Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fetishism and Justification

For Karl Marx, the capitalist system conceals not only the connection between social labour and the surplus value produced by labour but also the social character of commodity production.  In this way, capitalism alienates the labourers from their products, their self-representations, and it establishes the “fetishism of commodities” in which “the social character of labour appears to us to be an objective character of the products themselves” (Capital, vol.1).

For Marx, commodities are products of social labour, of vital labourers who are interlinked.  Commodity fetishism occurs when the perception that commodities are extensively exchangeable, barely refers to the personalities and interrelations of the actual producers in a particular mode of production.  Instead, there arises the perception that commodities are exchangeable by nature, just as the law of supply and demand appears to be a natural law of trade.

Commodities and money are exchangeable because they seem to possess innately the capacity to substitute for one another in objective and calculable proportions.  Such a general belief is a fetishism that conceals and supports capitalist exploitation and the alienation of labour.

Using Marx’s protest against alienated labour and commodity fetishism, Jose Miguez Bonino reinterprets the Pauline-Lutheran principle of “justification not by works.”

For Marx, labour both expresses and transforms the following: the integral person of the labourer, his or her relations with fellow labourers, and their interaction with nature.  Alienated labour is objectified as money and commodities, which appear to be utterly exchangeable and to possess capabilities and values on their own.  The apparently self-exchangeable nature of commodities conceals, homogenizes and deforms the particular personalities and interrelations of the labourers who produce them.
In justification through works, the religious practices become valuable in themselves, and they conceal from their performers the real status of their relationships with God and neighbour.

Self-justifying works are like commodities, they become calculable and impersonal objects.  These works earn calculable merits that oblige God to render in return the equivalent grace or justification.  The interaction of the votary with God is depersonalized and deformed into an exchange relationship.

Those justified by objective “works of the law” boast of their own worth or of their grasp of God’s will (cf Romans 2:17-20; 3:27-28).  They are like buyers who boast of the bargains they are able to buy, or like moneyed and mighty exploiters who boast of their money and might.

A true work of faith is done apart from the care over calculation and reward.  It is a genuine good work, whose value is inalienable from the personality and fidelity of the doer.  And the true work of faith necessarily personalizes the doer into a divine work of love for the neighbour.

For Miguez, justification is not an inward but an integral reality, just as faith, as both gift and response, is not merely psychical or intellectual but integral, a unity of belief and practice.  Justification is God’s gift through the mediation of Christ.

Faith, Idealism and Ideology

To teach and preach Christian love, without taking into account the prevailing social structures, is to make this love blindly idealist and quite susceptible to ideological manipulation.  For Jose Miguez Bonino, idealist hermeneutics facilitate the formation of absolute ideas about God, and debase human corporeality and historicity.  In this way, the faithful God of the covenant could be turned into the immutable God whose heavenly cry beckons us away from radical political activity.  The faithful Son could be turned into the absolutely obedient victim and the substitute prey for a vengeful God.

The idealist tendency is strong in Christianity not only owing to the early infusion of Platonic concepts but also because of the belief in the irreducible power of the Godhead.  For Miguez, Platonic concepts can be expunged from Christianity, but divine omnipotence may not be denied.

A major challenge for pastors and theologians is to affirm divine omnipotence primarily in relation to the concrete empowerment of the oppressed and marginalized groups in these times.  An idealist perversion of the belief in divine omnipotence comes easily when this belief is proclaimed “in the abstract,” especially when the proclamation does not take into account the contemporary needs and struggles of the lower classes (“Christian Political Ethics”).

Abstract affirmations of divine omnipotence promote an idealist view of history, as the historical agency of the poor and the lowly get easily obscured.  One ends up viewing the passage of history as, e.g., the predestined long pull from an immutable God.  In such a scheme, one of the real partners in the divine-human covenant gets smothered, and history becomes only the action and will of God.  From here, it is but a small step toward fatalism and its noxious ideological forms.

It is a necessary task of pastors and theologians to de-ideologize church practices and teachings that have contributed to the dehumanization of people.  In the case of Juan Luis Segundo, he did not aim for the total elimination of ideology from theology and pastoral work, as he believed that faith without ideology is “dead.”  Faith that is not accompanied by ideology will have insignificant effect on a particular social context.  Faith will end up fruitless and lifeless if it only floats on the clouds of timeless principles and does not get incarnated or enacted in a social system.
To de-ideologize theology implies not only the elimination of noxious ideologies but also the assimilation of beneficial ones in order to make theology relevant and well-grounded.  Examples of harmful ideologies are fascism, Stalinism, and androcentrism.  Beneficial ones might be egalitarianism and feminism.
An ideology is any social theory with historic effects whether harmful or helpful, dehumanizing or humanizing, oppressive or liberating.  A social theory attempts to explain the reproduction and change of social practices across time and space.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Politics of Climate Change

In his book, The Politics of Climate Change (2009), a leading interdisciplinary sociologist Anthony Giddens argues that the challenge of climate change is primarily political and not technological.  What is sorely lacking is long-term and innovative thinking and action on the part of political parties, leaders and ordinary citizens.  What is missing is the politics that can empower and guide the work of diverse groups toward climate change adaptation, within developing and overdeveloping nations, and which can ensure mitigation, especially progressive carbon emissions reduction, primarily within the overdeveloping nations in North America and North-Western Europe.

A politics “beyond left and right” is needed to stimulate an “economic convergence” in which economic and technological innovations for climate change mitigation could provide a competitive advantage, such as energy security or efficiency, to diverse users of the innovations, whether the users be households or corporations.  At the same time, the politics of climate change has to include “life politics,” or the politics of life-style and self-identity, which gives prominence to emotive and ethical concerns.  A change to low carbon life-styles will be easier for citizens who prioritize the effort to seek and sustain expressive and emotionally satisfying relationships over the effort to accumulate commodities.
The analysis of Giddens of necessary social innovations in our age of climate change can challenge and enrich a theological ethics that seeks a comprehensive understanding of the meaning and implications of the principle of sustainability.  His analysis and concepts can help sharpen the theological understanding of sustainability, development, “nature,” the environment, and the stewardship of creation.  Theological ethics can increase its social impact by engaging the field of public policy as a regular dialogue partner and thus understanding better the process of developing and implementing public policy in which politics is involved in an environment of diverse stakeholders.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Christ the Representative

Christ is the representative of God among us and our representative before God.  The nature of Christ’s work as Mediator is representation and not substitution.  Dorothee Soelle explained the distinction as follows:

“The ‘differentia specifica’ which distinguishes representation from substitution…[is] the perspective of time.  Representation regards man from the standpoint of time.  It gains time for man who is for the moment incapacitated…The chief thing which God does for us is to give us time, new and real time for living.” (“Christ the Representative”)

As our representative before God, Christ does not substitute for us: he does not take away our responsibility to fulfil the divine will to humanize humanity.  “The mediation of Christ…is the restitution of man as God’s free and active agent in God’s humanizing purpose” (Jose Miguez Bonino).

Through his life, ministry, death and resurrection, Christ gains time and historical space for people to participate fully in the completion of the divine purpose.  Christ inaugurates the new covenant, which does not abrogate but fulfils the divine-human partnership in the active care for the neighbour, society and history.  In the passion and death of Christ, the intimate participation of God in human death sealed the renewal of the divine-human partnership, and enabled the practice of altruistic self-denial to become fully humanizing.
Justification through Christ means forgiveness of sins.  The offer of forgiveness and the call to repentance, however, should be understood in close connection with the historical mission of Jesus to proclaim God’s Kingdom, preach good news to the poor, liberate the oppressed, and heal the infirm and the broken-hearted (Luke 4:18, 4:40-44, 5:17-26, 13:1-17).
In fulfilling his mission, Jesus opposed the dehumanizing legalism and greed of the religious and politico-economic authorities.  He showed that the forgiveness of sins calls for the comprehensive healing of persons and the courageous transformation of ruined lives and stark historical conditions.  Forgiveness is not only individual, and sin is not a private or one-person reality.  Sin can be public or interpersonal but never private.
The redemptive mission of Jesus to liberate those who are oppressed reveals the non-private reality of sin.  To sin is to dehumanize or, more concretely, to oppress the neighbour.  To sin is indeed to hurl an insult at God, but the insult does not immediately reach God.  The insult reaches God through the nearest and densest mediation of the divine presence.  This nearest and densest mediation is the Son-present-in-the-persons-of-the-lowliest-children-of-God (Matthew 25:34-45).

To sin, to insult God, is to oppress anybody of our fellow sons and daughters of God, especially the poor and the lowly outsiders.  The sinful condition is oppressive both to others and to oneself.  At the heart of sinful oppression is a mistrust of the other’s God-given capability to offer and receive love.  Through a deep mistrust of the God-given love-ability of the other(s), sinners mistrust God, and thus sin is unbelief.

The deep mistrust of both neighbour and God leads either to despair or to an excessive trust in one’s own capabilities or in the products of one’s capabilities.  Thus, the sinful condition, this deep mistrust, leads often to idolatry, either self-idolatry or the idolatry of man-made effects such as money, the free market, or the national security doctrine.  The forgiveness of sins through God’s Son involves the deep infusion of trust, liberation from oppression, and the downfall of idolatry.
To become God’s liberating representative among us, the Son was fully incarnated and humanized within history.  His life, death and resurrection is a perfect incarnation of divine Word and Power.  According to Miguez, this was not “a sort of abrupt departure from God’s ‘normal’ way of dealing with human life and reality.  On the contrary, the Incarnation becomes the clue for understanding all of God’s dealings with human history and with the whole of world reality.” (“Christian Political Ethics”)  The Incarnation definitively reaffirms the divine will to act through human means and to favour the meaningful autonomy of history.
This incarnational perspective challenges pastors and theologians to develop a down-to-earth sensitivity to actual human needs, struggles, and potentials.  It also deepens our understanding of divine omnipotence and transcendence.  According to Miguez:
“When we say that God is all-powerful, we do not mean that he substitutes for us, or prevents the existence of evil with a decree.  And while he reserves the freedom to definitively save his plan from failure, he still retains the capacity and patience to continue working and to complete his plan – that is our gift – throughout the frustrations and sufferings of history.” (“Room To Be People”)

Divine omnipotence empowers but does not overpower human activity and contextual freedom.  Furthermore, as in the crucifixion, divine power chooses not to magically or automatically overrule human injustice.  After every human tragedy, the living Word encourages us to begin anew, for divinity is a powerful persistence that aims not only to change things but more so to form full-fledged persons, who can be humanized and personalized only in concrete struggles and contextual freedom.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Postmodern Political Ethics

Can major proponents of postmodernism and deconstruction help evaluate and guide contemporary political practices?  Can they help thinkers and practitioners recognize “universal” standards for decision-making and action in order to resolve the complex conflicts of interests of diverse groups in society, whether local or global?

Emeritus Professor Georges De Schrijver, S.J. offers a positive answer to both questions through his study, The Political Ethics of Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jacques Derrida, (ISBN 978-90-429-2327-0) published by Peeters in Leuven, Belgium in 2010.  In a painstaking way, De Schrijver shows the deep influence of Jewish culture on both thinkers and explains their philosophical roots, in the case of Lyotard, in Immanuel Kant’s notion of the Sublime as an elevating experience of the clash between mind and nature.
In the case of Derrida, De Schrijver expounds his roots in Friedrich Nietzsche’s perspectivism, Emmanuel Levinas’ metaphysics of the infinitely other, and Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology of presence, which Derrida deconstructs.

The universal standards described by Lyotard and Derrida have a utopian character such as the former’s “unpresentable” idea of “justice of multiplicity” and the latter’s “impossible” justice beyond legality.
Lyotard’s justice of multiplicity listens to, respects and defends the heterogeneous voices and languages, including “strange” ones, in all cultures, keeps them in creative tension, and seeks imaginative outcomes of the tension other than unity or consensus, which in modernity is a fabricated or coerced consensus.  In an expanded Kantian sense, such justice is sublime and “unpresentable,” and it is unimaginable when one remains within the established criteria and rules of decision-making and action of the modern nation-state.

Derrida’s impossible justice expresses the deep, enduring and indefinable desire to give to each person, in his or her particularity or uniqueness, what is due to him or her.  Such justice is impossible owing to the dependence of modern political authority on written laws and their universal or general categories to decide on what is just and unjust.  Furthermore, beneath layers of laws and their evolution, the ultimate foundation of authority is violent action and the threat of it, without which a legal system cannot be enforced.
Public intellectuals and leaders who will take up the challenge of examining and digesting the ideas of Lyotard and Derrida and their careful correlation in De Schrijver’s study will be amply rewarded.  At least, they will be reminded that cherished words in society like justice, democracy, equality, and freedom communicate contested and contestable ideas. 

Also, leaders and intellectuals will have to consider the assertion of postmodern political ethics that it is possible periodically in this age and the succeeding ages to find better perspectives in understanding cherished words so that public policies, programs and practices do not end up excluding, coercing or doing violence to any social or cultural group.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Holy Land: Galilee Lake and Jordan River

May 27:  We went today to Ginnosar, a village in the Sea (Lake) of Galilee.  Around the towns of this lake Jesus did much of his public ministry and on this lake he calmed a storm and walked on the water.

We rode a boat for two hours to get a panoramic view of the lake and its towns and we were shown one way in which the ancient Galileans tried to catch fish using a net.  A crew member cast the net 3 times but caught no fish.  The Israeli government is regulating the fishing on the lake because of dwindling catch of tilapia and small fish that end up as sardines.  It is a good thing I drank Bonamine because at a certain point the motor was turned off so we can pray and meditate on the relevant gospel stories.  I was also sucking a lollipop.  The boat ride on the lake helps one understand better the gospel stories of Jesus' ministry.
We also went to a small museum run by a kibbutz in which there is a display of a 2,000 yr old fishing boat that was found in the lake in 1986.  It is called the "Jesus boat" even though no one can be sure that this was the boat Jesus and his disciples used.  The museum also relates the amazing way in which they took the boat out of the water without breaking it, because the wood was very soft from such long immersion in water and mud.  Exposure to air would also dry the wood and make it crumble into dust.

In the afternoon we had Pentecost Sunday Mass at the chapel of the Mt St Gabriel hotel.  The priest was an Arab Israeli who belonged to the diocese of Jerusalem.  He said that his nephew in the U.S. married a Filipina.
May 28:  In the afternoon, we arrived safely at the Maagan Holiday Village by the southern end of the Sea of Galilee where it meets the Jordan River.  This is where we had the best rooms for the whole trip.  It has a swimming pool, a mini-zoo, and water sports facilities for the lake, where you can also swim.

This morning we went to the other side of the Jordan River, which continues down to the Dead Sea.  We went to Yardenit, a facility where some Christian groups hold baptisms.  I saw people in white robes being immersed in the water.

We recalled Jesus' own baptism in the Jordan in the presence of John the Baptist, and afterwards Jesus went to the Judean wilderness to pray, fast and be tested for 40 days before beginning his ministry.

We sat by the river, while Glenn read some gospel texts and helped us meditate and sing songs. At a certain point, he invited us to come near the river by twos, get some water for blessing on the head, and say a blessing for each other.

It was very touching to see Pol and Nena bless each other and embrace.  I prayed that Deeda and I could grow old together like them.  I saw people breaking down in tears when they blessed each other and I too wept quietly especially since I have heard of the difficulties some of us have undergone.

Winnie Monsod called me and offered to bless me.  She can be very sweet.  She did it also for others who were "alone" on the trip.  I could see that she was also in near tears.  After the blessing, Winnie asked me to put my hand in the water and pray for a blessing on Deeda, Sophie and Dennis.  This was one of our best experiences in the trip.
The rest of the day was so hot (34 degrees).  By the time we reached Maagan, we were wilted.

Before Maagan, we went to the house of Peter (or his mother-in-law) in Capernaum, another lakeside town, and the gospels suggest that this was like Jesus' second home while he did his ministry around the lake.  Some ruins of the early church building on the site can be seen and a modern church, like a flying saucer, has been built above the ruins.
We then went to the ruins of Bethsaida, the hometown of 4 disciples mentioned in John’s gospel, and where Jesus preached unsuccessfully because he expressed frustration about it in the gospels.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Holy Land: Jericho, Dead Sea and Nazareth

May 25:  We visited Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.  Then we proceeded to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves.  I and some of my companions dipped in the Dead Sea, the lowest lake (below sea level) in the world.  We floated like corks because of the saltiness.  By the latter half of the afternoon, we proceeded to Nazareth and checked in at the Mount St Grabriel’s Hotel, which used to be a Greek Orthodox monastery.
May 26:  We went to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.  The Cave of Mary in the Basilica was brightly lit but gated.  You could see inside but could not enter.  We celebrated the Eucharist just in front of the Cave.  Near the end of the Mass, a Cardinal Koch from the Vatican came and the gate was unlocked for him.  There was even a camera man.
A small altar has been placed in the Cave and so many "improvements" have been made.  Scholars are 90% sure it was the cave of Mary, Jesus and Joseph because "grafitti" from pilgrims from as early as the 2nd century showed that it was revered as the cave of the holy family.

The Basilica is modern and beautiful.  It is the biggest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East, and the Roman Catholic Church, which alone has control over the site, has allocated resources to make the Basilica special.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Holy Land: Yad Veshem

May 24:  We spent the whole morning at the Yad Veshem, Holocaust Memorial Museum.  It was very sad to see man's inhumanity.  I spent a lot of time watching videos of survivors recounting their experiences.  The suffering of children and their separation from their parents moved me to quiet tears.  I have been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC and I found this one in Jerusalem more powerful maybe because I am now older and a husband and father.
There was also a Children's Memorial Hall for the 1.5 million children who perished.  The hall was totally black except for a single candle that got reflected by a multitude of mirrors so that you seem to see a thousand points of light from the candle throughout the dark room and you hear the continuous enumeration of children's names, their ages and locales.

In the afternoon, I returned to the Old City and had a chance to enter the Holy Sepulchre Church Edicule, which is the revered spot of the burial of Jesus.  We were fortunate because the line was short.  We had a solemn moment inside.  It was a reconstructed marble resting place.  We also entered the Coptic Chapel of St Helena where I had a longer moment of prayer.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Holy Land: Nativity Basilica

May 23:  We returned to Bethlehem to enter the Basilica of the Nativity, which lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating Basilica in the world.  It is definitely the oldest in the Holy Land, because the current Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in the 12th century after it was destroyed twice, in 614 by Persians and in 1009 by a mad Muslim ruler.
Legend says that the Persians who ruined the Sepulchre church did not destroy the Nativity Basilica in 614 because they saw at the entrance of the Basilica a mosaic of the Magi in Persian attire.
You enter the Basilica through the Humility Door, a very low door in which almost everybody has to bend to enter.  It reminds you of the low entrance of a cave as the birthplace of Christ.  The Basilica door was also made that way to prevent horses and camels from entering because some pilgrims and visitors did bring them in.

Similar to the Sepulchre Church, control of the Basilica is shared by three Christian denominations: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian and thus similar problems.  The Basilica looks badly in need of repair and restoration, but it cannot be done because the 3 groups cannot agree on the sharing of the expenses.
We had another guide, Salwa, a Palestinian American who told us that Pres. Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has decided that his government would be the one to spend for the restoration and that experts from Europe and North America have already been tapped for the purpose.

Much of the Basilica is in the control of the Greek Orthodox church, but the Franciscans have the beautiful St Catherine church right beside.  I saw a unique mosaic in the Franciscan church which I instructed my companions to photograph.  It was a mosaic of St Joseph holding the toddler Jesus together with two scrolls, presumably the Torah and the Prophets, with Jesus touching one of the scrolls.  What is usual is the Madonna and Child, but this Father and Toddler with Scrolls mosaic again reminds me of a father's duty to raise and educate his child in the faith.

We proceeded to the Chapel of St Helena, which our guide says goes back to the original Basilica built by Empress Helena.  The current Basilica was built by Emperor Justinian in 565 AD after the original was burned during the Samaritan Revolt of 529.
At the Chapel we had Mass with another Filipino pilgrim group.  Afterwards we proceeded to line up at the entrance to a cave under the Basilica altar.  At this cave, a silver star on the floor marks the spot where Jesus was born, and to the side is a small shrine that marks the spot where the manger was supposed to be.

The problems began.  We ended up waiting in line one and a half hours because the Armenians had a ceremony in which they were following a different clock, and afterwards a Minister of Belgium came with camera men and escorted by Palestinian police and he was given priority. Two groups were ahead of us, Indian Muslims from Bombay, and they were patient and well-behaved. The birthplace of Jesus is sacred also to Muslims because Jesus is acknowledged as a powerful prophet in Islam and his mother Mary's virginal conception of Jesus is narrated in the Koran.

What irritated many of us were the Russians right behind us.  Some of them were steadily pushing and apparently trying to sneak ahead in the line.  At a certain point, we held each other's hands and formed a cordon to prevent the Russian invasion.
Various tour groups accumulated into a long line, and so when we finally were able to enter the cave, the ushers were hurrying us.  So we ended up spending a rushed minute in the cave praying, touching the star and taking photos. Some expressed their sadness afterwards, for they did not feel the expected atmosphere of solemnity.

I was a bit stoic about the unfortunate experience.  For one, I tend towards the opinion of several critical historians who think that Jesus was most likely born in Nazareth because only the gospels of Matthew and Luke mention Bethlehem as his birthplace, while Mark and John affirm that Jesus was from Nazareth.  Also Matthew and Luke disagree on crucial details that it seems that the Bethlehem story was created to show that Jesus was indeed a descendant of king David, whose hometown was Bethlehem.

We had our best lunch so far at the Tent Restaurant with a view of the hillsides of Bethlehem. Starters were pita with 7 different kinds of dips.  That was already a tasty meal for us.  But they still served roasted chicken and a mixture of beef, lamb and pine nuts.  We had a refreshing lemon mint drink, but I tasted the only Palestinian beer, brewed in a Christian village, since alcohol is forbidden to Muslims.  The dessert, a baklava, was too sweet.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Holy Land: Herodion and Bethlehem

May 22:  We started our morning at the Herodion, the ruins of a palace-fortress of Herod the Great which he built in 23-20 BCE and which is 5 kms from Bethlehem and 13 kms from Jerusalem.  It contains his mausoleum but his remains are gone, probably vandalized by the many people who hated him throughout his life and after his death.  The mausoleum was discovered only two years ago and the archeologist who discovered it died soon after in an accident at the site.  It makes one think of "the curse of the mummy."
The palace fortress was on top of two hills merged into one, in which Herod used thousands of slaves for the 4-year construction.  We saw the ruins of guest-houses for his friends including a pool so large that his friends, according to accounts, would go boating in it with a large fountain in the middle.  This was the Herod that, according to Matthew's gospel, ordered the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem.  This was the Herod that turned the Jerusalem Temple into something so grand that it rivalled other temples in the Roman empire.

This was also the Herod who had 3 of his sons and favourite wife executed because he suspected them of plotting against him or planning to usurp his throne.  Since Herod wanted to show that he was a faithful Jew by not eating pork, the Romans joked that it was better to be Herod's pig than to be his son.  He died of syphilis 2 years after Jesus was born.

Since there was no shade among the ruins at the Herodion, we were under the hot sun while Glenn talked a lot about the place and about the contemporary complexity of nationality, ethnicity and religious identity in Palestine.  It became too much so that some of us stood up and proceeded back to the bus.  After nearly a week, he still could not understand the fact that most Filipinos do not like to be under the hot sun for long.  The back of my neck and my lower arms became red.  I brought sun block to Israel, but have not yet used it.

For lunch, we were divided into groups of five for meals with different Palestinian families.  For my group, our host was Reema.  We were not supposed to meet her husband but he came home early.  They have 3 girls, the oldest of which is 17, and they have a boy, their youngest, at 4 years old.  The boy Joseph was so cute and was not shy.  He even called, "Come!" to play with him in his little Tykes one-piece see-saw.  I obliged and of course I remembered Dennis.

Reema served us delicious chicken in which she used several local spices.  I was told that Winnie Monsod got the list of spices and I shall try to copy it.  She offered also a tasty stew of potatoes, cauliflower, onions and other vegetables.  Reema is a school teacher while her husband is a construction worker.  Their family is Greek Orthodox.  They have one small car and a 3-storey house, but the 2nd and 3rd floors are unfinished, just a shell of stone and cement.  They hope to finish it in 3-5 years.  They plan to rent out the floors or rooms for extra income.

We heard first-hand their woes in a territory that Israel has put behind 8-meter high walls with limited autonomy given to the Palestinian National Authority.  They get their water from Israel, which occasionally cuts it off without warning and it is especially difficult in the summer.  I have seen the dryness of the land and 6 months without rain is not unusual throughout Palestine.

Reema's husband works in Jerusalem and a half hour trip between Bethlehem and Jerusalem becomes at least 2.5 hours because of the Israeli checkpoint in which every Palestinian lines up and goes through inspection one by one even if they have the proper papers and they go through the checkpoint day after day.  There is a curfew at the checkpoints and they can be arbitrarily closed during Jewish holidays or whenever Israel perceives a security threat.

Reema says that she gets upset listening to CNN or BBC reportage about the troubles in Palestine because the Palestinian experience is not presented accurately.  She says that Al-Jazeera tends to make the small problems big.  She doubts that they would be allowed to be an independent state in the next 5 years.
Entering Bethlehem, our bus went through a checkpoint but we were quickly let through.  Going around Bethlehem and even at the center of the city, you could see that much of the city looks drab compared to Israeli villages around Jerusalem.  Leaving Bethlehem, we spent 10 minutes at the checkpoint, and the wall on the Palestinian side had huge graffiti critical of what Israel does to the Palestinians.  We were warned not to take photos of the checkpoint, otherwise the Israeli guards would confiscate the cameras.
Reema also mentioned problems they had with Muslim Palestinians, as Christian Palestinians like them constitute a minority there.
When will Jerusalem truly become the City of Shalom?

Holy Land: Temple Mount and Western Wall

May 21 was another full day.  Many of us found it tiring partly because of the heat when you go under the sun especially towards noon, although up at the Temple Mount, the highest place in the Old City of Jerusalem, you can shiver from the cold when the wind blew.  The Temple Mount is an incomparable place.  On it once stood king Solomon’s majestic temple, built around 950 BCE and which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE.

The Second Temple, which was initially a modest building in the 5th century BCE but was greatly expanded and refurbished by Herod the Great 20 years before Jesus was born, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

The Jews believed that the holiest section of both temples stood on the rock where Abraham bound Isaac, his son through Sarah, and nearly sacrificed him.  Now what stands on that spot is the (golden) Dome of the Rock, an impressive Islamic shrine and the oldest existing Islamic building, built in 691 CE.  The shrine commemorates Mohammed's ascension into heaven (temporarily because he returned).

At the southern end of the Temple Mount is the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third most important mosque (after those in Mecca and Medina).  The Temple Mount complex is under Islamic religious authorities.

To go up, we went through metal detectors.  Women had to be properly dressed.  We were told that there was a fashion police.  Women should not show much skin.  Outside the security check, there was an official sign from the Jewish Rabbinate of Jerusalem warning that the Temple Mount is such a sacred place that nobody should go up there.  Of course, non-Jews and secular Jews ignore the warning.

Tourists could go up there but non-Muslims are forbidden to pray or bring the Bible.  But you can peacefully walk around with your guide and have your pictures taken.  You could see groups of Muslims at prayer or simply touring the place.  I was told that during Ramadan and other important occasions tens of thousands of Muslims would go there.

Entrance into the Dome and the Mosque has become off-limits to non-Muslims ever since Defence Minister Ariel Sharon with 150 Israeli bodyguards provocatively climbed and entered the Temple Mount area in the year 2000 which triggered the 2nd Intifada uprising from Palestinian Muslims.  It is a pity we could not enter the Dome because the postcard pictures I bought showed how beautiful it is inside.

From the Temple Mount we went down to the holiest site that observant Jews could visit, the Western Wall, which used to be called the Wailing Wall.  Ever since Israel occupied the Old City (East Jerusalem) and took control of it away from Jordan in the aftermath of the 6th-day war in 1967, Jews have preferred to call it the Western Wall, which is part of the original retaining wall put up by king Herod in order to expand the esplanade or courtyard of the Temple.

Men and women had separate sections of the Wall.  The men's section was bigger and off-limits to women.  Men have to wear a kipper or skull cap which is freely provided if you had none.  There were many Jews who were praying in front of the wall, touching it, swaying as they prayed, inserting small pieces of paper with prayers into the crevices, which were full of paper.  The people were not too many so it was not hard to find a blank spot.  I was able to touch the wall, say a prayer, and insert my piece of paper.

When I moved away from the wall, I stayed for another 15 minutes to observe people.  It was fascinating to watch devout and not-so-devout Jews, some with their young sons, praying and singing, also because they celebrated bar-mitzvahs for 13 year old boys, which means the boys were considered mature enough to be expected to follow Jewish teachings, a coming-of-age celebration.

It reminded me of the importance of the active involvement of the father in the spiritual and moral formation of his son (and daughter).  I resolved that we should make the confirmation of Sophie and Dennis a special family celebration (and also Dennis' circumcision when he asks for it).

The Western Wall was starting to get packed with people as noon approached, and as more families came to celebrate the bar-mitzvah, carrying small canopies over the boys, with joyful singing, dancing, and candy-throwing to bystanders.

As a Filipino, I found it amusing to think that many would decide to celebrate bar-mitzvah at high noon when, even though the air was cool and dry, the sun was hot and can be stinging and there were chairs but no tents or trees near the Western Wall.

Since men and women had separate sections, the women who came for the bar mitzvahs went to the divider and climbed on top of their chairs to witness the ceremony for their sons or brothers. They would sing, clap, make ululation sounds, and throw candy from the divider.  It was touching to see the boys, some somewhat small for a thirteen year old, carrying the big heavy scroll of the Torah (5 books of Moses).  They now take upon themselves the (sweet) yoke of God’s Law.

Some fathers assist their small sons.  But you could see how happy and proud the fathers were, many kissing their sons affectionately every now and then.  Some of the boys, unsurprisingly, look embarrassed at such display of joy and affection from their loved ones.  The boys of course were prepared for this day through years of listening to and assisted reading of the Torah, in some very devout families starting at age of 5.  There is something to this: the day when a boy (or girl) is considered mature enough to be responsible in the realm of faith and morals should be celebrated as a very joyful day and should be remembered as such.

The picture of Deeda, Dennis and Sophie of course came to my mind.  I did not ask God for anything specific for them in the paper I inserted in the Wall.  I thanked the Holy One of Blessing for his Presence fills creation and his wisdom and love are trustworthy as regards our welfare.

Confirmation is our closest equivalent to the bar-mitzvah (and maybe circumcision for the teenage boy) and I am more convinced that it should be celebrated in a more special way by Catholic families.

Entering the area of the Western Wall, the Jewish rabbis put up a formal sign declaring that the Divine Presence is always in the Wall.  It was fascinating to see birds entering holes high in the Wall and plants growing out of it, including one with beautiful flowers.  Glenn told me that those flowering plants with small fruits were caper bushes.  So I shall not look at the capers Deeda serves in our salads the same way anymore.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Holy Land: Holy Sepulchre Church

May 20:  We entered the "Christian Quarter" of the Old City of Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate this morning.  We walked to the Church of Holy Sepulchre.  Surrounding the church are small roads and alleys full of shops of all kinds of items, with some stores having really interesting and beautiful religious and non-religious artworks, souvenirs, and pricey things.  Some items are from local artisans, and some made in China which are of course cheaper.  

You can haggle in the stores.  The Muslim Quarter is full of small shops with cheaper items. Some of my companions who have eyes for beautiful reasonably priced items bought jewelry and hand-embroidered table cloths.
Of course we went around the shops only after lunch.  We spent the whole morning at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The original Basilica was built by Helena, mother of emperor Constantine, starting 333.  It came under Islamic control in the 7th century, and was totally destroyed under a mad Muslim ruler in 1009.  The current church was built by the Crusaders starting 1099, and enlarged through the centuries.

The church serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, who shares control of the building with the Latin Patriarchate (Roman Catholic), the Armenian, the Syriac, the Coptic and the Ethiopian churches and a Muslim institution under complicated arrangements. In fact, it is the Muslim institution that has to hold the key to the main door because of "the jealous possessiveness" of the different Christian churches that "watch each other suspiciously for any infringement of rights" (Jerome Murtphy O'Connor).
The complicated arrangements made the movement of pilgrims less orderly and the place less conducive to prayer.  We came in early when the crowds were thinner.  We went up a few steep steps to "Calvary Hill" on top of which was a Greek Orthodox chapel where below the altar under a glass cover was limestone rock with a crack where, it is believed, Christ's cross was erected.  There is a hole in the glass where you can insert your hand to touch the rock.  There was a crowd with no clear line and people pushing to get their chance to touch the rock.  I prayed and was not inspired to line up.
Scholars are 90% sure that the crucifixion and burial occurred within the complex of the church.  As to the exact places, it is strictly speaking not important. While the pushing and disorderliness can be distracting and irritating, one can also witness authentic devotion.
The "Edicule," the structure that encloses the place where Jesus’ remains were buried, also had a long line and I was not inspired to line up again.  If it was indeed Jesus' tomb, nothing of the original was left in the wake of the destruction ordered by the mad Muslim ruler, and what you find inside is a reconstruction.  

The Calvary rock, however, is still original, even though its identification as the place of the cross was partly based on the fact that the Romans erected a shrine of Venus over it, and it was believed that the Romans did it to stop pilgrimages to the place and to obliterate the memory of Christ.

We had Mass at the Crusader chapel which is beside the Mary Magdalene chapel, both chapels under the control of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Mass was short (30 minutes) but inspiring.  Another group was scheduled to use the chapel immediately after us.  The priest was a Salesian Latin American or Spaniard who serves and works with the Filipino OFWs (estimated to be 45,000) in Israel. We met some of them at the Hong Kong airport and in the Old City.

The different churches take control of the Edicule at different times.  While we were in the complex, the Greek Orthodox church took control of the Edicule for an hour in which there was an impressive procession of their clergy around it, and pilgrims could not enter.  We entered a chapel and bent into a small poorly-lit cave where there were two authentic "oven" tombs that give you an idea of what Jesus' original tomb could have looked like.

Covenant-Prophetic Faith

“The Old Testament work of scholars like Gerhard von Rad…(has) shown the deeply historical character of the biblical witness” (Jose Miguez Bonino).  Von Rad affirms that ancient Israel’s covenant-prophetic theology was dynamically historical: its world view was non-cyclical in contrast to that of the surrounding peoples of the Fertile Crescent.  It believed that the Israelite people was constituted by a series of canonical or definitive historical events and, particularly with the prophets, it was receptive and responsive to new historical movements, changes and chances.

The covenant-prophetic faith believes that divinity is actively involved in history.  YHWH is not primarily a god of the rich harvest or of fertility like Baal, who is susceptible to the death and renewal cycles of the natural environment.  Certainly, Yhwh is the creator of the physical world and the guarantor of the continuance of the natural cycles.  God favors these cycles not because he needs to but because he wants to.
In contrast to the gods of the Fertile Crescent, Yhwh’s will and power is revealed primarily in unrepeatable liberational events like the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan.  “What distinguishes the Holy Spirit from the magic ‘spirits’ is that it acts through historic mediations” (Miguez).

The biblical testimony to these liberational events is meant to help normatively believers in every age to obey the contemporary divine summons to help liberate and humanize people in their concrete situations.  The biblical message is meant to inspire a humanizing praxis rather than to express propositions about God’s being or essence.  Miguez writes:

“The Biblical message is a call, an announcement-proclamation (kerygma) which is given in order to put in motion certain actions and to produce certain situations…God is not the content of the message but the wherefrom and the whereto, the originator and the impulse of this course of action and these conditions…By defining an event as God’s action, the Bible is…pointing to the divinely wrought and revealed background and power of the human action demanded.” (“Marxist Critical Tools”).

Not even in the revelation of the divine name to Moses (Exodus 3:14) was an ontological statement intended; the divine name could be understood only in the light of liberational events that would still occur.  In this way, the holy name has done justice to divine freedom, which coincides with the gracious plan to save human beings through human intermediaries.  Miguez firmly believes in “the reality of a God who ever remains gratuitously ‘himself’ in the very process of being totally ‘for us’ and ‘in us’” (“Historical Praxis”).
Miguez’s biblical theology recognizes that the covenant-prophetic faith is not essentially an intellectual assent to revealed, supernatural and timeless truths.  Biblical faith is neither speculative knowledge nor a passive contemplation of abstract axioms.  Instead, “faith is always a concrete obedience” (Miguez), an obedient knowing, and an efficacious realization of the divine summons, which is actively involved in biblical and post-biblical history.

Authentic faith is an attentive knowledge of God’s historical summons, and requires a concrete engagement with history.  The biblical faith is a practising faith, a practical form of knowing the active Word.  “Faith is like the strength of a muscle: we are only aware of it when we use it.  The only faith is in the performance of the faith.” (Miguez)

Miguez’s understanding of faith affirms that it is both a divine gift and a human response.  God inaugurated history, and continues to be active in it.  God’s historical activity calls us to faithful practice, a concrete obedience to the living Word.  The pre-condition for every faithful practice is the reality of the prior divine commands and actions.