February 26, 2017
I woke up because of the call of my grandmother who came to watch and visit the Panagbenga Festival in Baguio. As my sight adjusted to the darkness of my boarding room, I grabbed my phone and tiredly but enthusiastically answered.
“Hi ma! Are you in Victory Liner already?” I asked as I stretched my hands and yawned in silence.
“Yes, ‘nak. I’ll wait for you here. I’m just sitted beside the BDO atm machine.”
It’s redundant to say ‘atm machine’ because the ‘m’ in atm means machine, ma. “Ok po.” I answered and quietly put on my slippers and my maroon racoon jacket as to not disturb my two snoring roomates.
I called my grandmother a week before and told her I had a problem. I’m thinking about going churchless. Being an atheist turned Christian opened my heart and mind to many things that the churches I attend to does not understand.
I hurried down the entrance from Microtel and instantly spotted my grandmother. It wasn’t hard. All I had to do was search for a lady who was dressed in a T-shirt and a long skirt that could cover my study table and a hair longer than that. My grandmother was braiding her Rapunzel hair when she caught sight of me, she instantly smiled, and hugged me.
“The last time I was here was when Mt. Pinatubo exploded! My, how everything changes.” My grandmother recounted ” Just give me a minute to braid my hair.” she pardoned.
“Why don’t you just cut your hair ma?” I asked looking at her insane length of hair.
My grandmother tenderly smiled at me “You know about 1 Corinthians 11:15. God is pleased when a woman has long hair, its her covering and glory.”
“Will God get mad if you cut it though?” I smirked and grandma just sheepishly looked at me and understood how my mind works.
I am sure that my God looks at more than a woman’s hair to see her glory.
While walking back to my dorm, as the starry night entertained my grandmother I started to talk.
“It may not be expressed in my face but I am truly happy, mama.” And I meant it.
“After the Panagbenga Festival, let’s go attend the worship service in my church.”
I wore the same raccoon jacket, my favorite jacket from my closet, tribal-patterned sweater and jeans. I was happy to see the excitement on my grandmother’s face as she stepped upon the bricked sidewalk of Session Road after more than two decades. People were flocking from every corner of Session, some even set-up tents and we were told they camped out there since the previous night to get the first dib at the grandeur sight of the parade. Fortunately, my grandmother’s people- person personality never faded away and she talked young couples away to give us a nice comfortable seat. We waited for three hours. During that time, I put my earphones on and listened to Sigur Ros’ instrumental song called ‘Hoppipolla’ meaning ‘Jumping in Puddles’ I was a sucker for instrumentals and how they amplify ‘feels’ and the sight of people laughing, of children running around, of the police men joking to eachother really was a sight. I could not explain through words what I mean by ‘feels’ but its a feeling of unexplainable satisfaction of living. And listening to Hoppipolla while watching the sight made me feel ‘more’. I gave the other half of the earphones to grandma and we watched hapilly as the sky above us turned from a starry midnight blue to an amazing sunrise yellow cascading into shades of blue as it herald the coming of morning. Oh, it was truly a sight. There was a baby beside us who was laughing at the faces his mother was making.
I smiled as I watched the baby and remembered something. “I once read somewhere ma,” I began “the reason why we smile when we see a baby.” Me and my grandma giggled as the baby burped milk “Why?” grandma asked “People spend their entire lives building up defensive layers around themselves, layers they call reputation, image, dignity, success,” I smiled as the song reached its most uplifting part and the baby stared at us again. “That’s the reason po why we smile when see a baby, because we see someone without those defensive layers and just that authentic human spirit inside.”
10: 12 am
My grandmother is a member of the most , at least in my mind, conservatist and traditionalist Christian denomination: ADD. Headed by their two ‘Pangkalahatang Nangangasiwa” Bro Guy at Bro Man who they watch on two flat screen televisions that hanged at both sides of the room. Inside, you aren’t allowed to wear your foot garments because the church is a holy ground. Inside, is a scary view of people that shouts, again in my mind, it is a criminal to be an individual. Let me define what a ‘girl’ is in their context: A human being burried in a suffocating clothing of garments, whose skin is forbidden to be touched by any cosmetic products, whose hair should be longer than Rapunzel’s. Now the men: beings of impractical jokes, cannot wear tight Ts and pants, should be authoritative, should always short hair, no beard, and should look uptight. This was my grandmother’s church.
“Goodmorning brother and sister.” a lady at the welcoming table greeted.
O yeah, your name here is either brother or sister. No other gender identification.
I noticed as the lady whisphered something to grandma and she was glimpsing at me. That’s so rude. My grandmother turned to me and looked at my cap. I sighed in frustration but understood. I took off my cap. As I sighed, I did not only let go of my breath but of my opinions and ideas. Somehow I understood that beneath all those traditions lies their desire to love and serve God.
Tagalog praises and hymns were playing on the televisions as everyone waited for the time to pray. And when it did, everyone stood up, found east and knelt down in prayer like the Muslims. Now, this is one of the things I took away from this denomination. I felt that it’s a sign of humility, ultimate humility, to kneel down in prayer which in itself is already an act of humility The message for that day was obedience. And I understood that when you fall in love with God, the laws and commandments are not labelled as such in ones mind , that when you love God, you learn to love what he loves and that obeying is not an obligation that , for this people, they don’t see these laws as something burdening but an act to follow because they love God. I understood. But still, when I see the young children being told what to wear or how to sit or be lectured about what is ‘proper’ , I frown. And I wondered, do I have a problem of disobedience?
I took grandmother to my favorite bookshop in all of existence: Bookends
Stepping inside the place instantly takes you into a mixed feeling of olden days and fantasy. Accompanying the books were hundreds of different antiques ranging from miniscule candleholders, to statues and paintings, it was a sight for the heart.
“This is where I go to when I feel alone.” I told my grandmother and I explained to her how I’ve come to uderstand God beyond how most people understood Him. How I understand all the denominations and where they’re coming from and that when I open up this things to other believers, they look at me with a stern face. “Ma, it’s like the way I understand God is very different from the way people view Him.” I started as my hands scanned through the classical cannon literature.
“I understand things.” I grabbed Alice in Wonderland and sheepishly scanned through it. “Like for example, I attend many denominations depending on the location I am and the time I have doing so has opened my mind that everyone of this religion loves God but is in an endless battle of whose right and whose making things up but for me, I take in the parts that I see would help me in my walk with Christ. In Born Again and Baptist being there that I really understood the Cross, I learned that the equation to salvation is only faith in Jesus plus nothing else that would result in goodworks that is why it’s so hard for me to stand Ang Dating Daan because you live your lives unassured about where you’re going after you die, but what I took from you guys is that obeying God’s commandments means doing it as a response to what Jesus did on the cross and not see it as burdens. Another thing that I value about your church is that people try their best to be citizens of heaven but I cannot accept that the women are so choked up in the wrong way by ideals of the church I know God does not order. I’m a feminist and I believe Christian women should be given the right on how to live their walk with God.” I noticed that the gay shopkeepers were whispering to one another and sat on s beautifullly carved wooden dear head with grandma. She looked at me in the eyes toughtfully but did not say anything, I held my cross pendant. “This, was given to me by my bestfriend Noah. And hes agnostic.” I smiled ” I think that one of the most misinterpreted verse in the Bible is the one saying that a believer should have no business with an unbeliever but Noah has tought me so much and , ironically, is my greatest encourager everytime my faith is failing. And then there’s the LGBTQ+ community that the church encourages to pray to Jesus to make them straight; and though most churches are against discrimanation, they cannot accept them as whole and miss the point that their gender are not a choice, its what God made them to be. So if the church are against discrimanation and say that Jesus accepts them, then they should also allow same sex marriage and the likes.” I can feel the urge of ideas and unspoken thoughts finally being brought to light and it made my heart beat. “Living here in Baguio exposed me to different cultures and traditions frowned upon on and changed by some missionary churches. See, I think God inroduces himself through different forms; it maybe through art, music, a society’s culture and tradition, and changing it is cruel and deregatory. I understand what Christ meant that He is the only way but what if that only way manifests itself in different forms? And then there’s this messed up usage of the verse ‘obey your authority’ that Manny Pacquaio loosely uses to justify his support with the reimposition of the death penalty and his defence against the criticism of extra judicial executions. It was true and it is written: ‘Obey your authorities, even the bad ones but remember that the highest autority is God.’ I reminded myself to hush down a little. ” Heres my point about obeying your autorities: Noah shouldve obeyed his authority then and did not do the ark, Moses shouldve obeyed his authority then and did not fight for Israel’s freedom and forever be the Egyptians’ slaves, Mary and Joseph shouldve obeyed Herod’s order then and gave up baby Jesus when he ordered the killings of all the first born male child two millenia ago. That’s my point. And about death penalty, I am so against it because it offends the very core of Christianity: that Jesus took our death penalty so that no one would ever have to experience it ever again.” A tear rolled down my right cheek. “Mama, everytime I try to share these thoughts with my ‘fellow’ believers, they reprimand me and shut me off. Last week I was showing my quiet time journal to a pastor in a baptist church I’m attending to and he took it and said that it my stands are unbiblical and wrong– that was my favorite possession cause I draw there, I write poems…” I started sobbing as I remembered that I do not have my journal anymore. “Mama, I feel so out of place in the church.” Usually, a Christian feels out of place in the world. “I feel like God is mad at me with the way I’m treated. That is why I just call myself a Christian and not a Born Again, Baptist, or whatever. I’m simply just Christian. That’s my human core.”
“Arvee,” my grandmother said wiping the tears in my eyes ” Do not be afraid to speak against the church if you have to. Against the government if you have to. Against principalities if you have to. You’re a believer ahead of your time. Do not be afraid.”
Grandmother made sure that I know that I’m not alone with my beliefs and to further comfort me, we bought a new journal in an arts and craft stall in Session in Bloom and that uplifted my spirits. “Ma I think I’m going churchless. A churchless Christian.” I said smiling as I held my grandmother’s hand. “Church is not the strcture but the people anyway. And in that sense, you are part of my church, my agnostic bestfriend is part of my church, my Muslim adviser, my Jehova’s Witness roomate, and eventually anyone who helps me in my walk with God.” My grandmother chuckled and smiled ” I am proud of you.”
Our smiles slightly diminished as we saw one of grandmother’s churchmate who pointed at the Cross necklace that I am wearing. “Good afternoon brother and sis.” the old man smiled looking at my necklace. “Sis,” he told my grandmother “Why is your grandson wearing a Cross necklace? Anyway I know you’ll remind him that its unbiblical.” And with that he left. Me and my grandmother met gazed and she smiled.
“Will you accompany me?” Grandmother asked untying her hair.
“To where?” I asked.
“A barber shop.”
It was a blessed day.