Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Theology of Grey's: Doctor and Uncle

Chief of Hospital, Dr. Richard, was torn between being an uncle and a doctor. He had a niece, Camille, who had a metastatic ovarian cancer that presents with an esophageal tumor blocking her airway. She can either undergo experimental chemotherapy and have it surgically removed then live a longer but suffer a complicated, painful and difficult life or choose to forego the treatment plan and live a stress-free, painless life for several weeks before she dies. Her family members are begging her to choose experimental chemotherapy and rare surgical operations because their "world is better with her (Camille) around." But Camille wants to go because she is "so so tired," and just want to live a short but happy life then let the natural consequence of life take its course. Adele, Dr. Richard's wife, begs him to convince their neice to choose treatment. And so, Dr. Richard tells Camille... "as your Uncle, I am begging you to take it (the medical option)... even if there's just a slim hope of survival... take that choice... but as your doctor, I will do whatever your decision will be..." She wanted to go home, Dr. Richard sent her home.

Here is the theology of Christian ethics that most people do not understand. In a life and death situation, we want life. But what is life? Is it just breathing 20 cycles per minute and having a heart pump 60 beats per minute? Even though the person is bed-ridden, socially non-functional and kept physiologically viable by a life support? Is that still life? Here is what Christianity teaches us. God became human in Jesus Christ to give life and have it abundantly. Not just to have life... but have it abundantly. When Jesus healed the sick, made the blind see, the lame walk and the dead come back to life... Jesus gave them life again, a life they can live abundantly. When Jesus died on the cross... Jesus gave us life by defeating the power of sin that prevents us to live an abundant life with God. That's life, an abundant life! That's the kind of life that doctors are ethically called to offer in their healing ministry.

Yes, doctors are God's instrument to give us an abundant life. Adele, Dr. Richard's wife, did not understand that "calling" for doctors. She did not know what it means to be a doctor, a doctor that God uses to give life. Adele said to Dr. Richard, "I thought you were a doctor, I thought being a doctor was about saving lives...I'm disappointed with you." What Adele did not realize is that as a doctor, Dr. Richard gave her niece a chance to live an abundant life.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Theology of Grey's Anatomy

I was watching Grey's and it just struck me how the media is feeding all these poor principles in life, if not poor theology. I never criticized a tv series because I usually just watch and enjoy them. Never letting it bother or affect my emotions, perspective in life or things like that. But in reality, and psychological and sociological studies prove, TV series really affect us. So, what are some of these poor principles in life - poor theologies that they offer? This week's episode on Grey was talking about forgiveness. I was agreeing at first with their idea about forgiveness, that if someone commit a mistake then you forgive. She was almost making sense to me when she explained that in life you are going to get hurt and there is only one thing to be done, forgive. Then she concluded in the end that to forgive and forget... the advice we usually get, is good but not practical. Now, I thought about that for a moment and asked when was forgiving a practical matter? Then I realized that for non-Christians they thought it was a choice they had to make. It's either they forgive or not. That's one problematic view media is giving. But for us Christians, we are commanded to forgive. We are told to forgive our brothers and sisters as many times as they did us wrong. That is what is commanded of us, not merely suggested for us to do. It is important to note however, that we can forgive because we never hate the person.

We hate the wrong act committed against us, but never the person. This is an important thing to consider. I realized this when Grey continued in her explanation "When someone hurts us we want to hurt them back. When someone wrongs us, we want to be right." Grey's perspective suggest that we want to exact vengeance to another person and want to hurt them too. Why? Because her non-Christian anthropological understanding of humanity did not separate "action" from the humanity of the person. Of course, the act was done by the person but we must understand why. The wrong done by the person is a product of a sinful state. But all humanity is originally good. If we never separate the wrong act by a person then we will never see the goodness inate in them. We will always see the wrong done to us. And we will never learn to forgive another person.

But Grey redeemed herself by concluding that "without forgiveness, old wounds never heal. Without forgiveness, old scores are never settled. And the most we can hope for is that someday... well be lucky enough to forget." She is right. Without forgiving someone, the hurt is not healed and restored. But here, Grey is suggesting that if we cannot forgive then we could only hope to forget the pain caused to us. She may be right, that we might be able to forget the wrong done to us. But forgetting does not mean that the hurt done is healed, that the pain is eased or that the broken relationship was restored. Forgiveness still needs to be done. Even after years of forgetting, it is only by forgiving that all the hurt and brokenness is healed and restored. It is only by forgiving that we can truly forget.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Book Review: Asian Expressions of Christian Commitment

Asian Expressions of Christian Commitment is an anthology of Asian theologians speaking about their Christian experience. The book is a collection of reflections by theologians who are doing practical theology – Asian theology. The book differs from other anthology on Asian theology for it does not have the big names of Asian theologians, thus offering a fresh insight on how other Asian theologians respond to their Christian commitments. The book tells of different stories based on the particular setting and situation where each theologian focuses his or her work. In all, it presents a collective picture of the Asian expression of their Christian commitments. The book presents the different concerns of Asian theologians. Despite their different themes, the book calls for the recognition of Asian theology as a practical theology.
The Asian Situation:
A critical analysis of the situation in Asia is the first step in doing Asian theology. The first section encapsulates the general situation of Asian countries. Asian countries just recently gained independence from foreign domination, generally from the West, and are striving to rebuild their nation. Yet the West still influences the social and economic structures of most Asian countries. Asian countries have a small percentage of elite and rich while a great number of the general population are poor.
The government structure which Asian countries adopt give power to the elite, while the masses become the minority. Asian countries adopt the consumerism of the West instead of focusing in their labor and agricultural assets. This buried the Asian countries in foreign debts, making the poor poorer and the rich richer.
From this situation, Christianity tries to find a place. This reality is the setting where my vocation as an Asian Christian calls me.
Christian Theology in Asia
Asian theology is a living theology – putting Christian faith in the situation, M.M. Thomas argues. It does not derive theology from a given situation but rather recognizes the presence of Christ in that situation and interprets it in the light of Christianity. This therefore calls for looking deeper into the situation. Since the laity is in the situation, the clergy must listen intently to their stories and articulate it to be able to come up with a living theology. This kind of theology may be partial but one theology could not cover the plentitude of Christ. Despite its different perspective, it is not heresy because it is in dialogue with the catholic and orthodox faith of the Church.
Although this approach of theology, as suggested by M.M. Thomas, is how most contextual theologians perceive Asian theology, I would like to paraphrase his words. I would like to understand that he meant to say that Asian theologians read a particular situation within the story of God’s covenant people, Israel. I believe he meant that the Asian situation is interpreted through the works and life of Christ instead of suggesting to rip Christ and Christianity from their historical significance and putting them in the Asian situation. Instead, we must put the Asian situation in the story of Christ. This for me is Asian theology, as F.J. Balasundaram argued in his essay Counter-signs of the Kingdom in Asia, for the Church to follow the work of the historical Jesus who walked in the midst of society. Asian theology understands the Asian situation within the story of Jesus.
As mentioned earlier, Balasundaram emphasized the importance of following the work of the historical Jesus to fulfill the prophetic mission of the church. The historical Jesus lived in the world denouncing the social structures that oppressed the people and called for living in the ideals of the Kingdom of God. The church must do likewise. The prophetic office of Asian Christianity is to preach the Kingdom of God (not of the church or denomination), work in the society, be the church of the poor and recognize that others are privileged to share in the inheritance of the kingdom.
Asian theology is an action-oriented theology. It understands a God who works amongst the people, and Christians must do likewise. Asian theology is inspired by Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark: “What is better to say to a paralytic? ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’”
Theology is not a personal thing, it is relational thus requires involvement and the community. Theology is acted, not thought. This is done by being involved in transforming the social ills – poverty, oppression, etc. As an aspiring Asian theologian, I am expected to work for this transformation to happen.
The Asian Church
Asian local churches must not be branches of Western churches. Even some Oriental churches are not of today’s Asian church. To be an Asian, the local church is to be a church for the poor. This is an eye opening truth for me. I realized that Western branch Asian churches are rich churches working for the poor, while authentic Asian churches are poor churches working with the poor.
Working amongst the poor puts the church in a political situation. The authority of the church does not come from the Bible or tradition but from the poor people who decides which (church or ideologies) mediated better the liberation of the poor. As Fr. A. Pieres wrote in his essay, “Remove the cross from the steeples and plant it once more in Calvary where the prophetic communities die victims of politics and religion (p.49).” The Asian church must be present in the reality of society.
Fr. A. Pieres suggests that only He who is radically poor is qualified to preach the kingdom and only those who are poor are disposed to receive it. Churches that have entered into Asian religiosity (monks) and Asian poor (peasants) can have authority to be the churches in Asia. Thus, Asian Christianity calls for total identification with the Asian monk and peasants who represent Asian religions and Asian politics.
Although I may not have followed the ascetic lives of the monks and have actually not lived a mendicant lifestyle, I totally agree with Fr. Pieres on the need for Asian theologians to immerse themselves with the Asians. This is why I believe it is important for me to work in the community. As a doctor and pastor, I should not sit and wait for those that need help. I must seek out, reach and live among the common people, to immerse myself with Asians and be in solidarity with them.
Asian Expressions
The book offered different Asian expressions of Christian commitment. It tells of the ways in which Asian theologians express their Christian faith in the context of their particular conditions. How an Indian Christian have to live with the reality of its economic poverty and do practical theology with such reality instead of thinking about the dogmas and doctrines is also presented in the book. It tells of the Korean Christians who have been oppressed for many years by tyrants and colonizers and now seek liberty from Minjung theology. It presents an expression of Filipino Christians who see in the poor people, who makes the biggest portion of the population, an eschatological promise of God’s kingdom. It gives a perspective of Christian Southeast Asian living in a Buddhist country that by loving, forgiving and understanding others, Christianity is not a religion of the West but a religion that loves all humanity. The book tells of the different concerns of each Asian culture and their response as Christians. It reminded me that Christian commitments can be expressed in different ways – even expressed in an Asian culture. Such diverse expression of Asian Christianity asserts that Christianity is not only for Westerners but also for Asians.
This book offers me a deeper understanding of Asian theology. The Asian situation is a story of oppression and injustices. This is the situation where Christian Asians try to express their Christianity. This makes me understand why Asians focus their theology in practice instead of the desktop theology done by most westerners. It also encourages me to be among the poor. It makes me understand that the church works in a political and social scenario, and not in the web of conceptual ideas of religion. The essays offer a deeper understanding why the context is important for Asian Christians – why Asian theology perceives Christianity as practical and not just about abstract ideas.
This reading also gives me a better grasp of the importance of having an Asian theology of Christianity different from the Western theology. It makes me understand why Filipinos need to have their own local church where they could express their Christianity in their own culture. That Asians and the Filipinos must express their own Christianity according to their experience. It inspires me to be an Asian theologian – to be in the midst of the people, and give an Asian expression of my Christian commitment.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Letter to Rachel

A Letter to Rachel
(Rachel is my church member since she was a baby. She has bone cancer.)

Dear Rachel,

There are times in our lives when we encounter trials, challenges and problems. As Christians, what do we do with it? How do we deal with it? Where can we find God in the midst of all these challenges? These questions may arise from challenges like having bone cancer. These are very difficult questions but valid ones. For a suffering person like you, Rachel, you have every right to question God why. Remember Job’s story in the Bible? He questioned God and even held God accountable for all the miseries and trials he suffered. You have been told by people around you, like Brother Roberts and your grandmother, who God is but you may still be asking what kind of a loving God would allow you to have cancer. Your own situation may give you a different concept of God.
I will try to discuss with you a way of understanding God. Since God is the God of Israel, we must understand God through God’s relationship with God’s chosen people – Israel. To look at God as a Christian is to look through the lens of Israel. What I will be offering here is not direct answers to the questions but insights to help you navigate through all these questions. But what we may first need to do is to deconstruct your preconceived notion about God. Then we will try to reframe an understanding of God with respect to God’s relationship with Israel and with the world. Only by understanding God’s relationship with the world can we look at our sufferings and trials as Christians.
Let me speak now in general terms and ask these questions: What is our concept of God? How do we perceive God? Our most common answer is that God is a good and loving God. But God can also be a mean God, especially for those Christians who may be suffering. Remember the Bible story where God used Assyria and Babylonia to destroy Israel and Judah, killing many women and children? This contradicts a concept of a good God. The point here is not whether God is bad or good but to emphasize that we cannot define God with one word and mean that the opposite of that word do not describe God.
To stress my point, “no word, concept or image can capture the meaning of God.” We cannot say that God is good and mean that God is not bad. We cannot capture the meaning of God with any single definition. If we confine God to a single definition (i.e. God is good), to think of a good God that allows a faithful Christian to have bone cancer becomes problematic. Therefore, let us not confine our meaning of God to a single definition. In fact, we may never be able to capture the whole meaning of God. God is so great that we cannot fully describe the meaning of God with any words . We cannot fathom the wholeness of God.
This leads me to another question. Do we think that our belief in God is a reason for God to give us good life? When you mentioned that you were a third generation Christian, were you expecting to be awarded by God for it? Is our Christian faith based only on a relationship that if we believe in God then God will do good things for us? Is our relationship with God then just a ‘cause and effect relationship’? Is our faith in God a cause that will effect and give us good things in life – like when our parents promise us to buy us new shoes only when we get good grades in school? Our faith in God does not work that way. Our faith gives us a relationship with God. But what kind of a relationship? We must understand our relationship with God by looking at how God related with Israel.
Our relationship with God through Jesus Christ defines us as Christians. Let me explain what I mean when I say “relationship with God.” Our relationship with God does not just happen out of nothing. If we review the Bible, God chose a community of people and made a special relationship with this community, Israel. God made God-self known to the world through God’s relationship with Israel. Therefore, our relationship with God happens by becoming part of that community of God’s chosen people. We become part of that chosen community through our faith in Jesus Christ. To state it differently, Jesus invited us to be part of the community of God’s chosen people, to be part of Israel. Thus, our relationship with God only happens by entering into the community of Israel. Now that we know our relationship with God, we ask what kind of God we have.
Our God is a great God. God encompasses everything in the universe. As God is the creator of heaven and earth, that means God crosses all boundaries and categories in the world. When I say categories in the world, I mean time, gender, humans, animals, diseases, emotions and similar other categories. Since God created all including these categories, God contains the categories. It is important to remember that even though God contains these categories it does not limit God to exist within those categories alone. The categories of this world cannot contain God. When we understand God as a God that is beyond any category in this world then we can understand what we mean by a great God.
If God is beyond any category then God encompasses everything. With this understanding, we now have an idea of how God relates and works in the world. Since God created everything in the universe and God also encompassing every category, then God has authority over everything. This is God’s providence. God’s providence is not the luck that we think we have when we win in a lottery. God’s providence is not God’s intervention when somebody gives us food when we are hungry. God’s providence is not in the death of a person. Yes, not even in the presence of bone cancer in a faithful Christian. God’s providence is fulfilling God’s plan for the world.
God’s plan for the world is to call back the world into God’s household where the world could worship God. If God’s providence is to fulfill God’s plan then God’s providence means that everything in the world happens for us to be able to comeback to God’s fold to worship God. What does it mean for God’s providence for us and a person with bone cancer? We know that God is working in every aspect of our lives. If we are Christians and we have allowed God to take control of our lives then we know that God is working through us. But God working through us does not make us robots to God’s will for us. Rather, this is saying that we now belong to God’s community of chosen people.
God will lead us and guide us through any difficult journey and this will eventually lead us to God’s own will for our lives. Because God knows what is best for us, we can only trust in God that God will keep God’s promise as Jesus said in John 10:10 that “I [Jesus] came to give life and have it more abundantly.” If God’s providence means that God encompasses everything including diseases then God has authority over our health – including bone cancer. If God’s providence aims to bring everybody back to God’s fold through the incarnation of Christ, then one need not worry about diseases like bone cancer because our salvation has assured healing and restoration of our body when we are in God’s fold.
In closing, I am not offering you any easy answers to your questions. You have a valid right to question God about your condition. I will not say that it is a punishment for your lack of faith. I will not say that it is a trial for your faith to strengthen. Only remember that as Christians, we are in a relationship with God – the God of Israel. We must perceive the sufferings, problems and trials in our lives with respect to our relationship with God. Our human minds may fail to give us reasons to comprehend God’s own reasons but God our relationship with God will always reconcile and bring us back to God’s loving embrace. I will pray that God will continue to give you strength as you go through this difficult time in your life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Covenant With Israel

The old tradition have taught Christians that the Christian Church has supersedded Israel as God's chosen people. When God became human incarnate in Jesus, faithful Christians have now become the chosen people replacing israel. But a deeper understanding of Christian roots have pointed Christians back to the Jewish faith - Israel's Covenant with God. Marshall and Wyschogrod have already emphasized that God's covenant with Israel still holds true. Jesus, a Jew, became the way for Gentiles to enter into the Jewish household and become part of the covenant with God. Christianity could not exist apart from the covenant with Israel. The understanding of "being grafted into the covenant" gives a wider understanding of Cristianity's shared history with the Jews. It replaces the "supercessesionism" - Christians replacing Israel as God's people, that has been tradionally understood. I hope this would open up new understanding among Jews and Christians and hopefully will also lead to understanding the Islam faith as well.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Persecution and Providence

I just read chapter 8 in the book The Elusive Mr. Wesley and I never realized the extent of persecution that the early Methodist went through. John Wesley wrote an account in his journal his experience when he went to preach in Wednesbury. After he had preached that day, the mob came and wanted his head. They disperesed for a while but later came back with more people with more force and angrier this time. But Wesley believed that God's providence will carry him through this danger. he recalled that he asked for one of the mob's leader and talked to him. He became peaceful and his anger was gone. Wesley then talked to several leaders more of the mob. Then he went out to talk to the mob who called for him to be brought to the judge and be punished. Wesley believed that it was providence because if he had not talk to the leaders of the mob before he went out, he would have been attacked right then and there. And so he was brought later that t night to the judge, but the judge would have nothing to do with him. It was already raining and so some of the mob went home. Others still went to another judge for Wesley to be punished but still the judge had nothing to do with Wesley. Again, as Wesley recounted, that it was God's providence that no judge would punish him for he did nothing wrong. And yet another mob - Wesley's supporters, came and a riot broke. Men and women fought barehands. One women knocked three men down to the ground. The mob retaliated and she was tackled to the ground and beaten almost to death. Each one was grabbing another. Wesley was in the midst of the riot trying to hold back the people. Despite being in the middle of the riot, God's providence was still at work as Wesley only got managed to be hit [softly] in the head, scratched in his arms and had his coat half-torn. Of course they were those who protected him but God was there to protect Wesley too. It is unimaginable that a riot this big could arise because of a preacher's sermon. What was more strinking was the fact that this did not happen just once but almost in any place that Wesley preached. Wesley recalled how many times he was persecuted and the same number of times God's providence have saved him from the angry mob.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Asian Christianity

I am reading a book on Asian Christianity entitled, Asian Expressions of Christian Commitment. It presents the Asian economic and political situation and then shows how Asian Christians live through it. From this experience and perspective develops Asian Theology. What this book offers is an understanding [for the students and Westerners] of the relevance of Christianity in Asia. The Christians themselves tell the stories and their stories shape Asian Theology.

This analysis assumes that Christianity brought from the West also brought within Christianity a Western culture irrelevant if not inapplicable for the Asians. I believe so, if we are to say that Christianity was corrupted when it was introduced in the 1500's by the colonial west using sword and cross.

Then, does Asian Theology doing a different version of a Christianity corrupted by Western culture? No, what Asian Theology is doing [at least from what the book presents] is to express the reality of Christ within the community of Asians. That to experience God, one need not have a Western background... but Asians can experience God even in the Asian situation.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dilemma: Theology and Medicine

I have always been troubled by my situation. I am a medical doctor studying to earn an M.Divinity degree. Or what my friends would describe as a student of Science learning about Religion. What may seem weird and contradicting about this is the popular idea that Science is a school of logic and reason while Religion deals with mysticism and supernatural. But I always believed that at some point, Theology and Medicine intersect one another. In the first place, the mission work of Jesus included healing the sick and preaching God's message. In any case, Jesus was giving this broken world a hope of new life. Both Science and Theology have the same object - human body [and soul]. But what about the human body? Is it the physical body? The mind? Could they only have dialogue in Bioethics? Practices of caring? As I continue my theological journey, I hope and pray that God will open my mind to know the answers.