the example for true reconciliation for the nation to follow. This is my firm belief: We cannot say Jesus without saying justice; and we cannot say justice without saying Jesus. And the more we say Jesus we have to say justice; and the more we say justice, we have to say Jesus, because without Jesus we will not be able to sustain the struggle for justice.

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In January 2017 the United States and the world witnessed a spectacle many were convinced they would never see, and all over the world misogynists, patriarchalists, xenophobes, and homophobes of every stripe, creed and color; white supremacists and unashamed racists from New Nazi’s in Europe to revived apartheid defenders in South Africa and new apartheid creators in Israel arise empowered and emboldened. Predatory capitalists, worshippers of money and destroyers of the Earth have rejuvenated joy; war mongers and the makers of drones, cluster bombs, barrel bombs, land mines and all kinds of deadly chemical weapons rejoice in the temples of profiteering as they see their fortunes and stocks rise higher every year. In a perverse reversion of the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the voice in the wilderness, they have waited upon their lord, their strength is renewed, and they are ready to mount up with wings like eagles, to run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint. As a continent, Africa has never really recovered from the impact of slavery and the slave trade, the ravages of colonialism, the self-inflicted wounds of our post-colonial recklessness and the onslaughts of neo-imperialism. We have work to do. We should learn to resist the temptation to see the global realities through the eyes of the powerful and privileged, but rather through the eyes of the suffering, the weak and the vulnerable, the dehumanised and the demonised, the outcasts and the excluded. Our theology, and hence our preaching, should be anchored in a theology attuned to the cries of the poor and oppressed because I believe John Calvin was right: the cries of the oppressed are the cries from the very heart of God. Calvin is quite radical in this: “It is then the same,” Calvin says, “as though God heard Godself when God hears the cries and groaning of those who cannot bear injustice.” God presents Godself as the poor and the oppressed. We must not be afraid to say it. The key to overcoming the wilderness is to remain faithful. Hagar remained faithful and because she did, she met the God who sees, who made her see the well that saved her child’s life, and made her hear that promise of life. Because she remained faithful, she had the strength to go back to the camp, face Sarah and Abraham, and claim the inheritance meant for her son. Because Miriam remained faithful in the wilderness, she could challenge Moses, his exclusivist, violent, patriarchal leadership and give the people an alternative leadership that could not only be imagined, but enacted.

Because Isaiah remained faithful, he could hear the voice in the wilderness, and could see the future of justice: every valley filled, every mountain and hill made low, every rough place made plain. Because he remained faithful, he knew the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people – the rich and the poor, the privileged and the destitute, the high and mighty and the lowly and powerless, shall see it together. The poor and powerless shall rejoice, and the rich and powerful shall quake in their shoes. Because Jesus remained faithful in the wilderness, he could withstand every temptation Satan threw at him, because he knew every single one of them was meant to tempt him away from the poor, from the struggle for justice, from his communion with God and from the fulfillment of God’s reign. So the question in the wilderness remains: have we heard the voice of God as it speaks to us in the cries of the oppressed, in the voice of God, and in the resolute “NO!” of Jesus?

The reason why Godself does not come down from heaven to build the highway and is calling on us to do it is because God has bestowed us with something special; God has enough trust in us to make us God’s co- workers. Even more: this same Isaiah reminds us that God has written our names in the palm of God’s hand, that this God will be with us as we go through the water and the fire. That is to say, God has your back. So there is a power within you. “There is a message to be borne,” Albert Luthuli reminded us, “and God will not fail those whose bear it fearlessly.” Because there is a power within you. As with Hagar and Hannah, with Jochebed and Miriam, with Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah; with Mary and her Magnificat; with John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, the wilderness is not a place of mourning, self-doubt, and self-pity. It is a place of hearing the voice and answering the call, of saying “no” to Satan’s temptations; a place where there is work to do. We have a highway to build. We have a world to save.

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The Quest for Freedom

Sam Sharpe and the Christmas Uprising in Jamaica by Professor Anthony Reddie, Council for World Mission

Fighting For Emancipation

The Christmas Uprising or what is also called the ‘Baptist War’ began on Christmas Day in December 1831 through to January 1832. It was led by Samuel (Daddy) Sharp, a deacon of Burchell Baptist Church, in Montego Bay, on the North Coast of Jamaica.

The Christmas Uprising was sparked by news from the colonial home of slavery, namely England, that the Anti-slavery society was committed to immediate emancipation and that the House of Commons in April 1831 had taken steps to abolish slavery. This rumour was untrue, but crucially, for our purposes, it was believed to be true. As the rumour travelled across Jamaica and spread amongst the enslaved as a matter of burning hope and great excitement, and the fact that this occurred during the Christmas period, should not be taken as coincidental.

For many amongst the oppressed enslaved community in Northern Jamaica, Christmas was a reminder of the birth of Jesus and the promise of a new gift of Christ after the darkness of waiting during the literal dark months of Advent. What soured this cautious mood of optimism was the belief amongst the enslaved that their immediate freedom was being withheld by the White leaders in Jamaica. Earlier in 1831, the Jamaican Assembly had voted in February 1831 to reduce the number of free days enslaved Africans were able to enjoy at Christmas. Given the volatility of time, this act by the Assembly was a provocative move as the Christmas holiday had a special place in the experience of enslaved Africans as it was a rare moment to have time away from the backbreaking work of slavery, coupled with the space to reflect on their relationship to the coming of Jesus, the light of the world.

Lithograph of the burning of Roehampton Estate during the Baptist War by Adolphe Duperly

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The rumour that travelled the island, especially amongst the Baptists, was one that stated that Like a cool breeze from the Caribbean ocean, word spread across the island, especially among the Baptists, that the King of England would be delivering to Jamaica on Christmas day, a signed document declaring freedom for enslaved Africans, but that the White people would hold it back. It was believed by Black Baptists that Rev. Thomas Burchell who was in England was summoned by the King of England to take the “free papers” to Jamaica on time for Christmas… “the crisis of white authority was revealed when on the Salt Spring estate, just before Christmas, a driver refused to flog a slave woman caught with ‘a piece of sugar cane in her hand’, when constables were brought to restore order, the slaves repelled them with cutlasses drawn. Christmas itself passed uneasily if tensely, but on 27 December, the day scheduled for the resumption of work, thousands of slaves in the west of the island simply downed tools, declaring that ‘we won’t be slaves no more; we won’t lift hoe no more; we won’t take flog no more. We free now…no more slaves again” ¹


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The Christmas Uprising of 1831, led by Sam ‘Daddy’ Sharp, signaled the beginning of the end of slavery in Jamaica. Enslaved Africans, Black people in modern day language, especially amongst the Baptists, began fighting for emancipation in and around Montego Bay. This brought to a climax the long struggle of enslaved Africans fighting against English imperial rule, seeking to gain their freedom. This struggle had taken many forms over the years. Back in the late 1600s, the Maroons, a group of rebellious and resistance minded Africans, that had become a semi autonomous grouping peoples in mountainous area of Jamaica, known as the ‘Cock Pit Country’ had waged a continuous guerrilla campaign against the British, seeking to establish their independence. Many had resorted to running away into the mountainous terrain where it was difficult for them to be found and returned to slavery. The focus of this struggle, however, took the form of predominantly, Black Baptists organising to withdraw their labour. As a result of this, the brunt of their attack was on the institutions of the plantation. A total of 120 buildings on the estate were torched as Black people insisted that Sam Sharpe Memorial and The Cage. (Photo by Martin Falbisoner) they were human beings who had a right to emancipation; i.e. they had a right to withdraw their labour, and attack the institutions that kept them in slavery. More than 20,000 enslaved Africans were involved in this uprising. The focus was not a call to arms but for enslaved persons to withdraw their labour and crush the monster of slavery. The leader of this strike, a form of direct action in modern day language was Sam ‘Daddy’ Sharp. Sharp was a Deacon in his local Baptist church, but had a large following amongst the wider enslaved African community, largely for his intelligence, ability to read and his leadership capabilities. Daddy Sharp gave witness to Black Baptists stating that they were family, which opened the door to Daddy Sharp’s extraordinary leadership. Edward Hylton, one of Daddy Sharp’s followers, tells of being in the hills and receiving a message from Daddy Sharp to attend a meeting at Johnson’s house on Retrieve Estate in St. James. The gathering took the form of a prayer meeting. After the meeting, Daddy Sharp, William Johnson – who became one of the leaders fighting for emancipation – Hylton, and a few others, remained behind. “After a while Sharp spoke to them in a low, soft tone so that his voice would not be heard outside. According to Hylton he kept them spellbound while he spoke of the evils and injustices of slavery, asserted the right of all human beings to freedom and declared on the authority of the Bible, that the White man had no more right to hold the Blacks in bondage than Blacks had to enslave the Whites.”² The meeting went late into the night as they agreed on a strategy to overturn slavery. They covenanted not to work after the Christmas holidays but to seize the right to freedom in faithfulness to each other. “If backra would pay them, they would work as before. If any attempt was made to force them to work as slaves they would fight for their freedom. They took the oath and kissed the Bible.”³ What Daddy Sharp intended was a non-violent protest that would be expressed as a labour strike. The plan was that on the day after the Christmas holiday an overseer or driver would go to the “busha” on each estate and inform him that slaves would not work until they agreed to pay them wages. The bushas were to be kept on the estate until they agreed to pay wages for work.

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Winston A. Lawson Religion and Race: African and European Roots in Conflict: A Jamaican Testament (New York: Peter Laing, 1998), p.88 Hazel Bennett and Phillip Sherlock, The Story of the Jamaican People. (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 1998), p.214 Ibid.

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On the 27th December, William Knibb, a White British Baptist missionary visiting Moses Baker’s chapel at Crooked Spring, now Salter’s Hill, tried to persuade Black Baptists that rumors about freedom having been granted were untrue. It is true to say that his words were not well received and his message of submission to White authority was rejected. Others remarked: “The man…must be mad to tell them such things.”⁴ Missionary Knibb stated: “I am pained – to the soul, at being told that many of you have agreed not to work anymore for your owners, and I fear this is too true. I learned that some wicked person has persuaded you that the King of England has made you free. Hear me! I love your souls and I would not tell you a lie for the whole world; I assure you it is false, false as hell can make it. I entreat you not to believe it, but go to your work as formerly. If you have any love for Jesus Christ, to religion, to your ministers, or to those kind friends in England who have helped you build this chapel, and who are sending a minister for you, do not be led away. God commands you to be obedient.”⁵ The enslaved African community, particularly amongst the Black Baptists, recognised the hypocrisy of Knibb and his theology of subservience and obedience, from someone who has ostensibly always claimed to be on their side. These enslaved Africans, drawing on the Bible, stated that they had experienced enough of the shackles of slavery and declared themselves to free. Their quest for freedom was not one born of human rights declarations, such Thomas Pain’es 1791 text The Rights of Man, which he argued for a code of national rights that were endowed upon all people, irrespective of their social rank, class or caste. As persuasive as these arguments were, most enslaved Africans in Jamaica in 1831 could not read and they would not have had access to such a radial humanitarian book as this. Rather, their quest for freedom was anchored on the Bible. Biblical texts such Galatians 3: 28, where the author, believed to be St Paul, writes that in Christ, there are none of the seemingly acceptable social divisions, such as ‘male’ and ‘female’ ‘Jew’ and ‘Greek’, ‘free’ and ‘slave’ were all abolished and their was equality in the body of Christ, amongst those who were saved. These enslaved Africans believing themselves to be free, via their baptism and church attendance, asserted that right and so began a strike for wages and a measure of freedom. Daddy Sharp and his freedom fighters interpreted the struggle for emancipation through the lens of liberation. Missionary Knibb said he loved their souls. Sharp and his compatriots understood the body as site for liberation. It is reported that when Daddy Sharp was apprehended, he said that he had rather die than be a slave. The price paid by Daddy Sharp and his people for emancipation was very high. In the aftermath of the Christmas Uprising, 600 enslaved Africans, Black people, were killed by British forces. In their defense they killed 14 White people. The seeds for the destruction of slavery were sown. On the 1st August, 1834, a partial freedom was granted to British colonies throughout the Caribbean, with the abolition of slavery following on the 1st August 1838. The significance of Christmas and a faith in a liberating God, revealed in Jesus cannot be overstated. The words of Jesus’ Mother, Mary would not have been lost on enslaved people given their context and inhuman conditions in which they were living, which Mary states in Luke 1:46-55 (English Standard Version - ESV).

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The Story of Jamaican People, p.216 John Howard Hinton, Memoirs of William Knibb (London: Houlston and Stoneman, 1847), p.118

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Visitation (Detail), 1771 by Franz Anton Maulbertsch

Mary's Song of Praise: The Magnificat 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Whilst the tendency has been for the church to spiritualise this and many other texts, arguing in this case, that Mary was speaking purely in a personal manner on how God had given her, a lowly young girl great honour and prominence, for enslaved Africans this would have been read in a more social and political way. In the lead up to Jesus’ birth Mary, Jesus’ Mother speaks of a revolutionary God who is going to change the then known established order. This is the God who ‘has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate’. This is the God, whose reign or Kingdom will bring dignity to all those who are enslaved whether by sin or by human social forces of oppression, such as slavery. The light has come into the world and all the old things will pass away as the new world of God awaits. It is hard for us, in our 21st century location to experience the freeing power of this text and the coming of Christmas for those mired in the darkness of slavery during the advent of 1831. And yet, it was the promised freedom that sparked the Christmas Uprising of 1831, led by Sam ‘Daddy’ Sharp, that proved to be the final nail in the coffin for slavery in the British empire.

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And We Were Singing Hymns and Arias... by Elinor Wyn Reynolds, Union of Welsh Independents (UWI)

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raise the Lord! We are a musical nation.’ So states a delighted Reverend Eli Jenkins in the dreamy somewhere-and-nowhere world of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. And so it would seem that we, as people in the land of Cymru – and I have chosen my word carefully here, the word ‘Wales’ has its roots in the word foreigner, whereas the word ‘Cymru’ belongs to the word brother or compatriot, we are not foreigners, we belong to each other – are prone to a bit of singing here and there. When we wait for the result of an adjudication, we sing ... when it’s half time at a match, we sing ... when a crowd of people get together socially, we sing ... and more often than not, we sing hymns. These hymns are knitted into our DNA. We might not be regular chapel or churchgoers but we know the words to the hymns and we delight in their poetry, their soaring oration, the crescendo of notes that results in the feeling of elation and the feeling of

belonging that singing together gives us – and whether we believe or not, we are raised to a better state of being. And often a hymn sung a hundred times over, connects us to a time that has passed, to loved ones who are no longer here, to that mysterious place where we can never go, the past, and as the author L. P. Hartley famously said at the beginning of his novel The Go-Between, ‘The past is a foreign country.’ So singing hymns is a treasure far more than the words themselves – this rich and beautiful, concise form of literature – as they give us a little precious access to that elusive past. But what is so brilliant about hymns? A good hymn is simple and direct, it conveys a message or experience clearly, and that simplicity can represent something far more complex and deep. Often, a hymn tells a big story, an epic tale even, in a few words, and therein lies its glory – less is definitely more in this case. And as we sing those hymns, we share the experiences of those who first wrote the words, it is an opportunity for us to feel the thrill for ourselves. We are able to reach back through the years and almost touch Ann Griffiths, Williams Pantycelyn, David Charles, Gwilym Hiraethog, Robert ap Gwilym Ddu and the many others – amazing.

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Usually, the feelings expressed in hymns range from elation through to despair, love, sadness and joy, illuminating the gamut of emotions we will surely experience individually as we walk through life with Jesus and with God. The same is true of carols. We sing them every Christmas, the same songs, telling the same story and, like placing a layer of wrapping paper on the year that has passed, the words become even more precious and important to us, for a myriad of reasons. They remind us of years gone past, they remind us of loved ones no longer alive, they remind us of our childhood and of simpler times, and they remind us of the dazzling simplicity of this one truly amazing message that God so loved the world, he sent his only son to earth. Recent research shows that being a member of a choir can help minimise the symptoms of stress. In a conference on student mental health held last year, Professor Sir Simon Wessely stated that life can be tough for students and that the mental health services available are not always effective at getting to grips with the great demand there is and that they struggle to meet the need. He identified loneliness as a major factor in causing stress. Life is difficult for many of us of course, not just for students, and loneliness is a common and crippling experience in our society. Professor Wessely notes that he would like to see trials being held to see what the effect of taking part in community activity would be on student mental health e.g. sport, drama and choirs. Ah! Choirs! He felt that being a part of a strong social network, such as a choir, could work better at combatting stress than seeking professional help, there is less stigma attached to being a member of a choir. So, we know that being a member of a choir is good for you, good for your body, good for your mind.

All good. Indeed, singing out loudly is better than a yoga session or a workout in the gym as far as health benefits go, or so they say. Singing brings with it physical and emotional benefits, an increase in aerobic exercise, better breathing, better body posture, a more positive outlook on life, improved confidence and self-respect. Singing out loud on your own can be a good thing as the body is used to create noise and that in turn creates endorphins, it creates joy in the body and in the brain. Singing has a beneficial effect on many parts of the brain. But singing with other people is even better, because you belong to something that is bigger than just you. And it’s important that we feel we belong in this world, so if we discover our tribe through singing, well more power to us. And what are we as a congregation in church, if not a choir of people? We also know that singing is a good thing for people with dementia as it has a positive effect on the body and even though the mind might be deteriorating, the body ‘remembers’ positive experiences. As well as this, the injured brain can remember old songs, this is nothing short of miraculous and suddenly, people who have lost the ability to speak, can remember a song from years ago and … they … sing. Boy do they sing! So, are Christians happier that other people? We remember the excellent words of encouragement given by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord.’ Every Sunday, we come together to sing, to praise and to extol God. We also get our physical workout through our singing and as we stand in the congregation, we also feel that we belong to our church and to God’s family and on top of that we get to sing the Lord’s praises – that, I believe, is a total bargain, three things for the price of one. And in the words of the legendary Ella Fitzgerald, ‘The only thing better than singing – is more singing.’ Amen to that.

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Ephphatha! Dare to be Opened! by Rev Dr Graham Adams

Graham Adams is a theological educator, specialising in missiology. He teaches at Luther King House (Manchester, UK) and the Congregational Institute for Practical Theology. His publications include Christ and the Other, 2010, contributions to Bible and Theology from the Underside of Empire, 2016, and the Brill Research Perspective on “Theology of Religions” (forthcoming).

Introduction: The Bible of Disorder

The Bible is both a butterfly and a hurricane! A

colleague of mine, Glen Marshall, recently gave a sermon on John chapter 3, where he declared that attempting to ‘nail’ the meaning of a text – for example, to insist that ‘this alone is what being born again (or ‘from above’) means’ – does violence to the nature of the Bible. After all, as he said, the Bible is more like a butterfly, which should not be nailed to a board, as though one meaning can be fixed and generally applied to all people and all contexts. Rather, it flutters in our hands, beautiful and gently defiant, and symbol of new life. Glen was suggesting, I think, that the Bible is always signalling to us that the apparently ‘dead’ appearance of words on a page, like a chrysalis, are not the end of the interpretive story, but instead, because ‘the Spirit blows where she wills’, it comes to life, in ever new ways, surprising us, enlivening us, enthralling us, but also disturbing or unsettling us. So, an uncontainable butterfly! In fact, it is not only a butterfly, but a hurricane – or at least, as the Spirit broods over it and acts as midwife, enabling new life to come from it – the ‘event’ of Scripture has a hurricane-like effect, disrupting our preconceptions and systems, and causing problems for us in our desire to superimpose order on to a disordered world. This perspective can seem too chaotic for some; in fact, many churches would presumably reject such an approach outright, on the basis that God brings order, and that Scripture is the means by which we too are to submit to God’s order. It is not, for such interpreters, about letting the Bible act as a butterfly, but letting it simply be ‘the Word’: dictation which is meant to bring us into line; the kind of authority demanding obedience, in the same way, from all of us. The paradox, of course, is that such submissiveness to the words on the page – resigning our human agency – is all about the overriding power of those who insist ‘this is what it means’. The paradox is that the desire to read the Bible as the authoritative means by which we receive God’s eternal peace can result in violence being done to the Bible, as the ever-living Word,

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and violence being done to voices in the interpreting community whose truth may not be heard. Where people insist that the Bible brings order, and only order, they are deploying it as justification for a status quo which serves the interests of dominant voices. By contrast, allowing Scripture to bring disorder, or to disrupt our convenient and regulated systems of thought, is actually about ‘letting God speak’, as awkward and disruptive as that may be – and as Scripture repeatedly testifies, God speaks not least through ‘the least’ or those whom the world (including in the world of religion) suppresses.


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The God of the Bible is, in fact, the God who hears the cries of the oppressed and outsiders, the God of empathetic solidarity – with Hebrew slaves, midwives, widows, orphans and aliens, Moabite refugees, commanders of Arameans and widows of Zarephath, Assyrian messiahs and Roman centurions, lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes, children and all kinds of ‘little ones’, the poor, bereaved, and meek of the earth, the doubters, deniers and crucified. The God of the Bible does not accept the systems of judgment which make us feel in control and comfortable, but metamorphoses from chrysalis to butterfly in our hands, hearts and minds, from the thralls of death to the renewal and transfiguring of life and creation. For the Spirit of God – alive for us through, and enlivening our understanding of, Scripture – blows where she wills, shaking the foundations of the orderly prisons we maintain, guard and occupy. The Spirit who captivates our attention is simultaneously liberating us from the captivity of those orderly prisons which occupy and preoccupy our thinking, believing and behaviour. The God of the Bible is not revealed in the maintenance of prison walls and the locking of doors, but in the foundation-shaking movement of which Jesus of Nazareth is the embodiment. As British theologian, Andrew Shanks, puts it, he is ‘the Earthquake Event’. To bring disorder where human order has trampled on the experiences and voices of the least or the last, or to shake foundations which promote their own inevitability, is integral to the ministry of Christ and the ministry of reconciliation which he entrusts to us. Of course, ‘reconciliation’ is itself a kind of order, but for reconciliation to be established, the ways-of-the-world must be disordered, disrupted, shaken. In Christ, such disordering and reconfiguring of reality is revealed, such that we witness the extravagant and scandalous hospitality of the God who is open to those who have been excluded by our human systems of judgment. Religion, too, is exposed for its intransigent self-regard and refusal to heed the cries of the poor, oppressed and dehumanised. The foundations of our prisons are being shaken by God’s engagement with ‘demons’, religious authorities and political structures which dominate and divide, as incarnated in Christ’s ministry. This is the radical trajectory I discern and celebrate in the biblical metanarrative.

Biblical Metanarrative So, moving towards my elaboration of the primary way by which we may engage with Scripture, and by which it engages with us, I recognise an irony here. Having already criticised the tendency to develop and submit to systems, how can I legitimately propose that there is a primary way to engage with Scripture – with the possible implication that it is possible to superimpose one approach on all Scripture and all experience? The distinction here, which I hope will become evident, is that my proposed approach is not a systematic lens directed towards good order and uniformity, but a trajectory intentionally and empathetically attending to the unsettling awkwardness of reality. It is the difficulty and complexity of reality which demands attention, without being constrained within manageable parameters, and I suggest there is a biblical metanarrative which fosters such attention. Locating this in the debates between modernists and postmodernists, because of the problems with systematic metanarrative, I am grateful to Peter Hodgson’s outline of three kinds of postmodernism (1992) – along with postcolonialists who affirm that there are ‘multiple modernities’ (Kwok). After all, if we acknowledge that the postmodern turn is essentially the recognition that our explanatory narratives are always ‘conditioned’ – whether by ideology, psychology, sociality, and so on – then we can appreciate that different conclusions can flow from that. First, radical postmodernism argues that, once the conditionedness of narratives is exposed, there are no means by which one narrative can claim any greater credence than another; we find ourselves resigned to a relativistic impasse. This is not the basis for the biblical narrative I discern – though I am grateful for the reminder that all grand narratives need chastening if we ever foolishly deny that our claims are indeed conditioned by particular concerns.

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Secondly, in the light of that conditionedness, we may instead reject the premise of modernity, that it is possible to rise above all narratives and assess them purely on the basis of human rationality; for we would be better to affirm the historic authority of a given tradition. Such ‘counter-modernism’ judges that, while each narrative does indeed arise from a contextual set of assumptions and circumstances, it is nevertheless possible – even required – to trust the essential validity of one narrative over the others, and that this one shall ultimately out-narrate the others. Here, of course, we see a wide range of metanarratives, from the violent apocalyptic discourse of Da’esh, through all manner of Christian fundamentalisms, to the more sophisticated reassertion of Christian faith embodied in Radical Orthodoxy – in each case, the reclaiming of one narrative in the face of modernist and postmodernist conditionedness. This is not the basis for the biblical narrative I discern, because it too sweepingly rejects the gifts of modern rationality and universality and postmodern suspicion. Thirdly, however, there is late modernism, or critical postmodernism, which affirms that the modernist metanarrative has given us legitimate ambitions, to strive for a story and a community which honours the worth of all individuals, and valuable tools to help us reflect critically on our own efforts, but which also reckons with modernity’s failures to practise what it preached.

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For the reality is that many stories were suppressed, the modernist project being largely for the benefit of white, western, middle-class men; therefore the articulation and living of metanarrative requires a spirit of openness whereby diverse and divergent voices are empowered and enabled to receive from each other. Within such an understanding of metanarrative as unfolding, it is possible to affirm that we are part of one multi-faceted story, but, we as Christians engage with Scripture, we are urged to be open to suppressed voices and to practise empathetic solidarity with the awkward diversity of reality.

‘The Solidarity of the Shaken’ dismantling ‘Unatonement’ How may this higher truth or quest be defined? It is, as Shanks explains, the pursuit of ‘the solidarity of the shaken’ (2005: 3f). He borrows the term from Jan Patočka, a Czech philosopher and dissident activist in the context of Soviet domination, but Shanks gives the term a more explicitly theological meaning; in fact, it is how Shanks invites us to think of ‘the kingdom of God’ – God’s alternative empire, dominion or reign, which breaks in to our reality, in the child, like invisible yeast, like buried treasure, in the resilient but vulnerable hiddenness under the nose of the world’s empire. For ‘the solidarity of the shaken’ is the solidarity of all and any who are shaken out of life’s lies and half-truths.

Just as the foundations of Paul’s prison are shaken, so the poor, the bereaved, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted and those who pursue justice are ‘shaken’ people (2000: pp.): for they have had the scales of unreality peeled away, to know that the rich are living within lies (thinking their blessing is deserved), the un-bereaved are living a lie (taking life for granted), the un-meek are living a lie (puffing themselves up with moral self-worth), the unmerciful are living a lie (convinced that justice requires retaliation), the persecutors are living a lie (acting as though their means are justified by their ends), and those not pursuing justice are living a lie (thinking to pursue it is pointless, or that current injustices are deserved). The shaken, by contrast, are gifted with affinity to reality; puncturing the delusions of unreality, even though they may differ greatly from each other. The shaken do not claim their shakenness is complete, but are alert to the ongoing nature of shakenness, as cultural lies, prejudices, clichés and ‘thought-gone-stale’, including within religious traditions, are exposed and overcome. The Bible testifies to God’s mission to foster the solidarity of the shaken – but this is not always obvious. It must be discerned because Scripture also testifies to human efforts to impede and obstruct this renewal of creation. As Shanks sees it, the solidarity of the shaken cannot exist in itself – it is too demanding, too unattainable – but must be hosted by communities which have other loyalties.


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So religious communities are often defined more obviously by loyalties to family, class, ethnicity, nation, or like-mindedness, or by common addictions to the harm we do (to the Earth, to those whom we exploit, to our own human dignity), but even so, religious communities retain the potential for a more disturbing but ultimately godly solidarity – the solidarity of those who differ in so many ways, but share that sense of being shaken out of all manner of half-truths which do damage to our solidarity.

not consistently throughout it), must be self-critical, constantly attending to its tendency to collude with the closed-down-ness of prevailing realities. It must dare itself to face the pain of reality, in solidarity with all who are in pain. For Rieger, it is about starting with the question, ‘what hurts?’ – That is the primary entry-point into reality.

These two dynamics interweave with one another: the movement towards the coming kingdom, or the solidarity of the shaken, and the persistence and power of empire working against such a movement. Shanks explains it in terms of the inner ‘civil war’ which exists within both human nature and human sociality: for, on the one hand, as much as we strive to attend to reality as it is, and thus to be shaken open in common empathy with experiences which differ greatly from one another, on the other hand, we also strive to edit and distort reality, in accordance with interpretations which tell us what is manageable or inevitable, but also justify prevalent injustices. The problem, or ‘original sin’, which stands opposed to the solidarity of the shaken, is ‘Unatonement’ (Shanks 2011): for we live in a state of being ‘un-atoned’, or not-at-one-with-reality, being conditioned instead to edit it, manage it, manipulate it, massage it, in order to live with it more easily, more conveniently, more submissively, more rigidly. Unatonement, which infects our individual human nature, also exists outside of us, in social systems which relish the fact that we find reality-in-all-its-fullness too hard to bear. Unatonement exploits our reluctance to face up to the awkwardness of diversity, the haunting agony of the cries, the exclusion of the multitudes, the goodness of God’s image in ‘the Other’. Unatonement generates in us a religious devotion to false gods, projections of our deepest prejudices, who are at liberty to justify poverty, oppression, violence and exclusion – and who are we to defy such seemingly divine declarations?

We are never fully at-oned. And we need strategies to awaken us, imaginatively and emotionally, with ever-greater intensity, to the problem of our being unatoned. As I would understand it, just this is the core impulse of authentic religion, in all its forms (2011: 48)

The thing is, we are called to be the people of God. True religion, for Shanks, as witnessed in Scripture, is called to unconceal, confront and convert Unatonement. In other words, true religion, revealed in Scripture (but

Also, Shanks argues:

In other words, this propensity is discernible in ‘all’ kinds of authentic religion. Christian Scriptures are not unique in witnessing to it; neither are they unique in their obstruction of it. For religion itself is infected by Unatonement, with tendencies working against the very thing which true religion ought to address. Theology, then, properly understood, is concerned with the promotion of the highest kind of truth – which Shanks calls ‘truth-as-openness’ (Shanks 2014), which is divine truth, or the truth of God’s hospitality to that-which-is-not-like-God: after all, such is God’s grace, being open to relationship with that which is not God. All kinds of religious tradition can find this within themselves, but all kinds are infected by resistance to it, for Unatonement is insidious, cunning, resilient, constantly impressing on us that reality is too demanding and needs to be edited. Furthermore, and getting to the heart of the problem, Shanks writes: ‘I am talking here about religion in its true character as the very purest antithesis to propaganda’ (2011: 48). In other words, whilst Unatonement promotes itself, through seductions which console and pamper us, or through threats which intimidate and quell us, true religion, by contrast, pursues truth-as-openness which is not a brand or a package or a manageable framework for living with difficult reality, but is simply the very openness to reality as it is, evoking empathy within us.

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(Of course, the sheer force of reality does not automatically foster empathy within everyone; in fact, many react unempathetically, and those who experience deep oppression cannot be expected to ‘open up’ – but Shanks‘ insights are mostly addressed to the Gang (the powers-that-be) which enjoys, exploits and exacerbates our closed-ness. He is also suggesting that there are problematic consequences flowing from any closed-ness – but to demand openness from anyone would work against the goals of empathy and hospitality, because the whole idea is to be open to perspectives which differ from and disturb one’s own, while especially challenging the unshaken powers-that-be with the experience and agency of the shaken who are suffering.) No wonder, then, the solidarity of the shaken is the most difficult solidarity to foster (2011: 74), because it requires the deepest self-criticism, the most ridiculous openness to religious diversity for its truth-potential and the most demanding political critique of all gang-systems of propaganda. It demands of us a persistently critical engagement with reality, attending to it as it is (rather than as we would like it to be) while simultaneously setting out in the direction of its transformation (rather than accepting its inevitability).

Dishonesty and Domination Unatonement works against this movement in three particular ways, to which I have begun to allude. In each case, it is as though the promotion of truth-as-openness has been tamed by the desire for ‘truth-as-correctness’ (Shanks 2005, 2011, 2014), which is more manageable.

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‘Correctness’, here, means a depiction or grasp of reality which fits with particular assumptions or criteria; so every religion has its truth-as-correctness, the events and interpretations which are seen to define its distinctive narrative, distinguishing it from other narratives – but they are mistakenly assumed to be more important than the higher truth of ‘truth-as-openness’. To an extent, we need ‘correctness’ to organise us into a coherent solidarity, which is why the solidarity of the shaken is much more difficult (shakenness being an awkward basis for commonality). However, in order to be ‘saved’ from our inward-facing tribalisms and un-solidarity, it is ‘truth-as-openness’ which needs to be prioritised... Injustice, which consists in the damage done to the intrinsic worth of some for the aggrandisement of others, is confronted by ‘truth-as-openness’ because it evokes in us attentiveness to the dynamics of injustice, empathy for its victims, and openness to alternative possibilities, so working for reconciliation. But three particular manifestations of Unatonement stand in our way, which Shanks calls ‘dishonesties’ (2005: 11, 45), because they work against the truth or honesty of unedited reality. They are: 1) ‘dishonesty-as-banality’ – that thoughtless, unreflective reluctance to engage with the truth-potential of others, being complacently satisfied that one already has ‘the truth’, so repeating and concretising familiar clichés, prejudices and habits; 2) ‘dishonesty-as-manipulation’, arguably driving the others – what ‘the Gang’ does, those with power who seduce and threaten us into submission, so we accept reality as presented to us for the preservation of vested interests; and 3) ‘dishonesty-as-disowning’ – how a tradition or an individual tells itself an edited version of its own story, disowning the morally compromising elements in order to feel more innocent and righteous.


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If the first dishonesty is not interested in the otherness of others, so is not really interested in what other religions have to say, the second dishonesty is interested, both in other religious traditions and a whole range of experiences, but only insofar as it can manipulate them and lead its human herd to follow a particular line. The third dishonesty is not about external others, but how we deal with our own story, cutting ourselves off from certain features of reality which make us feel uncomfortable. In all cases, the demands of truth-as-openness are tamed by the attraction of Unatonement, luring us to accept an impoverished but more convenient version of reality. So it is within Scripture, too, and in our engagement with it, that we allow the butterfly to be tamed or the hurricane to be subdued. We look instead for a Word which will confirm our prevailing prison-walls, terms and conditions, or which we cope with by telling ourselves that it can be boiled down to a simple narrative: for example, liberals might see it as the story of living optimistically with difference and injustice, editing out the awkward denials of that story, while emphasising that humans are capable of progressing onwards and upwards; whereas conservatives might see it as the age-old story of fallenness and redemption; but neither addresses the civil war blazing within Scripture, or the struggle between Unatonement and atonement, or why it is that we find ourselves entrenched in our tribes. Neither addresses the more deep-rooted antagonism towards ‘reality’, preferring their own edited accounts and privileging voices which confirm their own kinds of self-righteousness. Scripture instead compels us to face up to That Which Closes Us To The Other: the sheer force of Unatonement within us and around us. To help identify this, Shanks draws on Augustine’s analogy of the two cities: the earthly is defined by the libido dominandi, the will to dominate, whereas the heavenly is defined by the love of God. In other words, we are closed to each other because of this unatoned state of mind – this structure within us and within which we live, which is marked by domination, distorting all human relations. It prevents us from living empathetically towards those who differ from us. It makes us unreceptive and prone to propaganda. By contrast, if we can dare to let God’s love shake us, exposing us to reality in all its pain while knowing that we in all our diversity, awkwardness and intransigence are loved and liberated, then relationships and structures can be transfigured. Such ‘opening up’ cannot be achieved by human effort, but by the grace of the butterfly and force of the hurricane, to which Scripture testifies, even as it simultaneously suffers under the hand of Unatonement itself.

Scripture and Reality: Ephphatha! Reading Scripture is, therefore, about this quest for ‘reality’. I am not professing to ‘know’ reality; rather I am identifying that it is our ‘unknowing’ with which the God of Scripture is confronting us. It is an unknowing which inflicts us in three ways (here, re-sequenced) – first, there is the wilful unknowing, the conscious turning aside from reality, or the concealing of reality from others, because it is both more convenient for us, and serves the interests of those with power, to present ourselves – or be presented – with reality as edited or manipulated (Shanks’s ‘dishonesty-as-manipulation’); secondly, there is the lazy unknowing, the indifference, the unconscious resignation to reality as it seems, without due regard for the truth-potential of those who see things differently (Shanks’s ‘dishonesty-as-banality’); and thirdly, there is the self-delusion that we are attuned to reality, having puffed ourselves up and denied the various ways in which we have suppressed awkward aspects of it – a problem particularly evident in religious traditions, but also any movement which purports to be ‘closer’ to the truth (Shanks’ ‘dishonesty-as-disowning’).

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Jesus the Shaken One: Ephphatha! Elsewhere I have written about Jesus as the Shaken One (2010). The point is that he embodies this spirit or ‘pathos’ of shakenness, living a life demonstrating empathetic openness or receptivity to all sorts of people, in all their awkwardness, pain and potential. He reveals to us God’s truth-as-openness, by not being the one who feels compelled to initiate every encounter, but by receiving from others – those within his own tradition who have been ‘disowned’, those beyond his tradition whose truth-potential has been overlooked due to dishonesty-as-banality, and those invisible to respectable society as the victims of religiopolitical ‘manipulation’. That is to say, through encounters with people who had no right to approach him, or whose existence he should have ignored, he shows himself to be shamefully but truly ‘shaken open’. So when he declares ‘ephphatha!’, he speaks continually to himself too: for shakenness does not end, not even for Jesus, but through resurrection may be ongoing. After all, if crucifixion was an attempt to close him down, to silence him, to suppress his ‘opening up’ of reality, what else is resurrection but the defiant and deviant reawakening of the spirit of openness; and why should that shakenness have ended, even on that first Resurrection Day? For Jesus the Christ in every age and every place, in and through relationships with all sorts of others, both known and unknown, represents for us what it is to be shaken out of every culture’s clichés and prejudices, in order to transform any libido dominandi into the love of God, so the process goes on. While the canon of Scripture is closed, the process of shakenness is not. So, under the guidance of the butterfly-hurricane-Spirit, whose chaos-theory disorders our systems of exclusion and domination, we continually attend to the voices which have not yet been heard, including those voices which are not obvious or vocal within Scripture. For there is ‘yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s Word’. So - Ephphatha! Be opened! Be shaken open, shaken out of the lies of the empire, in solidarity with all others who are being shaken open, even in all their inconvenient diversity.

Bibliography Adams, G. (2010) Christ and the Other: In dialogue with Hick and Newbigin, Farnham: Ashgate Hodgson, P.C. (1992) Winds of the Spirit: A constructive, Christian theology, London: SCM Rieger, J., and Kwok, PL (2012) Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude, Plymouth: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Rieger, J. (2007) Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, Minneapolis: Fortress Press Shanks, A. (2000) God and Modernity: a new and better way to do theology, London and New York: Routledge Shanks, A. (2001) What is Truth? Towards a Theological Poetics, London and New York: Routledge Shanks, A. (2005) Faith in Honesty: The Essential Nature of Theology, Aldershot: Ashgate Shanks, A. (2011) Hegel and Religious Faith: Divided Brain, Atoning Spirit, London and New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark Shanks, A. (2014) A Neo-Hegelian Theology: The God of Greatest Hospitality, Farnham: Ashgate Shanks, A. (2015) Hegel versus ‘Inter-Faith Dialogue’: A General Theory of True Xenophilia

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Who will take the lead in combating

racism in the Netherlands? by Bianca Gallant, Protestantse Kerk in Nederland (PKN)

Who is Black Pete? About 3 weeks before December 5, the Dutch St. Nicholas holiday, Netherlanders gather for parades in which the saint (in Dutch, Sinterklaas) arrives in town to hand out candy and gifts. In Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas has a “helper” named zwarte Piet, or “Black Pete,” who usually appears as a blackface character with large gold earrings and exaggerated lips. In the weeks leading up to the saint’s name day, cities and towns host parades featuring hundreds of white people dressed as Pete. Stores stock up with Black Pete costumes, merchandise, and baked goods while adults visit children’s homes and schools dressed as Sinterklaas and Pete.

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he Sinterklaas holiday that was originally a traditional children's party has grown into a thug between supporters and opponents of Black Pete. Heavy fireworks, smashed windows, smashed car windows; dozens of supporters of Black Pete attacked a building in The Hague/ the Netherlands on Friday 9 November evening where action group Kick Out Black Pete held a meeting where they tried to have a peaceful gathering to inform people and mobilise them for the peaceful protests against the Dutch blackface tradition. The police prevented the attackers from coming in and arrested five of them, including a 13-year-old boy, for violence and arson. In recent years, the actions between supporters and opponents of Piet have become increasingly violent. Nowadays there are hooligans who sought confrontation in several cities and this was an even more violent action against anti-Black Pete activists. Anti-racism activists see Black Pete as a prime example of how racism and traces of slavery are present in the ordinary traditions of Dutch culture today. In recent years people of colour have started speaking out, detailing how often they’ve been compared to Black Pete, jokingly or otherwise, and how offensive that is. Meanwhile, self-proclaimed pro-Black Pete activists have said that getting rid of Black Pete, or changing him, would be tantamount to selling out Dutch national identity. These statements provide a high degree of polarisation in Dutch society. Expressions of racism and discrimination are the order of the day and the Dutch government and other authorities do not dare to take a stand against this form of what is described as white supremacy. The Dutch government must take more lead in combating racism. That is the message of the UN Rapporteur on Racism and Xenophobia, Tendayi Achiume. She visited the Netherlands and explained her findings at a press conference in The Hague.

Piet’s version with soot. Photo by Felipe Martinez

As a UN reporter, the Zambian is the successor to Verene Shepherd, who strongly criticised the figure of Zwarte Piet in a report in 2015. According to the news reporter, the Netherlands has since taken important steps in this area.

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For example, she praises the decision not to use black soot at the national Sinterklaas entry this year, but only soot wipes. "The most important thing is that there is a dialogue now," said the UN reporter. At the same time, Tendayi Achiume believes that the national government should take more responsibility in the Pete issue, especially because it concerns events that are subsidised. With that she meant the position of Prime Minister Rutte, who has repeatedly said that he leaves the change of Zwarte Piet to society. Fortunately, despite all the frustrations, there is a growing awareness that a tradition that causes a lot of pain (in this case explicitly for black people) cannot prevail. More and more people are joining the notion that the time of Black Pete is over and that it is time for an inclusive society. However, this is not easy because both the government and the church do not dare to speak out about this event and especially the consequences that lead to division and discrimination. As I wrote in an opinion piece in the Dutch daily newspaper, it is the time for the churches to make themselves heard on this subject. In the play I indicated that the church must rise as Gideonsbende (Book of Judges 7) and take the lead where others remain silent.

Arrival of Sint Nicolaas in Amsterdam, Zwarte Piet is being painted in 1945. (Photo by Theo van Haren Noman/Anefo)

This is because this debate not only polarises society, but also lives among Christians. The debate should not only be left to the activists or politicians, whose approach Christians may not always feel comfortable with. Churches can be signposts when dealing with current questions in a sensible way. The church can help to analyse which issues are hidden under the Piet discussion. It is often about discrimination and racism, feelings of powerlessness and feeling unheard. As a church, we must realise that the group in question is mostly Dutch people of Surinamese, Antillean or African descent and many are also Christians. Historically we are family: this group consists of descendants of the missionary commitment of Western Christians. Working on unity and reconciliation within the Christian family is our duty, even when it comes to Zwarte Piet. After all, if one member of the body suffers, all members suffer with it. Listening to each other openly and having a conversation is an important first step. The legacies of slavery programme of the Council for World Mission (CWM) indicates that the effect of slavery is still very tangible, confirms the roots of this evil and also provides guidance where the Protestantse Kerk in Nederland (PKN) will hopefully implement.

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It’s the depth of Christ’s love that counts

Reclaiming the inconvenient truths of Christmas by Hadje C. Sadje, Belgium

A

s seen in 2017, the Christmas day has been considered the 2nd (out of twenty holidays) most celebrated annual holiday in many parts of the world (Worlderslist 2017). Although the practice of the Christmas tradition varies from country to country, the meaning has been changing over the years. In most Western nations, however, it has become a secular holiday rather than a religious observation (Cvtanic 2011). It is commonly viewed that the Christmas holiday is a great occasion to enjoy the company of your loved ones (Miller 2017). In fact, food, alcohol, gift-giving, traditional colorful decorations, Santa Claus with reindeer and his sleigh is the highlight every year. In consequence, the religious tone of Christmas became less and less important. Some people see Christmas celebrations differently. For instance, many critics observed that the Christmas holiday turned out to be the symptom of materialism and mass consumption societies (Katona 1964; Batinga et al 2017). A former Catholic nun Karen Armstrong lamented and writes (2005): It is deeply ironic that Christmas is now celebrated with an orgy of spending and overeating, because the nativity is a story of deprivation. There is no room for the holy family in the inn; in Matthew's gospel, Jesus becomes a refugee. The gospels would look askance at the modern festival of consumerism. Jesus constantly tells would-be disciples to give everything they have to the poor. In Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, he tells them to give up their jobs and live like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field; they must not amass perishable riches on earth, but lay up treasure for themselves in heaven. These horrific scenes are reality for many people nowadays. Due to its endorsement of materialistic values, they regarded the Christmas celebration as morally problematic. For example, George Monbiot explained, in many cases, why materialism is so destructive. Monbiot writes (2013), “...it is a system that eats us from the inside out.” It does not matter who you are, whether you are black, white rich, poor....the virus of materialism is no respecter of persons. Despite the fact that both rich and poor are enjoying it, materialism is socially destructive and self-destructive (Monbiot). It leads to objectifying the self (feeling of alienation) and others (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997; Can 2013). In fact, as Monbiot describes, people’s obsession with materialism is associated with depression, anxiety, and broken relationships. Also, he adds, it destroys communities, society, and ecosystems (2013).

Jesus stood up against the religious authorities as they were the oppressors of that time. During the 2nd topical session on “Youth & Racism” in a Pluralistic Society, the issue racism was explored in detail. Racism is the belief that there are human groups with particular (usually physical) characteristics that make them superior or inferior to others. Manifesting itself in overt and covered from the extent of racism may not always be obvious but it nevertheless occurs all over the world. Racist behaviour can be not just overt, such as treating some people according to their race or colour, but also covert, when society systematically treats groups according to some form of discriminating judgement. The 3rd topical session on “Youth & Suicide” was presented with a lot of statistical information. It explored the reason why young people committed to suicide nowadays. There are many reasons of suicide such as: Depression, Drug addiction, Unemployment, Discrimination. According to the Bible suicide is a great sin. As a Christian we should never committed suicide.

Dome and balconies of Galeries Lafayette store, lady section, in boulevard Haussmann, Paris, with Christmas decorations. (Photo by Benh Lieu Song)

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Similarly, some Christian groups decry that the Christmas celebration has lost its real meaning. Accordingly, Christians argue, the subversive meaning of the nativity of Jesus on Christmas has been taken hostage by materialism, consumption, and secularism (Young 1990; Francis 2018). Often people focus on the material gifts so much that people miss the fact that people should celebrate the arrival of Jesus as a new Moses for a new exodus (Clarke 2017). Like Moses, the nativity of Jesus came to be identified as a new birth of liberator of the poor and oppressed. Several scholars argue that the nativity of Jesus is a political, subversive event, rather than just a theological or spiritual event. For instance, according to Mark Wegener (2017), this can be seen on the following three canticles of the gospel of Luke chapter 1 and 2: (a) the song of Mary also known as the Magnificat (1: 46-55); (b) the prophecy of Zechariah (1: 67-79); (c) the prophecy of Simeon (2: 29-32). The first canticle, it is striking that Magnificat challenged the powerful rulers and exalted the lower-classes. Simply put, Wegener argues, it reverses the roles of the poor and the wealthy. The second canticle implied the national aspirations and anticipates another Exodus-like event. Hence, the prophecy of Zechariah is not just a spiritual aspiration, it is also referred to stimulate transformative socio-political aspirations. Lastly, the third canticle, according to Wegener, the anticipation of the “Lord’s Christ”---a royal and therefore a political title. More broadly, the third canticle gives poetic predictions of a new political era that will subvert the sway of the old regimes (Wegener 2017). In short, it is a call to action to change the world ---

Christians against greed 30A protest at Forbes Global CEO Conference 30 August 2005. (Photo by David Macdonald)

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peaceful, just, and inclusive global order. Reading and reflecting on these texts, people would realise that they have lost the real meaning of Christmas. Or, once people understand the historical events that took place on a secularised version of Christmas, people will see it as nothing less than the betrayal of the Christ salvific history in favour of the false gods of consumerism and materialism. As Christmas is approaching, this is a timely reminder to people of the two inconvenient messages of Christmas. Primarily, the Christmas celebration is about “self-giving”. And lastly, the Christmas celebration is good news to the poor and oppressed. First, the Christmas day is not about “all by yourself”, it is about self-giving. The observations of Thomas à Kempis, a German-Dutch medieval Christian scholar, are fresh and still relevant today. He writes: Jesus has now many lovers of His Heavenly Kingdom, but few bearers of His Cross. He has many desirous of His consolation, but few of His tribulation. He finds plenty of companions of His table, but few of His abstinence. All wish to rejoice with Christ, but few wish to bear anything for His sake. Many follow Jesus as far as the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of His Passion. Many reverence His miracles, but few follow the ignominy of His Cross. Many love Jesus as long as things go well with them. Many praise and bless Him as long as they receive certain consolations from Him. But if Jesus were to hide His face from them, or forsake them for a little while, then they would begin to murmur, or grow depressed (The Imitation of Christ 2007: 47-48).

Unfortunately, even today, selfishness haunts many Christians. In a society where materialism and consumption are encouraged, many felt even more uneasy to talk about a self-giving that leads to the common good. For example, the Western liberal culture of today no longer thinks of a common good but rather is a “me generation”, my feelings, my private good, and what I need. These are the generations that are sucked into this culture of narcissism. The people must learn that the secret of happiness is serving others and giving without expecting anything in return. Apart from the call for self-giving, Christmas celebration is a proclamation of freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed (Luke 4: 16-22). Christian scholars have been observing that capitalism/corporation devoured Christmas celebration, and George Wolfe (2019) reminded the people of the real message of the Christmas. Wolfe writes: The Christmas message therefore, is not for the Wall Street billionaires and department store owners. It’s not for powerful politicians or military leaders. Rather, Christmas is for the working poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, and the teenage single mom who chose to keep her baby and is struggling to finish school so she can support her child. Christmas is for the disabled veteran suffering from PTSD. It offers hope for prostitutes, alcoholics and drug addicts who are desperately trying to survive and turn their lives around (2019).

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For some reason, Christmas became a sad season for the poor (Cheever1949). As far as the global capitalist is concerned, it has become common to hear that the more money you have, the more there is reason to celebrate Christmas. Eventually, it became the ethos of Christmas celebrations around the world. As Charles Taylor (1991) argues that this is not merely negative and narcissistic, but rather contains the potential for a new kind of personal ethics. It becomes the new normal. If this pathological narcissistic culture continues, it misleads people from the salvific event of Christ’s birth. How, then, do people go forward from here, and how do people cope with the immense challenges of the materialistic-consumption culture and its discontents? Perhaps, those who consider themselves Christians should reclaim and retell these two inconvenient messages of the Christmas celebration. It should be retold out from the global capitalistic-narcissistic-materialistic-consumerist-ex ploitative framework --- economy of exchange. This distorted version of “Christmas” should be taken seriously. It is meant to be a counterculture that does not co-opt by the neoliberal ideology. This would make the Christmas celebration more meaningful every day, especially for the poor and oppressed.

A typhoon survivor decorates a Christmas tree amid the rubble of destroyed houses in Tacloban, Philippines, Dec. 17. Typhoon Haiyan reduced almost everything in its path to rubble when it swept ashore in the central Philippines Nov. 8, killing more than 6,000 people, and displacing more than 4 million. (CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters)

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Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has a population of around 51 million people, with more than 135 ethnic groups in the country. However, one group, the Muslim Rohingya, are not recognised as an ethnic nationality of Myanmar, and suffer from arguably the worst discrimination and human rights abuses. The Rohingya have been systematically driven out by the Myanmar government, leading to the fastest growing humanitarian crisis in recent years. Newsnight and BBC Our World's joint investigation reveals the extent of the appalling treatment of the minority Rohingya Muslim community.

People and Land: Decolonising Theologies The third book of the series “Theology in the age of Empire” is ready now, thanks to Jione Havea for editing and all the contributors. Empires rise and expand by taking lands and resources and by enslaving the bodies and minds of people. Even in this modern era, the territories, geographies, and peoples of a number of lands continue to be divided, occupied, harvested, and marketed. The legacy of slavery and the scapegoating of people persists in many lands, and religious institutions have been co-opted to own land, to gather people, to define proper behaviour, to mete out salvation, and to be silent. The contributors to People and Land, writing from under the shadows of various empires—from and in between Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Oceania—refuse to be silent. They give voice to multiple causes: to assess and transform the usual business of theology and hermeneutics; to expose and challenge the logics and delusions of coloniality; to tally and demand restitution of stolen, commodified and capitalised lands; to account for the capitalising (touristy) and forced movements of people; and to scripturalise the undeniable ecological crises and our responsibilities to the whole life system (watershed). This book is a protest against the claims of political and religious empires over land, people, earth, minds, and the future.

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https://bit.ly/38C2GN0 The treatment of HIV has significantly advanced over the past three decades -why hasn't our perception of people with the disease advanced along with it? After being diagnosed with HIV, Arik Hartmann chose to live transparently, being open about his status, in an effort to educate people. In this candid, personal talk, he shares what it's like to live with HIV -- and calls on us to dismiss our misconceptions about the disease https://bit.ly/348apio

Girls as young as seven - forced into prostitution: some locked in tiny cages for months on end to stop them running away. This is the awful reality in Mumbai - one of Asia's biggest red light districts. https://bit.ly/2qx5lWP


TAKE A LOOK

The award-winning documentary, The Cove, exposes the hideous truth of the dolphin capture trade practices in Taiji, Japan. Activists and filmmakers bring to light the horrible and cruel treatment of the dolphins during the traditional annual event which turns the sea water in the cove a sickening colour of dark crimson red after the merciless massacre of thousands upon thousands of dolphins.

Scientists in Cambridge are devising radical solutions that could possibly help in repairing the Earth’s climate. From refreezing the poles to methods in capturing, storing and converting CO2 gas as synthetic fuels for transportation – they hope that such efforts would prove reversible to the damage that has already been done to the Earth. https://bbc.in/2rdE5g9

https://bit.ly/2NPVPpF

Well into the 21st century, the world has bought into the ill effects of globalisation and mass consumerism. But as we are conditioned fervently to want more than our needs, does such mass and needless acquisitions of useless mass-produced landfilling and polluting goods truly fulfil our hearts desire? The highly rated Swede documentary, Surplus: Terrorised Into Being Consumers, juxtaposes moving imageries connoting life experiences of people around the globe of myriad of cultures in piecing together their side of the story. https://bit.ly/2qldr4k In the Pacific, huge colonies of Laysan albatrosses are dying in epidemic proportions due to the ingesting of plastics. This is a worrying sign of widespread plastic pollution that has contaminated our seas as 90 percent of the dead birds were found to have plastics in their stomachs. Follow this journey of Chris Jordan, in a film which took 8 years to make, to a remote island which is home to these graceful birds for a visually stunning story turned tragedy of how the Albatross has fallen victim to our relationship with plastic.

The film follows Marjane, 6 years of age, growing up in Iran during the turbulent time of the Islamic Revolution. Persepolis is an adaption to film from a the bestselling graphic novel of the same name, viewers are set upon an episode of uprising and war through the perspectives of a child’s mind and how she manages her experiences while she navigated her way through life. https://bit.ly/34CzouT

https://bit.ly/2NceIUo

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SEEN & HEARD


SEEN & HEARD

Good news from heaven the angels bring; Glad tidings to the earth they sing; To us this day a child is given; To crown us with the joy of heaven. - Martin Luther December 2019 | 75


SEEN & HEARD

Save Tuvalu, save the world” is the relentless cry of the Tuvaluan people. They believe that if the international community will make good on their public pronouncements about climate justice, then they must make Tuvalu a practical and positive case study in climate change mitigation, such as land reclamation, coastal protection and sustainable living for the people of Tuvalu. Whilst “Save Tuvalu, save the world” is the song of the Tuvaluan people, they are not sitting, waiting for the international community to heed their call. Indeed, there are signs everywhere of robust interventions by the government and people of Tuvalu to protect the coastlines, reclaim land and bolster the hope and confidence of their people.

When we talk about Empire, we are not talking about an issue that is isolated within a region or country. It’s actually a worldwide issue faced by different communities and cultures. I feel we should first learn its context from each other – to fully understand what situation others are facing, and use this knowledge to empower and equip ourselves. - Ljavakaw Tjaljimaraw Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT)

- Rev Dr Collin Cowan, General Secretary Council for World Mission

We must stand against those who would say that Christians have been persecuted by Muslims on the most holy day of the liturgical year. This is the rhetoric of death that many far-right groups and political parties in historically Christian-majority countries tell; it is the story of great powers that have hidden agendas. But, we are an Easter people; our story is holy; our story is of resurrection, recreating new life, the breaking of barriers, of allowing our Muslim sisters and brothers to cry with us at the wasting of every and any life. - Jude Lal Fernando Irish School of Economics, Trinity College Dublin

We don’t defeat empire by being empire, because empire is seductively expert at co-opting. And yes, when we, as churches, do engage with the mighty industries which already plan to continue selling us extinction and climate catastrophe, we need to do so with the spiritual and moral authority we have as churches, rather than as pathetically insignificant shareholders. And we need to be honest about our own hypocrisy and imperfection: we fly, drive, drop plastic, and all the rest of it. The distance of repentance we ourselves have to travel should not be allowed to silence us. Because if we waited to put our own house completely in order, there would be no voice to speak that truth. That we, as “people of unclean lips”, can nonetheless engage with people of unclean lips, is hopeful and wonderful. - Rev David Coleman Greenock West URC

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SEEN & HEARD

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

The peasant workers represent our fallen humanity; fallen and pressed down by the hardships of their lives; fallen by back breaking work they do six days a week, 12 hours a day. They are fallen not because of petty sins and their inability to live up to the elite’s standards of decency and education. They are fallen because of modern day task masters and pharaohs who disobey and violate their dignity as human labourers; companies and owners who does not follow even the bare minimum standard of what the law requires. …They are fallen and driven away from the abundance of ‘paradise’ not because of an angel or a flaming sword, but because of a middle class and elite society that blames them for their poverty. They are fallen and cursed with the chains of death not because of God, but because of business owners whose only god is money, and whose only lord are themselves. - Pastor Joseph San Jose Manila, Philippines

Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home. - G.K. Chesterton

Politicians compete for the highest offices. Business tycoons scramble for a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. Armies march and scientists study and philosophers philosophise and preachers preach and labourers sweat. But in that silent baby, lying in that humble manger, there pulses more potential power and wisdom and grace and aliveness than all the rest of us can imagine. - Brian D. McLaren

Although it never shies away from just how awful human experience can be, the real Christmas story invites us to see that even in the most awful circumstances, something is coming to birth which will change everything. God shows what is possible by taking the worst we can imagine or experience, and in a Bethlehem stable God demonstrates grace and mercy will not be defeated. - Russell Barr Moderator of the Church of Scotland

The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity--hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory--because at the Father's will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross. - J.I. Packer

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Your Say


YOUR SAY

VOICES FOR TODAY

HOPE FOR TOMORROW by Cloudia Baroi, Church of Bangladesh (COB)

Being a participant of the CWM 2019 Asia Youth Initiatives was almost a dream come true to me. It was a great opportunity to us for building up a good relationship and share our thoughts among the youths of East Asian & South Asian member churches. It was a great platform to share our church’s activities with others. All the participants of the program were very friendly and the authority there was also cordial. We had attended three Bible study classes. The topics of the three Bible studies were “Modern Slavery”, “Racism”, “Artificial Intelligence”. Those topics were presented with a lot of practical examples & briefed from a religious point of view. It helped us for better understanding. We learnt about how true healing in church & community can take place in the light of the problems & issues in today’s world. We learnt a lot from those Bible studies. Few of them are written in the below. Slavery is the commodification of people for the purpose of exploitation & financial gain, which is very common in Cambodia, Uzbekistan & Indonesia. Powerless peoples are dominated by powerful people. Statistics show that every year, a huge number of people is trapped by powerful peoples and they are compelled to do hard labour. According to the Bible, modern slavery is a great sin. In our country child slavery is a commonly seen in towns. We have taken some steps to influence the youth for minimising the slavery in our society and our country. 2 Samuel 12:1-14 exhorts us to set them free from Bullies. There is very good news in Psalm 9:9 - The lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

Duke Biswas and Cloudia Baroi (COB) presenting a traditional song

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YOUR SAY

Lalnehemi Lalsim, Mattibashisha Kharbithai and Pyndapborlang Mawlong (PCI) giving a presentation during the cultural evening

Racism is a manifestation of superiority of one race over another. Racism is a social cancer. It stands against God’s will. In the Bible, we are not to name anything impure or unclean that God has made clean. We don’t have any right to call any person unclean. This is especially since Jesus has broken down the barrier, destroying the wall separating insiders & outsiders. In the third Bible study class, we learnt about Artificial intelligence with a religious point of view. The key words of this bible study where that we are the image of God. In Genesis 2:27; So, God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. The 1st topical session was on “Youth and Empire” and was enriched with a lot of groupwork practical activities. Those were very helpful for better understanding. A lot of examples were also included such as culture of monkey & mask culture. Nowadays empires can be political, economic, financial, military, cultural & religious. The Bible taught us to resist empire in a non- violent manner. Historically, Jesus died because of political and religious persecution.

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Jesus stood up against the religious authorities as they were the oppressors of that time. During the 2nd topical session on “Youth & Racism” in a Pluralistic Society, the issue racism was explored in detail. Racism is the belief that there are human groups with particular (usually physical) characteristics that make them superior or inferior to others. Manifesting itself in overt and covered from the extent of racism may not always be obvious but it nevertheless occurs all over the world. Racist behaviour can be not just overt, such as treating some people according to their race or colour, but also covert, when society systematically treats groups according to some form of discriminating judgement. The 3rd topical session on “Youth & Suicide” was presented with a lot of statistical information. It explored the reason why young people committed to suicide nowadays. There are many reasons of suicide such as: Depression, Drug addiction, Unemployment, Discrimination. According to the Bible suicide is a great sin. As a Christian we should never committed suicide.


YOUR SAY

The 4th topical session was on “Youth & the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. The key words of the session were the 4th Industrial Revolution, Artificial Intelligence, Human Dignity Reasoning, Creativity, Public Nature of Knowledge. The session was very interesting. The challenge in the era of the fourth Industrial Revolution may put humanity into crisis, but it may be an opportunity to submit Christian education in our country and the world to be a better level. All over the programme was enriched with a lot of new learning things. I think personally, the programme has helped me a lot to enriched myself for a better future and to do something better for Church and society. After returning to my country from the Asia Youth Initiatives 2019, I shared my knowledge which I’ve acquired with the youth members of my church. I’ve already provided them a short summary report of the activities for them to learn about the programme. The youths of COB would usually arrange a Bible study once or twice a month. From Asia Youth Initiatives 2019, which I have learnt from, we will then discuss those Bible study topics with the youth of COB in our Bible classes. It will be very helpful for us to develop our ability in the development of our church. Our country is a small country with a large population. So, we face a lot of problems such as financial problems and religious conflicts. We generally organised trainings, workshops, meetings for increasing the awareness of people under a low budget. The rate of suicide is sharply increasing in Bangladesh. So, the topic Youth and Suicide would be a better topic for our next seminar. It would be very helpful to create awareness among the people. We would generally organise interfaith programmes which is one of the best ways to break the religious barrier.

All the participants of the AYI gathered for a photo after one of the thematic sessions

The topic Youth and Empire will be used to help us to organise more effective interfaith programmes. I think those seminars, meetings, workshops will be very helpful to form solidarity, co-activity among ourselves, to help each other to be a partaker of the new creation and we will be able to do something better for COB (Church of Bangladesh).

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YOUR SAY

ARISING AND SHINING AS ONE by Romeo Lai, Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC)

Peter Council Cruchley, Mission Secretary of Mission Development at CWM I am glad to have represented my church, the HongbyKong of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC), as one of the participants in the Council for World Mission’s 2019 Asia Youth Initiatives. It was a fulfilling conference, which enlarged our horizon by offering opportunities to interact with brothers and sisters from East and South Asia, providing uplifting and thought-provoking worship sessions led by youth delegates from different churches, and attending Sunday Service at a local church and participating in an immersion programme at the Immigration Detention Centre for a local experience. CWM provided us with enriching programmes for exploring both common challenges faced by young people and contextual issues in Thailand. On behalf of our church and other delegates, I would like to express our thankfulness.

To begin with, the CWM 2019 Asia Youth Initiatives provided Delegates from PCM and GPM posing for a photo after the cultural evening well-organised and well-presented thematic sessions related to the four main youth topics of Empire and youth, Racism and youth, Youth and the 4IR, and Suicide and youth. These four topics are some of the main concerns in many Asian countries today. We understand that we, as youths, are not yet influential enough to shake the national order. However, we learnt from the workshops about the real situation and how we as tomorrow’s future leaders can do so much more. We have to contribute more and hope for the future, not just in observing but in making changes. The workshops not only provided us with factual situations and guiding for the future, as the discussion with brothers and sisters from different regions also gave us the platform to think and see beyond our own vision. By sharing needs and concerns, we were able to learn from each other, share suggestions on how to make changes, and pray together for a brighter future. The world of our God was divided into countries; yet we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, shall not be separated by boundaries. Instead of thinking individually, thinking collectively as one in solidarity is the concept I learnt from this programme. The CWM 2019 Asia Youth Initiatives not only included talks and workshops to discuss about the issues, but also provided us with immersion trips to experience the local context we were in. On Sunday 11 August, we went to Christ Church Bangkok for the international Communion Service. We felt very comfortable and warm by their overwhelming reception and hospitality. We met foreigners and locals in the church, and I had the opportunity to interact with some of them during the lunch fellowship, receiving their warm blessing and prayer. The homelike feeling was so overwhelming even though it was the first time we met. Worshipping God is always a great thing, as distance and new environments do not separate God’s children. In Jesus, we are all one.

Rev. Daniel Ng (GPM) conducting an interactive bible study

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YOUR SAY

Besides the visit to Christ Church Bangkok, CWM also offered a visit to the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Bangkok. As one of the visitors, the experience of entering the IDC is both meaningful and unforgettable. Thailand is one of the popular countries for immigrants, especially for refugees. Although there were a lot of refugees in Thailand, Thailand did not provide them with citizenship or long-stay permits. Many of the refugees ended up staying beyond the permit and became unauthorised immigrants. Those immigrants, once caught, would be sent to the IDC. Because of the large number of refugees entering Thailand from the surrounding region, the IDC has more refugees than they can handle. According to what I saw and was told by the concerned staff, more than a hundred refugees were kept in a single cell. Only their basic survival needs would be met, and living standards were generally very low. Additionally, family members were usually separated, being placed in different cells or centres. CWM provided us an opportunity to visit the refugees kept inside. We brought them food, care, and the opportunity to reuniting families. In the visiting area, it was hard to find the person I was visiting, since two hundred people were in the same room, shouting across the two barriers separating both sides. The experience was heart-breaking. I have always heard news of refugees on the television or on the internet, but it felt distant. This visit reminded me how close they were; I might be far from these refugees, but there are always people in need close by to me. To spot them and offer our help, is what we should do. The bible reminds us, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward." (Matthew 10:42) CWM also organised and facilitated a workshop conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), talking about the refugee camps in Thailand. The number of participants allowed to visit the IDC was very limited, hence the International Rescue Committee workshop offering a brief introduction to the refugee situation in Thailand, and how they were settled and live in refugee camps. The workshop was eye-opening, as we learnt how the IRC taught them craftsmanship and provided them an online selling platform for self-sustenance. Even basic financial skills were taught and offered along with locked safes for saving money. Such help is truly practical. The workshop not only showed us how the refugees were coping, but also IRC’s means of offering support. The CWM 2019 Asia Youth Initiatives was overall a very rewarding experience. I wish to convey our appreciation to the CWM staff for their well-planned hospitality. We felt that love and care between brothers and sisters were overwhelming in your receiving us, especially in the quick, last-minute arrangement of plane tickets and hotel after hearing the news about the Hong Kong airport shutting down. The warm and caring atmosphere was one of the greatest reasons we found the programme so enjoyable and rewarding.

June 2019 | 83 8 December


YOUR SAY

LIVING AND SHARING THE LOVE

OF GOD IN THE COMMUNITY

AS CWM MISSIONARY By Dr. Razafindramary Parfaite Rakotondramasy, former CWM missionary

not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such “ Do sacrifices are pleasing to God.

- Hebrew 13:16 (New Revised Standard Version)

Besides preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a missionary or partner in mission (PIM) interacts socially with the people with whom they live and not to remain as a doctor or a teacher only. Anyway we were told by CWM that the best way to do God’s mission is to give and receive. I gave most in dentistry, but in the community I took part wherever I could, so in the following I am going to share about that point. In the Solomon Islands working with the United Church in Solomon Islands (UCSI), my family and I stayed on an island where the school in which my husband taught. There, I got involved with the United Church Women’s Fellowship (UCWF) and I even led the Girl Guides of the school.

Dr. Parfaite teaching the guides to make basket.

Girl Guides: Let us start with the Girl Guides. One of my predecessors from UK founded the movement but when she left, it somehow became neglected. So knowing that I used to be a scout in my home country, she encouraged me to revive it. I asked two or three local women to second me in the task since handling people need one’s ability to understand them and their culture. We had Bible studies through role play which the girls enjoyed and helped them to grasp the Bible passages. We went camping outside the school compound on different occasions. I taught them songs even some Malagasy ones. They used to learn handicrafts with me and with the other helpers such as crocheting, making baskets, and working on macramé and embroidery. They used those skills for fundraising. I noticed that the guides were more serious than those who are not in the movement and they were trustworthy. In return for those gifts, I could relate thoroughly with the people, I could feel the body language of the islanders such as the head nod which you will miss if you do not look at them while you talk with them. I cannot express enough my joy when I see them having confidence in leading church services and in different school activities. UCWF: As a missionary, I thought it was appropriate to join the Women’s Fellowship (UCWF) in the church, since we served the United Church in Solomon Islands. At the beginning, I did not speak the English pidgin (a smattering of English mixed with some local words) they used to communicate between them but in the group, I learned little by little this means of communication.

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YOUR SAY For your information, the Solomon Islands have several vernaculars and pidgin is the means of communication between the people from different tribes. Speaking that language, I could get thoroughly in my relationship with them and it helped me too in my job as a Dentist. My presence in their group made them proud. We used to have weekly meetings where we prayed together, fellowship together, doing some activities together such as baking cake, barbecuing fish. They even came to my house for activities when we could not find a proper meeting place. A woman missionary from England and I initiated them to the” World Day of Prayer” held on the first Friday of March each year all over the world: most of the women from different Christian denominations worship together on the same day under the same theme. In the Solomon Islands, the service continues with sharing meals. Sometimes, we sing together as choir during services.

Dr. Parfaite barbecuing fish with a Solomon Islander.

Dr. Parfaite leading the choir on Kiritimati Island.

Church Choir: Once we moved out of the school island, I got involved in the church choir of the local congregation. We were still in the Solomon Islands, but on a bigger Island close to the Hospital where I worked. We sung in English but mostly in the local language of the place. I could teach a Malagasy hymn, and my son translated a Malagasy hymn into the local language of that area. That last became like an anthem for the choir. Songs are very important means of preaching the Gospel in the Pacific. For my case, I speak but a little of the local language, and I could sing with them. Someone made once the following reflection about me: “If that foreigner is singing with my people in a language she does not understand very well, I too should join the choir”. In Kiribati, on Christmas Island, I joined the church choir in our school too. In that country, Christmas and Easter are celebrated during one week and one afternoon is allocated to choir competition. My group asked me to lead them sometimes. During the sessions when our group is not singing we are seated cross-legged on the ground for hours. Other point: My husband and I visited hospital to encourage the sick, pray with them, and to comfort the discouraged either in the Solomon Islands or on Kiritimati (say Christmas) in Kiribati. Conclusion: People are made to interact with one another, especially in the big Christian family. In God’s mission we do things joyfully in the name of Jesus. I could share and live out my faith with the people out there: I gave them my skills, my knowledge and my love; in return I have gained friendship, some skills, the joy of sharing and growth in my own faith. When Jesus was on earth, He mostly loved to be with people, teaching, healing and encouraging them, to interact with them; He said “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20, NRSV). We, as his disciples we should strive to do the same, and share out our living faith. We thank God for everything. May God bless us all!

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YOUR SAY

FEELING THE PAIN OF MOTHER EARTH By Asiphile Dubula, Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA)

Our mother earth is crying Our mother earth is in pain Our mother earth is in danger Our mother earth is slowly dying Watch out, young person from Africa, we are about to lose our mother We are about to lose a precious gift from God. We are about to lose the identity, the future, the pride and the ambition We are about to lose the happiness, the warmth and the smile. She does not deserve this kind of treatment We suppose to protect and take good care of her Not let the vultures to toxify, violate and choke She gave birth to us, she fed us and gave us home. She used to be beautiful Attractive and gorgeous She used to be fertile Bright and warm She is dying slowly by slowly Those who are involved have no guilty conscience It doesn’t affect them. We are the victims Do right, do not let our mother’s blood to be on your hands It seems like our elders are not willing to stand up To stand up fighting advocating for her justice To stand up fighting for her freedom To stand up to fight for her rights We want to see her smile The tears of happiness back We want to see the next day We are young, we want to see her alive It’s our future lets fight for it It’s our gift lets appreciate it It’s our duty let’s do it. It’s our journey lets walk it Let’s fight for the liberation of our mother Earth.

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YOUR SAY

THE VOICE OF

CREATION By Bawi Bik Thawng Tha, Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM)

I am the Earth that God dwells I am the Earth that God belongs to I am the Earth that can feel and cry I am the Earth that capitalists exploit I am the Earth that is limited I am the Earth that cannot be changed I am the Earth that can be taken care Oh, human beings, stop your greed I am the Forest that gives life for human beings I am the Forest that has life I am the Forest that can feel and cry I am the Forest that some ancient people worshipped I am the Forest that was valued by ancient people I am the Forest that capitalists exploit I am the Forest that is being destroyed by capitalists Oh, human beings, think about for new generations I am the Land that groans for human’s action I am the Land that gives life I am the Land that all people can rely on I am the Land that can feel and cry I am the Land that brings source of life I am the Land that cannot move I am the Land that can be taken care Oh, human beings, stop your greed. I am the Island that lives alone I am the Island that can be lived on by few people I am the Island that can disappeared I am the Island that can be fertile and stop fertilizing Oh, human beings, think about the future for Islanders

June 2019 | 87 8 December


YOUR SAY

FORSAKING EDEN By The Elephant in the Room, South East Asia

7

I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. Jeremiah 2:7(NIV)

Our Living Planet Our green, blue and white marble swirl of a planet as seen from the heavens above is a great testimony of God’s love for all its creations - big, small, meek, strong, animated or inanimate. It is the labourious result from a love so great and unconditional, that we inherited a home that was so meticulously put together with nothing but a future of blissful certainty guaranteed to us, provided that we do not err in that one singular action in which we were warned about from the very start. But humans are not infallible and are inclined to sin somehow, somewhere, sometime and somewhat. And we toyed with our fate by disregarding the ultimatum set by God. And with that, we are outcasted forever, but were still given redeemable opportunities time and again, only to squander them away in a heartbeat - After the Israelites were delivered from slavery by Moses, they worshipped the Golden Calf; the increased of wickedness, violence and corruption in which God had called on a flood to wipe out all living creatures; and when God sent Jesus to die on the cross to wash us of our sins. But we have never taken heed to the generosity of the benevolence, only to have taken advantage of all the chances provided to us through our sinful ways. Now, the world we live in is in peril through the careless actions of humankind. We have plundered on whatever resources we could lay our hands on, by stripping land barren of lush green foliage, tainting our precious life source of once pristine water supply, contaminating the very air we breathe with fumes, soot and carbon dioxide, mass producing goods that requires exhaustive amounts of natural resources, genetically modifying livestock and rearing them in incredible masses in which their meat are often over supplied, wasted and discarded into landfills, and the list goes on. All the misuse of resources and creating of wastes which pollutes the air, water and land has resulted in the many aspects of global warming and climate change which are detrimental to the entire planet. Our actions are not inadvertent as we are constantly educated about the ills of mass consumption but yet, we react with inaction. As intelligent and emotional beings who are much more aware of our surroundings and environments, is it so difficult to understand and come to terms that the earth is our one and only home and to have it destroyed would cost everyone and everything their lives on the planet? To be in the face of such an imminent reality, wouldn’t the human species be naturally be kicked into self-preservation mode by making drastic changes to the on and long going mistakes that have caused so much damage to the world?

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YOUR SAY

“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”1 - Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home) What is the world coming to in the name of profit, greed and narcissism? Change – an act or process through which something becomes different. Climate Change is an issue which affects everyone and everything. It does not discriminate against species, race, gender, religion, social standing, wealth and status, living or dead. If immediate efforts are not demonstrated now, the world will soon witness the repercussions of the irreversible damage caused by humankind when resolve comes too late. Environmental and Climate scientists are already reeling over the facts presented by data2 gathered through tons of research that Climate Change is an issue and the ill effects have already started to take a huge toil on our planet, and if we are to carry on living obliviously, opulently, carelessly with indifference and abandon, our generations to follow will very certainly face the ugly brunt of our gross lack of actions when the opportunity was presented to us – one last time. Change. Everyone fears the uncertainties that comes with change. People are not sure what it entails, would it be for the good, or for the worse? But whatever it may be, the only logical inevitable course of action would be to face it for all it’s worth and to adapt and embrace the challenges ahead. However, what happens when some people are averse to change, that they are so comfortable where they are at, that they are not susceptible and defiant against the idea of being subjected to even the slightest deviancy to what they are familiar with? What happens when such individuals happen to be people who controls the economy, or hold important positions in the governments, or decides whether what goes on our plates and determines our lifestyles despite being detrimental to our one and only precious planet? There are many reasons why the world is failing and that our climate is devastatingly affected due to them. Besides pollution issues, the buy-and-throw-away attitudes of the affluent and minor percentage of the population – which is also the cause of the divide and inequality between the rich and poor; corrupt governments that are driven by economical excellence by exploiting on the earth’s natural resources; increased spike in the world’s population which is getting unsustainable in the areas of food production, drinkable water sources, clean breathable air, and community space which means encroaching to areas which would eradicate species of wild life and other creatures within that ecosystem and so forth. Change Makers In 2018, we got to see and hear the emergence of a new face and voice in climate change activism – Greta Thunberg. At 16 years old, the Swedish teenager has expressed more passion towards the problems we are facing in regards to climate change with more conviction and determination than her peers the world over.

December 2019 | 89


YOUR SAY

Her stern warnings of distressing facts and pleas are presented to leaders of the world in the hope that immediate efforts would be made to encourage the change that is required. And leading by example, she has even taken on a lifestyle that is conscious to the environment and has ensured that the people around her would do the same. Although in the eyes of the grown-ups, she is just a child, but that has not deterred her from getting her message out to the masses. In normal circumstances, it is easy to dismiss what a child has to say as the complacency of how age and knowledge are aligned and achieved as we grow – hence the grown-ups would know better. But the thing is, the issue addressed is not an easy pill to swallow because even though we are all victims to it, we are also the culprits. And when a child has to make that stand to get the adults to listen, demonstrates that the situation is indeed beyond dire and she is now so concerned about her own future on this earth that she could not be silent any longer regardless what the adults have to say. And unfortunately, the adults had plenty to say, detractors mostly where opinions are generated from the powerful, greedy, rich few that couldn’t bear see a child meddle with their state and empire. And they have every reason to feel threatened by the teenager simply because the truth hurts and it is going to take away everything they’ve worked for, the corrupted systems they’ve believed in and familiar with. When Greta walked the talk by travelling across the Atlantic in a yacht, a low carbon emission form of transport rather than taking flights which emits harmful greenhouse gases; Arron Banks a British businessman with political dealings made a vile “joke” that freak yachting accidents do happen – appear to imply at wishing harm on the young lass. Some downplayed on her statements by suggesting that she has mental disorders, or how her parents are instigative factors at manipulating her for fame, fortune or whatever personal agendas they are harbouring. Even a journalist has suggested that the FutureforFridays demonstrators behaved like cult members. But the people who are targeting Greta below the belt are the very people who are afraid of the positive change required to save the planet. This low blow bullying is also indicative that they are very concerned that if people were to listen to Greta, change would come and this is something they are dreading for it to happen. And why is that? Because these are people who have built their empire on the capitalist industrial structure which demands for others to consume beyond their means, as they raid the world for commons to produce goods to feed the insatiable consumer appetites of the modern population, leaving in their wake, tons upon tons of unrecyclable wastes that are harmful to our very environments. These incredibly wealthy group of people only makes up of the smallest percentage of the world’s population and yet, they are incredibly powerful and are already controlling our lives in ways the general population wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Think of how large corporations are able to steer the consumers in making purchasing decision through trends and popularity. How the expansive variety of options laid out to us are actually contained and owned by a few companies. The general population are already slaves to the consumeristic lifestyles as we buy into the empty promises and facades of retail therapy, where at the end, we may have filled our lives with our wants but are still left feeling empty and unfulfilled inside. So, which is more important at the end of the day? To have a natural habitat to call home or a home filled with emptiness and decay? Are we going to step up now that our young have done so before us? Time is of the essence, we have already done so much damage, it is only right to end our mistakes with the required corrective actions.

90 | INSiGHT


YOUR SAY

With this, I would like to end with a poem in gist of this article, expressing simply the notions on the issue. At a time where Eden and Earth are one and the same, where majestic waterfalls flow like luscious manes The green grass grows tall like green velvety blades, exotic animals frolicking in the ponds where they wade The sunlight illuminates crystal dew drops come dawn, while mothers tend to their young – kid, cub and fawn The air is crisp, clear, pure and sweet, of morning freshness as the moon sleeps The orchestra of the wild fills the air with life, as husband Adam was shown Eve his wife The two were blessed with a perfect life together, able to withstand the tribulations of any weather Through thick and thin they shall endure, as flawless as they were made it was ensured But the slithery serpent had something else in mind, a diabolical plan to overthrow man through his wife A game of seduction it hatched and crafted, of the one thing in paradise that’s left to be coveted Surely a tree bearing fruits is meant to be tasted, for it is planted to sustain and not to be wasted The gullibility of innocence is no match for the snake, as man was made guilty when the first bite was made And out of Garden Eden we were thrown, the home we sullied when greed was shown But eons have past and the world has changed, continents were pulled apart and rearranged From Egypt where slaves were bound but delivered, to a major flood where the guilty were severed And then by God’s grace Jesus died for our sins, the Redeemer redeems but the sinners continued to sin Man is greed personified who knows no boundaries, a world destroyed based on the plethora of fallacies Has our fate been sealed, determined by our actions? Can we still turn back judging from the current reactions? If the importance of our lives is to be adorned by materials, misfortune of the Earth we’d be for being such wastrels The time is now for change to be made, better or worse, too soon to be said But we need to be hopeful as our young burns bright, high time for the old and wicked to retire into the night. ~ TEITR aka alkabnd, 2019

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http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/05/climate-crisis-11000-scientists-warn-of-untold-suffering

December 2019 | 91


Christmas isn’t Christmas,

till it happens in your heart.”



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