Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Lizette Tapia-Raquel on Sent in Love

Today's post is by Dr. Lizette Tapia-Raquel. Dr. Tapia-Raquel is Assistant Professor at Union Theological Seminary, Philippines. This post is part of a series on the UMC's new ecclesiology document, Sent in Love: A United Methodist Understanding of the Church, which will be presented to General Conference 2020 for review and adoption.

Sent in Love is a theological proposal defines the very core of our identity as a church and our work in mission. While By Water and Spirit promises the fluidity and freedom of God, and This Holy Mystery reminds us that all our doctrines and pronouncements about God are partial and limited understandings of the Divine, Sent in Love is definitive of who we are, how we must act, and ultimately, whose we are.

To be ‘sent’ signifies that we do not go, respond, and act separate from the one who sends us. We are sent by God and our movement and mission is not ours alone but God’s. To pronounce that it is ‘our movement and mission’ is in tension with the phrase ‘not ours alone but God’s.’ It means that we are empowered by God to act, but we cannot equate these same human actions as the very act of God. Therefore, to be sent is always an act of commitment and confession.

To be ‘sent in love’ demonstrates the essence of our actions – love. More importantly, this love is the very nature of God - the God of life and not death, of creation and not destruction, of salvation and not damnation, and of liberation and not enslavement. This love is inconsistent with apathy, abuse and abandonment.

Ultimately, the greatest act of being ‘sent in love’ is embodied in Jesus Christ, in divinity becoming flesh, body and human. In this radical act of becoming human, the love of the Divine became relational and communal. This means that our love for God is no longer measured by our obedience and worship but is dependent on our connection as people, as Jesus connected with people and was immersed in the human condition. Perhaps our relationship with God is only as deep as our connection with our fellow human beings.

If I were to be asked what is my most profound experience and understanding of what it means to be ‘sent in love,’ it would be about the birth of my children, Lauren and Noah. I write about this in my unpublished dissertation.

At their birth, the dogma of original sin and fallenness of humanity fell away to give place to faith in the human race and the giftedness of all. The rhetoric on being ‘children of God’ and the promise of Christ that he came ‘so that all may have life in full’ became an imperative. The primacy of the understanding that God is love was embodied and revealed in all its fullness. While they are two different people, there is divinity in them.

In them and through them I can embrace ‘the other’ who will always never be entirely known, will always be becoming, and yet celebrate the familiar for they were born of my womb and their joy and pains are also mine. For them and with them, I feel a deep pain and solidarity for all the vulnerable in the world because the fullness of my children’s humanity can only be as complete as the wholeness of others. For them and for myself, I radically imagine a world where all bodies are imbued with divinity. It is in the cells, bodies, and humanity of my children that I can fully imagine the depth of the eros, love, and desire of God for all creation. That no matter how conflicted and complex our relations may be and however different they become from what I imagined they could be, their flesh is my flesh and my love will always be manifest.

This love, eros, and desire do not have genesis in me. It was not a divine revelation, a philosophical or a theological principle. Rather, this love, eros, and desire were experienced in relations. First, through my biological parents, who first loved me. For we learn to love because we have felt loved. Scripture says, “we love because he (God) first loved us.”[1] But this love is only experienced if embodied and exhibited from another person or being. One does not feel love in the idea that ‘God is love.’ It is only when this love is manifested materially, palpably, and emotionally that love is revealed.[2]

To be ‘sent in love’ means that we make God’s love tangible to others in material, emotional, and physical ways. It means to belong to each other, to embrace ‘the other’ who is separate from but also connected to us, and to feel their pain as our own. In my relationship with my children, I learned that to be ‘sent in love’ is not only about affirming that the love of the divine is embodied in us. It is also about welcoming others who are also divine embodiments ‘sent in love’ to us.

Reflecting on the life of the Church, what I have witnessed in moments of conflict is the absence and abuse of this idea of love. This consequently exhibits the absence and the abuse of God in our churches. We say we love, but we neglect the pain of ‘the other,’ we send ‘the other’ away and we deny ‘the other’ their humanity, thereby diminishing our own humanity. Despite our pronouncements that we are all children of God, we exclude ‘the other’ who we construct as different from us.

Sent In Love clearly defines the manifestations of a Church living out its call to be a missional community: it is ‘for all’ and, thus, is welcoming to all, it is ‘transformative’ and, therefore, becoming and journeying for itself and with others, and it is ‘creating’ and nurturing communities and not breaking connections. We believe we are ‘sent in love.’ Now, we must live it!

[1] 1 John 4:19.
[2] Lizette Tapia, “The Assumption of Desire: Toward a Feminist Theology of Incarnation,” (ThD diss., Yonsei University, 2019).

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