Based on conference notes by Gemma Cruz)
The morning liturgy was a meditation on woman’s herstory, beginning with the big bang, the creation of the earth, the first stirrings of life, the dawn of the human race, all the way to the present. It ended with the women dividing into age groups, those below 40, those between 40 and 60, and those over 60, to worship God and celebrate their bodies in whatever way they saw fit. The women between 40 and 60 showed the most spontaneity and ease with their bodies, massaging each other’s shoulders, doing a snake dance, having fun. Eventually, the handful in the over 60s group joined them while the women below 40 more or less just stood around, not knowing what to do. Picture at left is of a portion of the Syantikara garden, where the liturgy was held.
Other Christian Perspectives: During the Plenary, Pastor Indrianne Bone and Pastor Evangeline Raikumar Anderson spoke on the theme from their perspectives as Protestant women, Indrianne from Indonesia, and Evangeline from India. Following are notes on their talk.
· Women have no control over their own bodies and, consequently, their own selves. In Indonesia, people have difficulty saying the names of the male and female sex organs in the local language. The Protestant tradition shares with the Catholic tradition the misogynistic teachings of the Church, especially those that come from the Church fathers, e.g. Augustine. Points of difference include that of Mary whose role, and even less her virginity, are not stressed in the Protestant tradition. The Protestant cross has no Jesus while the Catholic cross almost always has Jesus, particularly the crucified Jesus. In terms of women leadership, Protestant women are ordained for ministry while Catholic women aren’t. It must be pointed out, however, that even if Protestant women get to be ordained, male ministers are accorded more respect. Protestant liturgies are rigid; they do not touch the heart. Protestant spirituality, particularly in Indonesia, is dry. It doesn’t really attend to the body. The Protestant tradition must have a more integrated and wholistic conception of body and sexuality.
· To talk about body and sexuality means that we will no longer take as absolute, the values and norms (on body and sexuality) set by the Church. Women’s sex and sexuality are used and defined by man. Women had to deny their sexuality to prove that they are spiritually superior. Ever since, the sex and sexuality of women has posed a threat to our male-dominated Church. Women’s bodies are considered dangerous bodies and whenever they transgress the social and ecclesiastical boundaries imposed on them, they are punished. Ex. Dalit women’s bodies are considered polluted so inter-caste marriages are not allowed. Dangerous bodies are not only those that threaten ideologies but also those that are mythologized according to class, race, etc. But there have always been resisting and negotiating bodies. These are the bodies that challenge constructed meanings and deconstruct them. Constructed bodies are inscribed bodies. The site of violence should, however, become the site of negotiation, resistance, and redemption. There is a need for a shift in thinking: Don’t focus on what divides us (according to denominations) for these are imagined boundaries. Look at our histories as connected and shared histories using our bodies and sexualities.
Open Forum – Stressing differences, someone commented, we cannot gloss over differences because doing so could lead to homogenization. Another asked for an example on women using punishment to resist with their bodies after they have transgressed boundaries. Evangeline mentioned the case of a Dalit woman who was paraded naked by the community for helping a couple to elope. Other Dalit women paraded naked with her. On whether they see differences between Protestant theologizing and Catholic theologizing, Evangeline said “As has been pointed, out we should not allow ourselves to be divided. What is imperative is that we move beyond imagined boundaries or, more explicitly, cross, and transgress these boundaries. On point of difference, I guess I can say that there is creation of more space for women by Protestant women, particularly in the Lutheran church.
Doing Contextual Theology. After the open forum, Chris Burke, Continuity Committee member and facilitator/program coordinator for the conference, invited the participants to quietly reflect on everything that had taken place so far, and each to write on a piece of brown paper, an issue she would like considered in an exercise in doing theology. The suggestions were eventually narrowed down to the following key topics/issues: a. An Integrated Spirituality of Women Rooted in their Bodies and Linked to All Life; b. Politics of Clothes and Exploring Touch; c. Reconstruction of the Terms — Body, Sex, Gender Orientation, Marriage, Family, Intimacy and Commitment; d. Theology of Hunger — a Post-modern Perspective; e. Body — A Hermeneutical Tool for Re-reading the Bible; e. Women’s Bodies as Sites of Divine Dynamic Embodied Wisdom/Energies.
Guide Questions for Doing Contextual Theology.:
Step 1. Contemporary Asian Women’s Experience, Identify, Analyze. Why is this a critical issue? What religious/cultural beliefs have reinforced dominant perspectives? Who suffers? How? Who profits? Are there local cultural categories which can help provide a lens for looking at this differently? What insights from these days together at EWA II seem relevant to analyzing this issue?
Step 2. Rereading Scriptural and Theological Tradition. Brainstorm for aspects of Theology/Scripture that might be relevent to this issue. How can local cultural categories help towards a rereading of scripture or tradition in relation to this theme? What insights from our days together seem relevant to a re-reading?
Step 3. What pastoral response is needed? How would a newer or clearer theology on this assist people’s lives? What deper theological examination or pastoral action or strategizing can each one personally undertake in relation to this issue on return home?
Afternoon Plenary: Sharing on the experience of doing contextual theology was done using the following guide questions:
· What were the significant connections made in your work?
· What new insights came up?
· What did you learn from the group activity?
· Which was the hardest to do?
Among the insights shared during the plenary were: Other people’s contribution helped sharpen my notion of spirituality. There is a gap between our thinking and our reality in the Church. Women are innovative in their strategies in saying what they want, e.g. using other labels. The pastoral part — coming up with concrete strategies— is the most difficult part. The analysis part was quite hard because of women’s ambiguous relationship with their body. In terms of strategy, we must not feel self-contained or be contented with our own. We should seek help from appropriate people, e.g. a theologian, for theories.
Fellowship Dinner and Cultural Night.
The tour of Borobudur, one of the eight wonders of the ancient world, was still to come. Meanwhile, the third evening of the conference was given for us to celebrate each other’s unique talent and national culture. The evening began with a special dinner, Indonesian party food with roast lamb as the main course, soft drinks on ice and ice cream for a party atmosphere our westernized souls could all identify with (somehow, there was always a shortage of ice and cold water the other times). Marylou, youngest of the group, very intelligent but also shocked to hear women likening orgasm to the unity of the Trinity and the union between the person and God, came in heels and the sexiest outfit she dared to bring to Muslim Indonesia. Missing American cooking that her stomach would not have to think about before digesting, for dinner, she ate take out of Kentucky’s Fried Chicken.
For cultural night, those who came prepared dressed in national costumes and presented snapshots of their culture. Clara told a Chinese love story, first in English, with very little excitement, then in Chinese, the expressiveness of her tone and her total involvement in the tale making up for everything that we could not understand. Mai Thanh, Teresa and Cisca in slim and shimmering pastel colored Vietnamese dresses awed the audience with a dance which they seemed to have practiced for years. Isabel impressed us with her entrance in the colorful, intricately embroidered garments of a Taiwanese tribeswoman. Midori, gave us a sample of samisen chamber music. Sr. Ann, talked about Myanmar, the golden land. Marini and the South Asians brought down the house with their dramatic acting in a skit portraying violence against women in the South Asian context. Sr. Voranuch and Siriporn sang a Thai song with coaching from Sr. Cecilia (Philippines), who had spent many years in Thailand. Sr. Han Soon Hee, Sr. Gratia, and Pastor Hee Sook, sang in Korean, impressing us with their voices, even though we could not understand a word they said.. After their presentation many went around distributing little tokens to those who had made the past days memorable for them. It is now difficult to remember what else was done, but one thing was obvious. The 7 Filipinas who were there had nothing to show and unlike the others with their many souvenirs to give away, had to nothing to give except their pretty faces. Agnes had an excuse, the footprints of Filipinas danced through every minute of the conference and even before the conference, in the planning and the work of communications.. After all had been said and done, it could not be said that the Filipinas did not do our share.