Thoughts after reading Beth Allison Barr’s “The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth”

Not gonna lie. Any book that includes The Usual Suspects as part of its organising motif is pretty good. But that is only a minor reason why I enjoyed reading this great book. I love how it jumps straight into discussions of structural evil in relation to patriarchy because without a complex theology of evil we can’t successfully address issues like this. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Beth Allison Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth paints a picture that combines her own personal journey with her expertise as a historian of medieval times. Barr’s argument is that church history, particularly medieval church history, shows that modern understandings of bible passages regarding the status of women haven’t always been interpreted to support patriarchy. Barr looks at how certain bible passages have been variously interpreted throughout the ages, how women’s roles within the church have shifted, and how bible translations have muddied the issue. I had the opportunity to read it after borrowing the ebook version from the Saskatoon Public Library. What follows is not a review, per se, but rather a series of reflections that emerged as I read the book.

Reflection #1: Positionality.

My area of expertise is in the realm of social sciences, more specifically in gender and ethnography. One key aspect to doing research of any kind is to determine where the researcher fits into the research. The two words are used to describe this process, Reflexivity and Positionality, basically tell us that researchers and the subjects they research are intertwined. Reflexivity is “taking account of itself or of the effect of the personality or presence of the researcher on what is being investigated.” Positionality is “the social and political context that creates your identity in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability status. Positionality also describes how your identity influences, and potentially biases, your understanding of and outlook on the world.”

Positionality is important in any study and this book is chock-full of it. Barr clearly states her positionality in relation to the topic: She is a woman who has been a member of evangelical churches in the USA since birth; she’s a pastor’s wife within the same movement, an accomplished Medieval historian with a couple of graduate degrees, and a professor.

As a comparison and contrast to this, let me show you my positionality: I am a white man, who has been a member of evangelical churches since birth (as a pastor’s kid and a missionary kid), I am a pastor, I have a couple of graduate degrees, and I am a professor.

Each of us is positioned in this conversation but are different in two important aspects: I am a man and my evangelical experience is shaped by my life in Canada and the Philippines, while Barr is a white women who is shaped by her life in the USA. These differences mean that we have different perspectives when it comes to understanding the matter at hand.

Positionality is important because it identifies our place in the conversation, reveals our connections to the subject, and allows us to see our advantages and biases. My positionality has blinded me to the truths that Barr’s positionality has revealed to her. Barr’s positionality makes this book more trustworthy.

Reflection #2: Sources of truth.

Apprehending truth is complicated. One of the first systems of determining truth that I learned as a child is that God is a God of truth and Satan is the father of lies. While that statement may be true, one aspect that I overlooked was God’s sovereignty over all. I had divided the world into neat categories of secular and sacred. I connected God’s involvement in the process with seemingly holy things only: Bible, church, religious people, etc. I rejected things — the example that springs to mind is psychology — that were seemingly unholy.

I was talking with a friend yesterday about the time I began to see cracks in my process. I was taking a class on religious perspectives on death and dying from Dr. Robert Kennedy at the University of Saskatchewan. We were assigned to read and comment on Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I thought I was being pretty smart by saying that Tolstoy had nothing to say about death and dying because his was a work of fiction and therefore was not true. Fortunately Dr. Kennedy was a nice guy and kindly showed me how works of fiction can also contain truth. It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten.

A few years later I went to seminary where I learned the shocking reality that all truth is God’s truth. This means that regardless of the form of inquiry — social science, critical theory, hard science, literature, history, psychology, etc. — if it leads me to the truth then I have discovered something that is from God. This means that Barr’s study of the history of how the church has interpreted passages that seem to support patriarchy is a necessary way to help us apprehend the truth. As a historian her voice needs to be heard.

Reflection #3: The very nature of Scripture.

Dean Flemming gets it right when he talks about the New Testament as contextualisation in his Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission. When we shift from thinking the New Testament is a doctrinal document towards seeing it as a guide for contextualisation, it opens up a new framework of interpretation. It allows us to move from seeing the bible merely as a series of truths to be believed (or a series of proof-texts to be memorised) towards a series of examples on how to live out our faith in our own unique cultural contexts. From Moses, in Deuteronomy, reframing the law to a group that hadn’t personally experienced the exodus from Egypt, to Jesus reconciling what we have heard with what he really wants us to know, to John recounting a view of history that shows us what is happening behind the scenes, the bible is full of making the gospel understood in different contexts.

That’s how Barr interprets the idea that Paul is addressing specific cultural issues of the day & providing a framework for how to contextualise the gospel into those situations. To assume that all cultural situations are the same as ours — and to assume that our cultural context has no impact on how we interpret texts — is doing disservice to the text & is leading us to false conclusions about what Paul (& other New Testament writers) are saying.

Throughout 1 Corinthians Paul addresses specific issues apparently raised by the local church. In these interactions, Paul directly quotes issues that have been raised in the church and then comments on them. Included among these quotations are the following:

6:12; 10:23 – “I am free to do all things” but my freedom is limited by my relationship to others. My freedom is not an excuse to cause others to sin.

6:13 – “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food – but God will destroy them both” is actually talking about Corinthian sexual mores. The body does have a specific purpose – that purpose being “for God” and “not for sexual immorality,” because in the end God will “raise” the body and not destroy it. Therefore, the Corinthians were to stay away from sexual immorality.

6:16 – “The two of them will become one flesh.” When one commits sexual immorality, in this case with a prostitute as an act of worship in a pagan temple, then that person is united with the prostitute. The basis for Paul’s argument is from Genesis where when a man and a woman are united sexually then they become one. Paul would much rather that we were united “with the Lord” than be united with a prostitute.

6:18 – “Every sin which a man does is outside of the body” was another Corinthian saying that identifies the body as being less important that the spirit. Paul counters this argument by saying that in fact our physical bodies are now and will always be important because it is here where the Holy Spirit dwells. This any sins that we commit against our bodies are in essence sins against the dwelling place of God.

7:1 – “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” Paul connects this aphorism with the issue of marriage. Should married Christians abstain from sex? Paul’s answer is to get married (7:2). There are, however, other implications to getting married: 7:32-34 that says those considering marriage should carefully weigh the pros and the cons so that in the end they can remain pure but also dedicated to the work of the Lord.

Since this is the structure of 1 Corinthians, it’s not a stretch to expect the same thing to happen when we get to the 14:33-35 bit about women’s silence. Paul begins by quoting the issue and then comments on it.

14:33-35 – “As in all the churches of God’s holy people, the women must keep silent. They don’t have the right to speak. They must take their place as Moses’ Teachings say. If they want to know anything they should ask their husbands at home. It’s shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

Barr’s contention here is that Paul’s actual beliefs begin in v 36: “Did God’s word originate with you? Are you the only ones it has reached? Whoever thinks that he speaks for God or that he is spiritually gifted must acknowledge that what I write to you is what the Lord commands. But whoever ignores what I write should be ignored.” In her explanation, Barr brings us into her classroom and allows us to feel what it’s like to have a eureka moment when trying to understand scripture. It’s a powerful description!

Barr is not the first to recognise this reality. Lucy Peppiatt also talks about this in her wonderful Rediscovering Scripture’s vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts. What it does show us is that Barr doesn’t toss aside Scripture in favour of her argument. Rather she presents historical evidence that Scripture has had a variety of valid interpretations throughout history.

Reflection #4: Structural Evil is legit.

Some may bristle at idea that structural sin exists. They prefer to see sin as being entirely personal with the solution being merely a restored relationship with Jesus. Regular readers of this blog will know that I subscribe to a more complex theology of evil that includes personal evil, natural evil, and structural evil. If you are interested in a more detailed explanation take a look here and here.

Barr says, “Patriarchy wasn’t what God wanted; patriarchy was a result of human sin.” I tend to interpret the famous phrase in the second part of Genesis 3:16 as negative for both parties — a turning away from God’s original intent. “Desire” — the same word used later on to describe sin’s attitude towards Cain (Genesis 4:7) — and “rule” being the key words. For me, both of these words reflect a change that happens after the fall. While they were not a normal state of affairs prior to the fall they have now become normal — a new normal as it were (with all the negative implications that term has taken on). As Barr says, “after the fall, because of sin, women would now turn first to their husbands, and their husbands, in the place of God, would rule over them” and “Adam’s rebellion was claiming God’s authority for himself, and Eve’s rebellion was submitting to Adam in place of God.”

The reality is not only that patriarchy exists but that it is an example of how structures created by God — namely the relationships between men and women — can be twisted into sinfulness. Jesus taught us to pray, “Let your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven,” which means not only do we pray it but we work to make sure that it’s true. Patriarchy then becomes an enemy that need to be defeated.

Reflection #5: Women’s rooms.

Sometimes we think that all that needed to be done theologically happened in the Reformation. It becomes the basis for how we decide if people are real Christians or not. It even seems as if all of our theology is centered around the Reformation. But obviously not everything that happened in the Reformation was enough. Barr points out that the situation of women in the church took a turn for the worse as their space became smaller. Why? Because of Reformation theology!

Here is where Barr’s positionality as a woman who has grown up in the evangelical church is especially helpful in opening my eyes to things that I am blinded to as a man. The first surrounds the idea of women’s rooms that get bigger and smaller throughout history as things change. Barr’s argument is that the current state of affairs that keep women from certain roles and activities in the church hasn’t always been defined in the same way. Rather throughout history the spaces that women are allowed to inhabit have at times been larger and at other times have gotten smaller. As Barr says, “When political and social structures are less centralized and less clearly defined, women often experience greater agency; their rooms are bigger” (pp. 113-114).

When discussing “Official preaching space,” Barr tells the story of Anne Askew who argued that since “Preaching only took place behind a pulpit, and since she wasn’t behind a pulpit, she wasn’t preaching” (p. 116). This is is a clever use of logic to thwart a technicality — a technicality that doesn’t actually exist in scripture but we assume that it does. I am familiar with this idea but from a different angle. It relates to a different theological problem that we have here. There is an oft-cited idea that to be a pastor is to have the “highest calling.” It results in pastors being above reproach (even though people may have reasons to reproach them). Part of this “highest calling” is that only they are allowed inside the “official preaching space” — an area defined as being behind the pulpit.

What is interesting is that this “official preaching space” is an entirely social construct. No where does the bible mention any form of official preaching space. Looking at Jesus alone, we can see that he preached anywhere and everywhere — on a boat, by the seashore, on a mountain, on the plain, in the Temple, while walking down the road. Of course let’s not get into the idea that even “pastor” is highly constructed and bears little resemblance to what we see in the bible. (Should I point out here that one of the few people mentioned by name in the Bible as being a shepherd — another word for “pastor” — is Rachel in Ge 29:9?)

Reflection #6: Gender-inclusive language.

The final reflection that I will discuss relates to how we use language. The issue at hand is translating passages of scripture that do not specifically refer to gender in an accurate way. Barr discusses two ways that society has chosen to deal with this issue: Using gender-inclusive language or using a “universal” language.

Gender-inclusive language is language that allows latitude when referring to gender. When related to scriptures it refers to translating the original languages to accurately reflect it’s sometimes gender-neutral nature. Of course the topic of gender-neutral language is one that larger society is also facing for a variety of reasons.

The other option that society has chosen for addressing gender-related linguistic issues is a “universal” language. What this means is using male pronouns as the default even when the original is not gender specific. You can see where this would lead to problems. What I didn’t realise before reading this book is that this is a “False universal language.” This hit home for me because at least in the past I advocated for understanding words like “he” and “his” as referring to both male and female. Where this falls apart, as Barr so ably points out, is that this belief is not implemented in practice. “Words for men were used interchangeably in reference to kings, politicians, preachers, household heads, philosophers, and even to represent all ‘mankind.’ while specific words for women were used exclusively for women and mostly regarding the domestic sphere. ‘Man’ in early modern English could represent humanity, but the humans it described were political citizens, decision-makers, leaders, household heads, theologians, preachers, factory owners, members of Parliament, and so on. In other words, “man” could include both men and women, but it mostly didn’t. It mostly just included men” (p. 146). What this means is that in practice we assume “men” means “male” but look for evidence to prove that it also means “female.” Unfortunately, as Barr so ably points out, bible translators have not been as faithful at reflecting gender inclusivity in their work as is warranted by the text.

What is interesting is that Gender-inclusive language is completely linguistically-based. While that may seem like a rather obvious statement, what I mean is that different languages treat gender in different ways. Take for example one of the languages spoken where I live and work — Tagalog. Tagalog pronouns have no gender. Whether one is referring to a male or female person the pronoun is the same: siya. That means that even if I include the pronouns “he/him” in my Twitter bio, if my bio were in Tagalog it would say, absurdly, “siya/siya.”

All that to say if we take issue with making language more gender neutral we are probably focussing on the wrong things. We miss the forest by focussing on the trees.

The next step.

What if the theologies that I believe are also manufactured by others? Or what if they are based on misconceptions or misunderstandings of the text? Or what if they are based on theologies developed during a time of immaturity rather than maturity — milk rather than meat, so to speak? Or what if the narrative is not based on reality but instead on a limited understanding? The issue is how we understand something to be true or false.

Just before he went public with the truth about his involvement in the cycling world’s doping scheme, Lance Armstrong apparently said to his son. “‘Don’t defend me anymore. Don’t.’” He was believing a lie that had been repeatedly stated was a truth.

We need to face the reality that sometimes we end up defending things that aren’t really true. It’s looking more and more like the so-called traditional understanding of the passages supporting Christian patriarchy aren’t in fact all that traditional. The traditional interpretations, as so clearly delineated by Barr, are quite the opposite to what many of us have grown up believing.

I highly recommend reading this book. If you are already moving in this direction, this book will encourage you. If you are still weighing the issues, this book will help provide balance to make an accurate measurement. Regardless of your position on this issues discussed, you won’t be disappointed. And who knows? You may be led to reflect a little on your own. In fact, you may already have some reflections of your own. Please feel free to leave them in the comment section, below.

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Image is a screen shot from the cover of the ebook I read and is copyright by Brazos Press.

Kapag pinagtatawanan tayo ng Diyos: Isang pagtingin sa ating mga sistemang pulitikal mula sa liwanag ng Awit 2

Read this post in English.

Ito na siguro ang pinakakinatatakutan ko. Marami akong ginagawa sa publiko — nangangaral, nagdadasal, namumuno, nagtuturo — ngunit bago ako tumayo sa harap ng isang grupo ay mayroon akong takot na pagtatawanan lang nila ako o na kutyain nila ako. Kaya isipin ang aking pagtataka kapag nalaman kong pinagtatawanan ako ng Diyos? Ano ang tungkol sa mga bagay na aking ginagawa na nakakatawa sa Diyos? Kasama ba dito kung saan ko inilalagay ang aking tiwala? Ang konteksto ng pagtawa ng Diyos sa Bibliya ay medyo tiyak, gayunpaman. Hindi ako tinatawanan ng Diyos kapag nagkamali ako. Ang kanyang pagtawa ay nakatutok. Alamin natin ang higit pa sa pamamagitan ng pagtingin sa Awit 2.

“Bakit nagsipagtipon ang mga bansa sa pagpaplano ng masama? Bakit sila nagpaplano ng wala namang patutunguhan? Ang mga hari at mga pinuno sa mundo ay nagsama-sama,at nagsipaghanda sa pakikipaglaban sa Panginoon, at sa hari na kanyang hinirang. Sinabi nila, ‘Huwag tayong pasakop o sumunod man sa kanilang pamamahala!’”

Gustung-gusto ng mga bansa na lutasin ang mga problema. Bumuo ng mga asosasyon, bumuo ng mga kaalyado, makiisa sa iba. Ang makabuo ng mga plano, may mga layunin, may mga pangarap. Lumilikha sila ng mga platform na nagbabalangkas kung paano nila makakamit ang tagumpay. Minsan pa nga sila ay nagbabalak at nagpaplano. Kung minsan ay gumagamit sila ng mga ideolohiya na kinakailangang itulak ang ilang mga tao sa mga palawit. Minsan minamanipula nila ang mga istrukturang panlipunan para sa kanilang sariling layunin.

Ang lahat ng pagbabalak, pagpaplano, at paninindigan na ito ay tila sa isang dulo — pagsalungat sa pamamahala ng Diyos. Marami tayong nakikita sa banal na kasulatan, kabilang ang sa Tore ng Babel at ang mga pangyayaring nangyari noong si Saul ay napiling hari ng Israel. Parang tayo bilang mga tao ay gustong gumawa ng mga bagay sa sarili nating paraan — kaya hindi natin maisip kung ano ang magiging hitsura ng ating iba’t ibang bansa na lubusang magpasakop sa pamumuno ng Diyos! Marahil ito ang humahantong sa susunod na talata:

“Ngunit siyang nakaupo sa kanyang trono sa langit ay natatawa lang, at kumukutya sa kanila.”

Ano ang partikular na tinatawanan ng Diyos dito? Pinagtatawanan niya ang mga “walang kwentang pakana,” “tumayo,” at “magkasamang mga plano laban sa Panginoon/Mesiyas.” Bakit siya tumatawa? Dahil hindi talaga namin alam ang ginagawa namin! Minsan tumatawa din tayo di ba? Noong pinamumunuan ko ang isang grupo na nagtanim ng mga punongkahoy sa gubatsa Northwestern Ontario, naghanap kami ng isang kasamahan namin (George) ng bukal sa gubat. May narinig ang isa sa aming mga treeplanters tungkol dito at nagpasyang tumulong. Kaya’t gumugol siya ng ilang oras sa pag-shoveling sa bukal, nililinis ang lahat, atbp. Ngunit nang makita namin ni George ang kanyang ginawa ay natawa kami dahil sa halip na ayusin ang mga bagay, mas lalo pa niyang pinalala ang mga bagay.

Tawa lang ba ang tugon ng Diyos? Hindi. Lumilitaw na ito rin ay nagpapagalit sa kanya (naiintindihan naman natin).

“Sa galit ng Dios, silaʼy binigyang babala, at sa tindi ng kanyang poot silaʼy natatakot. Sinabi niya, ‘Iniluklok ko na ang hinirang kong hari sa kanyang trono sa Zion,2:6 Zion: o, Jerusalem. sa banal kong bundok.’”

At sa palagay ko hindi tayo dapat magtaka na ang Diyos ay magagalit, na nakikita na ang mga tao ay nagbabalak laban sa kanya. Ngunit ito ay humahantong sa akin na magtanong kung paano ang mga bansa ngayon ay nagbabalak laban sa Diyos? Tiyak na umiiral pa rin ang ilang mga pamahalaan na naghihigpit sa mga kalayaan sa relihiyon para sa kanilang mga tao — ngunit ang mga bansang ito ay tila mas kaunti ngayon.

Gaya ng isinulat ko dito at dito ang marka ng halimaw/hayop ay paglalagay ng tiwala sa gobyerno kaysa sa Diyos. Sinasabi nito na sa lahat ng problemang umiiral sa mundo — kahirapan, katiwalian, kawalan ng kapayapaan at kaayusan, digmaan, mga paglabag sa karapatang pantao, atbp. — malulutas lamang sa pagkakaroon ng tamang pamahalaan. Walang anumang puwang para sa Diyos na kumilos.

Ito ay isang napapanahong talakayan sa buong mundo. Habang inaanunsyo ang halalan at umuusad ang mga panahon ng kampanya, mabilis na bumabaling ang salaysay sa kung Sino ang pinakamahusay na kandidato? Sino ang maaaring gumawa ng pinakamahusay na trabaho sa pangangalaga ng bansa? At medyo madalas ang mga pag-uusap na ito ay nauuwi sa mga linya ng relihiyon, na may mga parirala na nagtatanong kung alin sa mga partido/kandidato ang pinili ng Diyos? At kapag natapos na ang eleksyon, minsan nagagalit ang mga sumusuporta sa natatalo. Nakita natin iyan kamakailan sa Canada, USA, at sa ibang lugar.

Ibinigay ng Diyos ang kanyang sagot dito — sinabi niyang iniluklok niya ang kanyang sariling hari, hindi sa alinmang makalupang trono kundi, sa “trono sa Zion, sa banal kong bundok,” ang pinakaluklukan ng sansinukob. Pagkatapos ay ipinahayag ng Diyos ang isang utos na naglalarawan sa Haring ito nang kaunti pa (vv 7-9):

“Sinabi ng hari na hinirang ng Dios, “Sasabihin ko ang sinabi sa akin ng Panginoon: ‘Ikaw ang Anak ko, at ngayon, ipapahayag ko na ako ang iyong Ama. Hilingin mo sa akin ang mga bansa sa buong mundo, at ibibigay ko ito sa iyo bilang mana mo. Pamumunuan mo sila, at walang sasalungat sa iyong pamamahala. Silaʼy magiging parang palayok na iyong dudurugin.’ ”

Masakit diba? Pagkatapos ng lahat, mahal natin ang ating mga bansa (o kinamumuhian ito sa palagay ko — parang wala naman sa pagitan, diba?) kaya kapag naririnig natin ang mga ito ay sinira at nawasak tayo ay nag-aalala. Ang totoong nangyayari dito ay ang pagsalungat sa pamumuno ni Hesus ang nadudurog. Alam natin ito dahil ang pagdurog ay hindi ang huling salita sa Awit na ito.

Isang magandang bagay sa salita ng Diyos ay laging may pag-asa. Palaging may ilang paraan para magsisi tayo sa ating mga kasalanan at pumasok sa isang ipinanumbalik na relasyon kasama ang Diyos. Ang Awit 2 ay nagpapatuloy:

“Kaya kayong mga hari at pinuno sa buong mundo, unawain ninyo ang mga salitang ito at pakinggan ang mga babala laban sa inyo. Paglingkuran ninyo ang Panginoon nang may takot, at magalak kayo sa kanya. Magpasakop kayo sa hari na kanyang hinirang, kung hindi ay baka magalit siya at kayoʼy ipahamak niya. Mapalad ang mga nanganganlong sa Panginoon.”

Ito ang pag-asa na ipinakita sa atin. Tinawag tayo upang kumilos nang matalino. Kami ay binigyan ng babala. Hinahamon tayong maglingkod sa Panginoon, magpasakop sa kanya — humalik sa anak, kumbaga — upang sa huli ay pagpalain tayo. Sa tingin ko, mahalaga na ang mga salitang “nanganganlong” at “mapalad” ay ginamit nang magkasama dito dahil ito ay isang bagay na ipinangako ng mga bansa, hindi ba? Nangangako sila ng pagpapala. Ang mahusay na musikal na Hamilton, sa pagkukuwento nito sa unang bahagi ng kasaysayan ng USA, ay binanggit ang Micah 4:4 nang sabihin nito, “Ang bawat tao ay uupo sa ilalim ng kanilang tanim na ubas at puno ng igos.” Ito ay isang malinaw na pag-uugnay ng estado ng bansa sa mga pagpapala ng Diyos. Ngunit ang isang bagay na marahil ay hindi natin napagtanto hanggang sa huli na ang lahat ay ang mga pagpapalang nauugnay sa pagkakakilanlan sa isang bansang estado ay hindi magtatagal. Ang mga isyung panlipunan gaya ng BLM, CRT, #metoo, MMIWG, Truth & Reconciliation, Orange Shirt Day, mga pamamaril na may kinalaman sa lahi, at iba pa ay nagpapakita sa atin na ang mga pagpapala, kapag umiiral ang mga ito, ay tila umiiral lamang para sa ilang piling tao. Sinasabi sa atin ng Diyos sa Awit 2 na kung talagang gusto natin ng pagpapala, dapat tayong magkubli sa kanya.

Sinasabi ba ng Diyos na huwag bumoto sa halalan? Hindi. Hinihiling ba niya sa atin na iwasang harapin ang mga problema ng mundo sa ating paligid? Hindi rin. Hinihiling ba niya sa amin na umatras mula sa pakikilahok sa mga sistema at istruktura ng lipunan? Hindi rin. Ang ginagawa niya ay hinihiling sa atin na ilagay ang ating tiwala at pag-asa sa tamang lugar — matatag kay Jesus. Ang ibig sabihin nito ay kahit sino ang manalo, bilang mga tagasunod ni Jesus kailangan pa rin nating magtrabaho at manalangin para sa ikabubuti ng lungsod (gaya ng akmang sinasabi ng Jeremias 29:7). Anuman tayo, kailangan nating magkaroon ng kamalayan na ang mga istruktura at sistema ay nangangailangan pa rin ng pagsasaayos upang ang lahat ay makaranas ng kanlungan kay Hesus. Maaari tayong makilahok sa paggawa ng mundo na isang mas magandang lugar ngunit ang pakikilahok na iyon ay kailangang nasa ilalim ng pangangasiwa ng Banal na Espiritu.

Hindi maganda ang pakiramdam ko kapag pinagtatawanan ako ng mga tao. Ngunit kapag ang Diyos ay tumawa, binibigyan din niya tayo ng pagkakataong gawin ang mga bagay nang tama.

Ano sa tingin mo ito? Nakikita mo ba ang iyong sarili na nagtitiwala sa iba kung saan dapat kang nagtitiwala sa Diyos? Ipaalam sa amin sa seksyon ng komento sa ibaba.

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When God laughs at us: A look at our political systems in light of Psalm 2

Basahin mo sa wikang Tagalog.

It’s perhaps my greatest fear. I do a lot of public things — preaching, praying, leading, teaching — but before I stand up in front of a group I have this fear that they will just laugh at me, that they will mock me, or that they will make fun of me. So imagine my surprise when I find out that God laughs at me at times. What is it about the things that I do that is funny to God? Could it be where I am placing my trust? The context of the laughter is pretty specific, however. God doesn’t laugh at me when I screw up. He doesn’t laugh at my mistakes. His laughter is pretty specifically focussed. Let’s find out more by taking a look at Psalm 2.

“Why do the nations gather together? Why do their people devise useless plots? Kings take their stands. Rulers make plans together against the Lord and against his Messiah  by saying, ‘Let’s break apart their chains and shake off their ropes.’”

Nations love to solve problems. The form associations, develop allies, unite with others. The come up with plans, with goals, with dreams. They create platforms that outline how they will achieve success. Sometimes they even plot and plan. Sometimes they adopt ideologies that necessarily push some people to the fringes. Sometimes they manipulate social structures for their own ends.

All of this plotting, planning, and standing appears to be to one end — opposition to the rule of God. We see this a lot in scripture, including at the Tower of Babel and the events that happened when Saul was chosen king of Israel. It seems like we as people want to do things our own way — so much so that we can’t even imagine what it would look like for our various nations to be entirely submitted to God’s leadership! Perhaps this is what leads to the next verse:

“The one enthroned in heaven laughs. The Lord makes fun of them.”

What specifically is God laughing at here? He is laughing at the “useless plots,” “stands,” and “plans together against the Lord/Messiah.” Why is he laughing? Because we really don’t know what we are doing! Sometimes we laugh too don’t we? Once, years ago, when I was leading a tree planting crew in Northwestern Ontario, a colleague (George) and I went looking for a spring in the bush. One of our treeplanters heard something about it and decided to help. So he spent some time shovelling out the spring, making everything clean, etc. But when George and I saw what he had done we laughed because rather than fixing things he actually made things worse.

Does God only respond with laughter? Nope. It appears it also makes him (understandably) angry.

“Then he speaks to them in his anger. In his burning anger he terrifies them by saying, ‘I have installed my own king on Zion, my holy mountain.’”

And I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that God would be angry, seeing as people are plotting against him. But it does lead me to ask the question of how nations today plot against God? Certainly certain governments still exist that restrict religious freedoms for their peoples — but these countries seem fewer and far between nowadays.

As I have written here and here the mark of the beast/animal is putting trust in government rather than God. It’s saying that of all the problems that exist in the world — poverty, corruption, lack of peace and order, war, human rights violations, etc. — can only ever be solved by having the right government. There is never any room for God to act.

This is a very timely discussion worldwide. As elections are announced and campaign periods progress, the narrative quickly turns to who is the best candidate? Who can do the best job at taking care of the country? And quite often these conversations turn along religious lines, couched in phrases asking which of the parties/candidates is God’s choice? And once the elections are over, those who support the losing side sometimes get angry. We have seen that recently in Canada, the USA, and elsewhere.

God gives his answer to this — he says that he has installed his own king, not on any earthly throne but, on Mount Zion, the very seat of the universe. God then announces a decree that describes this King a little more fully (vv 7-9):

“You are my Son. Today I have become your Father. Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance and the ends of the earth as your own possession. You will break them with an iron scepter. You will smash them to pieces like pottery.”

It seems a bit harsh. After all, we love our countries (or hate them I suppose — there doesn’t ever seem to be an in between does there?) so when we hear of them being broken and smashed we worry. What is really happening here is that it’s the opposition to the rule of Jesus that is crushed. We know this because the crushing isn’t the last word in this Psalm.

One good thing about God’s word is that there is always hope. There is always some way that we can repent of our sins and enter into a restored relationship with God. Psalm 2 continues:

“Now, you kings, act wisely. Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, or he will become angry and you will die on your way because his anger will burst into flames. Blessed is everyone who takes refuge in him.”

This is the hope that is presented to us. We are called to act wisely. We are warned. We are challenged to serve the Lord, to submit to him — to kiss the son, as it were — so that in the end we will be blessed. I think it’s significant that the words “refuge” and “blessed” are used together here because that it one thing that nations promise isn’t it? They promise blessing. The great musical Hamilton, in its recounting of the early history of the USA, cites Micah 4:4 when it says, “then everyone will sit under his own vine and his fig tree.” This is a clear connecting of the nation state with the blessings of God. But one thing we perhaps don’t realise until it’s too late is that the blessings associated with identification with a nation state don’t ever end up lasting. Societal issues addressed through movements such as BLM, CRT, #metoo, MMIWG, Truth & Reconciliation, Orange Shirt Day, racially-motivated shootings, and others show us that the blessings, when they exist, only apparently exist for a chosen few people. God is telling us in Psalm 2 that if we truly want blessing then we should take refuge in him.

Is God telling us not to vote in elections? No he isn’t. Is he asking us to avoid addressing the problems of the world around us? No he isn’t. Is he asking us to withdraw from participation in social systems and structures? No he isn’t. What he is doing is asking us to place our trust and hope in the right place — firmly on Jesus. What this means is that regardless of who wins, as Jesus followers we still need to work and pray for the good of the city (as Jeremiah 29:7 so aptly states). Regardless of who we are, we need to be aware that structures and systems are still in need of renovation so that all can experience the refuge in Jesus. We can participate in making the world a better place but that participation needs to be under the supervision of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t make me feel good when people laugh at me. But when God laughs, he also gives us a chance to do things right.

What do you think of this? Do you find yourself trusting others where you should be trusting God? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Eskinita: How living in less space can make your life more fulfilling

Dark. Narrow. Uneven. Convoluted. Scary. Necessary. Full of life! The cries ring out revealing the fact that people want to connect with you: “Hello.” “Good morning.” “Makiraan po!” “Where are you going?” “Where do you live?” Eskinita are the lifeblood of Pingkian, the area in which I live. You may not notice them if you aren’t previously aware their presence because it doesn’t even seem like anyone can fit down them. But without them, life in Pingkian couldn’t go on, and understanding this can help make your life more fulfilling.

Eskinita is a word that always reminds me of the English word “skinny,” perhaps because that’s what they are. In reality, it comes from the Spanish word meaning “corner.” Since land is at a premium, in perhaps the most densely-populated area of the world, houses are built as close to the property line as possible. The spaces in between are the eskinita. Pingkian is by no means the only place where this happens. I have walked eskinita in Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hanoi. Because houses are so small, life is lived on eskinita. Without eskinita no one could get to their house. No one could go to work or school in the morning. But eskinta is more than simply a means to and end.

Eskinita is stepping over the curb then three steps down. There is an initial sense of invading someone’s privacy when you first enter, realising that people’s homes front, not onto the street, but onto the eskinita. Scootch over to the side as someone passes by. People pass carrying large water jugs. The sound of an engine warns of an approaching motorcycle, making one wonder how it can even navigate! Stopping at the crossroads to sure we each know where the other one is going before moving on. Laundry tubs hang ready outside doorways. A cement bench outside a home waits for someone to pass the day sitting there. An open door swings out into the eskinita temporarily blocking my passage. Two young boys sit in the corner playing Mobile Legends on their cellphones. A lady in an alcove buys something from one of the many variety stores in the area. Many people set up a small store — or sell things like Avon or Tupperware — in order to help make ends meet. Strings of sachets containing every known liquid hang from the ceiling, drinks of all kinds, ice cream if you are lucky. A vendor walks by, his bucket filled with foods prepared earlier that day and suitable for snacking on. A friend used to sell banana-que, which is a deep-fried banana, coated with caramelized brown sugar on a BBQ stick. Delicious! Having walked each one everyday, my friend was a eskinita expert. A bicycle, loaded with wares, is stopped in the middle as a woman decides whether or not to buy a piece of chain –  to use a leash perhaps? – a kargador waiting patiently to pass puts his load down; me, less patient, finding a way through.

Eskinita is bright blue PVC water pipes winding their ways along the ground, turning suddenly into the various houses — sometimes ending suddenly; cut off for who knows what reason? Rows of water meters silently recording consumption — when they are spinning fast it means a leak somewhere, when stopped it means they are turned off to save that same water from leaking. Dodging powerlines — more like interior wires strung up rather haphazardly, often just at head height — turns into an artform that you didn’t think you would ever need to master. Canals, or drainage ditches, sometimes along the edge, sometimes down the middle, sometimes non-existent carry water from various sources somewhere else. Videoke booms from somewhere near, accompanied by a voice — sometimes talented, often merely energetic.

Eskinita is sometimes cement, sometimes asphalt, and sometimes spongy ground beside a stream of black runoff that runs outside my friend Mang Pio’s house — evidence of the clogged drainage pipes hidden below. Mang Pio owns a fairly large chuck of land in the middle of a gaggle of houses. At 90 years old he is a fount of stories and jokes. I stop and chat with Edgar, who is doing laundry in a couple of 5-gallon pails in front of his place. Mang Pio, in his kindness, has allowed Edgar to stay on his property. He has a small place that the word “lean-to” wouldn’t adequately describe — more a hodge podge of various chunks of wood, plastic, and other light materials all precariously positioned to provide some semblance of shelter. Many homes along the eskinita are not like his, however. More and more I see multi-storey concrete structures, complete with all the comforts of home.

Eskinita is where animals abound. Dogs. Cats. Rats. Roosters. Chickens. Even the occasional rabbit. Sometimes caged but usually running free. The cats are perhaps the most resilient. Many times they may have seemingly fatal injuries but yet there they are, day after day, ekeing out a living. I guess that’s why they are said to have nine lives! The roosters (in reality fighting cocks) are the most cared for, receiving special feeds, daily grooming, and love from their owners.

Eskinita is where people are. Children playing hopscotch. Retirees passing the day outside their homes. Friends chatting. Men caring for their fighting cocks. People watering plants and/or the eskinita itself — one for growth the other to reduce dust. Small business owners selling fish of all varieties. Chicken. Pork. Rarely, beef. Vegetables. Barbershops. Internet cafes. Elderly women watching the world go by. And in the mornings mothers sunning their babies.

Eskinita is missing something, however. What is missing is space. Space that separates houses from one another. Space taken up by fences to ensure privacy. Space with garages, with doors that go up, then down, keeping occupants hidden from one another. There is no emptiness. No empty streets. No empty houses for most of the day while people are at work.

Eskinita is connection. A shared identity. A life living in proximity with others.

What do you notice about your community? Why not let the rest of us know in the comments below?

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Image was taken on my iPhone.

My thoughts on Kristin Du Mez’ “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.”

Kristin Du Mez’ Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation is a New York Times bestseller and has been the centre of an online debate from the moment it first came out. Du Mez is a professor of History and Gender Studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. I had a chance to read it a couple of weeks ago after borrowing the ebook version from the Saskatoon Public Library.

The publisher’s product description says, “Jesus and John Wayne is a sweeping, revisionist history of the last seventy-five years of white evangelicalism, revealing how evangelicals have worked to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism―or in the words of one modern chaplain, with ‘a spiritual badass.’”

I like reading books because of where they take me and how they get my mind to go down trails that may or may not have been the intent of the author. This book is no different. What follows is not so much a critique as it is a train of thought brought about by the book.

I enjoyed this book immensely and highly recommend it. As is obvious from some of my previous posts, masculinities are an important part of my life and ministry. Du Mez presents a view of evangelical masculinity that is frankly disturbing. Rather than evangelicals having a carefully thought out theological argument for being men, what we discover is a political argument for being men that is then adopted by the evangelical church. Each paragraph is footnoted with sources so readers can double check what is said.

At this point I need to point out that while I was reading I did find it a bit like watching the neighbours through their living room window. I was born and raised in Canada and have spent almost half my life in Southeast Asia so the American context is largely someone else’s context. Any understanding of a necessary close connection between evangelical masculinity and politics escapes me. I really can’t for the life of me understand why my evangelical masculinity needs to be so closely connected with politics and political systems.

I will say this with regards to politics: I do believe that all people need to be involved in nationbuilding, Christians in particular. We need to tell people that Jesus is the best possible leader. We need to tell people that Jesus’ Kingdom has an unparalleled set of values. We also need to work at serving them. Finally we need to spend time together discovering the truth.

But beyond that, it is not a part of my framework to connect that with some kind of political system (which I think the Bible refers to as a wild animal rather than a lamb who was slain). So that’s the part that I don’t get. I guess it makes it even harder for me to believe it when I find out that some of the American presidential candidates most hated by evangelicals were in fact evangelicals themselves (and their most loved rivals were anything but). I just don’t get it but that may be because I am not from there.

I do know the names of the key players in the story because they are also of influence in the parts of the world with which I am more familiar. I have attended Promise Keeper’s rallies and seminars. I have been encouraged by Eldredge’s books. I have shown Dobson videos to my youth group. My best friend’s father was heavily into Gothard when I was a kid. So these are familiar names. I must say that it was disturbing to me to see how carefully the crafted a version of masculinity that was so politically motivated. It made be question the things that I had learned from them and wonder what shortcomings my own perspectives have.

I will tell you one thing: As I have written elsewhere (here, here, & here), I don’t hold to universal gender roles, much less God-appointed gender roles. Rarely do we find someone who lives out their theoretical framework (read “theology” in this context) perfectly in life. And rarely do we find a framework that exactly explains everything in the world. As Rorty says, “A + B = C, unless it doesn’t.” The same applies to gender roles. My wife handles our finances because she is better gifted at it — we would be quickly bankrupt if I were to take the reins. My wife is a better missionary than be because she seems to have the abilities to make connections and carry out plans while I struggle along. Both of us are involved in public ministry as our callings and giftings determine. We both cook at home because we both enjoy it. I suspect it’s the same with you.

My wife and I enjoy watching cooking shows — particularly contest shows. What surprises me is the predominance of men in professional cooking and the fact that the women who participate say that it’s a hard industry for them to enter. Wait a minute. I thought that cooking was supposed to be the realm of women? (I see a lot of references to sandwiches on Twitter). What happened? What happened was that the framework that we have been presented with is flawed. Patriarchy still rears its ugly head even in realms where we think that it doesn’t.

Du Mez emphasises one strain of masculinity in her book. At first I saw that as a limitation but then realised that Du Mez does periodically refer to other sides to the story but these are only in passing and in the context of having been rejected by the subjects of her book. She is in fact tracing a hegemonic form of masculinity through the evangelical church. If you don’t remember, hegemonic masculinity is a term developed by Connell to identify the form of masculinity that is the norm in the cultural psyche, even if this norm is not actually the normal masculinity when it comes to practice (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). It does leave me with the question of whether there is there a range of masculinities among American evangelical men? Du Mez may have highlighted the hegemonic form but what about the other, perhaps more practiced, forms that exist? How can we champion those? Is it possible to affect change in the cultural psyche so that more harmful forms of masculinity become marginalised?

I also was surprised to see the inclusion of fundamentalists in the realm of evangelicals, since the fundamentalists that I know try to distinguish themselves from evangelicals. But that is really neither here nor there since the underlying theme tracing is hegemonic masculinity.

The book caused me to reflect on what I truly believe masculinities to be. It got me to examine my assumptions on a deeper level. What is masculinity for me? How does it differ from femininity? Is it even important to make a distinction? Am I, as a man, somehow specially prepared/gifted/enabled/called to something that perhaps a women isn’t? Or are those things determined by personality? How can I best use my manhood (if that’s even possible) for the furtherance of God’s kingdom here on earth?

My own masculinity research, where I talked with men in my community, tells me that some men see themselves sometimes as humans, with the same problems that all humans share. “Tao lang ako” [“I’m only human”] is a phrase often on the lips of the men when they describe their ability to be obedient to God. It encapsulates both their desire to do what is right but also gives them some leeway in their performance since “tao lang ako.” It reiterates their weakness and sets themselves apart from God, who wouldn’t have any problem being obedient.

But men are also men and as such need to become better people. They want to redefine themselves from the traditional ideas that men are violent or womanizers into something better. Knowing Christ has helped one of my friends overcome his hot headedness. He also said that in his opinion womanizers aren’t really true men because all that results is that their families are destroyed.

I don’t have many answers yet but Du Mez’ book has helped me deepen the process of discovery. It may help you as well. Why not pick it up and read it? It may cause you to reflect on your own situation as well.

Then again, maybe God has given you insight into these things. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

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Image is a screen shot from the cover of the ebook I read and is copyright Liveright Publishing.

Imagining what the world is like: The usefulness of windows & doors in our worldviews

Imagine living in a room with no windows or doors. You are not alone. After a while you would develop a worldview limited by those four walls. Anything else would be speculation. Of course your other senses would work fine. You may hear things outside your room. You may smell things. You may feel vibrations. You may speculate as to what your senses were telling you but you wouldn’t be certain. The group would come up with an idea of reality. 

Then imagine that all of a sudden someone else appeared and installed a window. All of a sudden your world view would expand. Not only because the window expanded your view but because you also realised that other people existed outside of your room. 

We can then imagine the changes that would happen as windows were installed in each wall and as more and more of the world became visible. 

Now imagine that a door was installed and the installer invited you outside. What would change? Then imagine what would happen if you actually went outside. How would the group decide who would go? Would everyone go? What factors would contribute to whether people went or not?

What would happen when those who went out returned? Would their stories be clearly told? Would those who stayed behind believe them or not? Would more be convinced to leave or would decisions be made to close the doors & windows? 

Some more questions arise. What if you didn’t enjoy the view? What if what you saw was unbelievable? What if you didn’t want to go out the door? What if you didn’t trust your senses or trust the one inviting you outside? 

The examples could continue on into absurdity. What if the view out the windows wasn’t in fact direct but was an elaborate system of mirrors bringing you reflections of the world outside. What if (ala Plato’s allegory of the cave) all you could see was shadows of activities outside? What if the decision of the group was to tear the walls down and live together with those other people in the world?

How would the worldview change process work? What senses would you prioritise? What senses would you distrust more than others? 

A lesson from Men in Black.

In the classic 1997 movie Men in Black, James Darrell Edwards III is taken into a room with “the best of the best of the best.” As part of their testing before becoming one of the Men in Black, they are all taken into a shooting room full of graphical alien potential targets. They are supposed to shoot the dangerous targets and save the innocent ones. All the candidates go in guns blazing except for James, who carefully looks at each scary monster before calmly shooting the “little Tiffany” in the head. Let’s take a look at the script:

ZED: “May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?”

JAMES: “She was the only one who actually seemed dangerous. At the time.”

ZED: “And how did you come to that conclusion?”

JAMES: “Hook-head guy. You explain to me how he can think with a hook for a head. Answer; it’s not his head. His head is that butt-ugly bean-bag thing over there. ‘Cause if you look at the snarling beast-guy, he’s not snarling, he’s sneezing — he’s got tissues in his hand. No threat there, and anyhow, the girl’s books were way too advanced for an eight-year-old’s. And besides, from where I’m looking, she was the only one who appeared to have a motive. And I don’t appreciate your jumping down my throat about it. Or, uh — do I owe her an apology?”

James spent time carefully studying before going off guns blazing. He looked at the world around him to understand it so that understanding could better inform his actions.

The Windowless Room and Theologising.

It got me thinking about how much theology is done from the theologian’s office and how much from wandering about and observing? Which ends up being better? How important is listening to others’ analysis and evaluation as opposed to making your own? 

I love to read books. I particularly love escapist fiction because it draws me into a world that I can live in. I can dream while reading. I can imagine what life would be like if I were a character in the book. I enjoy people watching and trying to image their motivations for doing what they do. I also have a tendency to be shy. I prepare my sermons and lessons in isolation and them present them to people with real connections in the real world. But I realised after a while that my well was running dry. I had no more information to present and no way of finding a way forward into something new.

So I decided to study ways to better understand the world. That meant I had to study things like anthropology. I had to study about culture and society. Each of these fields has its own perspectives and theories that are useful in gaining understanding. Sometimes these theories offer criticisms of the current world. Sometimes they offer ways to better understand it. Sometimes they offer insights into how various and sundry parts of the world relate to each other. Sometimes they offer insights into how to interpret the world. It was great. It was like windows were being opened up for me to see out.

But more so than that, studying forced me to go out into the world and engage with it. I learned to observe people in the everyday environments and wonder why they did the things they did. I walked around my community trying to notice the things that I normally passed by. I learned to ask questions and listen for the answers. I talked to men on the street about their understandings of masculinity and religiosity. We talked about families. We talked about how to know the truth. We talked about their own ideas and perspectives. We developed deeper relationships with each other.

I certainly know that I gained more perspective once I got out into the real world. How do you maintain connections with the real world? How does that help develop your own perspectives and ideas? Please let me know in the comments below.

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Image by Arm Sarv on Unsplash.