Do you want a haircut? No I want them all cut! 

I got tongue tied when giving directions to the tricycle on which barber shop I wanted to go to but I arrive nonetheless. Fortunately I have been there before so I am able to guide the driver. Unfortunately there is a lineup today. I guess that’s what I get from getting a haircut on Saturday afternoon. 

I climb out if the tricycle (not made for people as big as I am) and hand over the fare. Then I pop my head in to ask, “Is there any hope?” I am number 2 so that’s not too bad. It looks like today Noel has another guy cutting, too, so that makes the line go down quickly. Noel, the owner of Marvin’s Barber shop, has been cutting my hair ever since I moved to Pingkian 12 years ago. Once I find a good barber I tend to stick with them. It’s gotten to the point where I just sit down and Noel knows what cut I want. Nice!

I sit outside along the front of the shop on a stack of two monoblock chairs. A bench of similar design is already occupied by three other people. The shop features the typical striped colours symbolic if barbershops the world over. It’s glass front featuring a painted lettered sign “Marvin’s BARBER SHOP.” A black plastic bucket on the ground beside the door catches water the drips constantly from the air conditioner. Faded photos of haircuts are featured prominently in the windows. 

Life passes us by. Tandang Sora avenue is always busy. Only two lanes but it leads people past several schools, a mall or two, and a wet market. The road has improved over the years. Now it boasts a smooth asphalt surface that makes driving easy. The steep edges, however, make walkers a little more cautious. 

Small delivery trucks, jeepneys, vans, motorcycles, tricycles, and cars pass by going here, there, and everywhere. Pedestrians also frequent the way carrying bags, purses, or books. 

Directly across from the shop is a brand new stripmall, still unoccupied. Looks like there is room for fourteen shops on two floors, each with it own rollup door. A roofdeck is on the third floor. It’s one of the new places that are constantly being built in anticipation of the road being widened to 4 lanes. 

The urban sprawl tends to hide the physical geography, but signs peek out from time to time. The south side of the road, where I am sitting, appears to be higher and the ground slopes away across the road towards the creek that I know is there. 

The bench just emptied itself of people — I guess the lineup wasn’t as long as I thought. Soon it will be my turn. All of a sudden I see the nod and head on in. He seats me in his barber’s chair and starts the preparations. As I look into the full-width mirror I see Noel’s tools of the traded arrayed before me. There are seven electric clippers. A box holds 8 different types of brush with a couple more in various places on the shelves. An assortment of bottles sits on the left, ready to be applied during various stages of the haircut. Scissors and combs abound! A TV hangs on the wall behind me, playing the latest telenovela. I can see a reverse image in the mirror in front of me. This mirror is actually an infinity mirror since it works in conjunction with the mirror on the back wall. 

A strip of toilet paper is wrapped around my neck to be held in place by the striped cape that will protect my clothes from falling hair. The clippers are chosen, and will be exchanged with other clippers at various times — why? I don’t know. From time to time the scissors come out, being used rapidly, sometimes held vertically as Noel swiftly operates them and spins them around the back of my head. Then the razor comes out to make sure the edges are neatly trimmed. At one point, the cape is removed, shaken out, then replaced as the final push begins. A razor makes sure the edges are neat.

Then comes perhaps the most interesting part. After putting rubbing alcohol on my hair, he begins to massage my neck and shoulders, making sure all the “lamig” is removed from my muscles. Then, with a sudden move, there is the head twist and neck jerk move that frees up all the bones there. This is always accompanied by a a laughing “Ayus!” on his part. The secret is to just relax and let it happen. But it is always a little freaky. Then a quick brush off of any fallen hairs and the process is done!

Guwapo na!

What is your favourite haircut story? Why not record it for posterity in the comments below?

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Image is mine.

We sometimes like to use Scary Words but often don’t really know if they’re scary or not, but we use them anyways so we don’t have to engage new ideas question our own favourite beliefs.

There are lots of scary words being thrown around these days, words that are used not necessarily with their original meanings attached but used merely as labels to scare us. We label what we don’t like. That means we no longer need to engage or seek understanding. Without the label we need to accept that our vision of the world may not be as neat as we might like. What we have done, instead, is to turn the dialogue into a monologue that keeps us firmly in the driver’s seat. What’s more, these words are used together with other words — words that we think we agree with — so that we automatically agree with the statement and claim that the scary word is in fact scary.

Liberal.

A couple of years ago I was called a “liberal Canadian pastor” by an USA-ian former classmate and FB friend. I had to laugh because the term liberal is so diverse in its meanings that the statement made no sense. Is he saying, Liberal, in the sense of being a part of the political party in Canada or liberalism in the Canadian sense? Is he saying theological liberal in the sense of having the same theology as Protestant mainline churches? Is he saying liberal in the sense of liberal democracy that he himself is also a part of? Is he saying liberal as in liberal arts, a field of study in many universities including those universities that label themselves “Christian.” Is he saying liberal as opposed to conservative? Or is he defining liberal in some USA-ian way that I don’t understand? I honestly suspect that he really didn’t know what his label meant other than “a Canadian pastor who believes something different than me and who I suspect is wrong.” Now I may be reading too much into it is but subsequent interactions with him seem to support my view. Certainly there are some aspects of the term that deserve caution but other aspects merely identify who we are as a society today.

CRT.

Another scary word is actually an acronym: CRT. CRT, for those who don’t know, stands for Critical Race Theory, a theoretical framework that originated as a critique of USA laws that seem to favour one race over others. It has become a touchstone for more recent debates about race and culture in the USA particularly. Do you know what the big issue really is? It’s that there are racial discriminations underlying USA society and these are embedded in the very definition of what it means to be a USA-ian. It’s entirely a framework that is based in the USA. But lest we Canadians think these same things aren’t true for us we have another think coming. Racial discrimination is live and well in Canada, too. And it needs to be addressed. In some ways, this scary word has the least number of potential real issues associated with it.

Progressive.

Here’s the kicker. For many years the political party that was slightly right of centre was called “Progressive Conservative.” Isn’t that funny? How can something be both of those things? I guess I should also point out that, at least in years past, the political spectrum in Canada was primarily centrist — the massive swings we see in today’s political landscape haven’t really existed in the mainstream in Canada. Now the term progressive has been applied to Christianity. This term does have a specific meaning, and certain aspects have real issues of its own, but it is often used as another of those terms to indicate someone whose theology I disagree with. I suspect that most people have issue with it’s connection to post-modernism. (However, I would like to point out that if you are 60 years old or younger, your own personal system of thought is post-modern. Sorry.) What is even stranger, even biblical requirements of the gospel such as social peace and public justice get lumped into the term even though these issues are core to what the gospel is. What I suspect has happened is that people have blended their political ideas in with the gospel to create some kind of Frankenstein religion. 

What’s the Takeaway?

So, what’s the takeaway from all these scary words? Know what words mean before I use them. Many philosophies and ideologies are difficult to define definitively — there is always nuance needed. That’s why labels don’t work because there is no nuance allowed. When I see someone who I think believes something different, it’s perhaps best to engage in dialogue rather than merely labelling and ignoring them. Who knows, I may discover that I am the one who needs adjustment. Make the world a better place for everyone.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating becoming progressive or liberal or some other such label. What I am advocating for is using labels less. For me the bottom line especially when it comes to Jesus followers is depends on how we answer the question, “Who is LORD?” If someone says, “Jesus is LORD,” then guess what? They are automatically a part of our faith community. “But what if they don’t believe the right stuff?” you may ask. My reply is that we didn’t understand the ins and outs of the scary words above but we don’t use that limitation to disqualify ourselves from Jesus family. Why then do we want to disqualify others?

What should we focus on instead?

I genuinely believe that our main task here on earth is to follow the example of God Almighty who “did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” And I guess love is the most basic theological truth we need, isn’t it? Jesus even tells us. Twice. Matthew 22:37-39. That means doctrinal issues necessarily come second, doesn’t it? I mean, if Jesus wanted us to believe a specific statement of faith wouldn’t he have listed that instead?

I assume some of you disagree with my take on these things. If so, why not engage in some dialogue in the comment section below? Please tell me where my understanding is lacking. Let me understand your perspective. Let’s talk.

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Appropriating Christmas: How the Philippines took a foreign religious holiday & made it their own

Christmas is more fun in the Philippines! Christmas begins September 1 and ends in December. The joke is that this is because these are -ber months (all ending in -ber), which is reminiscent of brrrr and admittedly is the coldest things get in the Philippines (where daily temperatures begin at 25C and go up). I thought that a look at Filipino Christmas and a comparison with the Christmases practiced in other parts of the world, might help us further understand the process of appropriation.

The Christmas I remember included a variety of images, from Jesus in the manger, to Santa Claus’ red suit. There were shepherds, angels, wise men, reindeer, carols, Christmas songs, presents, and turkey dinner. We put up decorations, stood up Christmas trees, sat on Santa’s knee, and participated in and attended Christmas pageants. We debated: Should it be Christmas or X-mas? Is it proper to celebrate Christmas before Remembrance Day? When is the best time to tell our kids that Santa isn’t real. If Christmas falls on a Saturday, do we need to have a church service on both Saturday and Sunday or can we just have one? The longest kind of celebration for Christmas was the 12 days immortalised in the song. Canadians even had Bob and Doug MacKenzie’s version to enjoy!

What perhaps I didn’t realise back then was that Christmas is an intensely cultural experience and different cultures express and experience Christmas in different ways. Just go back over the lyrics to Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? to see the absurdity of some of our ideas!

Christmas is an important time of the year for Filipinos. Preparation begins September 1 when malls begin playing Christmas carols. Soon decorations appear that depict various “Christmas” scenes. In mid-November, people began planning Christmas parties at a variety of locations: A person can expect to attend multiple Christmas parties each Christmas season. The start of Simbang Gabi on 16 December is significant in more ways than one: Not only does it signal the final nine days leading up to Christmas, it also signals the start of Christmas Carol season. 

While it may be called Christmas there are some features of a Philippine Christmas that differ from the Christmases I experienced as a kid in Canada and maybe from the Christmas that you are used to.

World’s Longest Christmas. I guess we can begin at the four months of Christmas. Filipinos often brag that they have the longest Christmas celebrations of any place in the world. They also sometimes apologetically say that they start too early. I guess maybe I could point out that perhaps everyone else starts late?

Parol. The picture at the top of this post is of a parol. The parol is the ultimate Filipino Christmas decoration. Children learn to make these in elementary school and every house has at least one. The simplest parol feature a bamboo frame with colourful plastic skin while the more complex ones feature lights and music. The centre of parol culture is the province of Pampanga, just an hour or two north of Metro Manila, where craftsmen have perfected the art of parol. They have even developed a home-grown system for making the lights dance that predates modern digital light controllers.

Simbang gabi. Simbang gabi is nine days of early morning worship at the local church. It begins on December 16 and goes until Christmas Eve. Some treat the experience as panata, or vow, believing that God will grant their request if they attend each of the nine days.

Christmas caroling. Christmas carolling in the Philippines is a type of wassailing, similar in some ways to Canadian Halloween practices. What is interesting is that one of the more popular Filipino Christmas carols is actually about wassailing. Perhaps the best-known example of Christmas wassailing is in the popular Christmas carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas. As one looks at the lyrics one sees the wassailing process, described from demands for treats (“give us some figgy pudding”) to threats (“we won’t go until we’ve got some”). (Actually the Christmas carol “I love to go a-sailing” is actually “I love to go wassailing.”)

One year I did a study on Christmas carolling in our community. The choice of songs was limited. More than half of the groups sang the typical Christmas medley of Sa May Bahay Ang Aming Bati [We Greet the Owner of the House], We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Thank You Very Much with two more groups merely omitting Thank You Very Much. By far the most popular song of the evening was Sa May Bahay Ang Aming Bati at 11 hits followed by We Wish You a Merry Christmas at 10 hits, and Thank You, Thank You, Thank You Very Much! at 9 hits. I was surprised that Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit [Christmas is Drawing Near] was only sung once that evening. Other songs included Jingle Bells, Noche Buena [Christmas Eve], Pasko Na Naman Muli [It’s Christmas Time Again], Last Christmas, and Maligayang Pasko [Merry Christmas]. While all of these songs are identified as Christmas carols, none of them makes more than a passing reference to the birth of Jesus.

In the province of Samar caroling is called Pananarit, a Waray-language retelling of the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem. Carolers go from house to house asking, through song, “Can you see us here?” Those in the house answer “There is no room in the inn.” The complexity of the song required many singers. The song is quite lengthy, taking up four pages of paper, and a caroller was expected to know it perfectly if they expected to receive a prize. This is repeated every night until Christmas Eve when English songs such as We Wish You a Merry Christmas are permitted. This is because Jesus has now been born and so they don’t need to look for a place to stay.

Aguinaldo and the code words “Merry Christmas.” Since a major part of Christmas is gifts, there are a variety of hints that one can give in order to get a present. Aguinaldo is the term for the P20 that godparents give to their godchildren on Christmas. Some Godparents visit the bank to ensure that these P20 bills are new. In some settings the term “Merry Christmas” is code for “I am waiting for my gift,” which is why some offices ban its use. Having an Exchange Gift is a common feature at Christmas parties. The value is determined before hand to ensure an equitable distribution. 13th-month pay is enshrined in Philippine law that requires employers to give their employees an additional one-month’s pay each December.

What’s different? Christmas is a wonderful time for Filipinos. But you may have noticed a few differences with how you celebrate the same event. By and large Santa is missing. Maybe that’s because the only places with chimneys sell litson manok [roasted chicken] and anyone sliding down those chimneys would end up getting roasted. Other features of the Santa story are also far from the typical Philippine experience: Sleighs, snow, warm winter clothes, reindeer, and North Pole. Christmas carols are also different, as noted above. The Philippines has developed its own set of appropriate Christmas songs. In fact, the main indicator that Christmas has begun is that Jose Mari Chan sings his famous Christmas Song, Christmas in our Hearts.

All Christmas celebrations are in fact appropriations (like Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc) in that they have been appropriated to bring different meanings to previously pagan festivals. Of course celebrations of Christ’s birth predate these appropriations but we don’t celebrate those anymore. Thus some of the main features of Christmas are really repurposed pagan items. This repurposing gives new meaning to old symbols. This is why I don’t agree with some who claim that to celebrate Christmas or Halloween is to embrace paganism because most paganism has been repurposed and given new meanings — examples of the conversion of culture that Andrew Walls speaks of.

I am hoping that this look at Christmas helps us understand the kinds of appropriations that are appropriate to use. Particularly those who are in the same line of work as I am, namely proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to people from another culture, can help find ways for this kind of appropriation to happen. Part of the secret I think it to let it happen organically.

What about your own Christmas celebrations? Have you experienced change in Christmas in your life? How have you made them your own? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Oh, and, Merry Christmas!

Image by Eugene Alvin Villar (seav), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Reflections on my own legacy in light of a friend’s recent passing.

A friend’s recent passing got me thinking about my legacy today. What is it that I have to leave behind? I know that we are supposed to live our lives for the Lord and not for the glories of humans but by legacy I am talking about the things that I have done to make other’s lives easier, the connections with God that I have left, and the example of how to be a good man I have been.

Way back in 1995 DC Talk asked,

“What if I stumble?
What if I fall?
What if I lose my step and make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when the walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble?
What if I fall?”

℗ 1995 ForeFront Records

It’s a question we all face, isn’t it? DC Talk, coming from their position as the top Christian Music act of their time, was thinking of what consequences would result if the realities of life were discovered by their fans. Not many of us have the fame or fans of DC Talk but all of us have those we want to impact. It may be family members. It may be friends. It may be those we minister to. Even though we are not building up treasures on earth, we do want to make an impact for God’s Kingdom while we can. After all, Jesus’ final command to us before returning to heaven was “Make disciples of all nations.”

That’s why I thought the verse that I discussed in today’s TikTok was appropriate.

‘But if we live in the light in the same way that God is in the light, we have a relationship with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from every sin. If we say, “We aren’t sinful” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong. If we say, “We have never sinned,” we turn God into a liar and his Word is not in us.’ 1 John 1:7-10

These verses makes it clear that none of us are perfect. All of us engage in sin. All of us struggle with making things right. The solution offered is confession and forgiveness. Both of these together make up what we commonly refer to as an apology. What does that look like and is it possible in situations like this? Keep in mind that I am no expert in these things but maybe we can fumble through it together.

Confession is when I admit to someone else some things that I have done are wrong. Here is where problems often arise. I am not very good at this part. Sometimes I find myself saying, “I am sorry that you felt that way.” This is not really confession because it doesn’t acknowledge that I have done something wrong only that the other person felt a certain way around it. Sometimes I confess only a portion of what I have done wrong — the portion that is perhaps the most palatable for me to accept, maybe? Or perhaps the portion that I can speak about without a deep feeling of shame. For me, confession is a process as I move through these stages towards the actual issue that needs addressing in my own life.

The next stage in an apology is forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard because it means giving up my rights to retribution. Regardless of how well-crafted or thought out the confession portion is, the offended party needs to actively forgive. The Jesus-follower has a different basis for offering forgiveness. Rather than waiting for the offender to admit they were wrong and ask for help, Jesus asks us to forgive first. Why is this? Because that’s exactly what Jesus did. The Bible tells us that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. He didn’t wait and so he asks us to imitate him.

What is interesting is that someone can confess even without forgiveness. Someone can also forgive even without confession. That means my forgiveness isn’t dependent upon the quality of the apology, if any, given by my offender. Nor is my confession dependent upon eventually being forgiven. But when both of those things happen reconciliation happens, too.

We reap what we sow and that is true in this case as well. It would be easy for me to say, “Well, Jesus asks you to forgive me before I ask for it so I don’t need to do anything.” This is actually a rather embarrassing situation to put oneself in because in one sentence I both accept Jesus’ forgiveness for me but reject any offense I may have caused you.

It actually is worse than this. The Bible also tells us that God will avenge us. But we know how that turned out don’t we? God’s idea of vengeance is sending Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the world. So, rather than assuming (hoping??) that our enemies will face God’s wrath, what happens instead is that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, forgives them, just as he forgives us.

Back to me and my friend. I know that he loved the bible. He read it. He studied it. He memorised it. He argued using it. But he had problems living it. Apart from his relationship problems, he also had several vices. And at this point it is now only between him and God.

But what about me? I, too, love the bible. I, too, read it. I, too, study it. I, too, have memorised small portions of it. I even go further and teach it. And I, too, have problems living it. 

Being at the wake made me wish that when it’s time for my own funeral that my kids will want to be there. Not because I am now dead but because I have left something good behind. It leads me to ask some questions:

Has my love for the bible caused me to love others too or merely love my own knowledge? Has my reading of the bible led me to be a better father and husband or merely to fit into a mold? Has my teaching others the bible meant that I also have taught myself or do I think that I already know it all? In my authority have I remained humble or have I lorded it over others? These are tough questions.

But it’s not all bad. There are moments of hope in the midst of darkness. A desire to see justice reign is hopeful. A desire to go to God’s word when facing problems is hopeful. A desire to be a part of a faith community is hopeful. And sometimes we see things when it’s too late. Words of friends who knew a different side of him. Remembered fragments of a life lived. Hope in the midst of hopeless. A challenge to live my life better in light of the shortcomings of others.

What legacies are you trying to live up to? Or perhaps live down? Why not leave a comment below?

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Image by the blowup on Unsplash.

My wife, Eva, is now blogging.

I am pretty excited today because my wife’s new blog, Beneath My Shell, went live just a few moments ago. Eva blogs her thoughts about her life as a missionary midwife living in the Philippines. Here is what she has to say about what you can expect:

My name is Eva Fast.

I am a Canadian missionary with the Baptist General Conference of Canada. I have lived with my family in Metro Manila, Philippines since 1999. My background is nursing and I fell in love with midwifery in 2007. Throughout the years I’ve been involved with over 700 natural births. Although I’m not practicing midwifery at this time, my passion for women and their stories remains. I believe women are stronger together with God as their foundation.

Please head on over a take a look at what Eva has to say. You will love her first story!

When you get there, don’t forget to subscribe so that you can get timely updates!

Image by Luma Pimentel on Unsplash.

I went looking for masculinity in the Bible & this is what I found.

There has been a lot of discussion of late among the circles that I am involved in about what “Biblical Masculinity” is. We like things to be clearly defined, particularly areas that define how we are supposed to live. The assumption is often along the lines of “God has a plan for the way we are to live so if we can just figure out that plan then it will be easy for us to live it.” To that end, I went to the Bible to try and find out what it means to live as a man. Note that in this case I am not using the universal “man” to denote all humans but rather males specifically. Remember also that Masculinity is in its most basic sense the “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men” (OED) or “the approved way of being an adult male in any given society” (Gilmore, 1990).

In my search, I found myself in 2 Samuel 3, which is chock full of masculinity. Let’s see if we can extract a masculinity for us to emulate as faithful men of God. We also need to be reminded that the bible sometimes prescribes actions (stuff we are required to do) but more often describes actions (stuff other people did).

The man who fathers six children with six different women. Wait. What? Not the first example of biblical masculinity that I thought I would encounter. It actually flies in the face of contemporary Christian masculinity that champions fatherhood in the context of the nuclear family. What is interesting is that Absalom and Amnon have issues, that David is unwilling to work on, and as a result Absalom will eventually seek David’s throne and his life. Even though he fathered many children (and there are more besides these ones here), he clearly wasn’t always a very good father. Is a biblical man one who imitates David in this way?

The “Godless Fool who was so self-centred that his disrespect for others led to his own death (and whose wife was more honourable than he). We read about Nabal, whose name means Godless Fool, in 1 Samuel 25, where he is described as “harsh and mean,” and such “a worthless man that it’s useless to talk to him.” The reason he appears here is because David eventually married Nabal’s wife, Abigail, and it’s her son, Chileab, who is one of the six kids mentioned above. Is a biblical man a godless fool?

The man who faithfully serves his master’s family even in the face of open warfare. Abner was a good guy. Even though he appears on the wrong side of history, given that he supported Saul over David for the kingship, the Bible is very clear that he is honourable. And this honour was in the face of hand to hand combat. It’s quite the thing to face your enemy, grab him by the head, and stick your sword into his side — all while he is doing the same thing to you. If it was me I would probably run. What’s also interesting is that Abner remains loyal to Saul’s family even though he knows God has replaced him with David! That’s pretty strong resolve, isn’t it? Is a biblical man one who is a faithful servant?

The man who acts to defend his honour. Abner’s loyalty and faithfulness is then besmirched by Ishbosheth who falsely accuses him of raping one of Saul’s wives. We really have no context for this claim, other than what we read in this text, but Abner’s response is not unsurprising in someone falsely accused in this way. Is a biblical man one who defends his honour?

The man who wins his wife with 100 Philistine foreskins. If you are interested in this story, take a quick look at 1 Samuel 18, where we read that David doubled the required amount to 200, but that he also had help. What is involved in taking 200 Philistine foreskins? Killing 200 Philistines first because I can’t conceive of a situation where these would be willing turned over. Would you agree to those terms? How would that conversation go?

David: “Hey, bro, can you do me a solid and give me your foreskin so I can use it to get a wife?”

Random Philistine: “Over my dead body.”

David: “Okidoki.”

So, 100 Philistine foreskins = 100 dead Philistines. Obviously, winning a wife in this way requires a man capable to acquiring 100 foreskins. Is a biblical man someone capable of taking 100 foreskins? Is a biblical man someone who demands his wife back after she is already married to another?

The man who follows his wife down the road weeping because she is being taken back to her first husband. Paltiel, son of Laish wasn’t having a good day. He was squeezed between to fighting families and lost out in the end because he had to give up his wife. Michal, his wife, had originally been David’s wife — the one he paid 100 Philistine foreskins for. In 1 Samuel 25:44 we read that Saul had given Michal to Paltiel. He obviously loved her a lot to become so vulnerable in this way. Is a biblical man one who cries when his wife is taken from him?

The man who kills an honourable man as revenge for his slain brother. Joab and Abner were enemies from the day that Abner killed Joel’s brother Asahel. He had been awaiting this moment for quite some time. During those years in Israel, families were allowed to avenge deaths. If you accidentally killed someone you could flee to a city of refuge, where you would be safe until the death of the high priest. That ended anyone’s claim over your life. What is odd is that in this case, Joab killed Abner in Hebron, which was a city of refuge. Is a biblical man one who takes revenge on his enemies?

The man cursed to only be able to operate a spindle or to fall by the sword. David was upset over Joab’s revenge killing of Abner so he curses Joab’s family in an interesting way. Joab’s family would always have a man who would operate a spindle. A spindle was used for spinning and wasn’t apparently something commonly used by men in that in the only other usage in the Old Testament it is used by a woman. Death on the battlefield is a necessary part of warfare, but people’s preference is to live on the battlefield because that means that you have won. If your families always die, then they aren’t very successful. Is a biblical man one cursed like Joab’s?

The man who shows, through ritualistic mourning that he is innocent of another man’s blood. David expressed a lot of emotion during the funeral for Abner, including loud crying, singing, and not eating. He did not protect himself from shame or appearing weak, but rather put honouring Abner above his own interests. It was this vulnerability that caused the people to believe his innocence. Is a biblical man one who shows this kind of vulnerability?

Even though we can technically answer “Yes” to the question “Is a biblical man one who ______?” it is also obvious that not all of these men are to be emulated. It is also obvious that It seems as if there is not one universal masculinity expressed in this chapter. Men can also, apparently, express different masculinities in different situations. It leads us to ask, “Why are there so many examples of men in this chapter?” The answer is because rather than just one, universal masculinity, the world actually has a variety of masculinities. I have written about that here, here, and here.

What does this mean for Christian men today? There isn’t one, single, biblically defined version of manhood for us to emulate. We can express our manhood in a variety of ways, none of which are biblically prescribed. It also means that things are as clear as some are saying about what it means to be a Christian man. It takes the ability to interpret and understand the text of the Bible it a way that acknowledges its complexities.

What are your thought on masculinity? Why not leave a comment below?

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We all want to journey to the sea, but we just might be better off if we travel in the opposite direction.

When I was a kid I always enjoyed watching the Bill Mason’s film adaptation of Holling C. Holling’s Paddle to the Sea. It’s the story of a small, carved First Nations man sitting in a canoe. The artist creates the wooden piece and paints it in bright colours before setting it carefully in the snow. A few days later the snow begins to melt and the figurine slides down the slope, into the creek, and on its way to the sea. It’s a nice story.

A couple of things this past week got me thinking about that story and how it relates to life and the church. We often think we want to leave the small streams and creeks behind as we journey down the river to the sea, which is full of excitement. If we are in a small church, we dream of when the church will be big. We want it to grow because often we believe that a big church is healthy while a small church isn’t. If we live in a small town, we want to upgrade to the city because we feel that’s where a better life can be lived.

And I think we see the problems with this. That is why we work hard at developing smaller groups within the church. But even when small groups are working well, unless they are a part of something bigger, we feel like something is missing.

Yesterday I read a great Twitter thread by Ari Lamm on the tower of Babel. I would consider this a must read. It is a rich analysis of the biblical account that comes to new conclusions not because of the influx of any new modern ideas but by simply looking at the text itself. I highly recommend that you take a look at the thread if you haven’t already done so. 

One of the key things that Lamm points out is that the tower of Babel was a means to keep humanity from spreading around the earth. God had encouraged — actually commanded — them to fill the whole earth but that didn’t seem to be something that humans wanted to do. Maybe because we like to be a part of something big? 

In reality, life truly happens on the creeks and streams, because that’s where authenticity dwells. That’s where one-on-one interactions happen. That is everyday life. Often in church we are trying to create something new, for example a new community better than the one that already exists. To do this we try to go big. But that is the wrong direction. A new direction is to turn around.

I have noticed this while watching Chef’s Table. One common part of everyone’s story is that they loved food, grew up to study French cooking, started hating food, returned home to their own place, started cooking and loving food again. Food didn’t have meaning unless it was connected to their place.

My childhood friend, Dwayne Harms, pastored a small church in a small part of rural Saskatchewan. I have written about him here. Even though some may see that as being a stepping-stone to something bigger in the future, Dwayne saw it as an opportunity. He said, “Mike, if I was a pastor in a big city church, I would be one voice among a multitude of others. Here my voice is clear because I am the pastor of the Baptist church and everyone knows it.” Dwayne wasn’t looking for fame but for a voice. The Baptist church in his community was one of the originals. It was a known entity. It was an accepted part of things. That meant that as the official representative of that entity, Dwayne was entitled to voice that entity’s concerns. He was already a participant.

That’s authenticity and that’s the direction the church needs to take. 

What is your experience with the streams and rivers of life? Have you tried journeying to the sea? How did that work out for you? Please leave a comment below to let us know.

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Image by Adam Rhodes on Unsplash.

Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts

If you are like me certain things are important when making decisions. I like new ideas, especially new theological ideas. But one deal breaker for me is when new theological ideas have no basis in the bible. I want to see how the new idea interacts with the text before making my final decision on it.

I remember watching a documentary on cable one day just a month or two before the pandemic about the gospel of Judas or some other such text and what it really means. The documentary I was watching was very well put together and it led me through the process of how people first interpreted this document and how they were saying that our understanding of Bible times needs to change because of it. Just when I was starting to feel uncomfortable about the implications of this they introduced the next step of the story. All of a sudden a different expert in the languages comes in and looks at the documents, and to her surprise, and my relief, she realizes that the language had been misinterpreted and the new claims have no basis in the document. I realised at that moment that sometimes it takes someone to arise and say, “Wait a minute. I’m not sure that’s the way things should be.”

I grew up in evangelical churches. I not only grew up in them, but I even served on the pastoral staff one for a while. In fact, I am an ordained Baptist minister. So my evangelical roots and orthodoxy are strong. One thing I learned early on is that the bible teaches that there are differences between men and women, and primarily differences in the roles that men and women play in the family and the church. I suspect that you may have the same experience. For many years I didn’t think too deeply about it but from time to time the issue has raised it’s head. I tended to reject any new interpretations because they seemed to be non-biblical. One Old Testament class in seminary clearly taught us that the creation order outlined in Genesis 2 & 3 proved these gender differences. I remember even writing in on a survey distributed to our church that I would leave the church if they changed their mind on this issue 🙂 O for the certainty of youth!

Then my sister gave me the book last year. We have always been a family of readers so a new book was a good choice. I recently had a chance to finally finish the book and I must say I found it to be pretty impressive.The book is Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts and it serves as someone saying, “Wait a minute. I am not sure that’s the way things should be.” 

This book makes sense biblically. Lucy Peppiatt’s book both points out things in the bible that I had overlooked as well as introduces alternative interpretations of the key passages addressing the issue.

I remember a conversation I had years ago in seminary with my professor and friend Stanley E. Porter. He was talking about a paper he had written on some aspect of New Testament studies that relied on a rather small Greek word. His lesson for me that day was that he needed to find another scholar who also had the same idea — it wasn’t enough for him to merely come up with something new all by himself. I have taken that lesson to heart when I approach the bible. That’s why Peppiatt’s alternative interpretations ring true because she is very careful to point out that she isn’t just coming up with something new on her own but that these interpretations have a long history. I should also point out that Peppiatt is very clear in indicating when multiple possible interpretations exist for a text and is very sure to not force her own views on her reader. Rather she is opening up other legitimate interpretations for the reader to consider.

There is so much I could say about this book but here are just a few things that jumped out at me. You will need to read it for yourself in order to benefit from everything she says.

Regular readers of this blog know that masculinities is one of my favourite subject. Peppiatt doesn’t disappoint in this area. Here’re a couple of great quotes that are useful in helping us move towards a better understanding of gender as a whole and masculinity in particular:

“There are few examples of the Bible narratives telling us that women are or should be like this and that men are or should be like that.”

“What I, and many others, find fascinating is that this male Saviour offers us a unique picture of manhood. This is what God looks like when he becomes a man — at once powerful, authoritative, secure, holy, angry at injustice, and also broken, vulnerable, isolated, and weeping He is both acquiescent and resistant in the face of violence, but never retaliates like for like. This is a challenge to what is traditionally viewed as masculine and feminine traits.”

“And so we end where we began, with gendered language for God and for the church that turns out to be symbolic, figurative, and resistant to stereotyped views.”

If Peppiatt is right about these things, then current conversations that define Christian or biblical masculinity as THIS or THAT need to be reexamined. Apparently the bible is not as clear cut as we might like. But then again, nuance is a key part of contextual theology and appropriating faith, isnt’ it?

Peppiatt also spends a good amount of time addressing key bible passages surrounding the debate. One of them hits rather close to home for me. Earlier I mentioned how a close study of Genesis 2 & 3 in seminary convinced me about the reality of the creation order that places men in authority over women. What Peppiatt so ably points out, and what I so clearly missed, is that Genesis doesn’t start in Chapter 2. Rather, we need to go back to what Chapter 1 says when theologising. Realising that male and female are described together in that Chapter puts a whole new spin on things.

I also appreciated the focus on understanding that describing Eve as a “fit helpmate” means that she has “a power equal to man.” This means that she is not subordinate at the time of creation but is in fact equal.

The centrality of Genesis 3:16 is also key for me. I have touched on this here. It seems to me, and perhaps I figured this out before reading Peppiatt but it is certainly ably reinforced by her, that we need to read this verse realising that its position post-fall requires us to understand it as describing the way things will be from now on. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, their relationship will be marred and as such will be characterised by “desire” and “rule” rather than the mutuality that existed pre-fall. That means that anything that reinforces either “desire” or “rule” between men and women is sinful and needs to be redeemed. Peppiatt says it much better than I:

“Genesis 3:16 is a sign of both female and male disorder and tragedy. A woman, in her brokenness and vulnerability, turns to a man rather than to God to meet her needs, and instead of kindness and compassion she encounters his broken and disordered need to dominate her, a tragedy played out with sickening regularity throughout history.”

Peppiatt also enters into a very in depth and thorough discussion of what headship means. These verses are notoriously hard to understand with more questions being raised than answered. I wrote a little bit about this here. Here I will just quote Peppiatt:

“My conviction is that these verses reflect Paul’s opponents’ ideas and this this very Greco-Roman view of creation has infected the church at Corinth while functioning as the men’s rationale to put the women int he congregation in head coverings for worship.”

This conviction is based upon the idea that in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is addressing a series of questions raised by the church(which he directly quotes) and giving his answers. It is no means an interpretation unique to Peppiatt. What is clear from the text, however, in spite of the vast variety of interpretations offered, is that “Paul, the apostle, releases women to pray and prophesy in public along with the men, as he has just explained. They are not to sit in silence but participate equally with their husbands.”

Peppiatt addressed male and female participation in marriage by entering into a fascinating discussion of household codes and how important they were in the early Near East. I would encourage you to read this but let me just say that according to Peppiatt, Paul’s use of these codes is actually an adaptation that begins to undermine traditional understandings of family roles and allows change to be incorporated into the family for the better. She says, “In a culture where wives were often regarded as both chattel and easily expendable, Paul redefines a husband’s responsibilities toward his wife in terms of enduring covenant faithfulness, monogamy, and self-sacrifice.”

Another area addressed in the book is how the doctrine of the trinity has been undermined of late by those who want to insert hierarchy into it. One can’t simply redefine trinity to include a hierarchy between Father and Son so that a hierarchy can be created between men and women. Peppiatt says, “I hope it has become clear that the idea that the male represent the Father in his authority and the female represents the Son in his submission as a way of trying to lock in male-female relationships.”

Peppiatt has so much more to say but you will have to read that for yourself. I will end this by pointing out that if you want to see great example of contextualization in action take a look at the final chapter, which is a fabulous look at 1 Timothy 2. Peppiatt, relying heavily on Hoag and Glahn, gives a detailed account of how Paul did contextualisation based on the early novel Ephesiaca. Wow! Stuff like that is so cool!

Suffice it to say I highly recommend this book. However, I suspect that some reading this book feel I may have fallen off the deep end. Let me tell you that I get where you are coming from. I was there myself. I was happy to live in my beliefs without considering any new arguments or evidence. Why not take a leap and read Peppiatt’s book? It may provide some answers that you have been looking for.

If you feel like sharing your journey with this topic why not leave a comment below?

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Image is copyright IVP.

On anniversaries, weather, and what’s really important in life.

You probably don’t remember when your church’s anniversary is, do you? Unless of course you are from the Philippines. Filipinos know how to do celebrations — birthdays, going away parties, anniversaries. No one does it better than they do. Which is why I suppose church anniversaries are such a big deal. Tonight we will be celebrating the sixth anniversary of Pingkian Family Worship, the small community of faith that shares a name with our community in Quezon City.

Preparations have been going on for quite a while. Yesterday the decorating began. Because we are anticipating some guests we decided to rearrange the layout so the front will be at the side. A local politician loaned us a stage that she has in her storage room. The size of two sheets of plywood it stands along one side of the space. We have several benches the we placed in two rows right in front of the space. That leaves about 1.5 metres for the dancers! The theme is Simbalay, which is loosely translated as Worshipping at Home, so the decorations are based on a native house called a bahay kubo. The backdrop is a series of curtains and bamboo decorated with colourful native fans.

Each sub-group within the church will play a role: The women’s group will dance, the men’s group will sing, the youth will dance, we will have a couple of testimonies of thanksgiving to God, and a couple of families will sing. All of this, of course, will happen after the usual church service is finished. Our usual services follow a simple liturgy: Greeting, three or four praise & worship songs in either English or Tagalog, a time of corporate prayer, Pastor Renz will preach, and we’ll have a response song. Then the celebration will begin.

Right now I am hoping that the rains will stop. It’s really coming down. That’s the disadvantage of having a July anniversary in Manila — it’s rainy season. Earlier this afternoon, I was carrying our portable sound system down to where the service will be held. I had assumed the rain was finished but when I was halfway there the rains started again. Fortunately a local eatery has an overhang in front of it that I was able to use for cover. I only had to wait about 5 minutes before heading on my way again. The sun came out. The water started to dry up. And we were ready for the rest of the day. Then the rains began again. The thing about rain in Manila is that it comes hard for a short period of time and then is done. That’s what we are hoping for today too 🙂

Rain has messed with our plans in the past. A number of years ago, before we had our current facility, we had a rather elaborate setup using a tent. However, the rains meant we needed to move at the last minute. We ended up using our garage and the garage across the lane. We had chairs all the way across the street that needed to be moved in the middle of the service when one of the neighbours came home. It was reminiscent of the Christmas program we held one year where the neighbour carried a squealing pig past our setup because someone had bought it. It pays to not be too invested in make sure everything goes right 🙂

In the end it’s not the smoothness of the program that counts but rather the joy that we all shared in together as we prepared. God after all isn’t an event-based God but one that wants to meet us where we live everyday!

Remember sharing is what friends do!

Image is mine.

Juxtapositions: How sharing spaces with those different from us is good

I am sitting at my daughter’s dining room table looking out the window. I am always struck by what I can see when I am high up on top of something. It gets me thinking about how space is arranged within cities and how at times diverging or even opposing parties find themselves adjacent to one another.

There is a house immediately behind the condo building that has two prominent, colourful, pictures of Jesus — one on the garage and the other beside the front door (you can see them in the photo above). I should point out that having a picture of Jesus on the front of your house is not at all unusual in Metro Manila but in this instance it seems like a different message is being portrayed. Then I noticed that on the next street over was a small Iglesia ni Cristo [Church of Christ] chapel and I realised that this particular area has an abundance of members from that church. The Iglesia ni Cristo is a Filipino new religious movement whose main location is just a few minutes down the road. Because of this reality I suspect the homeowner is sending a message to their neighbours: We are Roman Catholics in this house.

Thinking along these lines got me to take a closer look at the other spaces I could see. The largest part by far is indeed taken up by the properties of the Iglesia ni Cristo. Sticking up from the greenery of the surrounding mango trees is the new hospital, media center, member apartments, and university. A little further around we can see the main worship center with its grand spires.

Immediately behind the INC site is the beautifully-treed University of the Philippines Arboretum. The space, although transited by a 16-lane highway, is connected to the greater University of the Philippines, the premier university in the Philippines and the place where three members of my family went to school.

Immediately in front of the vast INC estates lies the Culiat Muslim Compound, an islamic community made up of people whose primary origins are in the far south of the country. The space contains a large community of people and is also home to at least five mosques.

Several Roman Catholic orders also occupy adjacent space including the Augustinians who have a variety of training centers and chapels, the Claretians who include the Claret Seminary, the Claretian Missionary Sisters, and the The Institute For Consecrated Life In Asia, and the Adorers of the Blood of Christ with their St. Maria de Mattias Center Inc.

There is also the smaller Our Lord’s Temple Ministry compound squeezed in between these different groups.

Interspersed in between these various institutions are houses and homes occupied by people from all walks of life. From the wealthy members of exclusive subdivisions to the poorer members of various informal communities squeezed in between other more formal establishments.

What is interesting is that while there are a variety of religious beliefs, practices, and traditions represented, at the core they are all interested in making the world a better place. I wonder how the different beliefs impact this desire?

Another question it raises is how such diverse groups manage to survive beside on another. Certainly the niceties of modern societies prohibit any overt forms of harassment from one to another. I wonder if there is any cooperation between these groups as they try to make the world a better place?

Which, of course, leads to a question that is relevant to whoever is reading this blog: How do we survive in close proximity to others with divergent beliefs, practices, and traditions? Any suggestions or examples from your own life? Please comment below.

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Remember sharing is what friends do.

Image is mine.