Pagkalalake at Maka-Diyos: I am creating a new series on Masculinities that will help us explore what it means to be men & how we can become better shapers of masculine cultures.

Basahin sa wikang Tagalog.

Are you as confused by the idea of masculinity as I am sometimes? It seems that every day I read something that either says men must be like this, men shouldn’t be like this, or men are toxic, men are too feminine, men aren’t allowed to be men anymore, and so on. And it’s a confusing issue. I tend to write from the perspective of the church and theology so that’s where I normally look first for solutions. I am also trained as a social scientist so I see the value of empirical research as well in seeking solutions.

This topic is important to me but I am at a loss at times to think about good answers to these questions. That’s why I am creating a multilingual and multiplatform series on masculinities that will help us all navigate this complex issue. This series will be called Pagkalalake at Maka-Diyos, a Tagalog phrase that can be translated as Masculinity and Religiosity. I have written about masculinities in a short series here and I am hoping the new series that will follow this post will add on that foundation. I write from the context of culture and mission in the context of the Philippines and Canada.

I have a couple of thoughts. Humans are made male and female. I realise that this is a disputed claim of late but please know that I am aware of the complexities of the topics of sex and gender, maleness and femaleness, masculinities and femininities, man and woman-ness, and so on. I need to go with how the creation of humanity is described in Genesis 1 and 2 as being male and female in the likeness and image of God.

What I want to know is what is unique about men as men? I mean, why did God make humans this way? Certainly there are areas of humanity that are common to all — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — but for some reason God created humans as male and female. There is a level of plurality to humanity. What does that plurality look like? What is the significance of that plurality? What do men bring to the table that women don’t and vice versa?

It’s a harder question to answer than we might first think. On the simplest level, men and women work together to reproduce. The man provides the sperm and the woman provides the egg. When the two combine they form a child who grows in the womb of the woman and eventually is born into the larger world. But the fact that asexual reproduction occurs in other life forms on earth means that sexual reproduction isn’t a necessary part of reproduction. So God wasn’t forced into making humans male and female because it was an unavoidable law. So why then? What other reasons might exist?

The purpose of this series.

That is the purpose of this series. Part of it will look at various examples of masculinities in the Bible, to see if that book can provide us with some guidance. (I have already started this here.) I will also examine several topics that emerged from a brief question on my Facebook page. People suggested the following topics:

A lot of Filipinos work in jobs outside of the Philippines. They are called Overseas Filipino Workers and they provide a large economic boost to both their families and the national economy. One aspect of this type of work, however, is the fact that families are often separated, meaning that oftentimes both men and women must function as their counterparts. Several suggested that I explore these topics, including whether or not men become less masculine when they are forced to function as mother or when they work in stereotypically feminine jobs abroad?

Others were also interested in this gendered division of labour but among non-OFW families still in the Philippines and how this affects masculinity. How does performing domestic chores relate to popular knowledge encapsulated in expressions like “under the saya”? Or what if the wife is the chief breadwinner while the husband performs the majority of the domestic chores?

Others are interested in affairs of the heart, such as the pros and cons of being single are celibate or even the proper ways of courtship and dealing with a broken heart. On a similar note, what happens when the two lovebirds take the important step of marriage? How does masculinity play a role? What about mutual submission between husband and wife? What about in cases of abuse — does that nullify the need for submission?

Parenthood and the various roles in that process is also of interest to some. How about raising sons? What kinds of influences do the mother and the father need to have on their sons so that they can be prepared for adulthood?

Other want answers about men’s mental health. That includes exploring “the sensitivities of moving away from ‘you’re okay!’ and ‘I’m okay!’ and getting closer to ‘are you okay?’ and ‘am I really okay?'” as well as discussing issues such as emotions and picking our battles. Connected to mental health is physical health as well.

Others are interested in how masculinities relate to men and society as a whole including masculinity and the church, career, and past times such as video games.

Perhaps you can think of some more suitable topics for this series. If so, I would love it if you would leave a comment below.

You may be interesting in following this series. If so, please subscribe to this blog either via email or via the link below. I would love to have you as a part of this community.

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

Image by Papaioannou Kostas on Unsplash.

Paano ko natutunan na ang pagbibigay pansin sa katarungang panlipunan ay pagtuklas kung paano ako’y makinig gamit ang mga tainga ng Diyos.

Read in English.

May nakakagulat na lumalabas sa aking mga social media feed nitong mga nakaraang linggo. Nagkaroon ng mga debate tungkol sa papel na ginagampanan ng hustisya, o higit na partikular na hustisyang panlipunan sa buhay ng simbahan. Ito ay palaisipan sa akin dahil sa nakalipas na mga taon ang katarungang panlipunan at mga kaugnay na isyu ay naging sentro ng aking buhay at ministeryo. Ngunit sa palagay ko ay hindi ito palaging para sa akin. Naaalala ko maraming taon na ang nakalipas nang una kong marinig ang mga salitang “social gospel” na nagtataka kung ano ang ibig sabihin nito at kung bakit ito itinuturing na mahalaga sa ilan ngunit hindi mahalaga sa iba. Ang paunang pag-uusisa na ito ay humantong sa akin sa isang landas patungo sa pagbuo ng mga praktikal na teolohiya na tumutulong sa simbahan na makisali sa lipunan.

Naisip ko na ito ay maaaring isang magandang lugar upang ipaliwanag nang kaunti kung bakit nararamdaman ko na ang mga simbahan ay dapat na kasangkot sa mga ministeryo ng hustisya, kabilang ang kung ano ang sinasabi ng bibliya tungkol sa kanila, kung paano sila mabibigyang-diin ng simbahan, at kung paano sila tunay na nagpapakita kung sino ang Diyos. Sasamahan mo ba ako sa aking pagpapaliwanag?

Pagbibigay ng kahulugan sa Katarungang Panlipunan.

Una, magsimula tayo sa pagtukoy sa ating mga termino para lahat tayo ay nasa iisang pahina at matiyak na pare-parehong isyu ang pinag-uusapan natin. Ayon sa Oxford English Dictionary, ang ibig sabihin ng “sosyal” ay “may kaugnayan sa lipunan o sa organisasyon nito” at “hustisya” ay nangangahulugang “makatarungang pag-uugali o pagtrato.” Kapag pinagsama natin ang dalawang salita, nakakakuha tayo ng “katarungan sa mga tuntunin ng pamamahagi ng kayamanan, pagkakataon, at mga pribilehiyo sa loob ng isang lipunan.” Iyan ay tila medyo prangka bukod pa sa tila isang magandang ideya, hindi ba? Mukhang tinutugunan din nito ang isang serye ng mga isyu na binanggit din sa bibliya.

Ang hustisya sa Bibliya.

Mababasa natin sa Bibliya ang tungkol sa hustisya bilang pagtulong sa mga balo, mahihirap, at dayuhan.

Narito ang ilang ideya at talata (mula sa 443 na talata sa Bibliya na nagbabanggit ng hustisya) na maaari nating makipag-ugnayan pagdating sa hustisya:

Nais ng Diyos na alagaan natin ang mga biktima, mapang-api, pagsasamantala, mga ulila, mga balo, at mga inosente na pinatay: Malinaw na sinasabi sa Jeremias 22:3, “Ito ang sabi ng Panginoon: Mangangasiwa ng katarungan at katuwiran. Iligtas ang biktima ng pagnanakaw mula sa kamay ng kanyang nang-aapi. Huwag pagsamantalahan o lupitin ang dayuhan, ulila, o balo. Huwag magbuhos ng inosenteng dugo sa lugar na ito.”

Nais ng Diyos na magbayad tayo ng makatarungang kabayaran: Jeremias 22:13 “Nakakaawa ka Jehoyakim, nagtayo ka ng iyong palasyo sa pamamagitan ng masamang paraan. Pinagtrabaho mo ang iyong kapwa nang walang sweldo.”

Ang Diyos ay interesado sa mahihirap, at sa pagiging patas sa ekonomiya: Ezekiel 18:17 “hindi siya gumagawa ng masama at hindi nagpapatubo sa may utang sa kanya, tinutupad niya ang mga utos koʼt mga tuntunin, ang taong itoʼy hindi mamamatay dahil sa kasalanan ng kanyang ama. Patuloy siyang mabubuhay.”

Nais ng Diyos na unahin natin ang hustisya sa buong buhay natin: Amos 5:24 “Sa halip, nais kong makita na pinaiiral ninyo ang katarungan at ang katuwiran na parang ilog na patuloy na umaagos.”

Ipinakita sa atin ng Diyos kung paano isama ang pantay na paghahati ng ari-arian sa ating mga sistema. Ang Lupang Pangako ay hinati sa mga yunit ng lupain ng tribo na nilayon upang manatili sa bawat pamilya magpakailanman.

Ipinakita sa atin ng Diyos ang isang paraan upang maisama ang pagpapatawad sa utang sa ating mga sistema. Mayroon ding kakaibang sistemang ito na tinatawag na Taon ng Jubileo. Tiniyak ng taon ng Jubileo na ang mga panggigipit sa ekonomiya na naging dahilan upang ibenta ng mga tao ang kanilang mga ari-arian o maging ang kanilang mga sarili ay makakakuha ng ginhawa kada 50 taon. Ang kagiliw-giliw na tandaan ay na, habang ang bibliya ay nagtatala ng promulgasyon ng batas na ito, hindi namin nabasa kung paano ito aktwal na ipinatupad.

Binanggit ni Jesus ang kanyang pangunahing layunin bilang nakatuon sa mga dukha, bilanggo, bulag, at makasalanan. Ito ay pinakamalinaw na sinabi sa kanyang unang sermon sa Lucas 4, kung saan sinipi niya si Isaiah. Nakikita rin natin ito sa kanyang patuloy na pagbibigay-diin sa mga bagay tulad ng pagpapagaling sa maysakit, pagbangon ng patay, pagpapakain sa mga nagugutom, at pagdidisipulo sa mga maniningil ng buwis, mga kalapating mababa ang lipad, at mga makasalanan.

Hindi ko alam tungkol sa iyo ngunit para sa akin ang bibliya ay interesado sa “katarungan sa mga tuntunin ng pamamahagi ng kayamanan, pagkakataon, at mga pribilehiyo sa loob ng isang lipunan.”

Ang Pag-aalis ng Kahirapan bilang Social Agenda ng Simbahan.

Binanggit din ng Bibliya ang kakaibang sitwasyon ng mga mahihirap na laging kasama natin ngunit wala nang dukha sa atin. Sinasabi ng Deuteronomio 15:4, “Kailangang walang maging mahirap sa inyo sa lupaing ibinibigay sa inyo ng Panginoon na inyong Dios na inyong aangkinin, dahil tiyak na pagpapalain niya kayo,” Pagkaraan ng ilang mga talata, mababasa natin sa v11: “Hindi maiiwasan na may mahihirap sa inyong bayan, kaya inuutusan ko kayong maging lubos na mapagbigay sa kanila.”

Kaya, sa isang banda ay palaging may dukha sa lupain ngunit sa kabilang banda ay hindi dapat walang mahirap sa lupain. Ang parehong mga talata ay hinihikayat ang iba na tumulong sa pag-alis ng kahirapan sa pamamagitan ng pagkabukas-palad at maging ng Jubileo. Ito ay, ayon kay Dr. Jun Vencer, ang evangelical agenda.

Ang mas kumplikado sa atin ngayon ay ang kahirapan ay hindi lamang pang-ekonomiya. Sa katunayan, sa ulat ng Asian Development Bank tungkol sa kahirapan, natuklasan namin na ang kahirapan ay may labing-apat na pangunahing tagapagpahiwatig, isa o dalawa lamang sa mga ito ay pang-ekonomiya. Nagbibigay iyon ng sapat na pagkakataon para sa simbahan na makisali sa mundo sa ilang antas, kabilang ang pangunahing kaligtasan, seguridad, at pagpapagana.

Simbahan bilang sentro ng Diakonia.

Higit pa rito, ang pangunahing pagkakakilanlan ng simbahan ay nasa tungkulin nitong diakonia, na paglilingkod sa Diyos at kapwa. Kasama sa serbisyong ito ang mga bagay na may label dito bilang “katarungang panlipunan” ngunit siyempre higit pa doon.

Iyon ang dahilan kung bakit ang simbahan sa buong panahon ay nababahala sa mga bagay na inaalala ng Diyos – mga ulila at mga balo, pagpapakain sa mga mahihirap, pagpuna sa mga kasalanan at kasamaan ng lipunan — at kung bakit ito ay tumutulong sa panahon ng natural na kasamaan tulad ng mga bagyo at lindol, gayundin ang pagtulong sa mga tao harapin ang kanilang sariling mga personal na bersyon ng kasamaan.

Hindi ako sigurado kung ano ang nangyari sa kasaysayan ng simbahan o sa pag-unlad ng teolohiya na nag-akay sa simbahan palayo sa mga katotohanang ito.

Lahat ng Katotohanan ay Katotohanan ng Diyos.

Ang isa sa mga isyung nakita kong itinaas ng iba ay ang katarungang panlipunan ay maaaring nasa tamang lugar ang kanyang puso ngunit dahil si Jesus ay hindi bahagi ng equation ito ay hindi biblikal. Ito ay isang magandang panahon upang pag-usapan ang tungkol sa isang ideya na una kong narinig sa Canadian Baptist Seminary (napakaraming taon na ang nakalipas). Medyo matagal bago ko na-appreciate ang sinasabi nito. Ang ideya ay na “lahat ng katotohanan ay katotohanan ng Diyos.” Ito ay hango sa dalawang katotohanan sa Bibliya: Si Jesus ay sinasabing ang … “katotohanan” at si Satanas ay sinasabing “Ang ama ng kasinungalingan.” Ibig sabihin, kung ang isang bagay ay totoo, ito ay mula sa Diyos, anuman ang pinagmulan. Ang ibig kong sabihin dito ay kahit na hindi ito tahasang mula sa Bibliya maaari pa rin itong maging totoo. Nangangahulugan din ito na kung ito ay mali, kung gayon ito ay mula sa diyablo.

E ano ngayon?

Ang ibig sabihin ng lahat ng ito ay kailangan nating gumugol ng oras sa pagtutok sa mga tamang bagay. Pinaghihinalaan ko na maraming mga Kristiyano na tutol sa hustisyang panlipunan ay gayon dahil ang mga nagsasagawa ng katarungang panlipunan ay gumagawa ng isang mas mahusay na trabaho ng pagiging simbahan kaysa sa simbahan! Kami bilang simbahan ay nakatutok nang napakatagal sa buhay sa kabilang buhay na kung minsan ay hindi namin pinapansin ang buhay dito at ngayon. Nakikita natin ito sa ating paraan ng pag-eebanghelyo — “Kung mamamatay ka ngayon alam mo ba kung saan ka pupunta?” Binabalewala nito ang ideyang “Kung ipagpapatuloy mo ang iyong buhay ngayon alam mo ba kung paano mo ipapakita ang pag-ibig ng Diyos sa mundo?”

Mga tainga ng Diyos.

Nais kong tapusin ang lahat sa pamamagitan ng pag-iisip kung paano, sa Exodo 3, mababasa natin ang tungkol sa pagdinig ng Diyos sa mga daing ng Israel para sa katarungan at pagsisimula ng mga aksyon na kalaunan ay humantong sa kanilang pagtakas mula sa Ehipto. Kaya naman ang pamagat ng post na ito ay natutong makinig sa pandinig ng Diyos.

Napagtanto ko na hindi lahat ay maaaring sumang-ayon sa aking pananaw sa katarungang panlipunan at sa simbahan. Kung mayroon kang ibang pananaw, gusto kong basahin ang tungkol dito sa mga komento sa ibaba. Gusto kong marinig lalo na ang iyong opinyon sa kung ano ang sinasabi ng Bibliya tungkol dito.

Kung may nakita kang kapaki-pakinabang sa alinman sa mga ito, mangyaring huwag kalimutang i-follow at i-like ang blog na ito.

Tandaan na ang pagbabahagi ay ginagawa ng mga kaibigan!

Larawan ni Nawartha Nirmal sa Unsplash.

How I learned that paying attention to social justice is discovering how to listen with God’s ears.

Basahin sa wikang Tagalog.

Something puzzling has been popping up in my social media feeds in the past little while. There have been debates about the role that justice, or more particularly social justice plays in the life of the church. It’s puzzling to me because for the past number of years social justice and related issues have been central to my life and ministry. But I guess it hasn’t always been that way for me. I remember many years ago when I first heard the phrase social gospel wondering what it meant and why it was considered important to some and unimportant to others. This initial curiosity led me down a path towards developing practical theologies that help the church engage society.

I thought this might be a good venue to explain a little bit why I feel that churches should be involved in justice ministries, including what the bible has to say about them, how the church can emphasize them, and how they truly reflect who God is. Will you join me in my explanation?

Defining Social Justice.

First, let’s begin with defining our terms so that we can all be on the same page and ensure that we are talking about the same issues. I guess we can just take each word in order and then look at how they are used together. According to Oxford, “social” means “relating to society or its organization” and “justice” means “just behaviour or treatment.” When we put the two words together we get “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” That seems pretty straightforward in addition to seeming like a pretty good idea, doesn’t it? It also seems to be addressing a series of issues also addressed in the bible.

Justice in the Bible.

In the Bible we read about justice as helping widows, the poor, and the foreigner.

Here are a couple of ideas and verses (out of the 443 verses that mention justice) that we can interact with when it comes to justice:

God wants us to care for victims, oppressors, exploitation, orphans, widows, and innocents who have been killed: Jeremiah 22:3 clearly states, “This is what the LORD says: Administer justice and righteousness. Rescue the victim of robbery from the hand of his oppressor. Don’t exploit or brutalize the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow. Don’t shed innocent blood in this place.”

God wants us to pay fair wages: Jeremiah 22:13 “Woe for the one who builds his palace through unrighteousness, his upper rooms through injustice, who makes his fellow man serve without pay and will not give him his wages,”

God is interested in the poor, and in economic fairness: Ezekiel 18:17 “He keeps his hand from harming the poor, not taking interest or profit on a loan. He practices My ordinances (ie. justice) and follows My statutes.”

God wants us to prioritise justice with our entire lives: Amos 5:24 “But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream.”

God shows us how to incorporate the equitable division of property into our systems. The Promised Land was divided up into tribal land units that were intended to stay with each family in perpetuity.

God shows us one way to incorporate debt forgiveness into our systems. We also have this rather strange system called the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee ensured that economic pressures that caused people to sell their properties or even themselves would get relief every 50 years. What’s interesting to note is that, while the bible records the promulgation of this law, we never read about how this was actually implemented.

Jesus talked about his main purpose as targeted towards the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and sinners. This is most clearly stated in his first sermon in Luke 4, where he quotes Isaiah. We also see this in his seemingly continual emphasis on things like healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, and discipling to tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.

I don’t know about you but it sure seems like the bible is interested in “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”

Eliminating Poverty as the Social Agenda of the Church.

The bible also mentions the curious situation of the poor always being with us and there being no more poor with us. Deuteronomy 15:4 says, “In any case, there shouldn’t be any poor people among you, because the Lord your God will certainly bless you in the land he is giving you as your own possession.” Just a few verses later we read in v11: “There will always be poor people in the land. That’s why I command you to be generous to other Israelites who are poor and needy.”

So, on the one hand there will always be poor in the land but on the other hand there shouldn’t have to be poor in the land. Both verses encourage others to help eliminate poverty through generosity and even Jubilee. This is, according to Dr. Jun Vencer, the evangelical agenda.

What makes the issue more complex for us today is that poverty is not merely economic. In fact, in the Asian Development Bank’s report on poverty, we discover that poverty has fourteen core indicators, only one or two of which are economic in nature. That gives ample opportunity for the church to engage the world on several levels, including basic survival, security, and enabling.

Church as center for Diakonia.

Going beyond this, the basic identity of the church is in its function of diakonia, which is serving God and kapwa (“myself in the Other”). This service includes the stuff labelled here as “social justice” but of course goes beyond that.

That is why the church throughout the ages has been concerned with the things God is concerned with — orphans and widows, feeding the poor, critiquing society’s sins and evils, and why it helps during natural evils like typhoons and earthquakes, as well as helping people deal with their own personal versions of evil.

I am not sure what happened in the history of the church or in the development of theology that has led the church away from these realities.

All Truth is God’s Truth.

One of the issues I have seen raised is that social justice may have its heart in the right place but since Jesus isn’t a part of the equation then it’s not biblical. This is a good time to talk about an idea that I first heard about at Canadian Baptist Seminary (so many years ago). I should also point out that it took me quite a while to appreciate what it was saying. The idea is that “all truth is God’s truth.” This is derived from two biblical truths: Jesus is said to be the … “truth” and Satan is said to be “The father of lies.” That means if something is true then it is from God, regardless of the source. What I mean by this is that even if it’s not explicitly from the Bible it can still be true. It also means that if it is false, then it is from the devil.

So what?

What all this means is that we need to spend time focussing on the right stuff. I suspect that many Christians who are opposed to social justice are so because those practicing social justice are doing a better job of being the church than the church is! We as the church have focussed for so long on the life hereafter that we have sometimes ignored the life here and now. We can see this in our method of evangelism — “If you were to die today do you know where you will go?” It ignores the idea of “If you were to keep living your life today do you know how you would reflect God’s love in the world?”

God’s Ears.

I would like to wrap this all up by reflecting on how, in Exodus 3, we read about God hearing Israel’s cries for justice and beginning actions that eventually led to their escape from Egypt. That’s why this post is entitled learning to listen with God’s ears.

I realise that not all may agree with my take on social justice and the church. If you have a different perspective I would love to read about it in the comments below. I would especially love to hear your take on what the Bible says about it.

If you have found any of this useful, please don’t forget to follow and like this blog.

Remember sharing is what friends do!

Image by imdadul hussain on Unsplash.

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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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!

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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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