16, 601, 997 Compelling Reasons for Peace

For those unfamiliar with the current state of affairs, the Philippines has been in a state of civil war for almost 50 years.  Each presidential administration since the 1990s has tried to forge some measure of peace, but always abandoned those attempts quite early on.  After all, peace is much harder to achieve than war.

Current president of the Philippines ran on the promise of being dedicated and serious in addressing the root causes of the nigh on 50 yr conflict between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Philippines (GRP)  After his election, the peace talks that had stalled under the Aquino administration were resumed along with a 150 day cease fire.

Three rounds of peace talks concluded with promises of a fourth round in February, when miscommunications between the negotiation panels and the forces on the ground ruptured the cease-fire.  Duterte then pulled out of the peace talks, threatening at all out war and not returning unless he had a “compelling reason” to.

This past Feb. 18th I attended a Peace Consultation for the resumption of peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP held at a university downtown.  It was heartening to see a large conference room overflowing with people representing all strata of Filipino society: lawyers, clergy, nuns, bishops, missionaries, community organizers, students, journalists, labor unions, farmers, indigenous peoples, former political prisoners, artists, writers, politicians, government officials and many more.  Notably, it was very heartening to see negotiating panel members of both the NDFP and the GRP.

For four hours we discussed the progress made, the peace process so far and disappointment in the Duterte administration backing out of the peace process.  We finished with a consultation on coming up with compelling reasons to resume the peace process.  There were many.  The one that made me perk up the most is when a participant stood up and said:

There are “16, 601, 997 compelling reasons for peace” representing each Filipino who voted for Duterte and his promise to bring peace and address the root causes of social injustice that plague the Philippines.

I think there are really more like 102,250,133+ compelling reasons for peace.  Every Filipino deserves genuine peace based on social justice, human rights and dignity.

So Mr. President, instead of focusing so much on your War on Drugs and War on NDFP…Focus on Peace.  102,250,133+ Reasons for peace, the present and future of the Filipino people.

Sowing Love, not Fear.

The question I get asked the most is:  Does he understand Bisaya?

Okay so that question isn’t directed to me, nevertheless it is about me.  The question I then get asked is “How long will you be staying here?”

The third most asked question to me is:  “What do you think about the President?”

The President in this case is the new POTUS.  I answer this question with a shrug and reply that I do not like him.  People then ask me if I voted for him to which I answer “No, I did not.”

I then get a why not?  Why don’t I like the  new Potus and why didn’t I vote for him?

In Bisaya, while I can understand and speak, I am still limited so the answer I give the questions is simple.  I do not like him and did not vote for him because I am a Christian.

I believe in planting seeds of hope, faith,love and truth.  Living my life walking in the light, following the light.  The new Potus plants fear, deceit and hate.

Yes I understand Bisaya, and I can communicate through gestures and pointing that which I have no words for.  More importantly I can speak from my christian heart which says these things happening to our neighbors in the US, these Executive Orders are wrong, and are incompatible with my beliefs as a Christian: they are incompatible with the Old Testament and the New.

This is not theology or interpretation that can be understood differently.  Leviticus 19:33-34 says:

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

First I am a Christian. Then I am an Earthling. A Neighbor, a brother, a son, a man, a millennial, a wanderer, an activist, a musician, a geologist. And way down the line somewhere I am a United States citizen.  My identity is in Christ first, followed by the community of Creation.  Identifying myself as part of organization and state of an exclusive nation is not high up on my list.

Yet if I stand by and am silent while these things are done in my name, I am still complicit.

I will not be silent. Even though I do not reside in my passportland.  Even though I may not be fluent in their language, I will not be idle.

Back in the Pilipinas

If you say it just right it almost sounds like a Beatles’ song.

Four flights or 5,698 miles later I arrived in Davao City after a grand total of just under 36hrs of transit time.  That’s 158 miles per hour which is pretty good considering had some nice 4 hr layovers on two occasions.

The past weekend was a lull in scheduled activities for InPeace, so I’ve had time to begin re-adjusting.

It has been as challenging as I recall.  Bugs everywhere – the office is old so there are tiny ants that invade all the spaces.  The heat – and it’s not even summer yet.  I have drunk so many liters of water! Thank goodness the tap water is potable here.

I had to go visit the doctor the other day – flying with a cold and having the different air pressures wreak havoc on my Eustachian tubes didn’t make my ears happy campers.  I am taking a huge antibiotic pill twice a day!  Luckily as my doctor happily pointed out to me:  I’m in Asia now and I could see a specialist right away.

And it was way cheaper.

Another adjustment for me has been the commitment to speaking no English.  Bisaya is my primary mode of communication.  Sure, I throw in connector words, but for the most part my english is reserved for my thoughts only.

I went to church on Sunday and immediately was greeted wth a hug by an old bible study mate and was promptly invited to rejoin the choir.  It’s true in the Philippines there is no meeting without eating!  I was very happy to reconnect with long lost friends.

I am still looking for a place to call my own.  It has been challenging as I don’t know exactly where to look – and not everyone posts classifieds online.  On Thursday, some folks from the office are going to drive around with me and see what we can find.  Until then I will continue to sit tight and see what I can see online, whilst recovering from my ear infection and drinking lots of Bisaya and learning many ways of water.

I mean, drinking lots of water and learning more Bisaya.

DO IT TODAY FOR TOMORROW’S OUTCOME!

The Book of Fellows

I need to give affection and love, because without that, I wither. I need to give that love to someone. Without that, I’m rudderless.

My heart sobs!

Flower, my beautiful flower, my very precious flower.The mother flower in my garden which gave out many flowers including me.You were my flower, but now the flower that has withered without being sick.

Yes, I once thought of this, that one day we might depart; you first or me. But I never thought of you just departing so fast, so easily, so silently without a goodbye! My flower, you were matronly beautiful. Daily, you marked the beauty of my world and made the scent of my garden. Whenever I saw you while watering you, I always prayed for you to wait a little so as to see me grow too

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Looking back

Today I am sitting in a cafe once again, reading Global Mission Fellows applications and taking in the stories of the young people who are applying this year.  Then it hit me- and I had to write it down quick.   I am content.

It has been almost 6 months since I finished my assignment as Mission Advocate at Global Ministries.  In reading these applications I was reminded of what I wrote on my cover letter when I applied to be Mission Advocate.

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To speak Good news to the greater church…

My exit interview as Mission Advocate went pretty poorly. Perhaps it was that I had lost sight of my reasons for wanting to serve in that capacity, perhaps it was the knowledge that I had fallen short of  my superiors’ expectations – goals that exponentially changed as those of a thriving product tend to do.  Perhaps it is that I take failure hard, and am predisposed to gloss over small victories and judge my work as failed.  Whatever the reason it took me until now, in catching sight of my own personal goal as Mission Advocate, to remember who I am, and why I am so convinced in the vitalness of serving as a Mission Advocate, and serving as a missionary.

There are two new Mission Advocate positions that will be filled this year. I can only hope that the two people who fill them will not lose sight, as I did, of the real reason they want to serve in that capacity.

Spreading the Good News,

A.

 

One, two, three, four, five…

Five months of waiting and I finally have a departure date!

Finished with all my medical work, counseling and therapy I am now ready to depart for the Philippines.  It is strange – I went through being very eager to resolvedly patient to grudging acceptance of delays and finally to acceptance that I might be grounded for some time.  And finally I am all cleared to go!

I’ll be moving to the Philippines on Jan. 25th 2017.  Now that my departure date is imminent, I find myself really enjoying the cold mornings.  It might be silly but I used to dream about the cold when ensconced in the heat of the Philippine days and nights.  So, walking outside for an hour and appreciating nature and weather I won’t have for the next 2.5 years is something I relish.

Also on my mind is mobilizing myself to go. I used this word with a good friend to describe what my preparations entailed because I raring to go for so long – and then decided to be unready while I waited for my medical.  Now I need to find my boxes, sort through clothes and fit the foundations of my life into 2 suitcases.  I can technically bring 2 suitcases, a carry-on and a personal item but in this case my carry on will  be my ukulele.

I watched the documentary ‘Minimalists’ on Netflix which has me thinking about what I am bringing and how much I am bringing.  I know I won’t need things that are readily available for purchase in the Philippines.  I did buy a bunch of summer weather clothes in anticipation – and then was scrambling the past few months to find clothes to wear during the winter freeze.

Now that I’m finally going – it’s like a dream come true.  Yet, I know I will miss the convenience of living in the US.  I’ll miss family and friends. Still, I am glad to finally have a purpose and something to work for again.

So here’s to a new adventure.  One that took sometime to get here, but is finally happening. Ready or not Here I come!

 

 

 

Fall colors the Eye

fallThis past weekend I engaged in an activity I have not done on a regular bases since I was in my early 20s. I got to mow the lawn.

If you can picture it in your head – my parent’s front lawn is full and thick with grass. So thick in fact that when mowing every 10 days there are always leftover grass cuttings that do not evaporate into the wind like the our neighbors’ do. We must grass of the ‘devoted’ planted, the variety that sticks around even after it gets cut. The front lawn also has a nice flower and bush bed in the front of the house that helps hide the foundation. I can’t describe it for I have never seen the mythical foundation of our house but I know it’s there…Somewhere.

The rear lawn can be found by entering a leaning wooden gate set between the split rail fence and the wall. Unlike the front, the rear lawn is rather bumpy. Here we find the pine cones, the strange mushy fruit that seems perpetually rotten, the odd lack of grass around the two trees. In the backyard there is also a working garden- I say working because it is beautiful and a testament to the hard work of the gardener who cares for it. Garden utensils like hoses, hose guides and diggers are found scattered around. This garden is for beauty and for play.

The rear lawn despite not being of the same thickness nor fullness is more welcoming than the front. This is clear from the animal visitors that think of the lawn as their local cafe. The bird bath is open to birds and inclusive of squirrels. The neighborhood cat roamers also pay a visit and leave many ‘gifts’ that assail the nostrils.

So it was this lawn I was mowing, the front: an easy ride and the back more of a challenge. I finished the front in a breeze. A strong breeze that blew all the cuttings in my face. I rather prefer the scent of freshly cut grass in my face than the freshly pooped crap I got in the backyard, as I rolled right over the unavoidable hidden cat poop deposited liberally in the rear yard.

There is zen in mowing the lawn. To the uninitiated, the complex odors of pine, grass, poop, compost, flowers and gasoline might be a deterrent to engaging in this fall activity. Yet to me, there is zen in bumping around the lawn with the roar or the engine and the whirr of the blades as my companions.

Zen.  The way the grass looks different when still or windswept. The patterns of the blades cutting the grass. The colors of the leaves in the trees and on the ground. The different sizes and textures of the cuttings blowing back to mess in my hair and in my clothes – giving me a ‘wild mower man’ look.  Zen in the respite from offensive political rhetoric and gospels full of hate.

Zen mower moments breeze to mowing thoughts. Fall mowing thoughts that color my eye and assail my senses, heralding tomorrow’s tasks.

Wayiqra – And YaHWeH called.

“You can close your eyes to reality but not to memories” -Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

October 2016 finds in a place I didn’t expect or hope to be.  I moved back under the same roof as my parents after having lived in my own household for essentially 9 years.  Readjustment has been difficult for all of us. My parents have been gracious and hospitable enough to welcome me back. The struggle is when parenthood accountability demands meets my independent 28yr old reality.  This is compounded by the open ended nature of my wait for medical clearance and clarity on assignment.

And yet we coexist, we cohabitate.  Fall is a season of Change. Waiting for the world to change, waiting for my world to change.

 

But, all this time means I am looking to visit! Click to the “Invite Me” page and invite me to your event.  I’d be happy to come as I am able.

 

Exodus

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” -Ibn Battuta

Since I was commissioned again last November, I have traveled more than I thought I ever would. Getting on a plane has become second nature, waiting in airports – almost relaxing.  This year I have traveled to the Equator, I have been as far north as I have ever gone and also as far south.  I have traveled to North America, South America, Europe, Africa and soon Asia…in one year.

Although Ibn Battuta and I are from different times and different faiths, and today being an age where to liken oneself to anyone who is a devout muslim is ‘political suicide’ in the great United States of America – still I say we are more alike than we are different.

Ibn Battuta left his hometown of Tangier, Morocco when he was 20 years old in 1325 to go on Hajib (pilgrimage to Mecca.)  What would have been a relatively short journey turned into a journey of over 29 years and spanned roughly 75,000 miles where he visited lands found today in 44 different countries.

I doubt very much that it was by design. IMG_20150924_080747That Ibn told his folks,
“Hey Mom, Hey Dad! I’m going to go on Pilgrimage is that ok? It’s only a short trip there plus about 30 more years because I really want to explore the known muslim world see ya in the afterlife. K ttyl bye. 
A journey that started for Ibn, to put his faith into action had unforeseen splash effects on his life his loved ones and the people he met and told stories to, of their neighbors that perhaps they had also never met.

Like Ibn, my journey started with a short 1.5 year international service, followed by a twin length US service, followed by a shift to 2 years of service traveling around the United States and the World.  New York City, Quito, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Cleveland, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria, Shreveport, Lake Charles, New Orleans, San Antonio, Sinton, Corpus Christi, Austin, Sonora, Asheville, Orlando, Stony Point, Harare, Nashville, Tallinn and soon Osaka. In 12 months.

Traveling leaves me exhausted and speechless. I resonate with Ibn Battuta though in that it also turns me into a storyteller.  Not necessarily of my own stories, rather the stories of those who I meet.  Much like what Anaïs Nin described when saying “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.”

And so I would like to take the time to share some stories through this blog of the travels I have completed and of this journey of faith I continue to be on.  Hopefully there will be less stories of being cramped on flights and more stories of discovering newfound delights – here and everywhere. The world is a large place full of colorful vibrant people. Let’s explore.

Genesis

It hard to start afresh, when the old is still around.  People say it’s easy sometimes, just throw away the old and begin again…but the history is still hanging around.  The history of my blog is wrought with emotions, the story of a old boy experiencing things I never knew still existed – stories of trying to grow, to process to learn and to respond.

Respond.  The United Methodist Women’s magazine is entitled Response.  I wish I could write a book or better yet a graphic novel on what my response to the world that live in should be..

An old friend visited the office last week, someone I wasn’t really expecting to see.  He poked his head over the wall of my cubicle and said:  “You are turning into quite the diplomat.  I am dissapointed in you. I had high hopes.”

That is something I have been thinking about since then, on the long plane ride from New York City to Amsterdam and on to Tallinn and back.

Have I become complacent?

In the news these days, in my facebook feed whenever I sign on are more an more of my friends posting pictures of people with hashtags #StopLumadKillings reminding me of a quote I read from a book on the plane.  “We humans are predators and our favorite prey is each other.”

Have I become complacent? Is my work not important? Am I not inspiring change and transformation or am I just recruiting, reqpeatin the same stories until people join the program. Where has my convicion gone?  Am I just fooling myself into thinking my fire burns brightly…

Response. Respond.  I am called. You are called. We are all called by God, called by the Grandmother who created and formed us from nothing, no matter if we are clergy or lay, ordained with ‘holy hands’ or blessed with simple ones.  We are called into prophetic witness…so how are we holding each other accountable to that witness?

If you are sharing truth, what truth is it if it lacks conviction? Speak truth emphatically live hope.

The stories we have. The stories I tell aren’t stories of complacency. They are stories of God at work in the world through us, daring us to live into a truth that God created, one that exists outside our greed.

So I implore you to greet the goodness of God in everyone you meet, in every place you go this day.

And remember. We are not called into lukewarm Christianity.

Respond.