“Hey Joe!”: A call for connection that I often miss.

“Hey Joe!” It’s a term that I never enjoyed hearing but I do remember being there for Daniel’s first “Hey Joe!” when he was 3 years old and got ahead of us in the mall. He passed a corner and all of a sudden we heard someone say the words.

“Hey Joe!” is not so much used nowadays as a greeting. When I was in High School it was a common greeting for Filipinos when they saw Americanos. As far as I know the term Joe is connected to G.I. Joe, a term used to describe American soldiers during World War II.

On a sidenote I remember talking with a female American MK a number of years ago who laughed because they called her “Joanna.” Get it? Joe-anna? Hahaha. Clever.

If I’m being honest with you, I don’t like the term “Hey Joe!” because I don’t want people to think I’m an American. I’m a Canadian and I enjoy the uniqueness of that identity.

But then it’s not really a question about identity is it?

“What’s your name?”
“Where are you going?”
“Where do you live?”

Nowadays the term “Hey Joe!” isn’t used as often as other terms. Questions like “What’s your name?” “Where you going? and “Where do you live?” are more frequent. As a Canadian growing up in the age of privacy these kinds of personal questions seem to be invasive to me. I also tend to try and answer these questions literally.

A lesson in missing the point.

However, I am realizing more and more each day that I have entirely and completely missed the point. These questions are not attempts to misidentify who I am. They are not attempts to invade my privacy or to get my personal information. They aren’t even questions seeking definitive answers. Rather they are attempts to make a connection with me. And I misinterpret that almost every time.

I like to blame my shyness: “I’m afraid to talk to you.” But as many have pointed out to me recently I don’t seem to be all that shy anymore. Sometimes I blame busyness: “I can’t stop and talk right now because I have somebody I have to go visit.” But isn’t talking with people on the street visitation too?

It makes me look like an aloof, stonefaced man who wanders around and ignores the friendly overtures of my fellow community members rather than a kind shepherd who loves the people he meets. And thats the other side of the issue — I don’t want to be aloof and distant but instead to be caring and loving.

The Filipino term is manhid, often glossed as “numb” but in this case perhaps best glossed as “unaware until it’s too late.” This is both good and bad. Manhid is good when you need to ignore people who are trying to extract bribes from you but bad when you are trying to build relationships. I need to work at how best to develop awareness sooner so I can act sooner and hopefully develop some good relationships.

Do you sometimes miss the point? What was that like? Did you ever get it sorted out? Please let us hear your voice by leaving a comment below.

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Image Ryoji Iwata by on Unsplash.

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

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

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

Reflection #1: Positionality.

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection #2: Sources of truth.

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

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

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

Reflection #3: The very nature of Scripture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection #4: Structural Evil is legit.

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

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

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

Reflection #5: Women’s rooms.

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

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

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

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

Reflection #6: Gender-inclusive language.

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

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

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

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

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

The next step.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can my great-grandfather, Gerhard J. Fast, teach us about living out our convictions in the face of opposition?

Gerhard & Katarina Fast on their wedding day.

There has been a lot of talk of late about how people can live out their convictions in the face of government opposition. My great grandfather, Gerhard Johann Fast (1888-1974), lived quite an interesting life and on more than one occasion was confronted with what to do in the face of government opposition. Gerhard was a Mennonite who was born and raised in present-day Ukraine. The Mennonites have a long history of migration due to conflicts with the government. Beginning in the Netherlands, they initially moved to Prussia and then on to the Ukraine partly because as pacifists they refused to join the military. But they came to a mutual understanding with the various governments they interacted with.

For example, when Gerhard was still single he served as an NCO in the Anatol Forestry Camp for three years. The Mennonites developed, managed, and partially funded a series of Forestry Camps throughout the South Russia that served as the compulsory service for Mennonites instead of military service. The trees that Gerhard planted can still be seen today in central Ukraine!

After Gerhard’s marriage to Katharina (1888-1966), WWI began and he went off to serve in the medical corps of the Russian army, another form of alternative compulsory service. After the Russian Revolution, their communities were confronted with lawlessness and economic persecution that ultimately led them to migrate to Canada with their family.

What lessons can we learn?

First of all, convictions are important but it’s also important to know where your boundaries are. Gerhard was opposed to participating in the military but was not opposed to serving his country. So he found two different ways to serve his country.

Secondly, when faced with persecution it’s always best to continue to dialogue — who knows? You might come up with a mutually beneficial solution.

Finally, sometimes a new normal is a big change. Gerhard and Katharina started out as well-to-do farmers who lived on an estate. They ended up living a very different life in a place 7700 km away. But that new life didn’t take away their deep faith in God nor their deep love for one another.

What advice do you have for living out your convictions in the face of opposition? Please leave your story in the comments section below.

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

This post first appeared on my personal Facebook page in 2021.

“What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?” How Guy’s speech in Free Guy is good news.

The 2021 Shawn Levy film, Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds, is a great show even if you are not a video game person. Spoilers follow.

The story follows Guy, an NPC in a popular video game, who “discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game, and decides to become the hero of his own story. Now, in a world where there are no limits, he is determined to be the guy who saves his world his way before it’s too late.” An NPC, or non player character, is a character in a game that isn’t controlled by the player. They provide background colour that makes the game more realistic. Guy goes through much of the movie clueless that he is actually an NPC living inside a video game.

There’s a great scene at the turning point of the movie, where Guy lets his fellow NPCs know the truth.

GUY: Everyone! Gather around! Thank you for coming. Now, you know me, I’m Guy.
NPCS: Hi, Guy.
GUY: Hi. What I’m about to say may be hard to understand. Really hard to understand. But, are you sick of living in the background?
(NPCS AGREEING)
GUY: Aren’t you sick of being shot at?
NPCS: Enough.
GUY: Taken hostage?
NPCS: No more.
GUY: Run over?
NPCS: We done with that.
GUY: Robbed? Stabbed? Used as a human shield?
BUDDY: (EXCITEDLY) We are tired of being stabbed!
GUY: Buddy!
BUDDY: Sorry. What are you trying to say, Guy?
GUY: I’m tryin’ to say that things in this city don’t have to be this way. Things can be different.
HOSTAGE: Different how?
GUY: For starters, you can put your arms down.
HOSTAGE: Yeah. (GRUNTING)
GUY: There you go. You got it. Yeah. Keep pushing. There you go.
HOSTAGE: (CONTINUES GRUNTING)
GUY: Breathe through it. There you go.
BANK MANAGER: Do it. Do it. Do it.
HOSTAGE: No, not gonna happen. Nope. That feels unnatural. I mean, what about when someone runs in with a gun? Having my arms up is just a real time saver.
GUY: Except, what if the guy with the gun doesn’t come?
OFFICER JOHNNY: What?
OFFICER 2: What?
NPCS: There’s always a guy with a gun. So many guys with guns.
GUY: People, what if our world doesn’t have to be so scary? What if we can change it?

[Transcript courtesy of Scraps from the Loft.]

The scene is very much reminiscent of Jesus presenting the good news of the kingdom to the people of Galilee and Judea. Jesus’ intent was to open the door to a world run, not by sin and evil, but by God Himself. This kingdom that he spoke of was so unique that many people couldn’t grasp it at first. As Guy says, “What if the guy with the gun doesn’t come” and the other NPCs can’t even understand that.

It is a struggle to grasp, sometimes, just like the Hostage in the above scene found out when he tried to lower his arms. He had been so used to having his arms in the air that anything else seemed unnatural.

This is why the Gospel — or Good News — is more than simply “Jesus died to save you from your sins.” It extends beyond merely something that happens after we die to something that encompasses the entire universe. God’s reign makes everything better in the here and now just as much as it does in the hereafter!

Why do I say this?

Isaiah paints a picture of the impact of the good news on the world when he writes, “Every valley will be raised. Every mountain and hill will be lowered. Steep places will be made level. Rough places will be made smooth. Then the Lord’s glory will be revealed and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:4-5‬).

That’s why Jesus went around trying to get people to understand the Kingdom. By healing the sick he was saying, “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?” By making the blind see he was saying, “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?” By confronting the religious leaders of his community he was saying, “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?” By dying on the cross and being raised from the dead he was saying, “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?”

This certainly sounds like good news to me. “What if our world doesn’t have to be so scary?”

What are your thoughts? What makes the good news good for you?

I really would like to hear your voice. That’s why comments are enabled below.

Remember sharing is what friends do!

Image ©2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Sa pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan at pagguhit ng mga linya sa buhangin: Kailangan bang mag-alala sa akin ang katotohanan na ang lahat ng katotohanan ay pinag-uusapan?

Read in English.

Lumilitaw na nabubuhay tayo sa isang panahon kung saan ang katotohanan ay nakataya. Ang postmodernism ay madalas na sinisisi para dito higit sa lahat dahil ipinapalagay ng mga tao na ang postmodernism ay katumbas ng post-truth. Sa katunayan, wala nang hihigit pa sa katotohanan. Hindi talaga itinatanggi ng postmodernism ang realidad ng Ganap na Katotohanan ngunit sa halip ay isang kritika na nalaman ng sinuman ang Ganap na Katotohanan. Ito ay isang panawagan na muling bisitahin ang mga katotohanang alam natin na may layuning dalhin ang mga ito sa mas malapit na pagkakahanay sa Katotohanan.

Nagsasalita ang Bibliya, sa pamamagitan ng pagtukoy sa misteryo, tungkol sa kahirapan ng paglapit sa Ganap na Katotohanan. Ang pahayag ni Pablo sa 1 Corinto 13:12 ng “Sa ngayon, para tayong nakatingin sa malabong salamin. Ngunit darating ang araw na magiging malinaw ang lahat sa atin. Bahagya lamang ang ating nalalaman sa ngayon; ngunit darating ang araw na malalaman natin ang lahat, tulad ng pagkakaalam ng Dios sa atin” inilalarawan ang problemang ito para sa atin sa napaka-unawang paraan.

Ang problema kapag pinag-uusapan ang katotohanan ay madalas nating nalilito ang ating sariling mga katotohanan sa Ganap na Katotohanan kung sa katunayan ang isang pag-angkin laban sa aking katotohanan at isang pag-angkin laban sa Ganap na Katotohanan ay dalawang magkaibang bagay. Ang pag-aangkin laban sa aking katotohanan ay talagang isang pahayag na nagsasabing wala pa akong Ganap na Katotohanan at higit pang trabaho ang kailangang gawin sa paglapit dito.

Huwag mo sana akong intindihin. Naniniwala ako sa Ganap na Katotohanan. Naniniwala ako na ang Diyos ng Bibliya ay ang Pinaka Realidad. Naniniwala ako na ang kuwentong nakapaloob sa Bibliya ay ibinigay sa atin upang magkaroon tayo ng access sa Ganap na Katotohanang ito. Ipinapahayag ko na si Hesus ay PANGINOON. Ang hindi ko pinaniniwalaan ay nalaman ko na ang lahat (kahit na ayaw kong magkamali!). Ang napagtanto ko ay ang lahat ng katotohanang pinanghahawakan at minamahal natin ay mga katotohanang pinag-usapan.

Pakikipag-ayos ng Katotohanan.

Halimbawa ang iba’t ibang konseho ng simbahan na naganap simula sa Jerusalem gaya ng inilarawan sa Gawa 15. Ang mga konsehong ito ay nagtampok ng malaking bilang ng mga pinuno ng simbahan na nagtipon upang talakayin, at makipag-ayos, kung ano ang hitsura ng kinikilala na Kristiyanismo. Ang kanilang mga desisyon ay patuloy na nakakaapekto sa mga simbahang Kristiyano hanggang ngayon. Ang kagiliw-giliw na tandaan ay kahit na ang konseho ay humantong sa isang pagkakahati, ang parehong partido ay naninindigan na ang katotohanan ay nasa kanilang panig kumpara sa kabilang panig. Ang resulta ay isang simbahan na mayroong 5 pangunahing sangay — Orthodox, Romano Katoliko, Evangelical, Mainline, at Pentecostal/Charismatic — ngunit ang mahalagang tandaan ay ang bawat sangay na ito ay nananatiling bahagi ng simbahan.

Ang mga denominasyon ay isa pang paraan ng pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan. Ang bawat denominasyon ay may sariling pahayag o pagpapatibay ng pananampalataya na nagtatakda ng alinman sa mga hangganan o pokus para sa bawat grupo.

Ang hapag-kainan pagkatapos magsimba tuwing Linggo ay isa pang tradisyonal na lokasyon para sa pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan habang ang pastor at ang kanilang sermon ay pinaghiwa-hiwalay. Ang katotohanan na ang mga katulad na negosasyon ay nagaganap sa maraming mga hapag-kainan ay ginagawang mas kumplikado ang pagtuklas ng katotohanan!

Ang isa pang halimbawa ay sa mundo ng agham kung saan nagaganap ang negosasyon sa pamamagitan ng peer review at mga Q&A na bahagi ng mga presentasyon sa papel, na humahantong sa mga rebisyon bago ang paglalathala.

Minsan nangyayari ang mga pagbabago ng paradigm na binabaligtad ang mga kasalukuyang pag-unawa sa katotohanan pabor sa isang ganap na bagong paraan ng pag-iisip. Isang magandang halimbawa nito ay ang paglipat mula sa paniniwala na ang mundo ay nasa sentro ng sanlibutan patungo sa paniniwala na ang araw ay nasa centro ng sanlibutan.

Nakikipag-ayos tayo Upang Gumuhit ng mga Linya.

Bakit tayo nakikipag-ayos? Dahil gusto nating malaman kung saan iguguhit ang linya sa buhangin! Sa isang tiyak na punto ang negosasyon ay magtatapos at ang mga linya ay iguguhit na. Sa simbahan gumuguhit tayo ng mga linya batay sa teolohiya. Ang nakatutuwa ay iniisip ng bawat isa na ang ating teolohiya ang tama at ang lahat ng iba ay mali.

Ang lahat ng ito ay nagpapahirap na malaman kung saan dapat iguhit ang linya. Siyempre, gusto nating iguhit ang linya sa pagitan ng katotohanan at kasinungalingan ngunit paano kung ang linyang iyon ay palipat-lipat pa? O paano kung ang mga pagkakaiba ay kulay abo?

Sa aking nakaraan, nakapagguhit ako ng maraming linya. Ang isa na namumukod-tangi ay na sa aking mga kabataang taon ay tinanggap ko ang katotohanan ng 5-point Calvinism, na may espesyal na diin sa dobleng predestinasyon. Ang ibig sabihin ng dobleng predestination ay hindi lamang itinalaga ng Diyos ang mga tao na maligtas niya, itinalaga rin niya ang iba sa kapahamakan sa Impiyerno. Ito ay humantong sa akin minsan na ituro sa publiko na ang mga sanggol na namamatay ay hindi kinakailangang mapupunta sa langit dahil sino ang nakakaalam kung sila ay pinili o hindi pinila? Yup ginawa ko talaga yun. Sa kabutihang palad, ako ay sinaway at itinuwid (sa pag-ibig) ng aking tagapagturo at higit na mabuti na nakita ko kung paanong ang mga bagay ay hindi lubos na nasusukat laban sa banal na kasulatan.

Mga Susi sa Pagguhit ng mga Linya.

Iniisip ko kung posible bang gumuhit ng mga linya – kung ang pagguhit ng mga linya ay talagang kailangan nating gawin – batay kay Jesus? Isang susi ay ang pagsasagawa ng WWJD? (Ibig sabihin, What Would Jesus Do? o Ano ba kaya Ang Gagawin ni Jesus?). Ang isang tawag sa personal na kabanalan batay sa pangunahan na ang pamamuhay tulad ng ipinamuhay ni Jesus habang nasa lupa siya ay isang magandang bagay. Syempre itinataas nito ang tanong kung sino si Jesus para sa atin? Ngunit iyon ang paksa para sa ibang panahon!

Ang isa pang susi ay ang pag-uusap. Ang pag-uusap ay nangangahulugan ng pakikinig sa lahat ng boses. Ang isang halimbawa ay kapag tayo ay mga bata, lahat ay nagsasalita tulad ng ng ating pagsasalita — hanggang sa unang beses na marinig natin ang taong na may accent. Bigla nating napagtanto na hindi lahat ng tao ay nagsasalita sa parehong paraan na ginagawa natin. Minsan gusto pa nating gayahin ang ibang accent. Mas matagal bago natin mapagtanto na mayroon din tayong accent at ang realization na ito ay humahantong sa atin na magtanong kung ano ang iba pang mga bagay na maaaring hindi natin lubos na maunawaan.

Ang ikatlong susi ay ang paglipat mula sa katotohanan na tinukoy bilang isang hanay na may hangganan (bounded set) patungo sa katotohanan na tinukoy bilang isang hanay na may sentro (centred set). Tinutukoy ng hanay na may hangganan, sa pamamagitan ng mga palatandaan, kung sino ang mga nasa loob at sino ang mga nasa labas. Ang isang hanay na may sentro sa kabilang banda ay kinikilala ang isang direksyon ng paggalaw patungo sa isang karaniwang layunin.

Kung saan Gumuhit ng Linya ang Bibliya.

Gumuhit ng isang linya ang Bibliya. Nakita natin ito sa buong Bagong Tipan (Gawa 8:16; 19:5, at 1Cor 6:11; at 1Cor 12:3). Matatagpuan ang isang lugar sa Filipos 2:9-11 kung saan mababasa natin, “Kaya naman itinaas siyang lubos ng Dios at binigyan ng titulong higit sa lahat ng titulo, upang ang lahat ng nasa langit at lupa, at nasa ilalim ng lupa ay luluhod sa pagsamba sa kanya. At kikilalanin ng lahat na si Jesu-Cristo ang Panginoon, sa ikapupuri ng Dios Ama.” Ang ideyang ito ay inulit sa Roma 10:9 na nagsasabing, “kung ipapahayag mo na si Jesus ay Panginoon at sasampalataya ka nang buong puso na muli siyang binuhay ng Dios, maliligtas ka.” Ang nakatutuwa ay ito ay isang linya na hindi iginuhit sa paligid ni Jesus ngunit sa kanya!

Paano ako magsisikap sa pagguhit ng mga linya patungo kay Jesus ngayon?

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On negotiating truth and drawing lines in the sand: Does the fact that all truth is negotiated need to worry me?

Basahin mo sa wikang Tagalog.

Apparently we live in an era where truth is at stake. Postmodernism is often blamed for this largely because people assume postmodernism is the equivalent to post-truth. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Postmodernism doesn’t actually deny the reality of Absolute Truth but is rather a critique that anyone has Absolute Truth figured out. It is a call to revisit the truths that we know with the goal of bringing them into closer alignment with the Truth.

The Bible talks about the difficulty of approaching Absolute Truth by referring to the mystery. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:12 of “Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me” illustrates this problem for us in very understandable way.

The problem when talking about truth is that we often confuse our own truths with Absolute Truth when in fact a claim against my truth and one against Absolute Truth are two different things. A claim against my truth is really a statement saying that I don’t have Absolute Truth figured out just yet and more work needs to be done in approaching it.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in the reality of absolute truth. I do believe that the God of the Bible is Ultimate Reality. I believe that the story contained in the Bible is given to us so that we can have access to this Absolute Truth. I do declare that Jesus is LORD. What I don’t believe is that I have it all figured out (even if I don’t like to be wrong!). What I have come to realise is that all the truths that we hold near and dear are negotiated truths.

Negotiating Truth.

Take for example the various church councils that took place starting with the one in Jerusalem as described in Acts 15. These councils featured large numbers of church leaders who gathered to discuss, and negotiate, what orthodox Christianity looked like. Their decisions continue to impact Christian churches to this day. What is interesting to note is that even if the council led to a schism, both parties maintain that the truth lies with their side as opposed to the other side. The end result is a church that has 5 main branches — Orthodox, Roman catholic, Evangelical, Mainline, and Pentecostal/Charismatic — but what is important to remember is that each of these branches remains a part of the church.

Denominations are another way that truth is negotiated. Each denomination has its own statement or affirmation of faith that sets either the boundaries or the focus for each group.

The dinner table after church on Sundays is another traditional location for negotiating truth as the pastor and their sermon is dissected. The fact that similar negotiations take place at multiple dinner tables makes the discovery of truth all that much more complex!

Another example is in the world of science where negotiation takes place through peer review and Q&A portions of paper presentations, that lead to revisions before publication.

Sometimes paradigm shifts occur that turn current understandings of truth on their head in favour of a completely new way of thinking. The shift from earth-centric to heliocentric understandings of cosmology is a great example of this.

We Negotiate in Order to Draw Lines.

Why are we negotiating? Because we want to know where to draw the line in the sand! At a certain point negotiation ends and lines are drawn. In the church we tend to draw lines based on theology. What is interesting is that we each think that our theology is the correct one and that all others are wrong.

All of this makes it hard to know where to draw the line. Of course, we want to draw the line between truth and falsehood but what if that line keeps moving? Or what if the differences are grey?

I have drawn many lines in the past. One that stands out is that in my younger years I embraced the truth of 5-point Calvinism, with special emphasis on double predestination. Double predestination means that not only did God predestine people to be saved, he also predestined others to damnation in Hell. It even led me one time to teach publicly that babies who die don’t necessarily go to heaven because who knows if they are elect or not? Yup really I did that. Thankfully I was rebuked and corrected in love by my mentor and even more thankfully I have since seen how things don’t entirely measure up against scripture.

Keys to drawing lines.

I wonder if it’s possible to draw lines — if drawing lines is indeed what we need to do — based on Jesus? One possibility is the practice of WWJD? A call to personal holiness based upon the premise that to live like Jesus lived while on earth is a good thing. Of course that raises the whole question of who is Jesus for us? But that is the subject for another post!

Another key is dialogue. Dialogue means hearing all the voices. One example is when we are kids everyone talks the same as we do — until we hear our first person with an accent. All of a sudden we realise that not everyone talks the same way we do. Sometimes we even want to imitate other accents. What takes us longer to realise is that we have an accent too and this realisation leads us to question what other things we may not completely understand.

A third key would be to move from truth defined as a bounded set towards truth defined as a centred set. A bounded set identifies, through a series of markers, those who are in and those who are out. A centred set on the other hand identifies a direction of movement towards a common goal.

Where the Bible Draws the Line.

The Bible draws a line. We see it several places in the New Testament (Acts 8:16; 19:5, and 1 Cor 6:11; and 1 Corinthians 12:3). One place is found in Philippians 2:9-11 where we read, “This is why God has given him an exceptional honor— the name honored above all other names— so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will kneel and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” This idea is reiterated in Romans 10:9 that says, “If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved.“ What is interesting is that this is a line not drawn around Jesus but toward him!

How can I work at drawing lines toward Jesus today?

I love hearing your voice so please let me know your thoughts on this post in the comments below.

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Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®.
© 1995, 2003, 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020 by God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society. 
Used by permission.

Alam mo ba ang tagubilin ng Matthew 18 na “puntahan mo siya at kausapin nang sarilinan” ay hindi lamang ang tanging paraan upang harapin ang hindi pagkakasundo ng mga Kristiyano?

Read in English

Tanungin ang sinumang Kristiyano kung paano makitungo sa tunggalian at huhugot nila ang Mateo 18 sapagkat inilalabas nito kung ano ang nakikita ng marami bilang TANGING PARAAN para makitungo ang mga Kristiyano sa kasalanan ng interpersonal. Sa loob ng maraming taon ay inilatag ng simbahan ang proseso ng pakikipag-usap sa tao nang paisa-isa, kung kung walang resolusyon magdala ng isang tao bilang saksi. Kung wala pa ring resolusyon, dalhin ang tao sa harap ng simbahan at kung wala pa ring resolusyon ay paalisin ang tao mula sa simbahan. Ito ang pamantayan ngunit paano kung sinabi ko sa iyo na hindi lamang ito ang biblikal na paraan na harapin ng pamilya ng Diyos ang kasalanan? Mayroong talagang hindi mabilang na mga halimbawa ng iba pang mga paraan ng paggawa ng parehong bagay na maaaring mas may kaugnayan sa iba pang mga konteksto ng kultura.

Sapagkat ang magkakaibang kultura ay mayroong magkakaibang paraan ng pagharap sa hidwaan. Ang di-tuwirang komunikasyon, sa pamamagitan ng mga konsepto tulad ng pahiwatig at pakikiramdam, ay pangunahing batayan ng komunikasyon at hidwaan ng ilang mga mamamayang Pilipino at mga Sinaunang Tao [First Nations] sa Hilagang Amerika. Ang Lupon Tagapamayapa ay isang mahalagang bahagi ng lipunang Pilipino at isang mabisang paraan upang mapanatili ang kapayapaan sa ating mga pamayanan.

Ang aklat ni Duane Elmer noong 1993 na Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for effective ministry ay isang mahusay na teolohiya ng bibliya ng paglutas ng kontrahan na hindi nililimitahan ang sarili sa Mateo 18:15-20.

Para kay Elmer, ang diskarte sa Mateo 18 ay lalong kapaki-pakinabang sa tinaguriang mga lipunan sa Kanluranin kung saan ang paghaharap at pagiging prangka ay mga pagpapahalagang pangkultura. Tulad ng sinabi ni Elmer, kahit na “ang pagiging diretso, komprontasyon, pagiging lantad at lantad na pagsasalita ay pinahahalagahan at inaasahan sa kultura ng Kanluranin, sa karamihan ng mundo ang kaparehong mga halagang ito, kahit na ipinakita nang may paggalang, ay itinuturing na masungit, walang pino, masamang asal, masungit at nakakainsulto” (p. 62). Ang diskarte na ito ay hindi gaanong kapaki-pakinabang sa iba pang mga setting ng kultura kung saan ang komprontasyon at pagiging prangka ay talagang lumilikha ng mas maraming hidwaan. Idadagdag ko na ang pagtuon lamang sa Mateo 18 ay nagbibigay ng mga dahilan para sa mga nahuhuli sa kasalanan kasi ginamit ito paminsan-minsan bilang isang dahilan upang tanggihan ang anumang proseso ng pagkakasundo.

Hinahati ni Elmer ang kanyang diskarte sa apat na kategorya. Magbibigay ako ng isang maikling balangkas ng argumento ni Elmer kasama ang kahulugan at mga halimbawa mula sa bibliya sa bawat kategorya. Ang aklat ni Elmer ay higit na lumalagpas dito sa pagbibigay ng mga halimbawa mula sa tunay na mundo kung paano naging epektibo ang paggana ng iba’t ibang mga pamamaraan sa mga setting na cross-cultural subalit dapat kong ipahiwatig na lumalapit si Elmer sa karamihan ng mga sitwasyong ito bilang isang taong nasa labas ng kultura. Gayunpaman, hindi ito nakakaapekto sa teolohiya sa Bibliya na binuo niya sa libro.

Pamamagitan at ang Tagapamagitan [Mediation and the Mediator]. Ang isang hanay ng mga talata sa bibliya ay nagsasalita tungkol sa kung paano minsan nalulutas ang salungatan sa pamamagitan ng paggamit ng isang tagapamagitan. Ang pamamagitan ay sa katunayan isang malaking tema sa lahat ng banal na kasulatan, tulad ng nakikita natin sa ibaba.

Malinaw na sinabi ng 1 Timoteo 2:5-6 – “Sapagkat iisa lang ang Dios at iisa lang ang tagapamagitan sa Dios at sa mga tao. Itoʼy walang iba kundi ang taong si Cristo Jesus. Ibinigay niya ang buhay niya bilang pantubos sa lahat ng tao. Ito ang nagpapatunay na nais ng Dios na maligtas ang lahat ng tao , at inihayag niya ito sa takdang panahon.” Ang tungkulin ni Jesus bilang tagapamagitan ay pinalawak sa Juan 3:17, Roma 5:10-11, at Mga Hebreyo 78.

Si Moises ay tagapamagitan sa paghahatid ng batas, tulad ng pagbanggit ni Pablo sa Galacia 3:19-20, at tulad ng nakabalangkas sa Exodo 32:30-32 at Bilang 12:6-8.

Nais ni Job ang isang tagapamagitan upang tulungan siya sa kanyang kaso sa Job 9:33 – “Mayroon sanang mamagitan sa amin para pagkasunduin kaming dalawa ….”

Nagtayo si Joab ng isang tagapamagitan sa pagitan ni David at ng kanyang anak na si Absalom sa 2 Samuel 14:1-4 sa pagsisikap na makamit ang kapayapaan.

Ang mga Propeta (Deuteronomio 18:18-23) at mga Pari (Exodo 28:1; Levitico 9:7; 16:6; Hebreo 5:1-4) ay nagsilbi ring bilang tagapamagitan sa pagitan ng Diyos at ng mga tao.

Sinabi ni Elmer na ang isang tagapamagitan ay isang “iginagalang, walang kinikilingan, at layunin” at kumikilos bilang isang tulay sa pagitan ng dalawang partido na may salungatan na may layunin na makamit ang isang win-win solution. Ayon kay Elmer, ang paggamit ng isang tagapamagitan kapag naghahanap ng pagkakasundo ay normal sa maraming mga kultura. Tulad ng sinabi ni Elmer, “maraming mga kultura ng mundo ang mas gusto ang mga hindi direktang pamamaraan para sa paghawak ng salungatan at mga potensyal na salungatan. Ang isa sa mga pinaka-karaniwang hindi direktang pamamaraan ay ang paggamit ng isang tagapamagitan. Ni ang pagkakaroon ng isang tagapamagitan o ang mga pagpapaandar ng isang tagapamagitan ay dayuhan sa account sa banal na kasulatan. Habang ang lipunan ay maaaring nahawahan ang papel ng tagapamagitan o ginamit ito para sa makasarili, kahit sa mga masasamang hangarin, ito ay isang lehitimong papel na kailangang maunawaan at naaangkop na gamitin ng mga Kristiyano.”

Ang posisyon ng isang-baba at kahinaan [The one-down position and vulnerability]. Ang isa pang hanay ng mga sipi ng Bibliya ay nagsasalita tungkol sa kung paano nagaganap ang resolusyon kung kailan inilalagay ng isa o pareho ng mga partido ang kanilang mga sarili sa alinman sa mahina o mas mababang posisyon. Halimbawa, kapag ang mga pastol nina Abram at Lot ay nagkasalungatan sa mga karapatan sa pag-gamit ng pastulan sa Genesis 13:8, kinuha ni Abram ang isang-pababang posisyon sa paghingi ng resolusyon sa pamamagitan ng pag-aalok na ilipat sa ibang lugar.

Mamaya si Lot ay nasa posisyon na isang-pababa dahil siya ay nakuha ng ilang mga namamayagpag na hari sa Genesis 14:5-12. Si Abram ay dumating upang iligtas si Lot mula sa posisyon na ito sa Genesis 14:13-20.

Si David, sa kanyang pagkakasalungatan kay Absalom, ay nagpapalagay din sa posisyon na one-down. Sa 2 Samuel 14:1-4 sinenyasan ni Joab ang babae na sabihin, “Tulungan nʼyo po ako, Mahal na Hari!” sapagkat mailalagay nito ang babae sa isang pababang posisyon sa hari, na may obligasyong tulungan siya.

Sinabi ni Elmer, “Ang pagkuha ng one-down na posisyon ay nangangahulugang gawing mahina ang iyong sarili sa ibang tao o ipahiwatig na wala ang kanilang tulong ikaw ay nasa panganib na mapahiya o mawalan ng mukha.” “Mahalaga para sa iyo na huwag maging sanhi upang mawala ang mukha o mapahiya ng ibang tao, ngunit kung may panganib na mangyari sa iyo, maaari kang tumawag sa iba upang protektahan ka mula sa pagkawala ng mukha. Sa katunayan maaari ka ring tumawag sa sarili nitong nagbabanta sa iyong karangalan upang iligtas ka mula sa parehong kahihiyang maaaring dumating sa iyo. ”(p. 80) Binigyan ni Elmer ang pakikitungo ng Diyos kina Abram at David bilang mga halimbawa.

Pagkukuwento at salawikain [Story-telling and proverbs]. Ang pangatlong hanay ng mga sipi ng Bibliya ay nagbibigay diin sa mga kwento bilang mga tool sa paglutas ng hidwaan.

Marahil ang pinakamahusay na halimbawa nito sa Bibliya ay nang harapin ng propetang si Nathan si Haring David dahil sa kanyang kasalanan kay Batsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-9). Si Nathan ay nagsasabi ng isang detalyadong kuwento ng isang mayamang tao na nagnanakaw ng minamahal na tupa ng isang mahirap na tao. Kapag nagalit si David, pinapagal siya ni Nathan sa pagsasabing, “Ikaw ang taong iyon!” Ang resulta ay ang pagsisisi ni David.

Ginamit din ito ni Jesus nang maraming beses nang sinabi niya sa mga talinghaga na magturo ng mga pagpapahalagang nais niyang ituro. Kumbaga, maaari siyang direktang maglibot at hamunin ang mga tao tungkol sa kanilang kasalanan at masabing, “Magsisi kayo!” Sa halip ay pinili niya ang pagkukuwento bilang kanyang pangunahing anyo ng pakikipag-ugnayan.

Mayroong maraming mga halimbawa ng pagsasabi ni Jesus ng mga talinghaga, ngunit ang ilang mga makabuluhang halimbawa ay kasama ang Lucas 18:10-14, nang ikinuwento ni Jesus ang tungkol sa Fariseo at sa Maniningil ng Buwis sa isang pagsisikap na parehong maipakita ang pag-asa sa mga maniningil ng buwis at hikayatin ang pagsisisi ng mga Pariseo.

Ginagamit din ni Jesus ang pamamaraang ito nang harapin ng mga pinuno sa Mateo 21:23-27. Nang tanungin, “Ano ang awtoridad mong gumawa ng mga bagay na ginagawa mo? Sino ang nagbigay sa iyo ng awtoridad na iyan?” sumagot si Hesus sa pamamagitan ng paglalagay ng palaisipan na nagpapahintulot sa kanya na maiwasan ang isang direktang paghaharap.

Ang bisa ng pamamaraang ito ay ipinakita sa paglaon sa Mateo 21:33-46 nang ikuwento ni Jesus ang tungkol sa taong umarkila ng kanyang ubasan. Ang kanyang mga tagapaglingkod, na ipinadala upang kolektahin ang kanyang bahagi ng ani, ay pinapintasan at ang kanyang anak ay pinatay. Kapag natapos na ang kuwento nalaman natin na ang Punong mga Pari at Pariseo ay alam na pinag-uusapan sila ni Jesus – ibig sabihin ay hindi direktang naihatid ni Jesus ang kanyang mensahe.

Elmer muli: “Ang pagkukuwento sa ganitong pang-unawa ay hindi simpleng paggamit ng mga kwento ngunit… ang pagtuturo, pagwawasto at nuanced na paggamit ng mga salita …. upang makisalamuha ang mga mas batang kasapi ng isang lipunan sa mga pamantayan at halaga ng lipunang iyon. Gayunpaman ang parehong mga tool na ito ay madaling gawin sa mga tugon sa mga sitwasyon ng kontrahan.”

Tandaan din ang pag-unlad na kasama sa pagpipiliang ito: Ang isa ay pinapayagan na maging mas direkta kung ang mga inilaan na target ng kuwento ay hindi masyadong makakonekta sa kanilang sarili.

Hindi pagkilos, maling direksyon, katahimikan, at mga taong walang katiyakan [Inaction, misdirection, silence, and indefinite persons]. Ang huling hanay ng mga sipi ng Bibliya ay titingnan natin ang mga pag-uusap tungkol sa kung paano nalulutas kung minsan ang pagkakasalungatan gamit ang hindi direktang paraan. Ang ilang mga kultura ay binibigyang diin ang higit na hindi tuwirang mga paraan ng pakikipag-ugnayan at humantong ito sa isa pang uri ng pamamahala ng salungatan na binibigyang diin ang kawalang-derekta.

Dalawang Hebreong komadrona sina Shifrah at Pua na tinalakay sa Exodo 1:8-19. Matapos mag-utos ng Paraon “Kung magpapaanak kayo ng mga babaeng Hebreo, patayin ninyo kung lalaki ang anak, pero kung babae, huwag nʼyo nang patayin” tumugon ang mga kumadrona sa hiling ng Paraon sa maraming paraan: katahimikan dahil walang direktang sagot mula sa kanila sa utos ng Paraon; hindi pagkilos (v17) sa “hindi nila sinunod ang iniutos ng hari”; at maling direksyon (v19) sa kung saan sinisi nila ang kalusugan ng mga babaeng Hebrew bilang dahilan kung bakit hindi sila maaaring sumunod. Ang kwentong ito ay maaaring mukhang kakaiba, hindi bababa sa mula sa isang pananaw sa Kanluran na maaaring bigyang kahulugan ang mga komadrona bilang hindi matapat. Gayunpaman, ang katotohanang “kaya pinagpala ng Diyos ang mga komadrona” ay nagsasabi sa atin na inaprubahan niya ang kanilang mga pamamaraan.

Nakita rin natin ang mga prinsipyong ito sa mga kwento ni Haring Saul (1 Samuel 10:27) at sa Esther.

Sa Marcos 9:33-37 mababasa natin na ang mga alagad ni Jesus ay “hindi sumagot.” Ito ay dahil nais nilang iligtas ang kanilang mga sarili mula sa kahihiyang pagkakaroon ng pagtatapat sa kanilang tinatalakay sa kalsada. Hindi sila hinarap ni Jesus tungkol dito ngunit sa halip ay gumagamit sya ng isang hindi direktang object lesson upang matulungan silang mas maunawaan ang mismong tanong na pinagtatalunan nila.

Si Hesus mismo ay gumagamit ng katahimikan nang subukang pilitin siya ng mga Pariseo na kondenahin ang babaeng nahuli sa pangangalunya sa Juan 8:1-11. Gumamit siya ng maling direksyon upang ibalik ang tanong sa mga akusado nang sabihin niya na, “Kung sino sa inyo ang walang kasalanan ay siya ang maunang bumato sa kanya.”

At syempre si Jesus ay nanatiling tahimik din sa Mateo 27:14 nang tinanong sya ni Pilato.

Sa pakikipag-usap sa katahimikan sinabi ni Elmer, “ang katahimikan ay hindi nangangahulugang naayos na ang isyu o naabot na ang kasunduan. Karaniwan nang nangangahulugan ito ng pagkaantala hanggang sa maaaring magamit ang ibang naaangkop na diskarte …. Mayroong oras para sa katahimikan at oras para sa pagiging maingay. Tila ang grabidad ng isyu ay isang tagapagpahiwatig para sa pagpili, tulad ng pagiging maagap.”

Ang ilang mga huling pangungusap. Napagtatanto na wala sa mga pagpipiliang ito ang eksklusibo ay ang susi sa pag-unawa sa iba pang mga anyo ng paglutas ng salungatan sa Bibliya. Sa halip maaari nating paikutin ang iba’t ibang mga paraan ng mga pamamaraang ito na may layunin na makarating sa isang sitwasyon na win-win sa huli. Mahalagang tandaan din na kailangan nating gamitin ang mga porma ng paglutas ng tunggalian na angkop sa kultura , na may hangarin ng aktwal na resolusyon. Hindi lamang natin nais na pumili ng pamamaraan na pinakamahusay na susuporta sa aming panig ng isyu. Kailangan nating piliin ang diskarte na pinakamahusay na hahantong sa resolusyon.

Ito ay maaaring isang pagkakataon na pumunta sa palengke upang mamili lamang ng gusto natin pag dating sa conflict resolution at piliin ang pinakamahusay na magsisilbi sa aming panig ng hidwaan. Hindi iyon ang punto ng ehersisyo na ito. Ipinapakita sa atin na paminsan-minsan ang ating paggamit ng Mateo 18 ay nagpapatibay sa hidwaan kaysa sa paglutas nito sapagkat nilalayon itong magamit sa isang partikular na setting ng kultura. Ang pagpili ng isa sa iba pang mga pagpipilian ay maaaring humantong sa mas mahusay na mga resulta sa iba pang mga konteksto.

Ito rin ay isang magandang lugar upang banggitin na ang tinatawag na mga Western theology ay hegemonic. Nangangahulugan ito na mayroon sila, ayon sa dami ng isinulat ng mga taga-kanluranin, kinuha ang pamamayani at ginamit na kapangyarihan sa Iba. Kailangan itong magbago habang ang ibang mga kultura ay pumasok sa pag-uusap kasama ang kanilang sariling mga konteksto at system. Ang resulta ay magiging isang teolohiya na mas mayaman sa huli.

Ano ang palagay mo sa mga iginigiit ni Elmer? Sa palagay mo ba ay nagbibigay ito sa simbahan ng ilang mga mas mahusay na pagpipilian para sa pagharap at paglutas ng hidwaan? Mayroon bang mga hindi nalutas na isyu na mayroon ka sa isang tao na maaayos kung sumunod ka sa ibang proseso?

Gusto kong marinig ang boses mo. Kaya palaging malugod na tinatanggap ang feedback.

Pagbabahagi ang ginagawa ng mga kaibigan.

Larawan ni Charl Folscher sa Unsplash.

Ang mga sipi ng Banal na Kasulatan ay kinuha mula sa Ang Salita Ng Dios Biblia. Karapatang magpalathala © 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015 ng Biblica, Inc.® Ginamit nang may pahintulot.

How can the church partner with the world while maintaining its identity? By imitating Jesus’ Changing Water into Wine. Lessons from Thomas Aquinas.

“All truth is God’s truth.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard this while I was in seminary. And that was a good thing because I needed to hear it. I had spent the years leading up to seminary developing my understanding of truth that was pretty much limited to what the Bible (or at least my interpretation of the Bible) had to say. Any claims to truth outside of the Bible were suspect for me.

I even remember a time in a class I took at USask on Religious Perspectives on Death and Dying when I had to comment (in a test) on the validity of the fictional Death of Ivan Illich to my understanding of death and dying. My reply was that since it was fiction it wasn’t true! Wise Professor Robert Kennedy pointed out that truth can be found in a variety of areas of life including fictional accounts.

And it appears this debate isn’t all that new. The other day I took a look at Mitchell Atencio’s interview Why Nathan Cartagena Teaches Critical Race Theory to Evangelicals with Nathan Cartagena on Sojourners and saw a great idea from Thomas Aquinas.

In 1261, a few years before I went to seminary, Thomas Aquinas wrote a commentary on Boethius’ On The Trinity. Apparently some agreed with my early ideas — that blending God’s Truth with rational truths somehow muddies the mixture. Article 3 of Super Boethium De Trinitate by Thomas Aquinas answers this question in a very interesting way:

“5. It may be said: No conclusive argument can be drawn from figurative speech, as the Master (Peter Lombard) says. Dionysius also says in his letter to Titus that symbolic theology has no weight of proof, especially when such interprets no authority. Nevertheless it can be said that When one of two things passes into the nature of another, the product is not considered a mixture except when the nature of both is altered. Wherefore those who use philosophical doctrines in sacred Scripture in such a way as to subject them to the service of faith, do not mix water with wine, but change water into wine.”

Part of the problem that I faced in the early years of my theological formation was that I somehow believed that the world was divided into two parts: Sacred and Secular. As as young Christian I was warned about the dangers of the world — the danger that I would become worldly. This came out in many areas, including concepts like Christian music, Christian schools and colleges, and Christian bookstores. There was also the idea that people needed to leave the world and join the church. Interestingly there was never an idea that through my influence the world would become holy.

How can we apply Aquinas’ concepts of changing water to wine to the whole sacred-secular debate? The sacred-secular debate keeps the two worlds apart because of fear of contamination — but a contamination that always goes from good to bad. Aquinas says that in order for two ideas to mix that they both need to change. When it comes to God’s truth however, the end result is not a mixture of good and bad but a transformation of the bad into good, much in the same way that Jesus changed water into wine.

So, that brings us to current issues where this can be applied. I can think of three examples. When I was younger the bad guy was psychotherapy. Psychotherapy was bad for reasons that I can’t remember. Fortunately today I have personally benefitted from people who have been successful in blending the truths of God that can be found in psychotherapy with the truths of God found in scripture and have applied those truths into my life.

Christians have also had a love-hate relationship with science throughout the years. Some have suggested that vaccine hesitancy among some Christians is a direct result of the religion-science debate. The argument seems to go along the lines of, “Science promotes evolution that directly goes against the creation accounts of the Bible. If then scientists tell us that vaccines are ok that must mean that they aren’t ok.” What we as Christians often forget, though, is that the early scientists were in fact men and women of faith who desired to know more about God’s creation and started an in-depth study of it.

There has been a lot of talk of late in the church about Critical Race Theory. And that is in fact with the Nathan Cartagena interview is about. The main objection appears to be something like, “CRT is bad because it is Marxism.” Once again the fear of the world influencing the church rather than the church influencing the world rears its ugly head. What we often forget is that justice is one of the key aspects of the Kingdom of God but since it has been neglected so much by the church we need the expertise of those who have thought about justice issues in depth.

Of course I am not advocating an uncritical approach to these issues. As Aquinas himself tells us to “subject [rational philosophies] to the service of faith.” But what I am advocating is that Christians tap every resource available as we seek to turn the water of the world into the wine of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, establishing the values of the kingdom of God, serving God and neighbour, and testifying to God’s truth.

After all, Jesus promises that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the church. Why should we act as if it already has?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Klara Kulikova on Unsplash.

Shepherds, work, and the interruption of burning bushes.

I have it on good authority that farmers work hard and I’m sure shepherds are no different, which is what makes Moses’ story all the more interesting. Some say bushes that spontaneously burn aren’t all that rare in the Sinai area, although that appears to be debunked here. Regardless, the fact that another bush was burning was perhaps more of a distraction than an attraction for Moses.

I have limited experience with sheep. The farm where Eva and I are currently living has three sheep and last week, while the family was away on vacation, we had to take care of said sheep. It isn’t all that hard — we had to take them out to the pasture in the morning, move them around during the day, and return them to their pen at night. It sounds simple but it was a little more involved than that. We had to make sure the sheep made it to their mobile pen in the pasture, a process that involves dragging them past much more appealing foliage to the foliage that we had chosen for them. It also sometimes involves chasing and catching said sheep to make sure they go where we wanted them to go. We also had to carry a 5 gallon bucket of water out to them and make sure that they stayed watered. When the grass in their moveable pen was consumed we needed to move them to a new location, sometimes ensuring that they had some shade. Daniel usually brought them in at night and his technique was running as fast as possible beside them so that they remained focussed on the destination rather than all the sweet grasses along the way.

I also recently watched Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime. In the show, Jeremy Clarkson takes over his farm when his previous manager retired. The show follows him along as he learns the ropes on what it takes to run a farm in Britain. One aspect to Clarkson’s farm is sheep and there are several episodes devoted to what it means to farm sheep, including being up at all hours to birth them, making sure that the mothers and lambs are all caring for each other while in the pasture, and moving them to a new pasture without them getting into the neighbour’s fields.

It is a lot of work for those of us caring for just a few sheep. How much more a traditional shepherd with a full-size herd that she needs to keep track of? [Just as an aside, did you know that Rachel is one of the few named shepherds in the Bible? Check out her story in Genesis 29]

Which leads us to the question, “Why would a busy guy like Moses take the time to go see the burning bush?” What made him realise that it wasn’t merely a distraction and was something work making him take time out of his busy schedule? The Bible doesn’t say a lot about Moses’ thought process other than to say, “I must go over there and see this strange sight.” There was something strange that attracted his attention.

Moses’ situation reminds me to ask myself if I pay attention to “strange sights” in my day-to-day life that may be God’s attempts to get my attention. [Note that God will always eventually get my attention, as I have written about here.] In what ways does my busyness keep me from opportunities to encounter God? How do I distinguish distraction from a God-encounter? Are distractions in fact invitations from God?

I guess one type of distraction is internet use. But while some of the things that we encounter on the internet may be strange, this type of distraction can’t be labelled a “strange sight” in the way Moses labelled the burning bush. The burning bush got Moses’ attention while he was doing other things that he normally did. It pulled him away from the usual into the unusual. So sorry, we can’t use Moses as an excuse for always being on the internet.

Another type of distraction is escapist fiction. Who doesn’t love a great story that takes you away from your present life and allows you to live in a virtual world of adventure, excitement, and love? I am currently enjoying Burrough’s John Carter series. But yet again, this is a type of distraction that we bring upon ourselves and is not the type of distraction that God introduces into our loves for his purposes.

I suspect the kinds of distractions that God tries are things that distract us from our distractions. Some distractions are actually a call back to the real world. They interrupt our escapes and bring us back to reality. That’s what the burning bush did for Moses after all.

Once, many years ago, while I was talking to a friend, my daughter came up to me because she wanted to show me her new dress. Did I look at her new dress? No. I saw what she was doing as a distraction from what I was doing. If I had it to do over again I would say, Excuse me, to my friend and take a look at Emily’s new dress. Perhaps God was saying, “Pay attention to your family.”

What I my response when someone talks to me while I am watching a TV show? Do I see it as an interruption or a call to engage with someone in real life? What is my response when I and deeply thinking about the solution to a problem and my wife approaches me with a solution? Am I reminded that we are a team and can work things out together, or do I feel interrupted? What about when someone offers me constructive criticism? Do I see it as a change to improve or as a challenge to my abilities? I must confess that I often get these kinds of things wrong.

So what types of distractions have turned into God encounters for you?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image Sandeep Kr Yadev on Unsplash.