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Another good friend is gone. I first met Samuel Seridio in a hospital during a MARCH for Christ campaign in Cabanatuan City in 2003(?). His wife was then recovering from a delicate operation. Shortly after that, we found ourselves working together in what was then known as the Baguio Mission Team (BMT).
We would part ways about five years later when I left the (Stone-Campbell) Church of Christ. I went on to establish my academic career while he continued preaching, willing to be assigned anywhere and to mentor anyone.
But we remained friends, for to us friendship transcended sectarian or ideological boundaries. And even though we had many occasions to talk and eat together long after I bade his religious group farewell, we never engaged in dogmatic disputations although he knew about my "liberal" leanings. He never tried to win me back to his cause nor did I ever try to usher him into my growing skepticism about religion. Somehow, deep inside we knew that a verbal tussle between us on such matters would only end in a stalemate or hurt feelings. We knew each other enough to respect the fact that in this life, each one will have to walk different roads in the name of enlightenment and fulfillment. But for friends, the bond of brotherhood ties you together even when you are headed into opposite directions. He would say to his churchmates in reference to me, "Ano'ng magagawa natin kung yun ang naabot ng kaniyang pang-unawa." Whenever we met, he would always greet me with a heartfelt smile. Always, I was his younger brother, comrade-in-arms, although I did not share his religious convictions anymore. He was our manong, the elder/est. Which was why we used to call him obispo, and although we would say that in jest with his receding forehead in mind, we were one and serious in our high regard for his wisdom.
One big thing I learned about deconverting from religion is that you will know who your real friends are among those who claim to be children of God the moment you tell them you've lost faith in their faith. Many, if not most, will start avoiding you like you had leprosy or AIDS. Others will quickly condemn your lack of "simple faith" and preach to the faithful against the dangers of "worldly wisdom" and "fellowshipping with apostates." Still, others will attempt to psychologize your departure from the "One, True Faith" and tell others about the causes of your loss of faith: sinful living, personal hurts, intellectual pride, and others ad infinitum, ad nauseam. The soul-shattering and mind-wracking experience of religious deconversion is compounded by the ostracizing, judgmental gestures of those who once embraced you as a fellow saint when you still subscribed to their creed. This happened to me when I left the Baptists. The same thing happened when I left the Church of Christ.
But the saving grace of sectarian Christianity are those whose humanity shines
through the dark clouds of their celestial visions. Manong Sam was one of them. I had known a lot of preachers in his church, and he is one of the handful I have come and will continue to fully respect and fondly remember. Preachers can brag about their expertise in Greek and their familiarity with Thayer's lexicon, but if they cannot speak the simple language of love they are, in Paul's words, but brass instruments, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Manong Sam knew his Greek, an ancient tongue so foreign to the ordinary churchgoers' ears, but the language of his soul was no Greek to me.
Another thing I learned from and about religion is that even in what is called the Kingdom of God, inequality and injustice prevail as they do beyond the borders of the communion of saints. Manong Sam was not one of the privileged few among his preaching brethren. Some got rich out of preaching (or, as enterprising men of God, established profitable business ventures like treasure-hunting and whatever so-called "ministry" they could think of), while others like Sam Seridio toiled on and on despite their financial insecurities. I was thinking if he had the money to sustain a daily maintenance medication and a regular visit to St. Luke's or Makati Med, he would have lived to his eighties. But well, maybe God didn't see it fit to give him the bigger share from his bounty which He had graciously poured on others -- Sam just didn't make the cut. Or maybe he wasn't just born to the right family, with the right name, and in the right place. Or maybe he just didn't have the right network of gracious friends. I will never know. I do know though that, just like what some of his own churchmates say, there are other preachers who are overstaying on earth and have given religion such a bad name already that they ought to have kicked the bucket years and years ago. But well, such is life -- oftentimes, it sucks and there's nothing we can really do about it but take things as they come as graciously as we can.
Manong Sam committed himself to a lifetime of preaching, something that not everyone in his church would and could do. And it is but proper that at least in death he got a gesture of his own people's gratitude. And to his church's credit, they did. There was an impressive outpouring of moral and material support for his family. The privileged ones in his denomination are to be commended for their generosity, for making sure that the ones Sam left behind won't have to despair all the more worrying about wake and burial expenses. An educational fund was even collected for his daughter Trypaena, a very smart kid who can easily become an architect or a medical doctor within the next 10 years. It was heart-warming to see members of his church joining hands together to ensure that they at least give him a decent burial, that they honor back a man who honored them with his often unacknowledged but invaluable services to their cause.
As an ex-preacher and a former hyperactive member of his group, I could say that in my 12 years of stay with this Christian fellowship during which I had come to know preachers from Abra to Davao, Sam Seridio was one of the best representatives of this/their faith, one whose character I wish some of his fellow preachers had or will eventually emulate. His church is poorer without people like him and I hope there will be more like him among them. The simplicity of his life, the passion he had for his vocation, the hardships that he endured, and the genuine friendship he offered made him a gem, a jewel among them.
Sam Seridio left his wife and child a good name, something they should wear like a great badge of honor. I do not care much about what he thought about this life or the afterlife, but I do care about how he lived this life, how he strived to keep his integrity intact despite his human frailties. Character -- a good name-- is far more glitzy than the most flashy clothes and cars, far more eloquent than the best sermon, far more memorable than a thousand Bible verses quoted from memory, far more awesome than a dozen successful business ventures, and far more enduring than a metal casket.
I first met him at a hospital. I was to see him for the last time in another hospital. We were there during the last three or four hours of his life and it was saddening to see the face of death in a friend, painful to realize that yet another good friend has passed on, whose welcoming smile and warm handshake I will never see nor feel again. It was heart-rending to see his wife Lolit, another great friend, so devastated as she helplessly watched her husband reluctantly breathe his last. I told her that Sam was fortunate to have had a wife like her, she who was there with him to the very end of his short, short journey. They loved each other dearly, and they shared each other's pains as they bravely faced life's trials. I told her that is more than enough to look back to to inspire her to keep on going and finish her own journey down the years.