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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lesson from Men in Black.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Windowless Room and Theologising.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Did you know that Matthew 18’s instruction to “go, confront him when you are alone” isn’t the only Christian way to deal with conflict?

Basahin sa wikang Tagalog

Ask any Christian how to deal with conflict and they will pull out Matthew 18 because it lays out what many see as THE way for Christians to deal with interpersonal sin. For years the church has laid out the process of talk to the person individually, then if things don’t work out bring someone as a witness. Then, if things still don’t work out, bring the matter before the church and if that doesn’t work out then expel the person from the church. It’s pretty standard but what if I told you that this wasn’t the only biblical way that God’s people deal with sin? There are actually countless examples of other ways of doing the same thing that may be more relevant in other cultural contexts.

Because different cultures do indeed have differing ways of dealing with conflict. Indirect communication, through concepts such as pahiwatig [hinting] and pakikiramdam [sensing non-verbal cues], are at the core of communication and conflict resolutions of some Filipino and First Nations peoples. The Lupon tagapamayapa, or peacemaker board, is a key part of Philippine society and is one effective way in keeping peace in our communities.

Duane Elmer’s 1993 book Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry is a great biblical theology of conflict resolution that doesn’t limit itself to Matthew 18:15-20.

For Elmer, the Matthew 18 approach is especially useful in so-called Western societies where confrontation and frankness are cultural values. As Elmer says, even though “directness, confrontation, forthrightness and candid outspokenness are valued and expected in Western culture, in most of the world these same values, even when demonstrated respectfully, are considered rude, unrefined, ill-mannered, discourteous and even contemptuous” (p. 62). This approach is less useful in other culture settings where confrontation and frankness actually create more conflict. I would add that focussing solely on Matthew 18 provides excuses for those who are caught in sin because it can be used as an excuse to reject any process of reconciliation.

Elmer divides his approach into four categories. I will give a brief outline of Elmer’s argument including a definition and biblical example or two of each category. Elmer’s book goes far beyond this by giving real-world examples of how these various methods have worked effectively in cross-cultural settings however I should point out that Elmer approaches most of these situations as a cultural outsider. However, this doesn’t impact the biblical theology that he also develops in the book.

Mediation and the Mediator. One set of bible passages talks about how conflict is sometimes resolved through the use of an intermediary. Mediation is in fact a big theme in all of scripture, as we can see below.

1 Timothy 2:5-6 explicitly states — “There is one God. There is also one mediator between God and humans—a human, Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for all people to free them from their sins. This message is valid for every era.” Jesus’ role as mediator is expanded in John 3:17, Romans 5:10-11, and Hebrews 78.

Moses was a mediator in delivering the law, as Paul mentions in Galatians 3:19-20, and as outlined in Exodus 32:30-32 and Numbers 12:6-8.

Job wants a mediator to help him with his case in Job 9:33 — “There is no mediator between us to put his hand on both of us.”

Joab sets up a mediator between David and his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 14:1-4 in an effort to achieve peace.

Prophets (Deuteronomy 18:18-23) and priests (Exodus 28:1; Leviticus 9:7; 16:6; Hebrews 5:1-4) also served as mediators between God and humans.

Elmer says a mediator is a third party who is “respected, neutral, and objective” and who acts as a bridge between the two parties in conflict with the goal of achieving a win-win solution. According to Elmer, the use of a mediator when seeking reconciliation is normal in many cultures. As Elmer says, “many cultures of the world prefer indirect methods for handling conflict and potential conflict. One of the more common indirect methods is the use of a mediator. Neither the existence of a mediator nor the functions of a mediator are foreign to the scriptural account. While society may have contaminated the role of the mediator or used it for selfish, even evil purposes, it is still a legitimate role that needs to be understood and appropriately employed by Christians.”

The one-down position and vulnerability. Another set of Bible passages talk about how resolution sometimes takes place when one or both of the parties place themselves in either a vulnerable or a lower position. For example, when Abram and Lot’s shepherds have a conflict over grazing rights in Genesis 13:8, Abram takes the one-down position in seeking resolution by offering to transfer to another area.

Later on, Lot was in the one-down position because he had been captured by some rampaging kings in Genesis 14:5-12. Abram comes to rescue Lot from this position in Genesis 14:13-20.

David, in his conflict with Absalom, also assumes the one-down position. In 2 Samuel 14:1-4 Joab prompts the woman to say, “Help ⌞me⌟, Your Majesty” because this would put the woman in a one-down position to the king, who would then be obligated to help her.

Elmer says, “Taking the one down position means you make yourself vulnerable to another person or indicate that without their help you are in danger of being shamed or losing face.” “It is important for you not to cause another person to lose face or be ashamed, but if there is danger of this happening to you, you may call on another to protect you from losing face. In fact you may call even on the very one endangering your honor to save you from the same shame that may befall you” (p. 80). Elmer gives God’s dealings with Abram and David as examples.

Story-telling and proverbs. A third set of Bible passages emphasise stories as tools for resolving conflict.

Perhaps the best example of this in the Bible is when the prophet Nathan confronts King David over his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-9). Nathan tells an elaborate story of a rich man who steals a poor man’s beloved lamb. When David is enraged, Nathan stuns him by saying, “You are that man.” The result is David’s repentance.

Jesus also used this many times when he told parables in order to teach the values that he wanted taught. Conceivably, he could have directly gone around challenging people with their sin and saying, “Repent!” Rather he chose storytelling as his main form of interaction.

There are countless examples of Jesus telling parables, but some significant examples include Luke 18:10-14, when Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in an effort to both present hope to tax collectors and encourage repentance by the Pharisees.

Jesus also uses this method when confronted by the leaders in Matthew 21:23-27. When asked, “By whose authority do you do these things” Jesus replies by posing a puzzle that allows him to avoid a direct confrontation.

The effectiveness of this method is shown later on in Matthew 21:33-46 when Jesus tells the story of the man who rented his vineyard. His servants, sent to collect his portion of the produce, are mistreated and his son is killed. When the story is over we learn that the chief priests and Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them — meaning that Jesus was able to indirectly get his message across.

Elmer again: “Storytelling in this sense is not simply the use of stories but … the instructional, corrective and nuanced use of words …. to socialize the younger members of a society into the norms and values of that society. Yet these same tools are easily crafted into responses in conflict situations.”

Note also the progression included in this option: One is allowed to become more direct if the intended targets of the story don’t quite make the connection with themselves.

Inaction, misdirection, silence, and indefinite persons. The final set of Bible passages we will look at talks about how conflict is sometimes resolved using indirect means. Some cultures emphasize more indirect forms of interaction and this leads to another type of conflict management that emphasizes indirectness.

Shiphrah and Puah are two Hebrew midwives discussed in Exodus 1:8-19. After being ordered by the Pharaoh “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth, look at the child when you deliver it. If it’s a boy, kill it, but if it’s a girl, let it live,” the midwives respond to the Pharaoh’s request in several ways: silence in that the passage doesn’t record any direct answer from them to the Pharaoh’s order; inaction (v17) in that “they didn’t obey the king of Egypt’s orders”; and misdirection (v19) in that they blamed the Hebrew women’s health as the reason why they couldn’t obey. This story may seem odd, at least from a Western perspective that might interpret the midwives as being dishonest. However, the fact that “God was good to the midwives” tells us that he approved of their methods.

We also see these principles in the stories of King Saul (1 Samuel 10:27) and in Esther.

In Mark 9:33-37 we read that Jesus’ disciples “were silent.” This is because they wanted to save themselves from the shame of having to confess what they were discussing on the road. Jesus doesn’t confront them about this but rather uses an indirect object lesson to help them better understand the very question they were arguing about.

Jesus himself uses silence when the Pharisees tried to force him to condemn the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. He then uses misdirection to turn the question back to the accusers when he says, “The person who is sinless should be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And of course Jesus also remained silent in Matthew 27:14 when being questioned by Pilate.

In talking about silence Elmer says, “silence does not mean the issue is settled or that some agreement has been reached. It usually means a delay until another appropriate strategy can be employed…. There is a time for silence and a time for forthrightness. It seems that the gravity of the issue is one indicator for choosing, as is timeliness.”

Some concluding remarks. One key to these alternative biblical forms of conflict management is to realise that none of them are exclusive. Rather one can cycle through various forms of these approaches with the goal of arriving at a win-win situation in the end. It is also important to note that we need to use culturally appropriate forms of conflict resolution, with the goal of actual resolution. We don’t just want to pick and choose the method that will best support our side of the issue. We need to choose the approach that will best lead to resolution.

This might seem like an opportunity to go “conflict resolution shopping” and choose the option that will best serve our side of the conflict. That isn’t the point of this exercise. What this is trying to show us is that sometimes using Matthew 18’s approach solidifies the conflict rather than resolving it because it is intended to be used in a particular cultural setting. Choosing one of the other options may lead to better results in other contexts.

It is also a good place to mention, at least in passing, that so-called Western theologies are hegemonic. This means that they have, by virtue of the volumes written by westerners taken predominance and exterted power over the Other. This needs to change as other cultures enter into the conversation with their own contexts and systems. The result will be a theology that is richer in the end.

What do you think of Elmer’s assertions? Do you think this provides the church with some better options for dealing with and resolving conflict? Are there unresolved issues that you have with someone that would be fixed if you had followed another process?

I want to hear your voice. That’s why feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Charl Folscher on Unsplash.

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.

Essentials vs. Non Essentials Revisited

A number of years ago, I wrote a couple of posts (here & here) in response to a discussion we had at our SEATS School of Missions regarding the quote from Rupertus Meldenius, “in essential matters, unity; in non-essential matters, liberty; in all other matters, charity.” The post went on to basically dissect the various meanings of “non-essential” after merely brushing along the surface of “essential.” I stated, “Other than certain foundational theological truths that we can’t mess with, we are surrounded by a vast amount of stuff that can be classified as personal preferences.”

Of course, the kind of stuff that was in my mind for this section was stuff like who Jesus is, who God is, the importance of the Bible, etc. Stuff that is really non-negotiable; stuff that Christians must agree on. 

But what if those very theological foundations of my faith were not so much foundations as they were constructs of my culture and mind? 

Enter Andrew Walls. I had the privilege of attending a couple of seminars by this great church historian from Scotland. To be honest, I had never heard of him until two days before the event, when I received an invitation to attend two days of lectures on Christianity and culture hosted by the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture and Asian Theological Seminary. What I heard and experienced during those two days shook some of my fundamental theological understandings to the core!

According to Walls, the early Jerusalem Christians[1] were in fact Jews through and through. They worshipped in the temple, they offered sacrifices, and they followed Moses’ law to the letter. They even didn’t engage in missions to Gentiles! It wasn’t until persecution scattered those early followers of the Way that the message jumped from being something Jewish to being something also understood and accepted by Gentiles. It is here where my mind was blown. In Acts 15 we read the account of the first Council of Jerusalem, which was convened to discuss this new situation that had arisen – how do Gentiles fit into the whole scheme of things? The answer is surprising. The Jewish church leaders in Jerusalem basically said to the Gentiles, “You don’t have to follow Jewish customs.”

What struck me was that the Jerusalem followers of the Way still followed these Jewish customs. Their whole faith was built around Jesus fulfilling a specific set of prophecies, completing a complex legal systems, and being a part of the chosen people. The council in Jerusalem didn’t throw that out, they merely said that there are other valid ways of expressing the centrality of Christ. It was the first “Essentials vs Non-Essentials” debate and what is surprising is that the entire Jewish system is declared to be a non-essential! Note that this isn’t just a discussion of what kind of music to use in worship or what language to use when preaching – this is a complete overturning of the basic fundamental theological and social system of God’s people.

The Jews who followed the Way discovered that their Way was not the only way and that the Others’ Ways were sometimes polar opposites to what they knew and believed to be true in their hearts!

Of course the exciting thing is that God allows such diversity among his followers without being threatened.[2] How can we do the same thing without being threatened ourselves?

The key for Walls is the role of the Holy Spirit in the process. We often focus on the power aspect of the Holy Spirit. Could it be that the “counsellor” role of the Holy Spirit is counselling us on how to do church in relevant and understandable ways?


[1] In fact, according to Acts, followers of Jesus were not called Christians until a group formed and became known in Antioch. “The Way” was the term used to describe those who followed Jesus. 

[2] A discussion of Walls assertion that the church has never ever been unified – and that’s ok – will have to wait for another time 🙂


Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by engin akyurt on Unsplash.

Is it possible that my understanding of the Bible is wrong and if so how am I supposed to find out?

“When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came to these people. This was the same thing that happened to us in the beginning. I remembered that the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.’ When they believed, God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. So who was I to interfere with God?” When the others heard this, they had no further objections. They praised God by saying, “Then God has also led people who are not Jewish to turn to him so that they can change the way they think and act and have eternal life.”‭‭ Acts‬ ‭11:15-18‬ ‭GW‬‬

In Acts 1011 some incredibly significant changes happen in the early church. Here we read that the good news of Jesus Christ is expanded to include proselytes to Judaism and non-Jewish peoples. 

In Acts 11 some people complain about Peter’s encounter with Cornelius saying, “You went to visit men who were uncircumcised, and you even ate with them.” Peter then goes into a lengthy explanation of what had happened,  repeating every detail of the events of Acts 10. He says, “When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came to these people. This was the same thing that happened to us in the beginning. I remembered that the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.’ When they believed, God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. So who was I to interfere with God?”

Once the complainers heard this “they had no further objections. They praised God by saying, ‘Then God has also led people who are not Jewish to turn to him so that they can change the way they think and act and have eternal life.'” 

The argument seems to be based on shared experiences. Jesus promised that they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit and so if anyone else shares in that baptism then that is a good thing. 

It got me thinking about issues that we face today. Issues where we know that we are right, not simply because of our opinions but because the Bible tells us that we are right. Is it like that for us today, too? Is this a model of how to make determinations in these issues? Are there things we are absolutely convinced about that the HS may have a different opinion on? How would the HS make that known to us?

In Acts 10-11 we see two ways that these kinds of changes happen: 

1. Sometimes God intervenes directly and tells people where they need to change. God directly tells both Cornelius and Peter that change is coming.

2. Sometimes people act on their own and God blesses their actions. One could argue that the people from Cyrene who first shared the good news with the Greeks of Antioch were simply following Peter’s example. But we also read that there was another discussion held in Jerusalem about the issue that resulted in the statement of Acts 15 regarding how non-Jewish followers of Christ needed to act. 

Andrew Walls, in The Gospel as the Prisoner and Liberator of Culture, says of theology, “It is therefore important, when thinking of African theology, to remember that it will act on an African agenda. It is useless for us to determine what we think an African theology ought to be doing: it will concern itself with questions that worry Africans, and will leave blandly alone all sorts of questions which we think absolutely vital. We all do the same. How many Christians belonging to churches which accept the Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith could explain with any conviction to an intelligent non-Christian why it is important not to be a Nestorian or a Monophysite? Yet once men not only excommunicated each other, they shed their own and others’ blood to get the right answer on that question. The things which we think are vital points of principle will seem as far away and negligible to African theologians as those theological prize fights among the Egyptian monks now seem to us. Conversely the things that concern African theologians may seem to us at best peripheral.”

What Walls is saying is that theology is developed around questions that are important for people in societies and because there are a variety of societies in the world, sometimes the issues in one society are unintelligible to the people of another society. 

For example, clearly the NT people saw no problem with the prominent role that women played in the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. From the women who supported Jesus and the 12 financially, to the women who first announced the resurrection, to Saphira who, with her husband Ananias, taught Apollos the ways of the gospel, to Junias who was numbered among the apostles, there were many women who were involved in ministry at the highest levels! If this is indeed the case, why do many have such big issues with it today? 

Justice is also a key biblical issue. When Ezekiel says, ”Put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan about all the disgusting things that are being done in the city” (9:4) he is telling us that it’s a sign of connection to God to complain about injustice. If justice is so important to God, why is social criticism that is a part of movements such as Critical Race Theory, Black Lives Matter, and #metoo often rejected by the church?

When writing this post I had a lot of issues in my mind that I think others get wrong. But the real question I need to ask myself is where am I getting it wrong? Where do I need to hear the voice of God and change my deeply held convictions and move into conformity with his will? 

Feedback is always welcome. 

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Robert Ruggiero on Unsplash. 

“I wonder who planted these trees?” Understanding our own defaults, biases, & assumptions.

Each one of us has defaults, biases, and assumptions. That is a reality. These defaults shape the way we see and understand the world. I remember a SEATS class I held on a small island in the east side of the Philippines. We were discussing Jesus’ famous illustration of the lily of the fields. The students were reporting after some group work on what they thought the illustration meant and I was struck by one thing: Interpretation depends not only on linguistic context but also on cultural context. A “lily” in the Philippines grows in the water. You may call them them lily pads or water lilies. The lily Jesus was talking about is different because it grows in the fields. There was a lot of discussion about this.

What is my default? My mind defaults to Saskatchewan. I wasn’t born here, I don’t live here (other than temporarily because of COVID-19) but I did spend my formative years here. I guess that’s what makes it my default. So how does this default manifest? In maps. When I look at a map my mind automatically assumes that the topography around the various map points is similar to Saskatchewan. If you have never been you need to visit sometime. Saskatchewan is an incredibly beautiful place, with vast boreal forests, rushing rivers, magnificent valleys, and living skies. But in spite of all of these things, Saskatchewan is known for being like one thing — a billiard table. It’s flat. There are few trees, at least in the south. When you arrive at in intersection on the highway you can expect to see nothing beyond two roads converging. When we were kids we spent some time planting trees for use as shelterbelts to keep the winds from blowing crops away.

Sometimes we don’t realise our biases. I didn’t realise my bias about geography until I moved to British Columbia in the early 1990s. Eva and I were moving from Saskatchewan to BC and I remember driving down Highway 1 into Langley, BC. The Highway is lined with beautiful, large trees — forests actually. I remember thinking to myself, “Somebody must have spent a lot of time planting these trees.”

It was odd that I assumed they were planted because I had driven through the bush before in several provinces (and even in other countries). I even dreamed of living in the bush at one time. But for some reason this was different. In my mind, these trees were planted. I didn’t realise those were my thoughts until a few months passed and it all of a sudden hit me — these trees were natural! No one planted them. In fact people spent lots of time and effort to cut them down!

It got me thinking about other assumptions that I have about life. Growing up in Saskatchewan told me that the noon meal is called “dinner” and the evening meal is called “supper.” I must admit that years of living in other places has me saying “lunch” and “dinner” but that’s not the way I grew up.

Of course the only way to figure out what your assumptions and biases are is to interact with others or travel to new places but this process is essential for ensuring that we can accurately and fairly present Jesus’ truths to the world.

Do you have any idea what your assumptions and biases are?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

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.

Oh no, Canada: Reflections on Canada on Canada Day

Reflection is good for the soul because it causes us to look back on events that we normally view on default and look at them with new eyes. Canada Day is one of these things, especially in light of a recent push to reconcile history with the past. Even using the term “default” is actually problematic because what may be default thinking for me is different for someone else. The history that I read may be different from the history someone else reads. My understanding of the past is also almost certainly different from the actual past.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified the residential school system as a form of cultural genocide. What we are beginning to realise is that some form of physical genocide may also have been happening. Certainly the past was a lot more dangerous than the present, with diseases like TB and the influenza pandemic of 1918 taking many lives, but there are also documented cases of abuse and death at the very hands of those entrusted with the care of these young First Nations children. What makes things worse is that it doesn’t seem to be merely a government issue (and governments do tend to be animal-like), but also a church issue. This is because churches were an integral part of the Residential School system.

Because of these issues there have been calls to rethink Canada Day. After all, why celebrate the country when the country is built on such shameful actions that has made some many mistakes? Some communities are cancelling Canada Day celebrations, while others are planning alternative events to help incorporate victims of Residential Schools into Canada’s story.

So what is the answer? I think it lies in the concepts of Truth, reconciliation, and repentance.

Truth. This is the debate between history and the past (that I have discussed elsewhere). In a nutshell, history is “texts” about the past from a certain perspective. Texts can include writing of course but can also include any aspect of society (citation) including statues, memorials, and events like Canada Day. The past is the actual events that have happened and are being interpreted when doing history. History changes all the time as new perspectives create new interpretations but the past remains the same.

Reconciliation, or restoring relationships, is supposed to be a major part of the church. After all, God has given the church the “ministry of reconciliation.” Relationships need to be restored people and God but relationships between people and other people also need restoration. The church has emphasised the first aspect throughout the years — and in many ways this emphasis may have led to the residential school disaster by ignoring God’s command to love our neighbour as we love ourselves — but hasn’t worked as hard on the restoration of interpersonal relationships. We haven’t been as good at this part as we could have been.

“What about forgiveness?” some may ask. Forgiveness does need to happen, as Matt Stovall, writing from a First Nations’ perspective, points out in his great FB post on this. However, forgiveness works best when it is coupled with repentance, which means the church, as the offending party, needs to repent and ask forgiveness.

So what needs to be reflected upon this Canada Day? Where does reconciliation need to happen? Where does truth need to be reevaluated? How can I ask forgiveness?

On Canada Day, let’s reflect on Canada and repent of our sins. Our eyes are finally opening to the our ugly past. How will we make a better future? Listen to someone’s stories of their residential experience. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. Read Dr. Peter Bryce’s 1907 Report on the Indian schools of Manitoba and the North-West Territories. Read about residential schools, reconciliation and the experience of Indigenous peoples.

On Canada Day, let’s reflect on the church and repent of our sins. It’s quite simple. For church insiders there is a wide range of church types and theologies, that are unknown and even meaningless to church outsiders. The specific churches involved in the Residential School System cannot be separated in people’s minds from the idea of “church.” As I have said elsewhere, “even if we weren’t physically present during these atrocities, we are still complicit in them because people bearing Jesus’ name did these things. Don’t we also bear Jesus name?” So as churches we need to seek ways to ask forgiveness. We need to reflect on the theologies that we hold that led to the whole Residential School system. We need to find ways to connect with First Nations People. We need to reflect on what repentance looks like for you and me.

On Canada Day, let’s reflect on Truth and repent of the untruths and half-truths we have believed instead. I have written elsewhere on truth. Suffice it to say, none of us has a complete understanding of absolute truth. Don’t get me wrong— I do believe in absolute truth but at best I can say we are approaching absolute truth. That means that part of the way forward includes reflecting on the truths that I know and how those truths coincide with the truths that others know and changing our truths so the future is better than the past.

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by Derek Thomson on Unsplash.

Church and Crisis Today: How Philippine Religious Consciousness can better inform how the rest of the world does church?

So, let’s talk about the church. What does church really mean? When it comes down to the idea of how we respond to COVID we have to realize that we’re talking about different aspects to church. We can look at the church as both gathered and scattered. Sometimes the church gathers together and sometimes the church is scattered and spread apart. Sometimes the church has both gathered and scattered aspects existing simultaneously. For example, sometimes a church has a Sunday-morning gathering, a weekly small group – known by various names including cell church, small group, Bible study, the life group, discipleship group, and more – as well as members who spend most of their time in their respective physical communities as well as their workplaces, homes, and selected third spaces. Sometimes the concept is explained using cells with single shell churches meeting Sunday mornings but multiple cell churches meeting anytime throughout the week. What all of this means is that there are multiple ways of understanding the concept of church.

But perhaps the most traditional model is the single cell model of a church that gathers on a Sunday morning in what is often called a congregation. This is actually not a traditional Philippine way of worship. Spain’s introduction of the concept of church to the Philippines involved a lot of reengineering of Philippine society. Spain used a colonial system called reducciones where they would gather scattered people into communities, called Poblacion or plaza complex in the Philippines. Here you have the church, the municipal Hall, and the market with people living in the surrounding blocks. The distance that you could be away from the church was restricted by the sound of the church bell. This is called baja de campana, or under the bell. If you could hear that bell ringing that would call you to mass then you were baja de campana. This identified you as a person submissive to the system. While the term baja de campana isn’t used as much today, this concept is still seen in the Parokya or parish where the church bell and mass are broadcast to the community on loudspeakers.

A New Normal, 500 Years Ago!

While this is normal in the Philippines today, 500 years ago it was a new normal. Prior to this, people lived wherever was convenient to them: Fishermen lived near their favorite fishing cove and farmers lived near their fields.

Spain came in and brought their system for not only colonization but also for evangelization, because the two are not much different.[1] Today we have other issues coming in, including public health concerns such as the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. These issues are creating a new normal that governs how society operates. Because of the public health crisis, we have developed this idea of virtual or online or live stream churches, whether these are services that we’re broadcasting, whether it’s praise and worship, that we’re broadcasting, whether it’s a new way of doing church online, or whether we’re just doing the same thing and recording it and broadcasting it, whether we’re using Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, Vimeo, or other things, and there’s a variety of other ways to interact where does this fit this virtual online church? Is this the church gathered? Is gathering a part of this online community when we’re gathered together on zoom? Is that a gathering? When we’re all watching doing a watch party together? Is that gathering? Is that scattered? Because the church can be gathered scattered? Is this cell a single cell or is it multiple cell? How does this all interact and work with each other? What does it all do?

Then you get to COVID-19 times where people can’t gather together. And we love to gather together. And it’s the gathering together in a sense that it’s the community of believers, in a sense, makes up the church, but we’ve conflated that with the facility within which we gather.

And so, when it comes to the point of gathering together, not being able to gather together for COVID, all of a sudden, the discussion goes to “Oh, well it’s religious persecution,” or some other kind of an issue. As if the only way that we know how to connect with God is inside a church building. But if we look at biblical and church histories of the way people have gathered, we realize that that’s not entirely the case.

It just means that our way of doing things may go through changes, just like the change from walking in the garden, to having to build an altar, to having to go to a tabernacle, to then having to go to a temple, to then doing a synagogue or a church. It’s just part of the transition and there’s been lots of “new normal” over time.

Philippine Religious Consciousnesses and Crisis Today.

Religious Space.

There’s no concept of religious space in the Philippines system because all space is religious space. This helps us particularly when we talk about issues of issues of religious liberty. Do I have the right to practice my religion and if the government tells me not to meet together, does that mean I’m not being able to practice that? these issues are sort of put aside, because there is really no specifically religious space. We’re used to worshiping in a church, but quite often in society, you’ll see a variety of different religious spaces that are used. You know, whether it’s a procession, where you’re going down the street and so the street becomes a religious space as you bring your as you bring your statue around the community. Even there’s what’s called the pabasa. During Holy Week. When the, the story of Jesus passion is, is, is, is sung in various parts of the community and so these homes and these different places become religious space because of the usage. There’s even the Stations of the Cross where religious spaces are temporarily set up in various parts of the community as people go around and pray as they remember Jesus’ passion. So religious space in the sense of here’s where we do religious activities and this space we don’t is not a concept that exists in the Philippines.

The first point we need to remember as we as we try to create a theology of crisis is that any space can be religious space — we don’t need to be fixated on a church building.

Church Leadership and the Filipino Family.

I guess the second point is that typically the pastor is seen as being in charge of the church. They provide leadership there, but what about inside the home? Who is the one who provides leadership there? It certainly isn’t the pastor.

As the story goes, the pastor visited a home at lunch time. In an effort to honour him they mother invited him in to eat. She had prepared a fish for lunch and the kids worriedly watched the pastor through the window as he tucked in to the meal. All of a sudden one of the kids yells, “Mom, he flipped the fish over!”

While the pastor may be a visitor to the house really the leadership of the home is provided by the father and the mother. And this leadership extends not simply to who feeds the kids and who does the laundry but it goes beyond that. Ultimately it is Who sets the rules? and Who shapes the future for the family? It’s the parents.

One way forward in the midst of crisis is to encourage, train, and empower parents to be the spiritual leaders of their families.

Dambana, or the family altar.

The third aspect would be the idea of dambanaDambana is a is an old Filipino word that talks about a place where you encounter the divine, you know whether this is whether this is a space like a, like a building, whether this is an altar. But, but typically within a house, you know a lot of houses have the altar inside their house so there’s this religious space inside the house, that is that is devoted towards the worship of God and the connection proper connection and relationship with God. Quite often, of course in Filipino homes you’ll have a, you’ll have a, an image that’s that is in that spot, but you’ll also notice in many homes you’ll have other religious artifacts such as Bibles and other things that are there. And these are these are just to remind everybody that God is always present with us. And so within, within each house you have this religious space.

We can use these concepts. As we move towards developing a theology of crisis, a theology of lockdown a theology of pandemic. Rather than trying to find theological reasons for convincing the government to let us reopen our church buildings, we can help encourage and empower families to be responsible for their own spiritual development inside of their homes. During this time, and maybe this will expand them beyond that into the time after the pandemic whatever it will look like.

Notes:

1 Vince Rafael talks about this at length in his Contracting Colonialism.

Image by Varun Gaba on Unsplash.