What does it mean to be a Christian in this day and age? There are as many answers to this question as there are Christian denominations, each with their own unique theological bases and convictions. It is also the case that every camp professes to be the true followers of the teachings of the Great Sage that it has become a battle between equally righteous and passionate groups of believers.
The degree of passion in which each camp defends their position is proof that Christianity and its message continue to capture the imagination and belief of many people. Christianity still responds to that basic human need to understand the meaning of existence and its necessary ethical corollary, how it is to exist or live – points that modern philosophy and science have not sufficiently addressed. But the multiplicity of Christian faiths also tells us that many also offer divergent answers to these important questions.
Often, the debate centers on the issue of salvation based on conflicting directions to that mystical heavenly destination. And many have been trapped pursuing that promise of redemption. They cannot be entirely blamed since the human condition demands immediate existential relief from the harshness of life. And what better balm than the prospect of a life ever after, of being considered worthy and at once healed. This led a non-believer to quip that if God did not exist, he would have to be invented.
But beyond the promise of salvation that many are fixated with, are the other aspects of the Christian message that are forgotten or set aside in our mad rush to secure our own patch of heaven. Christ was not a real estate agent and His message was not just all about how to secure our souls from damnation.
There is a parallel tradition among believers of Christ’s message that need to be reconsidered by the faithful. And that is to contemplate on the living and breathing Christ who once walked among us as a mortal.
He, who manifested Himself from the salt of the earth, to become human so that He can feel our joys, pains, and sorrows. He, who was persecuted by those in power but stood up to witness for the oppressed and powerless so that they may live in peace. This witnessing character of Christ before the most terrible of shared human conditions has sadly been drowned out in the cacophony of Christian voices.
The new offering from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, a book entitled “Salt of the Earth” is a brave attempt to resuscitate this vital Christian message of witnessing. In this volume, are the painful stories of those that have been felled by the evil that men do upon fellowman.
But instead of the Pharisees of old, we have their modern-day equivalents in the form of foreign mining interests and their partners in the Philippine military who conscript paramilitary groups to sow terror and mayhem among indigenous communities in Northern Mindanao in the name of large-scale resource extraction and plantation expansion.
We see the likeness of the crucified Christ in the person of Jimmy Liguyon, Barangay Captain of Dao, San Fernando, Bukidnon and Matigsalug indigenous leader, who was riddled by armalite bullets in his own home by paramilitary groups because he would not sign papers that would allow the entry of large-scale mining operations in their tribe’s ancestral land. Standing in Mother Mary’s stead weeping over the bloodied body of her murdered son, was Jimmy’s five-year old daughter who rushed to his father as he fell from the hail of bullets. There are many more Christ-like martyrs felled by the powerful – Balangas Anlamit also of San Fernando, Bukidnon; Gilbert Paborada and Rolen Langala of Opol, Misamis Oriental who were killed for their opposition against palm oil expansion right at Cagayan de Oro’s doorsteps.
There are also those who, just like Christ, took on the burden of the people’s suffering on their shoulders and because of their own Christian witnessing, are now incarcerated by the government on trumped-up charges. Their stories are also revealed here in this brave volume.
While most Christians do everything they can to keep their souls from the fires of eternal damnation by following to the letter the edicts of their respective denominations, the least of their neighbors are being murdered and jailed by the powerful. This book challenges us with the question, what does it mean to be a Christian in these dark days of slaughter?
Arnold P. Alamon
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