St. Louis, Missouri
Dear Papa and Mama,
|Design of Papa and Mama's tombstone in Baguio City, Philippines|
But I am writing this letter anyway, hoping and praying that somehow, as you are now in the presence of God and in the company of that great cloud of witnesses, you would read this, and you would understand. If I were back home in the Philippines, I would go to your graveside and read this to you. But for now, this will have to do. So here it goes:
I’m writing this on the floor of the Dome in St. Louis. It is the first day of the Special Called Session of the General Conference of our beloved United Methodist Church where, as you know, I am a delegate. We are spending the whole day in prayer today. Tomorrow, we will take on the task of discerning a way forward for our denomination from the 50-year debate on the full inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ siblings. This impasse has, in many ways, stunted our growth and our ability to fully engage in life-giving, life-affirming ministry with all people in the name of Jesus Christ.
What I have been meaning to tell you all these years but failed is where I am on this issue. Pa and Ma, in my journey of faith I have come to believe that God in Jesus Christ calls us to love all people, period. And that includes our LGBTQIA+ siblings. All means all. No exceptions. My deep and continuing study of scripture and my experience of ministry and friendship with Rachel, Drew, Karen, Tatiana, Mallory, Jan, Greg and many others has led me to this conviction. I just cannot bring myself anymore to condemn these people who are living authentic lives of love and faithful Christian witness and discipleship. And because they are God's beloved children, I affirm their life journeys and calls to ministry, and will willingly serve alongside them to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. If I am wrong on this, then God have mercy on my soul but I would rather err on the side of love in obedience to the God whose nature is love and calls me to love.
Now, I know this is not where you stand theologically because that is not what our colonial faith has taught us to believe. (I say colonial as opposed to traditional because I’m not sure if that is what our native and indigenous spirituality would have dictated.) I know because I used to believe the same way. That is why I was hesitant to even open up this conversation with you even when there were perfect opportunities to do so. Even when I felt that you were asking leading or probing questions, I shied away from the topic. I was afraid of what you would say and I truly regret that now. For all I know, you would have agreed with where I was. Or if you disagreed, that you would respect my point of view. After all, I am your son and you love me. My big regret is that I never created space for us to have that honest conversation. And now I will never know what you would have said.
Which leads me to the other thing I wanted to let you know. Pa and Ma, I will be supporting a plan that creates space for diversity in the body of Christ. I failed to do that for us around this issue but I vow to do better and create generous space for others to come to the table. I believe there is room for everyone in the Body of Christ, in spite of our differences. So I will work to draw the circle wider for that to happen.
While I will never know what you would have thought or said on this matter, in my heart of hearts, I think I know where you would have eventually stood. I know because this is how you brought us up. You always modeled inclusivity and welcome.
Papa, your work in community organizing and development led you to connect with different people. You learned to speak 2 or 3 more dialects aside from our native Ilocano and Tagalog, just so you would connect with the people you were called to serve. You danced in their cañaos (festivals), participated in their dap-ay (tribal) conversations and drank their tapuy (rice wine). You welcomed them and their cultures as your own and they, in turn welcomed you as their own. And you never sought to exclude or marginalize anyone. I saw this for myself at a young age when you brought me to work with you in the barrios.
As a result. You had many friends. You were an imperfect vessel that leaked grace, touching lives one drop at a time. When I started new appointments in new places, you encouraged me to connect with the people; to do my one to ones; to listen to the people and to exclude no one.
Mama, you too, modeled inclusivity and welcome. In churches that Papa was appointed to as a bi-vocational pastor, you served as the unofficial head usher. You sought out people who were new and connected them with the regulars. You welcomed them with your signature warm smile and a sincere conversation asking about where they're from and what brings them to church that day. You were uneasy when someone was excluded. Your finite life was truly lived in infinite grace. The infinite grace you received from God, you freely gave to others.
And you both modeled this inclusive and welcoming spirit at home. Our home was always open to visitors and you always introduced them to us as tito (uncle) or tita (auntie) or lolo (grandfather) or lola (grandmother) even if they were not our blood relatives. You made sure that we felt connected and that they felt welcomed as family.
But your biggest and most recent modeling of inclusivity and welcome came when my brother Noel left the United Methodist Church to join another church significantly different in theology from ours. I know that both of you struggled with this. But we remained one family, in spite of our differences. You even went as far worshipping with them occasionally to draw the circle wide.
At both your wakes and funerals, and even in conversations after we had buried each of you, it was clear that Noel and I were processing our grief from differing theological perspectives. I can point to different specific times in planning your memorial services and even in our daily phone calls after your deaths where we disagreed theological and could have easily gotten into an argument. But because of the deep love that binds us as brothers, we chose to agree to disagree. We acknowledged our difference of opinion and persuasion but respected that if that would help each one work through this time of grief, then the other would respect it and accept it as true and holy. Pa and Ma, you taught us that love. You loved us that way.
Thank you, for teaching us the value of welcome, of inclusion and of hospitality. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for teaching us how to love. I will hold these in my heart and mind as I engage in the work here in St. Louis. I promise, I will choose love.
I love each of you dearly and miss you everyday.
P.S.: Our Filipino culture believes in “multos” or ghosts, not the scary ones that horror movies are made of but the belief that our loved ones who have gone before us, do come to visit us, to lead us, inspire us, give us closure or affirmation. I ask that you do that. Please come visit me here in St. Louis. Come to me through a dream, through a vision. Let me know that you read this. I would very much love that.