Saturday, May 19, 2007

Letter to a missionary friend in London:

Sometimes I wish someone would try to talk me back into the christian faith of the evangelical kind. I have good memories of a church-going childhood and my parents' faith. But the last time I came home to visit my Dad, something else intruded from my unconscious.

He's just had breakfast and was reading his devotional guide at the breakfast table. I was sitting with him. My Dad is 88 years old, he reads with a magnifying glass and when he wears his hearing aid, I could carry on a conversation with him. But this morning he was reciting bible verses in English and as I watched him I started to cry as these thoughts came up from nowhere: Is this what you have become? Mouthing words that were given to you by an outsider; what has this faith done to you, dad?

I shuddered at these thoughts, Leon. Then I tried to find their source.

My father is the epitome of a split psyche visited upon him by the violence of colonialism. He fell deeply into the pond of Methodism and it shaped his life (and thus mine) forever. As a man of faith (he is a pastor), he is sought by others to preach, to officiate at baptisms, funerals and everything in between. The community respects him and has awarded him with many certificates and medals of appreciation. He seems to live for these moments of recognition.

As a husband and father, he is emotionally distant. My mother was very lonely inside the marriage but as a good submissive wife, she took it all as rightful sacrifice. My mother has passed away. My Dad is now under the care of my youngest sister. She, too, struggles to emotionally connect with my Dad.

So that morning two years ago, as he recited bible verses to me, I cried because I sensed this primal wounding (that was also mine). Perhaps I've been reading too much about patriarchy, capitalist control, gender oppression, colonialism, etc. Perhaps it was my recent immersion inindigenous literature and indigenous spirituality that made me see this split more clearly. Perhaps it's my pursuit of the works of THomas Berry about cosmic spirituality and ecology.

Yet in that moment, as I watched my father, I knew what I didn't want to become.

I tried to recall the moments when I've seen glimpses of my Dad's wholeness - the self buried beneath all that Methodist severe discipline of the mind and body (especially the body). I've seen it in his child-like delight in his garden and small aviary of lovebirds. I've watched him play with the birds and he is a totally different person. He would reach into the cage and take one of the birds in his hand and stroke its feathers gently. In that moment he is one with the bird, he is an innocent child who has never known violence.

In his garden he painstakingly pulls weeds on his arthritic knees. He stares at the intensity of the purple orchid; he is so proud of himself for coaxing this bloom. And this may not be environmentally sound but it makes me laugh -- he dares to paint the small boulders in his garden walkway with stunning red, sunny orange, and lapiz lazuli blue. The boulders line the walkway and the bright colors guide his failing eyes but I am guessing that, again, he draws a deep eros pleasure from these colors. In the soft warm breeze of a Pampanga afternoon, he sits content on his rocking chair. I can almost sense his gentleness now...minus the grating kind of hardness when he is trying so hard to be holy and righteous.

On the pulpit, he emulates the fiery talk of a hellfireandbrimstonepreacher. He quotes memorized bible verses and punctuates his homiletics with references to the United States or George Bush (all gathered from watching CNN International). He doesn't think critically about this practice -- it is what he knows and has learned to mimic perfectly.

Sometimes I could get him to ponder his own contradictions by telling him about my work, or why I believe I'm a better christian now than when I was a churchgoer. He tells me how proud he is of me and that what I write about is good and necessary. And then he would lapse again into praise for John Wesley and George Bush.

Most of the time, I can find humor in this irony. My tears and what has brought them on can recede again into the background. But I can think of them now and then when I encounter someone like you, Leon, and how you,too, struggle with your own contradictions.

Yesterday as I prepared my goodbye email to my students this semester, I found a line from Ben Okri's The Famished Road: "no injustice ever lasts,and no love ever dies...so keep the road open." I wish the Empire would remember this.

May your journey always be an open road,

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