Monday, December 19, 2011

Thanksgiving in the Midst of Suffering

A Meditation on 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 preached in Cagayan de Oro.

Today we are gathered here as family and friends to celebrate Christmas, the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and also to offer our thanksgiving and praise for the goodness of the Lord in our lives especially in the lives of Tita Phoebe and Tito Rod. Our scripture text this morning is a letter from Paul to the Corinthians and it begins with words of thanksgiving and praise. In the New International Version, it says in verse 3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We often see the opening letters of Paul with words of thanks and praise to God. But in this letter, we see after the words of thanks are words like suffering and affliction. It is often very difficult to see praise and thanksgiving with suffering and pain put in the same sentence. But such is the letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Paul was at that time was suffering, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually like most of us today. We are troubled with physical illnesses, some of us may be having problems – in work, in our relationships, some emotionally – we are depressed, sad and even angry.

I. There is suffering because of brokenness

The first thing that we should consider in this letter is the recognition of Paul about the reality of suffering and affliction in our lives. When I was a student Pastor in the US, I was tasked to reply to a letter from a youth church member. She had bone cancer in the age of 17. And her letter basically asked the question why? I would like to read an excerpt and the message of my reply to her.

Letter: Dear Rachel,

… God loves you. And all of us do. You have every right to ask questions about your illness. Why you? And why at such a young age? But I am afraid I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that we live in a broken world, where accidents, problems and diseases exist. But all these do not prevent God from loving you…

The letter reminds us about the reality that we live in a broken world. In a world where accidents happen, tragedies occur and suffering is present. The flash flood that killed several hundred people and destroyed millions in properties is the result of our sinful stewardship and brokenness.

II. God comforts us in our suffering

Paul reminds us that God is the father of all mercies and the God of all comfort. The Greek word for comfort is “paraclesis.” This is the root word of the word “paraclete.” Remember in John 14:16, Jesus said that I will pray to the Father that he will send you a Paraclete, that will be with you forever.” That is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is with us forever, to bring us comfort especially when we need it.

But aside from the Holy Spirit, God also embraces us with his comfort and love in our times of suffering through other people. In verse 4, Paul tells us that God comforst us in all our afflictions that we may comfort others who are also afflicted. God uses other people to comfort us.

Example: one of the ministry of the church is the ministry of presence. There is a Stephen ministry – whose ministry is to be present whenever people are in need. Mother Teresa once said when asked, why do you do what you do? She replied, “we are the body of Christ – we must be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in this world.” We must be the hands and feet of Jesus to provide care and comfort especially those who are abandoned

What kind of comfort do we receive?

III. Comfort that gives us hope/endure suffering

Too often, when we are experiencing difficulties in our lives, we want comfort. But the comfort that we want is to be spared from the pain we might experience. That is almost human nature. Even Jesus, in his humanness prayed when he knew that he was going to suffer and die that his cup be taken from him. But that is looking at the cup half-empty. That is being pessimistic. Too often, our pain blinds us to see the brighter side. But the bright side is too difficult to see especially in troubled times. But that is where we see hope. My professor once said that hope is hope when there is nothing left. It’s like being locked and trapped inside a room with no chance to go out. When it becomes impossible to get out of the room, when nothing is possible… there is hope. Such is the comfort we receive from God. Comforts that help us endure the challenges and gives us hope to continue fighting.

This comfort gives us hope, hope that helps us endure suffering. Endurance is very important as it allows us to withstand any challenge regardless if it

Example is a runner of marathon and sprint. A sprinter can run the 100m dash but may never complete a marathon. The difference is that the sprinter can run fast and finish the race in a few seconds but may never cross the finish line in a marathon. Only the marathon runner has the endurance to finish several kilometres of running in the shortest time possible. That is our comfort from God, a comfort that gives us endurance to face suffering.

IV. God’s comfort to us makes us a blessing to others

Even in the challenges that we face, even in our sufferings and pain we are still called to be a blessing to others. We are not to be self-centered.

Sometimes, our difficulties narrow our vision to look only into ourselves. This self-centeredness even leads us to the point of self-pity. But self-pity leads us to. In fact, the situation we are in gives us the opportunity to receive the comfort of God. The comfort of God in the midst of our suffering calls for us to be a blessing to others. In verse 6, Paul reminds us that “if we are comforted, it is for your comfort.”

The good news my dear brothers and sisters, is that even in our suffering God is our paraclete, God is our comfort. That is reason enough to give thanks and praise to God.

As Christians, we are not exempted from suffering and pain. But in our suffering we receive God’s comfort and become channels of blessing and comfort. The challenge for us this morning, have we become blessings to others because of the comfort we received in our sufferings and pain? In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Edited...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sinmbang Gabi

A Sermon on the Gospel of Mark 5:25-34 preached in Davao City, Cathedral United Methodist Church.

A Future with Hope is Coming

By Neki Soriano, MD

It is nice to be back here in Central UMC. It is always nice to be back here in Davao City. I always have to wait for one year before I can have a reason to come back home. Waiting for that one year is almost forever. But I always anticipate this moment. I always wait for this one moment in time when I can be together with my family and friends. Despite waiting for one year, I am always hopeful that this time will come and it will be a joyful occasion Advent is like that. We anticipate – we wait for the coming of the king, we wait to see our Lord and Master and be in his presence and we hope that when that time comes it will be a wonderful event. We wait and hope for the best. This is the same hopeful waiting that the woman in our Gospel text experienced.

We read about a woman who has been bleeding for a long time. She is bleeding. “Dinudugo siya!” Eh di may regla. That is common among women. So it should be nothing unusual for her. But this is not menstruation. This is not a usual problem for her. But she had been bleeding for years. Hindi naman sinabi kung saan ang pagdurugo niya. And so the doctor in me naturally thought that this was a case of Abnormal Uterine Bleeding. Most probably this was cancer and it was probably at the end stage. But the woman is not just suffering from cancer. She was suffering more than that. During those times, bleeding was a sign of uncleanliness. So the bleeding woman is reckoned to be unclean. And she knows it. People think it too. The woman who is bleeding is unclean, and unclean people should be shunned away by the society, rejected, and discriminated. People look at her in an indifferent way. More than the physical pain she was suffering, she could be hurting inside her heart. People hate her. People don’t like her. And people say all the bad things about her behind her back.

I remembered one friend of mine from college who became very sick. He was very thin, he was weak and he was sickly. For almost two years, he goes in and out in the hospital for treatment of different kind of infections. He was bisexual but he was a decent man and he continued to go to work in one of the offices here in Davao despite being sickly. But two months ago, he became very ill. He was immunocompromised and people are having opinions on why he was immunocompromised. His officemates began to distance themselves from him. People did not want to associate with him. Even his family wanted him out of their house. So he went to Manila to seek help and he was admitted in one of the hospitals there. He eventually died of complications of a rare form of pneumonia. This was the same treatment that this woman was experiencing. She was being rejected.

And so what the bleeding woman did was do everything possible in her human effort to find a solution to her problem. She did it her own way. So she consulted every doctor she knew. The gospel text said that she spent all her money and properties just so she can cure her illness. But obviously it did not treat the problem. In fact her condition worsened.

I was trying to imagine and understand her situation. I thought she could be like my friend who wanted to be rich. He was a proud man. He wanted to do things on his own. So he borrowed some money from his father to start his own internet business. He had a sister who was a business degree and wanted to help him in his business. But he thought he can do it on his own. His sister got upset and so was their parents that their family relationship suffered. Aside from that, my friend did not also want his wife to be working nor be involved in any of his business. His wife was so hurt to not trust her in matters that affect their family that she left him. In short, he was his own boss. Because his argument was that, he was a lucky man and with his luck and his own efforts he can succed. He can do everything on his own. Because he was self-centered his business did not click. He is now bankrupt, his family is angry at him and his wife left him. He lost everything all because he put his trust in the wrong places. Just like the woman in our story.

So for twelve years, she has been miserable. This is a common human response. Whenever we are faced with a problem, we immediately try to find a solution – on our own efforts. We try to spend all our efforts and resources in finding a solution. But we never ever ask for God’s help. We are too proud for that. We think we can do it on our own.

In the hospital, many people go to the doctors to seek help. The doctors are very willing to help them of course. The patient goes to the doctor and they say, “gawin nyo po ang lahat ng makakaya ninyo para pagalinging ako.” Gawin nyo lahat ng makakaya ninyo – lahat ng makakaya ng doctor. Of course, the arrogant doctor will say, I will do all that I can. But that is just human effort. The doctor will do everything he can but that will just be human effort. But a greater healing will happen if God is at work. But we all know that medicine, the doctors, the nurses are nothing but God’s instrument of healing. They are not the ones who will treat the disease. It is God who does the work. And so the doctors were not able to cure her. And for twelve long years, she suffered.

I want you to experience her suffering, her suffering for twelve long years. She did not only suffer physical discomfort, she also suffered mental anguish and emotional pain, does she have family? Where are they? If she had a family, they must have abandoned her because she was unclean – she is sinful. A woman who is already suffering physically gets more insult to he injury by being rejected by her family and the society giving her psychoemotional pain.

And it did not last for one day, not even one week, it was more than a month, matatapos din yan… it was more than a year, imagine a chile growing a year older… but the pain and anguish is still there… for twelve years… graduate na ng elementary and highschool yung bata… you are still being rejected and discriminated. Ganun katagal. This is her condition. This is the moment when she was desperate to find any means to end her suffering. And then she heard about Jesus.

Jesus was coming to town. And so she thought. This Jesus is known to make miracles happen. In a desperate move, she thinks that this Jesus can help her. So she said, I will go and touch his garment. Because even touching it will heal me. She had so much faith that Jesus can heal her. She was full of hope that finally, she will be cured from all her diseases.

This is our hope this advent season – we will be made whole when Jesus comes. And Jesus is coming. Jesus is our hope. Hope is coming. Our future is with Hope.

The good news my dear brothers and sisters is Jesus is coming to town. Yes, Jesus is coming to town, that is the meaning of Advent. When he comes, we can touch him and we will be made whole again.

Sometimes we may be like the crowd who are near Jesus, they may be even rubbing elbows with him, but we need to touch him and through faith receive his power to be made whole again. We need to touch him, attach with him, join him and be with him that we may be made whole. To touch Jesus means to be like him. To be attach with Jesus is to be Christ-like in everything aspect of our life. To join Jesus and be with him is to walk in Christian perfection. The challenge for us this advent season, are we touching Jesus? Are we walking toward Christ-likeness? Are we moving towards Christian perfection in what we think, say and do? Jesus is coming to town and like the woman, let us have the desire to touch and attach with Jesus – to walk in Christ-likeness towards wholeness and Christian perfection. When Jesus comes, when Hope is here, it will be a joyful and glorious occasion. In the name of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mary and Elizabeth

Lectionary: Luke 1:26-38

What does it mean to read a story of a virgin woman and a barren woman in the same thread?

Both women are, medically speaking, unable to become pregnant because of biological reasons. But as God always humors us with his miracles - it happened beyond human comprehension.

I was reflecting what a virgin woman was thinking when she was told that she is pregnant. Again, I thought, what did a barren lady thought when she was told that she too is pregnant. Probably they reacted the same way - disbelief with a little annoyance that to this seemingly irresponsible joke. But if it were to be true, since it was an Angel who was cracking this joke to them, how can this become reasonable?

This is what most of the readers would probably jump into after reading the story. All our reasonable mind would like to do is find a logical explanation to this phenomena. Our suspicious minds digs into our scientific side to find an answer to our question. How can a virgin, a barren woman become pregnant?

Maybe.. Thus begins our formulation of a hypothesis how things happen. Maybe the virgin woman was implanted in vitro. The barren woman was artificially inseminated. Or maybe, the easiest way out is to think that the virgin was not a virgin and the barren was not a barren. That is almost blasphemy though.

Why do we even have to ask how? Cannot our human mind accept the what is incomprehensible? How about our heart? Can we not believe that what is impossible with humans is possible with God?

Being trained in the scientific ways and thinking is not an excuse for us to prevent God from being God. I still see everyday miracles happen and I know God is at work. This Christmas, when I see a very selfish and arrogant co-worker voluntarily bringing in some new toys to donate to street children, I know that the God of Mary and Elizabeth is working another miracle.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

How do you prepare for Baptism, really?


How do you prepare for a baptism? If the fanfare is a measure of preparation for how big and important an event is, then the baptism I witnessed this morning is not even a sideshow. This morning, an infant baptism took place during the worship service. Thank goodness that the baptism was done within the worship service. It was also good to have the Holy Communion and Baptism, the only two sacraments in UMC, done in one worship service. In that respect, nothing could be said further about the theological appropriateness of celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism.

But the preparation for the baptism of the child was lacking. I doubt the amount of effort the Pastor and the parents gave in preparation of this baptism. A three day notice and the manner it was done today are telling of the people's understanding of baptism. The amount of preparation one gives to an event equates to the importance of that event to the person. For example, the "big day" for almost all ladies is their wedding day. The preparation for such event takes several months if not years. Even before the girl meets his perfect "prince charming", she already has planned in her imaginative mind her dream wedding. The big event for ladies calls for a thorough check of the location, designing the color coded gowns, sending out the invitations with RSVPs, practicing the vows and other speeches and making sure that the minutest detail of the event is not left to chance. Because the big event happens is supposed to happen only once in a lifetime, it should be perfect. I hope we can say the same way with how we prepare with baptisms.

Baptisms only happen once in our life. To be sure, the amount of celebration and preparation is not a measure of the grace we receive from God. But the importance we give to an outward even of an inward grace is a mark of how well we understand and give meaning to the sacraments we celebrate. A diamond is nothing but a sparkling stone to someone who does not understand its value. As Christians and United Methodist, let us responsibly learn what is important in our faith and beliefs so we can prepare for it. Just like this Advent season, when we prepare for something that is very important to us. We know preparation helps us to be ready for a special event. Let us teach one another to prepare properly and have a Wesleyan understanding of baptism. For we were all baptized and in our baptism we received the same calling from God.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December and Advent

It is already December and Christmas is just a few days away. Christmas decors have been put up in the offices and homes, the streets are lined with Christmas lanterns, and Christmas songs can be heard playing on radio. But not everyone had their Christmas decors ready. We don't have it in our house, we don't have it in our office. We are too busy to do that. Because we are waiting for the perfect time to do all that.

Today is Advent season. We are now in the second week of waiting. But we even forgot to prepare our Advent candles. Because we have been busy waiting for the perfect moment to make our preparations. Now trhat the Advent time is here, we could not light our own candles. Because we waited but did nothing.

The waiting season of Advent this December is not a passive activity of doing nothing. John Wesley gave serious thought about what waiting for Christ means. He realized waiting involves doing something. Wesley's understanding of actively waiting even put him at odds with his friends. Waiting for the coming of the Messiah is not patiently sitting in the couch and praying something will happen. Waiting demands action. It means taking time to do the work of Christ-reaching out in love to others. It means 'sharing the Gospel, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and healing the sick.' Waiting means getting up from that couch, picking up the lantern and start decorating the Christmas tree.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sino ang Boss mo?

During the Christ the King Sunday, I remembered a sermon I preached in San Jose, Ibajay, Aklan entitled "Sino ang Boss mo?" I am posting here a copy of that sermon with a prayer that it will bless somebody today.

The Gospel Reading is from the Gospel according to St. Matthew Chapter 22:15-22. Our Scripture reading is appropriate this morning as we celebrate Laity Month and Youth Sunday. It challenges us to look and reflect into our lives as Christians who live the everyday of our life in the secular world. The question and challenge from the text for us is, who is your king? "Sino ang boss mo?" The Book of Matthew is full of stories about Jesus as the King. It tells about how the Kingdom of God will come and how God will reign as King.... (edited)

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Patient's Right

I was asked by my senior consultant what I thought about the issue of former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo wanting to seek medical consult abroad but the current government of President Noynoy Aquino denying her request. My quick reply was to agree with retired Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Cruz, that Gloria should be allowed to seek consult abroad with a guarantee that she will come back.

As Bishop Cruz pointed out, to which Department of Justice Secretary De Lima also acceded, every patient has the right to seek medical consult and to choose the doctor she wants.

It is a medical ethical issue whether to allow Gloria Arroyo to exercise her right to seek medical help and to choose where it will come from. (Click here for other ethical issues Young Doctors face). The ethical issue becomes bigger when the denial of such right is measured against the right of the people of the Philippines to justice. Critics want to be sure that Gloria will be present to face charges of electoral fraud in 2004. The justification is that the right of over 90 Million Filipinos is 90 Million times greater than her individual right.

Can the right of a person be greater than another that he/she can trump down another person's right? Doesn't my right ends when your right begins? Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to our Christian virtues? What will happen when people are guided by their virtues in making ethical decisions? Oh, just like heaven...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Where am I now?

I started this blog several years ago now in my struggle to find the intersection of theology and medicine. But I have never truly articulated the problems inherent to this dilemma. This short essay is another attempt to state the issues I continue to struggle with until now. The first issue and probably the biggest one that I had to contend with is the issue of dualism.

The modern thought of the 18th century thinkers have introduced us to the idea of dualism. Even in this so called post-modern era, the influence of modernism cannot be denied with the extent of its effect. Dualism gave birth to the perception of humans into body and soul. This has ultimately given rise to the perspective of medicine to focus into the bodily realm. Consequently, the soul has been the object of focus in theology. Dualism has therefore led to the separation of theology and medicine as distinct fields. Thus, to have a better understanding in the intersection of theology and medicine is to deconstruct a dualist perspective of human nature.

In my daily patient interaction and discussion with colleagues, I often find it difficult to explain myself because the people around me are still influenced by the dualist understanding of humanity. They often get the idea that my advocacy for the inclusion of "Spiritual History" as part of the medical history comes from my being clergy. To be sure, being a clergy may have influenced me but it is our doctrinal understanding of human nature that guides me to see human holistically.

Similarly, I have continuously struggled in explicating the need for the church to address the needs of the people outside it other than the spiritual domain. I have often been questioned why do I insist on the church having a comprehensive health ministry and not just focus in strengthening Bible Studies and Prayer meetings in the church. While it is important to focus in human spirituality, my Wesleyan tradition have taught me that holistic salvation goes beyond matters of the soul.

My struggle in finding the intersection of theology and medicine may have to take a twist. The intersection may never be there, because theology and medicine was never distinct and separate in the first place.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Invest in your Future


This morning we had a non-medical topic for our weekly roundtable discussion. We had a life insurance agent talk about financial independence by investing in the future. She opened her talk by emphasizing that more than 80% of people do not invest in their future and so they end up in financial crisis when they are in their retirement age. The message she wanted to bring across was that people, especially doctors should start planning their future NOW by investing their money in different modes: bonds, equities and others. The future will be better if one starts saving their money now. Make your money work for you instead of you working for money. By accumulating enough possessions, one will leave a happy life by simply spending from the profits of ones possessions. By storing an abundant supply of money, one will have enough to spend in the future. The agent, knowing that I still do not have an insurance policy was persuading me to secure my future by investing in her company. Her logic was sound enough for me...

But I then I remembered the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21. The foolish man built a barn to store up his grains so that he said to himself "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” He had so much surplus of grain that he planned to build a bigger barn to have a more secure and more financial independence future. He got caught up saving so much properties he forgot to invest in his future with God. And so the foolish man died. I remembered the succeeding verses was encouraging. Verse 22-23 said: Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes."

As I wrestled with these thoughts, I remembered John Wesley was attributed to have said " Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can." Hmmm...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's All About Love

A Sermon Preached by Nezer A. Soriano in Fairview Park United Methodist Church on the Occasion of the Laity Month Celebration

Today is laity month and today we look into the calling of the youth – UMYF and the UMYAF to be united and responsive to God’s call. The UMYF and UMYAF are teaching grounds that molds us to be Christ like, as the young adults say... to follow in His steps. And one of the examples that we follow about Jesus is the love that he showed to God and to the world as the messiah we have been waiting for. The Gospel Reading in Matthew 22:35-46 is an appropriate text for us this morning because Matthew has been known as the Gospel of Discipleship. Matthew is full of stories that teach Jesus as the messianic king who will usher in the kingdom of heaven. This Jesus who is the Christ, another word for messiah, calls us to become disciples of the kingdom. To take part in the ushering of the kingdom here on earth. And our calling as disciples, as Jesus has emphasized, is to love God with everything we have. It’s all about love. We respond to that call by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

You are all good Christians, you know the law, and you even know the greatest commandment. I bet this has been your memory verse since you were a kid. “To love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” You know that it means we should love God above all else and we can only show our love to god through our neighbors. And you know that our neighbors include the people that we don’t like. Those are the people we should love if we need to show our love to God. it’s all about love.

But what may surprise you is the fact that when Jesus teaches this to the Pharisees, as the greatest commandment is that it silences them. When he asks them about the nature of the messiah, the Pharisees gets confused that they leave. Maybe the Pharisees don’t love the lord that much. Maybe it was too much for them to see the messiah as God. so they get embarrassed and leave. But we love that part of the story. Jesus outsmarts the Jewish leaders and embarrasses them for their lack of faith.

He was able to answer their tricky question with his own trick question too. I liked the story because Jesus outsmarted the enemy. The enemy who wanted to challenge Jesus if not outright embarrasses him in front of many people. “Da, naisahan sila ni Hesus. Akala nila wala silang katapat. Nasampolan sila ni Hesus kaya hindi na sila bumalik pa para magtanong ulit.” This is the kind of story that we want. Jesus smartly answering their question what is the greatest law, especially for the Jews who are law conscious and very legalistic. I can almost hear Jesus saying, "Don’t you get it? It's all about love." But Jesus outsmarting the Jews is not the point of the story. Again, it is about love. It is not about the law but the essence of the law – and that is to love God above all things and with all things. And to show your love to God you must love your neighbors as yourself. The Pharisees wanted to trick Jesus but Jesus instead makes it a teaching moment for them to remind them that the laws were there to guide them about their calling – to love God and to love their neighbors. Is this too difficult that the Pharisees were silenced? You are all good Christians and you may think this is an easy task. But not really.

We think loving God is easy. Literally, I work in a place that loving God becomes difficult to do. A place where it does not always love God as we often imagine. I work in the hospital where parents bring in a sick child dying of dengue and curse God for making a good and innocent child die. They get so overwhelmed by the death of their child that they can only hate God. I am a family doctor and part of my job is provide counseling for families who are in crisis. Sometimes when I talk to a wife who lost her husband to liver cancer, they tell me they no longer go to church because they hate God. And these people are good Christians, who forgot their calling to love God because of the pain that they experienced. Sometimes the things that make us forget to love God are not the laws and traditions but the other stuff that we put above God.

Part of my advocacy is to introduce the Kingdom of Heaven in the workplace. Our Christianity should not only be during Sundays but everyday of the week. And so to remind my co-workers of their faith, we always open our day with a collective prayer and we have a weekly bible study on Tuesdays. But most often than not, our Bible studies get postponed. We cannot seem to give thirty minutes of our time to devote to God. Something more important comes to up on Tuesday lunch that we have to postpone the Bible study. There is that emergency meeting about the project due next week. There is a visitor coming in who will introduce innovations for the improvement of our services. Of course we are in the hospital, and there is a patient who needs to consult you for his follow-up check up. More important things comes up we have to set aside our time for God. I always ask them, what is more important than God? Are we showing love for God with these kind of actions? Where is the love when it’s all about love?

Love God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul. If there is one thing I learned from the UMYF, it is that we must put “Christ above all.” But do we do what our youth and young adults lay organization tries to teach? We cannot even spare some time to show how important God is in our lives. There is a choir practice on Saturdays, but I have to go overtime to finish my work. There is a fellowship on Wednesday, but I have to do my homework and project for school. Of course these are important stuffs. More important than giving time to God. Yet we claim, as good Christians do, that we love God with all our heart, with all your mind and with all our soul!?

We show our love to God again when we make important decisions in our lives. Do we include God when we decide to enter in a relationship with our dream boy or dream girl? Or maybe our love for God gets clouded again by the fact that he or she is the best man or woman according to my standards. Do we ask God about his plans when we apply for a job abroad? Or when we change our career paths? Do we consult God when we finally decide to settle down? Or the hope of a better future leaves God in the sidelines? Do we bother to ask God when we elect leaders amongst us or decide the course of where our community is going? I hope so. Because that is how we show that we love God with all that we have. Or maybe we get lost again with the good intentions that we have for the common good.

You see, my dear brothers and sisters, we are nothing different from the Pharisees. We try to obey the law with our good intentions but we forget that what is more important is to show our love for God. Or maybe, we do not love God that much at all! We forgot that that is what we are called to do in the first place!

It’s all about love – loving God with all our hearts, with all our soul and all our minds.

Jesus continued by telling us that the second commandment is similar to the first. To love our neighbors as ourselves. The Greek word used to describe the kind of love we have for God is agapao or agape. The same word was used to describe the kind of love we should have for our neighbors. The agape love we have for God is the same kind love that our messiah requires us to show to our neighbors.

Loving our neighbor is easy when our neighbor is lovable. But what if our neighbor is obnoxious? That is the neighbor who throws his trash in front of your gate. The same neighbor who annoys you because he parks his car in front of your house. But what about your officemate? The one who tells chismis about you, which is not chismis because it is in fact true. Or how about your seatmate in church. Yes, even that little child who keeps making unnecessary noise and crawls under the pew that disturbs your concentration in church. Can you love those kind of neighbors? How about the neighbor who used to be a church mate but has now caused division in the church?

The kind of love is not the mushy fuzzy love that we know. The lets all get along together kind of love. It is not an emotional love, erotic love or the filial kind of love. Agape love is the highest kind of love with the best intention for the well being of the other. The same verb was used to describe the love we are required to give God and the love we should give to our neighbors because it is an expression of the same love.

You see, it is next to impossible to love a hateful person. We can only do that if we love God first. It is difficult to love God in concrete ways that is why he gave us neighbors to show our love to god. and the call to love god and our neighbor is a call to action. Remember that love here is used as a verb. It is an action word. Love then requires us to act and not only to feel. We must show our love to God and neighbors in concrete acts. How do we love that annoying neighbor who throws trash? How do show our love to our officemate? How do we show our love to the pesky little child beside us? How do we show our love to our former church mates who have caused division in our church? Christ our king calls us to love them to show our love for God because God’s message is ~ all about love.

But I know how difficult it is to love our neighbor especially if that neighbor has hurt us physically, emotionally and spiritually. How can I concretely and truthfully love that neighbor without holding any grudge within me. Or maybe… just maybe… I don’t love God enough?! Maybe I don’t really love God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind. That is why it is difficult to love my neighbor.

Sometimes we forget it’s all about love. We forget that our calling is to love God and to love our neighbors despite the fact that God has repeatedly reminded us that this is the essence of all the laws and traditions that we observe.

The Bible is all about love – loving God and loving your neighbors. It is almost redundant. God has used the prophets to bring this message across. Israel cannot get it. They thought it was all about the law. God even have to send his only on Jesus to emphasize the obvious – that it’s all about loving God and your fellow. And we hear it in several stories of Jesus like our story this morning. Jesus has to tell this lawyers and scholars over and over again. The important thing is to love God and your neighbor. You know that! I know you know that! You are great Christian Methodists. You were even Christians by birth, if there is such a thing. As a kid you were taught that the first commandment is to love God and God alone. You shall have no other God. and to show that love is to love other people. You know that already. But why does Jesus has to tell us again and again that what we are called to love god through our act of love to our neighbors. Maybe because we got lost in all the complexities of our lives just like the Pharisees. And in our confusion we have failed to respond to what God is calling us. This laity month is a reminder for us of what we are called to do and the response that we have to make.

The good news by dear brothers and sisters, is that despite our shortcomings, despite forgetting to love God with all our hearts, with all our soul and with all our mind, despite the fact that we struggle to love our neighbor, Christ the king does not tire to call us to respond to his call for discipleship. Jesus is still calling us… love the Lord your God with everything you have, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Separation of Church and State

The Gospel Text on Matthew this Sunday in Chapter 25 talks about how Jesus was challenged about the giving of taxes to Caesar or to the temple. This text has often been cited to be the Scriptural basis for the separation of church and state. Such usage is a classic example of a bad exegesis. Since the topic on separation of Church and State has been opened with this text, I choose to discuss this issue to bring home the point of the misunderstanding of the concept of separation of church and state. Again, my foundation for such argument is the same reason why I struggle to integrate theology and medicine.

The dichotomy of things into church and state is based on the premise that church matters should be left to spiritual concerns and that matters of politics or social concern be the realm of the government. With such perspective there should be separation of church and state.

I have always argued that the Church does not exist in a vacuum that it can be indifferent to the reality of the time, place and events that happens around it. The Church cannot pretend that what is happening around it does not and do not affect it. Because the different processes affect and concern the Church, it is just proper for the church to be involved in social concerns.

The misunderstanding to the separation of church and state should be placed in proper perspective. Here in the Philippines, the narrow understanding of Filipinos, especially the ignorant lawmakers, is that the separation of Church and State is the ticket to disregard the voice of the Church. This is especially helpful with the ethical issues of the RH bill among others.

A better and clearer understanding of separation of church and state will help lawmakers, the church and the church people appreciate the significance and importance of one to the other. If the society and the church can only see that they are partners in weaving a good society, then the separation will have a better meaning.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cancelled

When I looked at the schedule for the day. I realized that it will be next to impossible to squeeze in even a 30 minutes Bible Study to the hectic schedule of the day. Sometimes a disease is no longer curable. A battle is going to be lost. One has to be brave to call it and name it.

It's Friday. Next week will have to be a new topic. Bible Study for the week is CANCELLED!

The life of the church is often times like that. Worship service attendance dwindles. Summertime comes and you wonder where people went. One or two shows up the next Sunday. The next thing you know, it's just the pastor and his wife present. I remember one brave pastor who announced and posted in the local daily that his church is dead and everybody is invited to pay their last respect the next Sunday. He then placed a large mirror inside the coffin in front of the altar. As curious members, ex-members, and uzis came to view who was inside the coffin, they saw themselves.

Only after the pastor bravely named the death of the church did the people realize their shortcomings. Sometimes, the difficult has to be named so we can start anew and see a future with Hope.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Postponed


Short of frustrating is the fact that human spirituality always takes a backseat in the priority of activities. In the workplace, it is understandable that work comes first over any personal activity. Work ethics tells us that we should do what we are supposed to do during office hours. Sometimes, when our office hours are not enough to finish our work, we eat our personal hours for office work. This is an example of how we put other matters, work - in this case, over our spirituality. (Yes, spirituality in this case is Christian living.) And so we postpone.

Christians know that we need a regular dose of God's Word to keep us afloat in this chaotic world. More than that, Christians understand that putting God above anything else, yes, even above work, is expected from us. And because we try to thrive in THIS world, we fine ways to adjust. A regular Bible study done once a week, thirty minutes of the 24 hours and just a third of the total lunch break time has been the compromise we have settled to feed our Spiritual needs to keep us going for the rest of the week. But even such small a time gets sacrificed for other "important" things. And so we postpone.

Someone told me that things that are 'somewhat' important but can wait should be postponed in favor of more important matters. I hate to think that a Bible Study getting postponed belongs to such "'somewhat' important matter but can wait" group. But it seems that most Christians see Bible Study that way. I am dismayed, yes. But what is more disheartening is when other eager people to know more about Christ are deprived the opportunity to study the Bible. Of course, we can still proceed with the activity even with just two persons but it deprives the opportunity for the rest who are available only tomorrow to receive God's word. And so we postpone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Typhoon Pedring

The purpose of suspending classes and office work during a storm is to protect the students and workers from the risk of accidents or any untoward incidents caused by forces of nature. This purpose is defeated when the student or worker still has to go to and from the school and the office and be subjected to the dangers of the storm before they are told that school/work is suspended.

The suspension of classes and work is useless when the students and the workers are subjected to the dangers of the storm when what we want is to prevent these accidents from happening. Imagine a worker having to wake up early at dawn to prepare to go to work. Despite the heavy winds and the rain, she bravely goes out of her house to commute to work. Since the streets are already flooded there are no more jeepneys. She has no choice but to wade in the flood in her high heels into the main highway and take the taxi and spend more than her budget for her fare for the day. The taxi she rides almost met an accident because of the slippery roads. She gets in the office on time but only the guard is there. She learns that work will probably be suspended. Of course, work is suspended. She has to go back home now and probably has to walk in a heavier rain pour, waist deep flood water, and spend extra from her hard earned money. She meets another danger when the strong winds brings with her flying roofs and falling tree branches. Thankfully, she gets home safely all soaked in wet. Or so she thinks. For all her effort that day, it will mean nothing and will not be compensated. The next day, all is back to normal. But she is having fever, cough and too weak to go to work. She had to absent from work and because of that will take a cut from her salary. All because she was not advised early that there is no work!

This short work is a product of angst and disappointment of Nezer A. Soriano

Friday, September 16, 2011

Doctor-Doctor Ethics

This essay is a Call for the Practice of Ethics by Nezer A. Soriano.

Ethics has been one of the common venue of discussion between medicine and theology. This is especially true in matters of medical ethics where the doctor and the patient relationship is at stake. But for today, let me focus in one aspect that is often relegated to the sides by most doctors. Relegated? You might ask. YES! Because most doctors throw out their ethics when it comes to doctor-doctor relationships.

Human pride is one of the pitfalls of human nature. But this is not an excuse to disrespect others. That is why a physician is virtuous enough to know what to do and how to foster good relationship with ones colleagues. Yet, young doctors and even their mentors get drunk of their title as doctors that they forget their ethics.

In the Ospital ng Maynila, the doctor-doctor relationship is amiss. I pray that this is the only place that ethics is an issue. But the reality is, even in PGH, Western Visayas MC and SPMC, ethics of doctors towards fellow doctors are problematic. (Often times a referral from a municipal health officer faces the same issue - added). Maybe these hospitals being government run is a factor to the problem. But that issue warrants another article.

At one time, a patient came in with a referral letter from a family physician for the pediatric patient to be admitted because of Dengue. The pediatrician refused the patient to be admitted because she did not see any indication for the patient to be admitted. The pediatrician may be right and she has all the right reasons for refusing the request for admission. What went out of bounds was her remark against the referring doctor. She commented that the referring doctor is ONLY a family physician and his decisions should not be accepted. Here, the pediatrician is obviously insinuating that the other doctor is inferior to her. More than that, she shows disrespect by maligning the knowledge and the decision of her colleague. Hers is one example of utter DISRESPECT that have plagued the medical practice in hospitals. We, as doctors, have forgotten the basic principle in our code of conduct - that we should work together in harmony and mutual respect.

Another example of disharmony in the workplace of doctors is the referral system in government hospitals. (For more ethical issues young doctors encounter, click here). I will emphasize the government hospitals, because these things rarely happen in the private setting. A surgeon refers his diabetic patient to the internist for control of the blood sugar and clearance for surgical procedure. The internist delays seeing the patient, as a retaliatory act to what he claims the surgeon is doing whenever he refers also for surgical clearance of his patients suspected of having surgical abdomen. The patient is the one suffering from such behavior of doctors. The patient, of course, complains his surgeon to the hospital authorities for not being able to refer and resolve his case quickly.

The most common problem perhaps, leading to the numerous malpractice suits, is the side comments doctors make to their colleagues. An example is the Internist who saw a Pulmonary TB patient who sought second opinion after being seen by a private doctor. The Internist comments to the patient, "do not seek consult to this doctor again. Did you know that it took him several years to finish medicine because he flunked his subjects. Look, he did not even recognize that you have tuberculosis. And why did he give you pulmonary medicines that can compromise your liver. That doctor will just make you more sick." Such comments are unwarranted, but in reality, such comments exist. What virtuous doctor in their right mind, would comment such derogatory remark about their colleague?

In the quest to advance the practice of medicine, doctors have forgotten about their virtues and ethics. Ethics has been neglected for a long time. It is now the time to check the virtues of our doctors. A virtuous doctor can never and will never intentionally hurt his/her fellow human being, regardless if he/she is a patient or a colleague. We can never go wrong with a virtuous doctor. I encourage you to push and demand for our doctors to check their ethics, and be virtuous!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Faith and Beauty

Let's talk something different.

Beauty pageants are usually associated with worldly affairs that focuses on the temporal and physical which is the least concern in religious matters. But let us give an exception to this case because it is related to faith issues.

The question and answer portion in the Miss Universe contest asked Ms. Philippines a faith-related question. The judged asked her, "Would you change your religious belief to marry the person that you love?" Without blinking an eye, she answered with conviction that “I would not marry the person I love because the first person I love is my God and the person loves me, he should also love my God."

Without any bias, the answer showed how deeply rooted and firm is the faith of the contestant. I am tempted to say that Filipinos are like that. But maybe we can generalize further and say that Christians should answer similarly. Without even the need of thinking, our love for our God should be above anything else.

I have heard the argument that God does not mind if you belong to this religion or to that. God's love is still the same. Well, if we are talking about the Christian God then I could agree. If we are talking about a Roman Catholic woman falling in love to a Baptist, then religion is not an issue. Remember both belong to the Christian faith although from different denomination. But if we are talking about a Christian woman falling for a Buddhist, its a different story. But then again, ones religious belief forms and informs that person to the kind of God one worships.

And so, why did the answer of Ms Philippines did not help her win the crown? Yes, I would have loved that Ms. Philippines won but there is a more pressing issue for me here. If for the millions of people who thought her answer (putting God above all else including romantic love) was a bad response to the question then it could only mean that millions of people still do not and cannot accept to put God first in their lives. The world is not yet ready for a principled Christian Miss Universe.

If the answer of Ms. Philippines the reason she won "only" 3rd place, it means we - Christians, has a lot more work to do sharing the Gospel and teaching to love God above all!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11

As the world remembers 9/11, the most commonly asked question is, "where were you when you learned about it?"

I remember I was in medical school then. I can still vividly remember that I was in Chowking in Atrium. I was with my friends and we were studying. It was past midnight when my red Nokia cellphone (oh yes, i can still remember the model) beeped. It read something like... "plane hits Twin Towers." I could not remember now who texted me that night. But when I arrived home hours later, I immediately opened my TV and I saw the horror of it all. My heart felt wounded from such nightmare. I remember the next day in class that we spent one whole class just talking about the tragedy that happened. It became closer to us since the sibling of our professor was one of the victims of that tragedy. It became more real as more people shared how their relatives have been victims or were connected to the event and my wounded heart felt more pain.

Over the years, the same thing always come to mind whenever 9/11 comes. The victims... the families of the victims... Those who suffered... The wound is refreshed...

Two years ago, I met someone who was acquainted with one of the suspects. Suspects? Yes, after 9/11 almost any Muslim especially Pakistani are 'suspected' of being terrorists who took part in 9/11. (At least, he said that's how he felt). His brother was one of those suspects brought to US prisons abroad. He asked me, does the world ever think of these suspects? The torture? The families of the suspects? Their anguish?

Oh yes, they are suspects... They deserve to suffer... Do they? Are we not Christians? What makes a Christian? And what should Christians do? Then I remember the Amish Schoolhouse Shootings in Oct 2006 and how the Amish responded...

Now, when 9/11 comes. I do not only remember the victims... I also remember the suspects... Both their families... Those who suffered... Now, healing can happen...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The End of Life

As I end my rotation in hospice and palliative medicine, I struggle to construct a reflection of my experience. I am not even sure of the reasons. I was too engrossed or too detached? Too close or too far? So I will just have to counsel myself...

So what came to my mind when I realized that this was my last day? I thought, I was leaving PGH and going back to my mother hospital.

So what did I feel when I thought of this? I felt relieved because I will no longer be subjected to very stressful situations but at the same time I felt sad because I am going to leave a good place of learning and this will also end a wonderful experience.

Let us probe on the wonderful experience, what were these experiences? I enjoyed the home visits especially going to Madre de Amor in Laguna. I was so thrilled to find out that a community-based organization is doing hospice care to home bound patients. And these are volunteers both from the medical and non-medical field. If only there could be more such foundations around the country. Another experience I enjoyed so much was teaching the students and sharing with other doctors the importance and significance of the psychosocial-spiritual dimension of care. I enjoyed sharing my thoughts and insights about the spiritual aspect and how it greatly helps in health care. The other activities were also fun and exciting. I also have to point out the wonderful experience I had with the people I worked with, especially with my fellow residents and the fellows. I hope this is the start of a long-lasting friendship.

What else? I still have a lot in mind. But this will suffice for now. Maybe next time I could articulate them better.