By Rev. Jeanelle Nicolas Ablola
“Relationships between men and women within the movement have to be based on more than purely emotional attachment. We must be united not for purely selfish reasons but for something bigger than both of us.
The new woman, the new Filipina, is first and foremost a militant. The new Filipina is one who can stay whole nights with striking workers, learning from them the social realities which her bourgeois education has kept from her. She is a woman who has discovered the exalting realm of responsibility, a woman fully engaged in the making of history. No longer is she a woman-for-marriage, but more and more a woman-for-action.”
M. Lorena Barros (1948-1976), founder of militant women’s organization MAKIBAKA in the Philippines
One of the things our dominant culture tries to sell us constantly, throughout all seasons, is the definition of Love. TV shows and movies, however, limit what love could be and how it could look. Even our churches limit what “God is love” means, shrinking it to merely a personal experience, a transaction between two individuals – You and God. When love is merely a transaction between two individuals, how can it not reinforce a limited binary? And a binary with an unequal power dynamic, at that.
How often do we get to hear what love means to those who choose to dedicate their lives to serving the people and extending radical love to their communities? I wish there were Valentine’s Day cards with quotes from MLK, Che, and bell hooks on what revolutionary love is. I know that they all overlap on the idea that love is not merely a feeling, an emotion, or a sentimental thing – an idea. All are about enacting that radical sense of love in the midst of our communities and struggles – how love manifests itself materially.
In activism and being part of a Movement (and being a human being), I’m regularly reflecting on this thing called Love: Whom do we focus our love towards? An individual? A group of people bound to us biologically? Those whom dominant culture already embraces and uplifts? How can we redistribute this resource called Love in ways that bring justice?
In November, I participated in a Medical Mission in Northern Samar, one of the poorest places in the Philippines. I heard from folks who had survived at least three Super Typhoons and Marcos’ Martial Law speak about how the most important thing that got them through such travesties was their faith and their love for their families.
Although their community had been organized before, and had won victories in the past (they were able to attain the relief goods that the government was withholding from them), their organization dispersed. The harassment by the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines (PNP-AFP, both heavily resourced by the US) became a constant reality.
A Filipina doctor reminded them that without community, though, their families wouldn’t have been able to survive. We need community in order for our families to thrive. We have to love our world to the point that we desire fullness of life for others, and especially Others. It will only serve our One Body if we drop our illusions of disconnect, and take up the knowing that our families and loved ones can thrive only when we are all working towards our collective liberation, and not just our own.
Leaving the Philippines and being back in the US where Love and ways-of-life are exponentially more individualistic, my reflections shifted, especially as I had to recover physically, mentally, and emotionally from the mission. Self-care has become a trend and a market all its own that US culture has been more than happy to co-opt.
It helps me a bit more to think of self-care as building resilience for our communities. Christ stepped away into the wilderness, not only for himself, but for the good of the Movement in which he would play a pivotal role. And stepping into the wilderness was not a spa day for him. It was challenging. It was bound up in the rights and dignity of others. Not just his alone. His battle against the Liar’s temptations was a battle for all people and exposed the weaponry the Liar uses to disarm us. Self-care is not to become numb and to ignore what is going on in the world. But to re-center, reground, and build our resilience muscles for re-immersion with “the least of these”.
In the month ahead, we approach International Working Women’s Day. I pray that our love can manifest as justice and wholeness for all people. I pray that our love can be more than words, more than placards, more than selfies at an event, and more than stated disgust at our current administration, but part of the process to consciously entering into an active faith that will feed our communities and sustain our spirits, whatever our conditions may be. No longer passive objects of “love,” but subjects that are empowered to do and to be and to create through a revolutionary Love.
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Rev. Jeanelle Nicolas Ablola is a second-generation Filipino American, queer, trans, neurodivergent, anti-imperialist, and is currently serving at Pine UMC, San Francisco. They are rooted in the movement for liberation in the Philippines and regularly lead solidarity trips to the country. They are Co-Chair of the UMC Cal-Nev Philippine Solidarity Task Force (PSTF) and a member of the National Ecumenical-Interfaith Forum for Filipino Concerns – NorCal (NEFFCON). They serve Christ through serving the People. You can find them here.