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.

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Don’t forget to Like and/or Subscribe.

Image Angel Luciano by on Unsplash.

Tiktok: Bakit ako sumali sa isang social media phenomena na puno ng mga tao mula sa ibang henerasyon

Read this post in English.

Oh. Nasa Tiktok na ako. Baka isipin mo na nagsimula na akong sumayaw o gusto kong bumagsak ang aking karera sa musika, huwag mag-alala. May paliwanag ako. Ang Tiktok ay nasa likod ng aking isipan mula pa noong isang klase na itinuro namin sa SEATS noong 2021 na nagrekomenda ng paggamit ng plataporma para sa ministeryo sa simbahan ngunit dahil wala akong ganap na karanasan sa Tiktok ay hindi ko naisip kung paano eksaktong gamitin ito. So anong nangyari para makumbinsi ako?

Ilang taon na ang nakararaan pinangasiwaan ko ang pagtatayo ng isang paanakan malapit sa aming bahay. Hindi ko makuha ang kredito para sa paanakan — naroroon ako para sa mga kapanganakan nina Emily at Daniel ngunit wala akong pagnanais na dumalo para sa mga kapanganakan ng sinumang bata — ngunit nakapagbigay ng ilang input pagdating sa pagsasama-sama ng pasilidad kung saan ipinanganak ang mga sanggol.

Ang isang pangunahing aspeto sa anumang uri ng konstruksiyon ay ang mga manggagawa na gumagawa ng aktwal na trabaho. Mayroon silang iba’t ibang mga kasanayan. Ang ilan ay kasangkot sa proseso ng disenyo. Ang iba ay likas na matalino sa pangangasiwa sa gawain. Ang mga skilled ay may mga espesyal na kasanayan tulad ng pagkakarpintero o pagmamason. Ang mga labor ay gumagawa ng mabigat na pag-aangat ng pangkalahatang paggawa. Masaya at marami akong nakilalang lalaki. Bilang bahagi ng aking kontribusyon sa pagsisikap, nagsagawa ako ng lingguhang pag-aaral sa Bibliya tuwing Sabado bago matapos ang araw (kung kailan sila matatanggap ng kanilang suweldo para sa linggo).

Isang araw sinabi ko sa isang kaibigang pastor ang tungkol sa aming proyekto, alam kong kamakailan lang ay nasangkot siya sa isang katulad na proyekto nang itayo nila ang kanilang bahay sambahan. Ipinagmamalaki kong sinabi sa kanya na nagsasagawa ako ng pag-aaral ng Bibliya sa aming mga manggagawa bawat linggo. Bumalik siya na may pahayag na nagsagawa siya ng pag-aaral ng bibliya araw-araw bago magsimula ang trabaho! Nagulat ako pero napaisip ako. Ang resulta ay nagkaroon ako ng maikling debosyonal bago kami magsimulang magtrabaho tuwing umaga. Ang mga lalaki sa pangkalahatan ay hindi nahihiyang makipag-usap tungkol sa Bibliya sa normal na buhay at pinahahalagahan nila ang mga panalangin para sa kanilang kaligtasan araw-araw, kaya naging maayos ang lahat.

Noong isang araw, habang naglalakad ako sa clinic at iniisip ang huling yugto ng proyekto (na inaasahan nating magsisimula sa bagong taon), naalala ko na kapag nagsimula muli ang konstruksiyon ay kailangan kong pag-isipang muli ang mga pang-araw-araw na debosyonal. Noon natamaan ako. Maaari na akong magsimulang gumawa ng maikling araw-araw na debosyonal ngayon sa Tiktok! Nagpo-post ako ng pang-araw-araw na talata sa bibliya sa nakalipas na ilang taon sa mga social media account ng aming mga ministeryo kaya hindi ganoon kahirap gawin iyon para maging pang-araw-araw na debosyonal. Kaya gumawa agad ako ng Tiktok account at nagsimulang mag-record ng mga video.

Sa puntong ito wala akong ideya kung hanggang kailan ito magpapatuloy o kung anong mga partikular na benepisyo ang maaari nitong ibigay sa mga tao. Gayunpaman, ang mga tao sa loob ng aking ministry circle ay nagpahayag na mahalaga sa kanila ang araw-araw na mga talata sa bibliya na aking ipinadala. Mayroon ding mga tao sa aming komunidad na hindi makalabas ng kanilang mga bahay dahil sa malalaking isyu sa kalusugan at maganda ang video patungkol sa Bibliya para sa kanila .

Anong mga kakaibang bagong bagay ang ipinapagawa sa yo ng ng Diyos? Ano sa tingin mo ang kakailanganin para makumbinsi ka na gawin ito? Paki iwan ang iyong sagot sa comment box sa ibaba?

Tandaan na ang pagbabahagi ay ginagawa ng mga kaibigan.

Kung nasiyahan ka sa pagbabasa na ito, mangyaring huwag kalimutang i-like at i-follow ang aking blog.

Para sa mga kawili-wiling malaman ang higit pa tungkol sa aming proyekto sa paanakan narito ang isang maikling video na naglalarawan sa aming ginagawa.

Larawan ng SCREEN POST sa Unsplash.

Tiktok: Why I joined a social media phenomena full of people from a different generation

Basahin mo sa wikang Tagalog.

So I’m on Tiktok. Lest you think that I have taken up dancing or want my music career to take off, don’t worry. I have an explanation. Tiktok has been in the back of my mind ever since a class we taught at SEATS in 2021 recommended using the platform for church ministry but since I have absolutely no experience with Tiktok I wasn’t able to conceptualise exactly how to use it. So what happened to convince me?

A couple of years ago I supervised construction of a birthing clinic near our house. I can’t take credit for the clinic — I was present for the births of Emily & Daniel but have no desire to be present for anyone else’s kid’s births — but was able to provide some input when it came to putting together a facility within which babies are delivered.

A key aspect to any kind of construction is the workers who do the actual work. They have various skills. Some are involved in the design process. Others are gifted at overseeing the work. Some have special skills like carpentry or masonry. Others do the heavy lifting of general labour. It was fun and I got to know a lot of men. As a part of my contribution to the effort, I conducted a weekly bible study every Saturday just prior to the day’s end (when they would receive their pay for the week).

One day I was telling a pastor-friend about our project, knowing that he had recently been involved in a similar project when they built their church building. I proudly told him that I was having a bible study with our workers every week. He came back with the statement that he had done a bible study every day before work! I was taken aback but it got me thinking. The result was that I had a short devotional before we began work each morning. The men in general don’t shy away from talking about the Bible in normal life and they appreciate prayers for safety during the day, so it all worked out well.

The other day, while walking past the clinic and thinking of the final phase of the project (that we hope to begin in the new year), I was reminded that when construction starts again I would need to think about daily devotionals again. That’s when it hit me. I could start now doing a short daily devotional on Tiktok! I have been posting a daily bible verse for the past couple of years on our ministries’ social media accounts so to turn that into a daily devotional wasn’t all that hard to do. So I bit the bullet and created a Tiktok account and started recording videos.

At this point I have no idea how long this will go on for or what specific benefits it might offer people. However, people within my ministry circle have expressed their appreciation for the daily bible verses that I have sent. There are also people in our community who are unable to leave their houses due to major health issues and for whom an option to watch a video about the Bible is a blessing.

What strange new things is God calling you to do? What do you think it will take to convince you to do it? Why not leave your answer in the comment box below?

Remember sharing is what friends do.

If you enjoyed this read, please don’t forget to like and follow my blog.

For those interesting in finding out more about our birthing clinic project here is a short video describing what we are doing.

Image by SCREEN POST on Unsplash.

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

Read this post in English.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mangyaring i-like at mag-subscribe sa aking blog upang matiyak na makukuha mo ang mga post sa tamang oras.

Tandaan na ang pagbabahagi ay ginagawa ng mga kaibigan.

Larawan ni Reafon Gates sa Pexels.com

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

Basahin mo sa wikang Tagalog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please like and subscribe to my blog to ensure you get the posts on time.

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Image by Denis Agati on Unsplash.

“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.

Emic vs Etic: Understanding how insider & outsider perspectives interact when doing theology. An example from the Philippines.

Cross-cultural interactions are a part of my everyday life. Is there a theology of cross-cultural interaction? There have been many. Unfortunately they don’t always have good results. Take for example the whole residential school debacle in Canada that started from faulty theology codified in the doctrine of discovery but stemming from long-seated ideas of cultural superiority.

Churches quite often have deep seated assumptions about “the world” that aren’t in fact true. Case in point. When I was in Grade 5 our class received a Gideons New Testament (is that still a thing). Afterward we were all talking in the boot room about the NT and I said to one of my classmates, “What are you going to do? Rip it up?” He looked at me like I was crazy. What possessed me to say that? I had been told my whole life in Sunday school that the world was opposed to Christians. Guess what? That wasn’t true after all. It seems that I as a Christian had assumptions that were untested.

So how can we move away from assumptions towards actual empirical data about the world around us? Last week I wrote about how the church can partner with the world in things like this. Some commented that the post was short on the “How” so I thought that I might give a more concrete example. We need to develop ways to better understand the world to make sure that we are asking and answering the right questions – to make sure that the message we exegete from the Bible is presented in a relevant way to those who are not yet followers of Jesus Christ. Anthropology can help us understand that. 

The following comes from planning some conversations I had with Filipino men about their masculinity and religiosity. I had heard that men are less religious than women but wanted to find out for myself if that was true. I decided to plan some research that tried to discover what is called the insider viewpoint.

Because many religious systems in the Philippines are from external sources, and because male participation in those systems is universally identified as being lesser than that of women, it is important to discover how Filipino males have constructed their understandings of pagbabalik-loob, pagkalalaki, and maka-Diyos. This calls for an emic approach to the problem rather than an etic one. Oxford defines emic as “studying or describing a particular language or culture in terms of its internal elements and their functioning rather than in terms of any existing external scheme.” Etic is defined as “studying or describing a particular language or culture in a way that is general, non-structural, and objective in its perspective.” Thus, an etic approach looks at the problem from outside, while the emic approach looks at the problem from inside. 

Origins of the Emic/Etic concept. Pike (1967) defined the terms etic and emic as “etic viewpoint studies behavior as from outside of a particular system,” while the “emic viewpoint results from studying behavior as from inside the system” (p.37). Pike wanted to move from etics to emics.

There is a debate about the validity of using an emic approach in seeking to understand a culture on its own terms. In fact, this debate is behind the development of ethnoscience worldwide.  What is often missed in the debate is the reality that all forms of science are emic in that whatever frameworks or structures are developed are developed from the emic perspectives of a specific culture. They merely become etic once applied to another culture.  

Bennagen (1980) discusses the “Asianization” of anthropology “to help strengthen Asia’s rightful claim to its heritage as well as to its visions of man, society and culture” (p. 1; see also Mendoza, 2016).  

Geertz (Geertz 1973b) championed what some have called an “actor-centered view is central to Geertz’s work, however, it was never developed into an actual theory or model” (Hudson et al, 2009). 

Harris (1976) adapted Pike’s terms. For him, emic was the focus on a single culture while etic was the “comparison of two or more cultures as a means of identifying common characteristics” (Olive, 2014). Harris saw emics and etics as equally valid – there was no advantage to be gained from an etic approach and thus no need to try to discover the emic.

He has an example the difference between an emic and an etic understanding of male to female cattle ratios in India. Approaching the issue from an emic perspective, Harris says that locals identify the causes of higher mortality of male calves is due to a variety of naturally-occurring causes. Approaching the issue from an etic perspective, however, causes Harris to ascertain that higher male calf mortality is due to the locals’ manipulation of naturally-occurring events that are economically determined. Harris’ conclusion is that by relying solely on an emic approach, the researcher misses the etic realities of what he calls “bovicide.”  

I suggest that another factor may be at play here. Harris’ emic reasons for the ratio include “that males ate less than the females…. because they were not permitted to stay at the other’s teats for more than a few seconds” (p. 33). I find the words “not permitted” to be telling because here we have the locals themselves giving the reasons for why the male calves die. It seems that Harris didn’t follow up on this clue to discover what else the locals might want to tell him about this process.  

An indigenous approach here might be helpful. Enriquez (1994) discusses pakikipagkapwa, or Filipino interpersonal relations, as divided into two categories — Ibang-Tao [“outsider”] and Hindi-Ibang-Tao [“literally “not-‘other’-person” and therefore an insider”] each in turn divided into several other stages (see also Pe-Pua et al, 2000; Lapiz, 2010, refers to these as Tagalabas [“From the outside”] and Tagaloob [“From the inside”], respectively). Information passed from one person to another varies based upon the relationship between the two parties. If the two parties are in the Ibang-Tao category the informant will seek to pass on information that they perceive to be what the researcher wants to hear. If the two parties are Hindi-Ibang-Tao, then the information passed on more accurately reflects the reality. Pe-Pua et al recommend that “the first level under Hindi-Ibang-Tao, which is pakikipagpalalgayan-loob (level of mutual trust, understanding, rapport) should be reached, at the minimum, in order to be assured of good quality data” (Pe-Pua et al, 2000, p. 59).  

Another hallmark of Filipino communication is pahiwatig [“hint”], or indirect communication. According to Maggay (2002)ang pahiwatig marahil ang pinakalaganap at maaaring masabing pinakabuod ng ating kulturang pangkomunikasyon” [“the hint is perhaps the most widespread and possibly the best summary of our culture of communication”] (p. 24). It is also defined as “hindi tuwirang pagpapahayag sa isang bagay, idea, o saloobin” [“a thing, idea, or thought is not revealed in a direct manner”] (UPDF) or as “di tuwirang pagpapaabot ng mga mensahe” [“messages are not delivered in a straight way”] (Maggay, 2002, p. 24). Information is revealed over a period of time and is not given all at once. The pahiwatig is an invitation for the researcher to dig deeper to find out the truth that is not yet fully revealed. Jocano (1999) speaks of a multilevel process of communication starting with pahiwatig [“hinted at”], moving through pabatid [“informed about”], and finally into pahayag [“revealed”]. Thus discovering truth in the Philippine context is an extended affair as layer after layer of truth is slowly revealed as the relationship between the researcher and the researched draw ever closer together. 

Now granted, Harris’ example is from India that may have different cultural norms from the Philippines, but that doesn’t belie the fact that there was “truth” in the emic investigation that Harris perhaps didn’t explore fully. Harris’ own example shows that the locals did reveal the cause of the ratio (i.e. “males …. not permitted” to eat) but there is no evidence that Harris pursued the conversation to it’s fullest extent.  

Thus in Harris’ example above, the farmers themselves are revealing the reality behind the ratio differences in an indirect way and inviting him to discover more through further communication.  

I argue that an indigenous approach to the issue would have led to Harris’ realization that the locals were in-fact telling him the reasons for cattle ratios but that his framework was unable to adequately aid him in this discovery. Thus his use of an etic framework allowed him to see a disconnect between the ideology (killing cattle is prohibited) and economy (cows are more economically advantageous than bulls) of his subjects in India. Imagine the study Harris could have had in discovering in partnership with the locals their strategies for dealing with the needs of both their ideological system and their economic system!  

The emic approach and Philippine studies of masculinity. The emic approach is common in Philippine studies.  

Pingol (2001), in her study of Ilocano men, states that she want to focus “more on emic rather than etic – the men’s understanding of themselves, how they construct themselves, how they remain men in their own eyes, or as viewed by their relatives and their community” (p. 16). 

Zialcita (2005) also takes an emic approach because it “looks at the data from the point of view of the actor; it seeks to understand in their own terms the reasons advanced by the actor for his thinking and acting” (Kindle location 1924).  

Mojares (2006), in his discussion of trying to recreate the way early Filipinos thought, struggled with the pull of emic and etic. He talked of trying to find a middle ground between “a facile universalizing and the exoticizing of difference; between the location out of which we are speaking and that ‘nation’ we are moving towards; between the need for political constructions and the awareness of their fictive character; between the claim to moral ascendancy and the practical requirements of power; and between the importance of the ‘native’s point of view’ and the dangers of turning it into a fetish” (p. 7)  

Moving into our present study, Houtman offers insights into understanding religiosity without using the frameworks developed by organized religions.  

Emic, Etic and our Problem. Houtman (2014) suggests that the study of religion can benefit from an emic approach. Rather than focusing on general definitions researchers should instead “let those under study decide whether and how religion is ‘real’ or ‘unreal’. It is they who can tell researchers in what sense they consider themselves ‘religious’ and/or ‘spiritual’, what exactly this means for them, and whether and how all this drives their behavior beyond the strictly private realm” (p. 20).  

There are in existence in the Philippines a variety of sets of preconceived notions of what it means to be a man or to even be a godly man. These have been formulated in the various world religions that have taken hold in the Philippines, especially Christianity and Islam. Christianity can be further subdivided into two sometimes-opposing conceptualizations that need to be understood on their own. A look at the intersections between maka-Diyos, and pagkalalaki would benefit from an emic approach. However, this study’s desire for an emic approach to the issue of Filipino male spirituality[1] is not so much a desire to ignore external structures and definitions and to favor indigenous structures and systems. Rather it is based on a desire to discover what, in fact, these indigenous emic structures and systems are. To date there has been very little work done to develop a philosophy or a theology connected with Filipino male spirituality. 

Criticisms of Emic-Etic approaches. There are no pure cultures and thus no pure emic-etic divide. All cultures use their own frameworks to evaluate the things they experience and sometimes these frameworks are in an etic form and sometimes in an emic form.

As Guillermo (2003) said, having too much focus on the emic removes any reason for interpretation to begin with. “The complete unification of the consciousness of the social scientist with an increasingly transparent object of analysis would be none other than the end of hermeneutics itself.” Which raises the question of for whom is the interpretation? It implies a cross-cultural facet that is essential to the process. Certainly someone within the culture is in no need of a hermeneutical framework but also someone who is completely outside of a culture can use no other framework than the one she brings with her. Of course, this is beside the point that no culture is pure or unsullied from outside influences. The key is finding a balance between the two that allows each side to see the other’s perspective and perhaps gain some understanding on their own. Thus, there must be a dialogic aspect to research. 

But the fact that there is cultural relativity (ala Franz Boas) implies that some level of hermeneutics is needed in understanding what one sees. For example, the sight of two men walking down the street hand-in-hand has different meanings in different parts of the world. Growing up in Canada two males holding hands was undeniable evidence that the two were in a homosexual relationship. However in the Philippines best friends not only hold hands but walk unashamedly down the street with their arms around one another shoulders. It is only through dialogue between etic and emic actors that one can determine the hermeneutical key. The goal of balancing the emic with the etic guides this research into a specific series of frameworks. 

I propose that seeking the insider view is a key part of church ministry. Only by having conversations with others can we discover our own blind spots and find ways to connect in meaningful ways with others.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.


1. The history of term Filipino is long and storied and beyond the scope of this paper. Coupled with this is the terms’ grammatical gender: Filipino refers to males and Filipina refers to females. Thus the term “Filipino male spirituality” is technically redundant. However since this redundancy is not necessarily seen nor understood outside of the Philippine context, for clarity this paper will use the term Filipino to denote people from the Philippines, regardless of their gender. 


References:

Bennagen, P. L. (1980). The Asianization of AnthropologyAsian Studies, 18, 1-26.

Enriquez, V. G. (1994). Pagbabangong-dangal: Indigenous psychology and cultural empowerment. Quezon City: Akademya ng Kultura at Sikolohiyang Pilipino.

Geertz, C. (1973). Religion as a cultural system. In C. Geertz, The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. London: Fontana Press.

Guillermo, R. (2003). Exposition, Critique and New Directions for Pantayong PananawKyoto Review of Southeast Asia, 3.

Harris, M. (1976). History and Significance of the emic-etic distinctionAnnual Review of Anthropology, 5, 329-350. doi:10.1146/annurev.an.05.100176.001553

Houtman, D. (2014, September). Pure religion and real sacrality: Authenticating Religion beyond Institutions and Traditions. Paper prepared for the summer seminar: Religion and Culture in a Globalized World, Questioning our Research Frames, University Centre Saint Ignatius Antwerp (UCSIA) University of Antwerp.

Hudson, S., Smith, C., Loughlin, M., and Hammerstedt, S. (2009). Symbolic and interpretive anthropologies. In Anthropological Theories, Department of Anthropology, The University of Alabama. 

Jocano, F. L. 1. (1999). Working with Filipinos: A cross-cultural encounter. Quezon City: PUNLAD Research House. 

Lapiz, E. (2010). Pagpapahiyang: Redeeming culture and indigenizing Christianity. [Manila: Christ Strengthening Ministries.]

Maggay, M. (2002). Pahiwatig: Kagawiang Pangkomunikasyon ng Filipino. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University.

Mendoza, S. L. (2016). Doing “indigenous” ethnography as a cultural outsider: Lessons from the Four SeasonsJournal of International and Intercultural Communication. doi:10.1080/17513057.2016.1154181

Mojares, R. B. (2006a). Reconstituting the mental life of sixteenth-and seventeenth century Philippines. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, 34(1), 1-10.

Olive, James L. (2014). Reflecting on the Tensions Between Emic and Etic Perspectives in Life History Research: Lessons Learned [35 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 15(2), Art. 6.

Pe‐Pua, R., & Protacio‐Marcelino, E. A. (2000). Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino psychology): A legacy of Virgilio G. Enriquez. Asian Journal of Social Psychology3(1), 49-71. doi: 10.1111/1467-839X.00054

Pike, K. L. (1967). Etic and emic standpoints for the description of behavior. In K. L. Pike, (Ed.), Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Nature. The Hague: Mouton de Gruyter, 37-72. doi: 10.1515/9783111657158.37

Pingol, A. T. (2001). Remaking masculinities: identity, power, and gender dynamics in families with migrant wives and househusbands. Quezon City: UP Center for Women’s Studies.

Zialcita, F. N. (2005). Authentic Though Not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University. Kindle version.

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.

The church post-pandemic will need to pivot, but sometimes pivots don’t work.

That all plants need water is something I have known my whole life but haven’t really experienced until this past few months. Saskatchewan is currently experiencing drought-like conditions and since we are staying at a farm we can see the effects first-hand.

Fortunately the farm has a pivot. A pivot is a large, elevated irrigation system designed to provide water to crops. A pivot is huge! It consists of a large 6-inch pipe about 6 metres off the ground. A series of wheels slowly move the pipe across the field, each rolling at a slightly different pace as it follows an arc across the field. It’s called a pivot because on end of the pipe is fixed to the ground and acts as the point around which the whole thing pivots. A large, elaborate pump supplies water to the pivot from a nearby lake. In the above picture, the white line extending across the field is the pivot. The darker curved lines are the tracks the wheels leave in the field.

Unfortunately the pivot hasn’t been working all that well for the past few years. It has a tendency to shut down automatically for mysterious reasons. After checking everything out multiple times the likely culprit is a problem in the electrical system. So while the pivot is a great idea, especially during times of drought, sometimes it doesn’t work all that well.

Pivot is a word we have seen a lot lately in the realm of ecclesiology. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of churches to evaluate how they deal with crises. Many say that churches need to learn how to pivot during times like this in order to survive. Churches that have a hard time with the pivot have a harder time adjusting to the changes.

Just as an irrigation pivot makes sure water gets to the whole field, so also a church that pivots makes sure the gospel gets to all of society. But sometimes adjustments need to be made. Which raises an issue when it comes to pivoting. Sometimes we need to change a part for it to work. What parts do I need to change or to switch out for something better?

I attended church for the first time last Sunday where there were no more restrictions. The government of Saskatchewan has decided that they will combat COVID-19 exclusively through vaccination. While there, I noticed a couple of pivots:

  • The pivot towards a paperless church that began with the pandemic has been maintained.
  • The pivot towards those little pre-packaged communion wafer and juice sets has now been pivoted away from back to real bread and those little plastic cups.

But I will say one thing. In spite of all my advocacy over the past months for embracing the virtual church, there are some things that are better done together. Specifically, not once while I was singing in the privacy of my own home, sitting in my comfortable easy chair, did I feel the urge to raise my hands but I certainly felt that while singing with the congregation on Sunday.

What things have you changed over the course of this pivot?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image from Google Maps.

Blending “real” with “virtual:” What significant virtual interactions are already real and what does that mean for the church?

The telephone is an embedded virtual interaction in society.

COVID-19 has introduced a whole new level of virtual interaction into our society. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t virtual interactions already embedded in our society.

I read a great article the other day by John Paul J. Arceno. While it focusses on the issue of virtual baptism, it also provides a good analysis of how the term “virtual” can be connected with church and church-related activities.

Arceno says, “It should be noted that there is a misconception that ‘virtual reality’ is not ‘real’. This terminology is misleading. For example, we can have “real meetings” with “real people” in ‘real-time’ — and just because the medium is Google Meet in cyberspace — does not make the meeting, people, or experience any less ‘real’ than one conducted in a physical room. It is a real meeting. This analogy can be applied to ‘Virtual Church’, ‘Virtual Baptism’, and ‘Virtual Communion’.”

This blending of the virtual and the real can be confusing at times and I do wonder if we resist virtual methods that are new. After all, it does seem to me that there are certain virtual activities that are considered real. I wonder if there was resistance to these activities when they first came on the scene.

Here is a list of normal activities that are also virtual activities (Some of these examples may show my vintage):

When you call on the telephone a girl to ask her on a date, that’s virtual. I remember talking for hours on our technologically-advanced phone — it had an extremely long curly cord that allowed me to find someplace private to talk. Likewise, when you talk for hours on the phone with your significant other, that’s virtual — but it’s also real.

When you read a book and get drawn into the story or into a conversation with the author, that’s virtual. When we read good books we experience the whole realm of emotions and we get drawn into the story. The story may be fictional but the emotions we experience as we read them are very real.

Love letters are virtual and have gone through changes over the years. Where it used to be a physical letter, written on paper, using special inks and scents, it can now be electronic — emails, FB messages, chat boxes, or texts. I spent many hours both writing and reading love letters while treeplanting in Northwestern Ontario and it was those letters that helped me maintain my relationship with my (future) wife. Of course I made some mistakes: Can you believe that I actually corrected her grammar using red ink? Good thing that she saw past that and agreed to marry me anyway.

Virtual has taken on new significance during the pandemic. Which brings me to a question asked by Arnold Cubos, one of my students at SEATS. He asked, “Is there a qualitative difference between the gospel presented online vs face-to-face?” I posted the question on Facebook and was intrigued by Mike’s and Robert’s responses

Robert Brown answered: “Only if you limit the work of the Holy Spirit or you limit the efficacy of God’s Word.”

Mike Swalm answered: “The qualitative difference in my mind is the relative inability to inhabit and embody the gospel online (truly embody). While i recognize and understand the hybridization of life (and rebel against it, truthfully), there is an embodied aspect to the gospel (think “bearing witness”) that I think cannot truly obtain online. I recognize various arguments insisting on the burgeoning online “space” as a place of true vulnerability, but without true embodiment, I see a lack. Can the gospel be “presented” online? Certainly. Can it truly be embodied? To a lesser degree, in my view.”

I think the answer lies in a combination of the two. Mike’s “embodiment” reminds me of the incarnation, which is the embodiment of the Word of God. John writes that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But it’s the word “Word” that connected with me in this context. Is there a connection between the living Word and the written word and is that embodiment? Jesus was only physically present on earth for just over 30 years so today we don’t have any physical connection with him. We may have a spiritual connection with him. We may have an emotional connection with him. We may trust him as our saviour. We read his words and recorded by the Gospel writers but we only hear his words as read and expounded through others. I guess that’s what we mean when we say the church is Christ’s body.

But how is that embodiment governed today? Here is where Robert’s answer comes into play: The Holy Spirit is our guide today. The gospel is embodied in us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I guess I should admit here that for me as a Baptist, this dependence upon the Holy Spirit rather than a clearly thought out statement of faith or theological system is scary. But it appears to be what the Bible teaches.

So what does all this mean in today’s world of virtual church activities? Is embodiment possible through the binary code that runs the internet? Is there something to be learned about Jesus and the Holy Spirit through the networked nature of online? Can social media truly provide the social connections that we as humans crave? More importantly, how can Jesus be experienced through what we are doing today? How is Jesus present?

I guess a harder question to answer is was what we were doing before an effective way of embodying Jesus? Was Jesus present or did we merely present him then? How? In what ways? Or were we merely interested in informing people about Jesus? Does virtual + church help us or hinder us in this task?

What is your favourite real activity that just happens to be virtual?

Feedback is always welcome!

Follow my blog or subscribe via email (on the left) to stay up to date!

Photo by @quinoal on Unsplash.