I got tongue tied when giving directions to the tricycle on which barber shop I wanted to go to but I arrive nonetheless. Fortunately I have been there before so I am able to guide the driver. Unfortunately there is a lineup today. I guess that’s what I get from getting a haircut on Saturday afternoon.
I climb out if the tricycle (not made for people as big as I am) and hand over the fare. Then I pop my head in to ask, “Is there any hope?” I am number 2 so that’s not too bad. It looks like today Noel has another guy cutting, too, so that makes the line go down quickly. Noel, the owner of Marvin’s Barber shop, has been cutting my hair ever since I moved to Pingkian 12 years ago. Once I find a good barber I tend to stick with them. It’s gotten to the point where I just sit down and Noel knows what cut I want. Nice!
I sit outside along the front of the shop on a stack of two monoblock chairs. A bench of similar design is already occupied by three other people. The shop features the typical striped colours symbolic if barbershops the world over. It’s glass front featuring a painted lettered sign “Marvin’s BARBER SHOP.” A black plastic bucket on the ground beside the door catches water the drips constantly from the air conditioner. Faded photos of haircuts are featured prominently in the windows.
Life passes us by. Tandang Sora avenue is always busy. Only two lanes but it leads people past several schools, a mall or two, and a wet market. The road has improved over the years. Now it boasts a smooth asphalt surface that makes driving easy. The steep edges, however, make walkers a little more cautious.
Small delivery trucks, jeepneys, vans, motorcycles, tricycles, and cars pass by going here, there, and everywhere. Pedestrians also frequent the way carrying bags, purses, or books.
Directly across from the shop is a brand new stripmall, still unoccupied. Looks like there is room for fourteen shops on two floors, each with it own rollup door. A roofdeck is on the third floor. It’s one of the new places that are constantly being built in anticipation of the road being widened to 4 lanes.
The urban sprawl tends to hide the physical geography, but signs peek out from time to time. The south side of the road, where I am sitting, appears to be higher and the ground slopes away across the road towards the creek that I know is there.
The bench just emptied itself of people — I guess the lineup wasn’t as long as I thought. Soon it will be my turn. All of a sudden I see the nod and head on in. He seats me in his barber’s chair and starts the preparations. As I look into the full-width mirror I see Noel’s tools of the traded arrayed before me. There are seven electric clippers. A box holds 8 different types of brush with a couple more in various places on the shelves. An assortment of bottles sits on the left, ready to be applied during various stages of the haircut. Scissors and combs abound! A TV hangs on the wall behind me, playing the latest telenovela. I can see a reverse image in the mirror in front of me. This mirror is actually an infinity mirror since it works in conjunction with the mirror on the back wall.
A strip of toilet paper is wrapped around my neck to be held in place by the striped cape that will protect my clothes from falling hair. The clippers are chosen, and will be exchanged with other clippers at various times — why? I don’t know. From time to time the scissors come out, being used rapidly, sometimes held vertically as Noel swiftly operates them and spins them around the back of my head. Then the razor comes out to make sure the edges are neatly trimmed. At one point, the cape is removed, shaken out, then replaced as the final push begins. A razor makes sure the edges are neat.
Then comes perhaps the most interesting part. After putting rubbing alcohol on my hair, he begins to massage my neck and shoulders, making sure all the “lamig” is removed from my muscles. Then, with a sudden move, there is the head twist and neck jerk move that frees up all the bones there. This is always accompanied by a a laughing “Ayus!” on his part. The secret is to just relax and let it happen. But it is always a little freaky. Then a quick brush off of any fallen hairs and the process is done!
What is your favourite haircut story? Why not record it for posterity in the comments below?
Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sang, “Islands in the stream that is what we are …,” a song of two people who assume their one-night relationship has no impact on anyone or anything beyond the two of them. A better philosophy might be John Donne’s “No one is an island,” that recognises the complexity of human relationships. How does knowing about our interconnections with other humans help us understand life in a deeper way?
It used to be common knowledge that if you wanted to study something or someone else you needed to maintain distance between you and the subject. This distance was designed to reduce any bias that you have that may influence your observations, analysis, or conclusions. Extreme versions of this practice led to studies the included hidden cameras, uninformed subjects, and other unethical research practices. All based on the assumption that we can extract people from their contexts and put them into a petri dish for study.
Nowadays, thankfully, that common knowledge is changing to recognise that biases exist, really can’t be eliminated, nor should they be. There is a newer recognition that any study includes the interaction between the researcher and their research counterparts, who have just as much a role to play in the shaping of knowledge as the researcher. I can’t say much for the so-called hard sciences since my expertise lies in social science, but bias is still an integral part of the hard sciences, too. For example, who makes the choice as to what is being studied? Who decides where to point the hidden cameras? Who decides what questions to ask? Who decides what factors are important? Who decides to develop nuclear weapons rather than nuclear power? All of these decisions are made because of some kind of researcher bias or another.
This is much more complicated when we enter the realm of social science that seeks to understand how humans interact with one another. For example, in my study of how Filipino men in my community conceptualise and create their understandings their own masculinity and their being maka-Diyos it was necessary for me to identify my own positionality to the men and the subjects.
I should point out that maka-Diyos is a Filipino term that doesn’t exist in English. It encompasses godliness and religiosity but goes much deeper than that. It is related to loving our family, our neighbour, and our God.
What does positionality entail?
At face value, I am an outsider to my community. I was born 11,700 km away in a different context and culture. I don’t look the same as those around me, my mother tongue is not Tagalog, I prefer running shoes to flip-flops, and I don’t handle the heat all that well. When kids see my blue eyes, they stare. I am taller than most people that I meet. Almost everything that people notice about me sets me apart as different.
But on another level maybe I am not as far out there as one might think. My obvious identity as an outsider aside, Filipinos are very accommodating, and a couple of things cause me to question my outsider status. I am a pastor, a role that is still seen in a positive way by much of Philippine society, my wife and I have also been welcomed into close relationships with people in our community, we try to communicate in Tagalog as much as possible. All this is possible because Filipinos have a complex understanding of interpersonal relationships. Rather than simply identifying someone as either insider or outsider, Filipinos have a range of relational milestones that show how someone transitions from being an outsider to being an insider. But that is a discussion for another post.
At this time we need to recognise that positionality recognises and includes the role of the researcher into the life of the community of the researched. Both parties contribute to shaping knowledge is a way that benefits others.
Positionality for non-Researchers.
You may ask, “How does this relate to me since I am not a researcher?”
Life is collaborative. I once heard that even the most introverted people influence 10,000 people over their lifetimes. Family relationships give us a glimpse as to how this works. A married couple represents at least two relationships but once they start having children the number of relationships increases exponentially. Not to mention that the two individuals who form the initial two relationships bring with them their own set of complex relationships. That means that each of us is constantly creating a life in collaboration with an increasing number of people. That also means that it’s impossible to extract and individual from this complex dance and expect the dance to remain the same. In order to make sense of this world and find some way of becoming successful in it, we need to recognise our own positionality in it.
What this all means is that our current divided society can be rectified through understanding positionality. Once we see how each of us is connected, and how we really have no choice but to interact with one another, we come to understanding, we see things from other’s points of view, we realise they, too, have legitimate perspectives. We are no longer individuals — nor individual families — but are rather a part of a larger community that is all journeying together towards a better future.
How are you positioned? How does who you are position you to have a better connection with your community? Why not let us know by commenting below?
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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.
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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.
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For those interesting in finding out more about our birthing clinic project here is a short video describing what we are doing.
It’s always a challenge to drive by a wet market. Because it’s a destination for so many people, that means (surprisingly enough) that there will be lots of people there! People also means traffic, the bane of most inhabitants of Metro Manila. The road from our house was pretty clear for the first while. In fact, I commented to Eva that there were only a few people on it. I guess leaving just after 8AM meant we missed the Monday morning rush. Normally when we get to the main corner, I avoid a left turn because not only does it lead to the market, it also goes past an elementary school, a mall, and a grocery store. During old normal times, driving past a school is always a bit touch and go because if you happen to hit a time when kids are either going to, or coming from school you can expect a rather long wait. It does help develop patience, however.
Today, however, we needed to visit a drug store right beside the market to pick up some medical supplies to help a friend. Our trip went fairly quickly and arrived at the drug store in good time. I did have trouble parking for two reasons. The first is because there were no more slots left in front of the store. The second was because there was a line of people standing on the street in front of the store. Lest you think that there was a sale on and people were lining up for that, I need to tell you that most people in Metro Manila do not drive their own vehicles. Rather they take public transportation. These people were lined up to take the next available ride to their destination.
Public transportation in the Philippines is both convenient and complex — at least to a certain extent — because it’s possible to take a ride from basically your front doorstep all the way to wherever you want to go in the Philippines. Here is what a typical journey looks like.
Before leaving home, I gather everything that I need for the journey — keys, coins, handkerchief, hat — and then head downstairs. Then head back upstairs for my face mask. Once I get my shoes on, I head out the gate, then go back inside to get my umbrella.
[If you are unaware of what an umbrella is, here is a simple explanation: An umbrella is a somewhat cumbersome device that if you take it with you it doesn’t rain but if you leave it at home — saying to yourself after looking at the sky, ‘It’s not going to rain today’ — then rain is guaranteed.]
As I walk down the lane from our house to the street, I see a green tricycle stop and signal to me if I want a ride. A raised finger eyebrow is all that’s needed to engage their services while a wave of the hand means, ‘No.’ (If I choose to not hire the roving tricycle, I can always walk a few steps to the corner where there is an official terminal for yellow tricycles). For the uninitiated, a tricycle is a motorcycle with a covered sidecar attached. Passengers can either sit in the sidecar, which is equipped with 3 seats, or sit sidesaddle behind the driver (2 more seats). In our area there are three main tricycle associations, each with their own colours.
The tricycle payment system is rather complex. If you hire a tricycle that is in the terminal lineup it costs P25 for a ride out to the main road. If the tricycle is not full, the driver is allowed to pick up other passengers on the way (who pay P10 each), with the proviso that the initial hire gets to sit in the best seat.
Once we get out to the main street, about 1.6km away, the tricycle pulls over to the side and we get out and pay the driver. There is a small market area here, too, in case we need to get something on the way home. But since we are going further we head around the corner to where the jeepney awaits. If the front seat is full, we need to board from the door in the rear, entering crouched over we make our way to the front and hope there is room on one of the two bench seats that run down each side. On the rare occasion that the jeep is full, it’s possible for men to hang from the back (sorry ladies, you will have to wait for space on the inside).
Payment for the jeepney is also interesting, if less complex than that of the tricycle. The base fare is P9 and increases are based on distance travelled. When unsure it’s possible to simply ask how much it will cost from one point to another. When it’s time to pay, you simply say something like, “Bayad ho” [“Here’s my payment”] and reach your hand toward the driver with your money in it. One of your fellow passengers will grab your money and keep passing it forward. When it gets to the front, the driver will ask, “Ilan?” [“For how many?”] and then pass back the appropriate change (if necessary).
Once at your destination, simply say something like, “Para ho sa tabi” [“Please stop at the side”] and the jeepney will stop for you. Exit is through the same door you entered. If you are going further, you can always take a bus, either to somewhere else within the city or to somewhere else in the country. The rule of thumb is, the smaller the vehicle the higher the fare. Thus tricycles are the most expensive and busses are the cheapest.
Apart from this there are also airconditioned options such as taxis, FXs, busses, and the LRT/MRT. But we need to save those journeys for another day.
How do you get around where you live? What unique features does your public transportation system have? Please let us know in the comments below.
Not gonna lie. Any book that includes The Usual Suspects as part of its organising motif is pretty good. But that is only a minor reason why I enjoyed reading this great book. I love how it jumps straight into discussions of structural evil in relation to patriarchy because without a complex theology of evil we can’t successfully address issues like this. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Beth Allison Barr’sThe Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth paints a picture that combines her own personal journey with her expertise as a historian of medieval times. Barr’s argument is that church history, particularly medieval church history, shows that modern understandings of bible passages regarding the status of women haven’t always been interpreted to support patriarchy. Barr looks at how certain bible passages have been variously interpreted throughout the ages, how women’s roles within the church have shifted, and how bible translations have muddied the issue. I had the opportunity to read it after borrowing the ebook version from the Saskatoon Public Library. What follows is not a review, per se, but rather a series of reflections that emerged as I read the book.
Reflection #1: Positionality.
My area of expertise is in the realm of social sciences, more specifically in gender and ethnography. One key aspect to doing research of any kind is to determine where the researcher fits into the research. The two words are used to describe this process, Reflexivity and Positionality, basically tell us that researchers and the subjects they research are intertwined. Reflexivity is “taking account of itself or of the effect of the personality or presence of the researcher on what is being investigated.” Positionality is “the social and political context that creates your identity in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability status. Positionality also describes how your identity influences, and potentially biases, your understanding of and outlook on the world.”
Positionality is important in any study and this book is chock-full of it. Barr clearly states her positionality in relation to the topic: She is a woman who has been a member of evangelical churches in the USA since birth; she’s a pastor’s wife within the same movement, an accomplished Medieval historian with a couple of graduate degrees, and a professor.
As a comparison and contrast to this, let me show you my positionality: I am a white man, who has been a member of evangelical churches since birth (as a pastor’s kid and a missionary kid), I am a pastor, I have a couple of graduate degrees, and I am a professor.
Each of us is positioned in this conversation but are different in two important aspects: I am a man and my evangelical experience is shaped by my life in Canada and the Philippines, while Barr is a white women who is shaped by her life in the USA. These differences mean that we have different perspectives when it comes to understanding the matter at hand.
Positionality is important because it identifies our place in the conversation, reveals our connections to the subject, and allows us to see our advantages and biases. My positionality has blinded me to the truths that Barr’s positionality has revealed to her. Barr’s positionality makes this book more trustworthy.
Reflection #2: Sources of truth.
Apprehending truth is complicated. One of the first systems of determining truth that I learned as a child is that God is a God of truth and Satan is the father of lies. While that statement may be true, one aspect that I overlooked was God’s sovereignty over all. I had divided the world into neat categories of secular and sacred. I connected God’s involvement in the process with seemingly holy things only: Bible, church, religious people, etc. I rejected things — the example that springs to mind is psychology — that were seemingly unholy.
I was talking with a friend yesterday about the time I began to see cracks in my process. I was taking a class on religious perspectives on death and dying from Dr. Robert Kennedy at the University of Saskatchewan. We were assigned to read and comment on Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I thought I was being pretty smart by saying that Tolstoy had nothing to say about death and dying because his was a work of fiction and therefore was not true. Fortunately Dr. Kennedy was a nice guy and kindly showed me how works of fiction can also contain truth. It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten.
A few years later I went to seminary where I learned the shocking reality that all truth is God’s truth. This means that regardless of the form of inquiry — social science, critical theory, hard science, literature, history, psychology, etc. — if it leads me to the truth then I have discovered something that is from God. This means that Barr’s study of the history of how the church has interpreted passages that seem to support patriarchy is a necessary way to help us apprehend the truth. As a historian her voice needs to be heard.
Reflection #3: The very nature of Scripture.
Dean Flemming gets it right when he talks about the New Testament as contextualisation in his Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission. When we shift from thinking the New Testament is a doctrinal document towards seeing it as a guide for contextualisation, it opens up a new framework of interpretation. It allows us to move from seeing the bible merely as a series of truths to be believed (or a series of proof-texts to be memorised) towards a series of examples on how to live out our faith in our own unique cultural contexts. From Moses, in Deuteronomy, reframing the law to a group that hadn’t personally experienced the exodus from Egypt, to Jesus reconciling what we have heard with what he really wants us to know, to John recounting a view of history that shows us what is happening behind the scenes, the bible is full of making the gospel understood in different contexts.
That’s how Barr interprets the idea that Paul is addressing specific cultural issues of the day & providing a framework for how to contextualise the gospel into those situations. To assume that all cultural situations are the same as ours — and to assume that our cultural context has no impact on how we interpret texts — is doing disservice to the text & is leading us to false conclusions about what Paul (& other New Testament writers) are saying.
Throughout 1 Corinthians Paul addresses specific issues apparently raised by the local church. In these interactions, Paul directly quotes issues that have been raised in the church and then comments on them. Included among these quotations are the following:
6:12; 10:23 – “I am free to do all things” but my freedom is limited by my relationship to others. My freedom is not an excuse to cause others to sin.
6:13 – “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food – but God will destroy them both” is actually talking about Corinthian sexual mores. The body does have a specific purpose – that purpose being “for God” and “not for sexual immorality,” because in the end God will “raise” the body and not destroy it. Therefore, the Corinthians were to stay away from sexual immorality.
6:16 – “The two of them will become one flesh.” When one commits sexual immorality, in this case with a prostitute as an act of worship in a pagan temple, then that person is united with the prostitute. The basis for Paul’s argument is from Genesis where when a man and a woman are united sexually then they become one. Paul would much rather that we were united “with the Lord” than be united with a prostitute.
6:18 – “Every sin which a man does is outside of the body” was another Corinthian saying that identifies the body as being less important that the spirit. Paul counters this argument by saying that in fact our physical bodies are now and will always be important because it is here where the Holy Spirit dwells. This any sins that we commit against our bodies are in essence sins against the dwelling place of God.
7:1 – “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” Paul connects this aphorism with the issue of marriage. Should married Christians abstain from sex? Paul’s answer is to get married (7:2). There are, however, other implications to getting married: 7:32-34 that says those considering marriage should carefully weigh the pros and the cons so that in the end they can remain pure but also dedicated to the work of the Lord.
Since this is the structure of 1 Corinthians, it’s not a stretch to expect the same thing to happen when we get to the 14:33-35 bit about women’s silence. Paul begins by quoting the issue and then comments on it.
14:33-35 – “As in all the churches of God’s holy people, the women must keep silent. They don’t have the right to speak. They must take their place as Moses’ Teachings say. If they want to know anything they should ask their husbands at home. It’s shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
Barr’s contention here is that Paul’s actual beliefs begin in v 36: “Did God’s word originate with you? Are you the only ones it has reached? Whoever thinks that he speaks for God or that he is spiritually gifted must acknowledge that what I write to you is what the Lord commands. But whoever ignores what I write should be ignored.” In her explanation, Barr brings us into her classroom and allows us to feel what it’s like to have a eureka moment when trying to understand scripture. It’s a powerful description!
Some may bristle at idea that structural sin exists. They prefer to see sin as being entirely personal with the solution being merely a restored relationship with Jesus. Regular readers of this blog will know that I subscribe to a more complex theology of evil that includes personal evil, natural evil, and structural evil. If you are interested in a more detailed explanation take a look here and here.
Barr says, “Patriarchy wasn’t what God wanted; patriarchy was a result of human sin.” I tend to interpret the famous phrase in the second part of Genesis 3:16 as negative for both parties — a turning away from God’s original intent. “Desire” — the same word used later on to describe sin’s attitude towards Cain (Genesis 4:7) — and “rule” being the key words. For me, both of these words reflect a change that happens after the fall. While they were not a normal state of affairs prior to the fall they have now become normal — a new normal as it were (with all the negative implications that term has taken on). As Barr says, “after the fall, because of sin, women would now turn first to their husbands, and their husbands, in the place of God, would rule over them” and “Adam’s rebellion was claiming God’s authority for himself, and Eve’s rebellion was submitting to Adam in place of God.”
The reality is not only that patriarchy exists but that it is an example of how structures created by God — namely the relationships between men and women — can be twisted into sinfulness. Jesus taught us to pray, “Let your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven,” which means not only do we pray it but we work to make sure that it’s true. Patriarchy then becomes an enemy that need to be defeated.
Reflection #5: Women’s rooms.
Sometimes we think that all that needed to be done theologically happened in the Reformation. It becomes the basis for how we decide if people are real Christians or not. It even seems as if all of our theology is centered around the Reformation. But obviously not everything that happened in the Reformation was enough. Barr points out that the situation of women in the church took a turn for the worse as their space became smaller. Why? Because of Reformation theology!
Here is where Barr’s positionality as a woman who has grown up in the evangelical church is especially helpful in opening my eyes to things that I am blinded to as a man. The first surrounds the idea of women’s rooms that get bigger and smaller throughout history as things change. Barr’s argument is that the current state of affairs that keep women from certain roles and activities in the church hasn’t always been defined in the same way. Rather throughout history the spaces that women are allowed to inhabit have at times been larger and at other times have gotten smaller. As Barr says, “When political and social structures are less centralized and less clearly defined, women often experience greater agency; their rooms are bigger” (pp. 113-114).
When discussing “Official preaching space,” Barr tells the story of Anne Askew who argued that since “Preaching only took place behind a pulpit, and since she wasn’t behind a pulpit, she wasn’t preaching” (p. 116). This is is a clever use of logic to thwart a technicality — a technicality that doesn’t actually exist in scripture but we assume that it does. I am familiar with this idea but from a different angle. It relates to a different theological problem that we have here. There is an oft-cited idea that to be a pastor is to have the “highest calling.” It results in pastors being above reproach (even though people may have reasons to reproach them). Part of this “highest calling” is that only they are allowed inside the “official preaching space” — an area defined as being behind the pulpit.
What is interesting is that this “official preaching space” is an entirely social construct. No where does the bible mention any form of official preaching space. Looking at Jesus alone, we can see that he preached anywhere and everywhere — on a boat, by the seashore, on a mountain, on the plain, in the Temple, while walking down the road. Of course let’s not get into the idea that even “pastor” is highly constructed and bears little resemblance to what we see in the bible. (Should I point out here that one of the few people mentioned by name in the Bible as being a shepherd — another word for “pastor” — is Rachel in Ge 29:9?)
Reflection #6: Gender-inclusive language.
The final reflection that I will discuss relates to how we use language. The issue at hand is translating passages of scripture that do not specifically refer to gender in an accurate way. Barr discusses two ways that society has chosen to deal with this issue: Using gender-inclusive language or using a “universal” language.
Gender-inclusive language is language that allows latitude when referring to gender. When related to scriptures it refers to translating the original languages to accurately reflect it’s sometimes gender-neutral nature. Of course the topic of gender-neutral language is one that larger society is also facing for a variety of reasons.
The other option that society has chosen for addressing gender-related linguistic issues is a “universal” language. What this means is using male pronouns as the default even when the original is not gender specific. You can see where this would lead to problems. What I didn’t realise before reading this book is that this is a “False universal language.” This hit home for me because at least in the past I advocated for understanding words like “he” and “his” as referring to both male and female. Where this falls apart, as Barr so ably points out, is that this belief is not implemented in practice. “Words for men were used interchangeably in reference to kings, politicians, preachers, household heads, philosophers, and even to represent all ‘mankind.’ while specific words for women were used exclusively for women and mostly regarding the domestic sphere. ‘Man’ in early modern English could represent humanity, but the humans it described were political citizens, decision-makers, leaders, household heads, theologians, preachers, factory owners, members of Parliament, and so on. In other words, “man” could include both men and women, but it mostly didn’t. It mostly just included men” (p. 146). What this means is that in practice we assume “men” means “male” but look for evidence to prove that it also means “female.” Unfortunately, as Barr so ably points out, bible translators have not been as faithful at reflecting gender inclusivity in their work as is warranted by the text.
What is interesting is that Gender-inclusive language is completely linguistically-based. While that may seem like a rather obvious statement, what I mean is that different languages treat gender in different ways. Take for example one of the languages spoken where I live and work — Tagalog. Tagalog pronouns have no gender. Whether one is referring to a male or female person the pronoun is the same: siya. That means that even if I include the pronouns “he/him” in my Twitter bio, if my bio were in Tagalog it would say, absurdly, “siya/siya.”
All that to say if we take issue with making language more gender neutral we are probably focussing on the wrong things. We miss the forest by focussing on the trees.
The next step.
What if the theologies that I believe are also manufactured by others? Or what if they are based on misconceptions or misunderstandings of the text? Or what if they are based on theologies developed during a time of immaturity rather than maturity — milk rather than meat, so to speak? Or what if the narrative is not based on reality but instead on a limited understanding? The issue is how we understand something to be true or false.
Just before he went public with the truth about his involvement in the cycling world’s doping scheme, Lance Armstrong apparently said to his son. “‘Don’t defend me anymore. Don’t.’” He was believing a lie that had been repeatedly stated was a truth.
We need to face the reality that sometimes we end up defending things that aren’t really true. It’s looking more and more like the so-called traditional understanding of the passages supporting Christian patriarchy aren’t in fact all that traditional. The traditional interpretations, as so clearly delineated by Barr, are quite the opposite to what many of us have grown up believing.
I highly recommend reading this book. If you are already moving in this direction, this book will encourage you. If you are still weighing the issues, this book will help provide balance to make an accurate measurement. Regardless of your position on this issues discussed, you won’t be disappointed. And who knows? You may be led to reflect a little on your own. In fact, you may already have some reflections of your own. Please feel free to leave them in the comment section, below.
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Image is a screen shot from the cover of the ebook I read and is copyright by Brazos Press.
Dark. Narrow. Uneven. Convoluted. Scary. Necessary. Full of life! The cries ring out revealing the fact that people want to connect with you: “Hello.” “Good morning.” “Makiraan po!” “Where are you going?” “Where do you live?” Eskinita are the lifeblood of Pingkian, the area in which I live. You may not notice them if you aren’t previously aware their presence because it doesn’t even seem like anyone can fit down them. But without them, life in Pingkian couldn’t go on, and understanding this can help make your life more fulfilling.
Eskinita is a word that always reminds me of the English word “skinny,” perhaps because that’s what they are. In reality, it comes from the Spanish word meaning “corner.” Since land is at a premium, in perhaps the most densely-populated area of the world, houses are built as close to the property line as possible. The spaces in between are the eskinita. Pingkian is by no means the only place where this happens. I have walked eskinita in Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hanoi. Because houses are so small, life is lived on eskinita. Without eskinita no one could get to their house. No one could go to work or school in the morning. But eskinta is more than simply a means to and end.
Eskinita is stepping over the curb then three steps down. There is an initial sense of invading someone’s privacy when you first enter, realising that people’s homes front, not onto the street, but onto the eskinita. Scootch over to the side as someone passes by. People pass carrying large water jugs. The sound of an engine warns of an approaching motorcycle, making one wonder how it can even navigate! Stopping at the crossroads to sure we each know where the other one is going before moving on. Laundry tubs hang ready outside doorways. A cement bench outside a home waits for someone to pass the day sitting there. An open door swings out into the eskinita temporarily blocking my passage. Two young boys sit in the corner playing Mobile Legends on their cellphones. A lady in an alcove buys something from one of the many variety stores in the area. Many people set up a small store — or sell things like Avon or Tupperware — in order to help make ends meet. Strings of sachets containing every known liquid hang from the ceiling, drinks of all kinds, ice cream if you are lucky. A vendor walks by, his bucket filled with foods prepared earlier that day and suitable for snacking on. A friend used to sell banana-que, which is a deep-fried banana, coated with caramelized brown sugar on a BBQ stick. Delicious! Having walked each one everyday, my friend was a eskinita expert. A bicycle, loaded with wares, is stopped in the middle as a woman decides whether or not to buy a piece of chain – to use a leash perhaps? – a kargador waiting patiently to pass puts his load down; me, less patient, finding a way through.
Eskinita is bright blue PVC water pipes winding their ways along the ground, turning suddenly into the various houses — sometimes ending suddenly; cut off for who knows what reason? Rows of water meters silently recording consumption — when they are spinning fast it means a leak somewhere, when stopped it means they are turned off to save that same water from leaking. Dodging powerlines — more like interior wires strung up rather haphazardly, often just at head height — turns into an artform that you didn’t think you would ever need to master. Canals, or drainage ditches, sometimes along the edge, sometimes down the middle, sometimes non-existent carry water from various sources somewhere else. Videoke booms from somewhere near, accompanied by a voice — sometimes talented, often merely energetic.
Eskinita is sometimes cement, sometimes asphalt, and sometimes spongy ground beside a stream of black runoff that runs outside my friend Mang Pio’s house — evidence of the clogged drainage pipes hidden below. Mang Pio owns a fairly large chuck of land in the middle of a gaggle of houses. At 90 years old he is a fount of stories and jokes. I stop and chat with Edgar, who is doing laundry in a couple of 5-gallon pails in front of his place. Mang Pio, in his kindness, has allowed Edgar to stay on his property. He has a small place that the word “lean-to” wouldn’t adequately describe — more a hodge podge of various chunks of wood, plastic, and other light materials all precariously positioned to provide some semblance of shelter. Many homes along the eskinita are not like his, however. More and more I see multi-storey concrete structures, complete with all the comforts of home.
Eskinita is where animals abound. Dogs. Cats. Rats. Roosters. Chickens. Even the occasional rabbit. Sometimes caged but usually running free. The cats are perhaps the most resilient. Many times they may have seemingly fatal injuries but yet there they are, day after day, ekeing out a living. I guess that’s why they are said to have nine lives! The roosters (in reality fighting cocks) are the most cared for, receiving special feeds, daily grooming, and love from their owners.
Eskinita is where people are. Children playing hopscotch. Retirees passing the day outside their homes. Friends chatting. Men caring for their fighting cocks. People watering plants and/or the eskinita itself — one for growth the other to reduce dust. Small business owners selling fish of all varieties. Chicken. Pork. Rarely, beef. Vegetables. Barbershops. Internet cafes. Elderly women watching the world go by. And in the mornings mothers sunning their babies.
Eskinita is missing something, however. What is missing is space. Space that separates houses from one another. Space taken up by fences to ensure privacy. Space with garages, with doors that go up, then down, keeping occupants hidden from one another. There is no emptiness. No empty streets. No empty houses for most of the day while people are at work.
Eskinita is connection. A shared identity. A life living in proximity with others.
What do you notice about your community? Why not let the rest of us know in the comments below?
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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Deconstruction has been in the news of late — especially in the news surrounding Christian theology and practice. Christians, dissatisfied with the way things are going, have been pushing back against the status quo. And with good cause. For example, in just in the past year we have seen pushback against:
The usefulness of borrowed theologies to the church.
The Canadian Indian Residential School System and the church.
Gender and the church.
Race and ethnicity and the church.
So what’s the big deal? Why deconstruction?
Deconstruction is a push back against the idea that there is one standard interpretation of meaning in the world. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, “Deconstruction focuses on a text as such rather than as an expression of the author’s intention, stressing the limitlessness (or impossibility) of interpretation and rejecting the Western philosophical tradition of seeking certainty through reasoning by privileging certain types of interpretation and repressing others. It was effectively named and popularized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida from the late 1960s and taken up particularly by US literary critics.”
For example, I grew up in the era when martial arts didn’t exist. What we had was the karate chop. As time progressed, and as our knowledge grew, we came to understand that the term karate chop was problematic. First of all, karate is only one of many martial arts, each with their own methods and systems. Second, chop is only one of many martial arts moves. In fact today karate chops seem to be limited to striking boards with the side of one’s hand. They have also lost much of their coolness factor — I challenge you to find a karate chop in a Marvel movie! The meaning system of karate chop has been deconstructed from its dominant place and been relegated to one small part of the larger category of martial arts.
Deconstruction is a necessary process but it is challenging because it deals with the very basic definitions of “meaning.” Those raised with a concept of Absolute Truth find it hard to separate Absolute Truth from the truths that I believe at any given time. [For more of my thoughts on truth, see my posts, here, here, here, here, and here]. For example, it is Absolutely True that the karate chop is a thing. There are many experts in the technique in the world today. However, what isn’t absolutely true is that the karate chop universally identifies all forms of martial arts today. The term has been replaced with Martial Arts.
I should also point out that it is important to not simply deconstruct — one also needs to construct a new system that is more reflective of the basic realities of the world. Granted this has been a rather simple explanation of a very complex topic. If you want to understand it more you will need to read Derrida for yourself. However, I do believe that there are four myths, or false assumptions, that we need to be aware of when we engage in deconstruction. Without understanding these myths we won’t be very effective in our deconstruction-reconstruction process.
The myth of the noble savage.
There is an idea that pre-civilisation was an idyllic time of peace, joy, and happiness that was subsequently destroyed by the arrival of various civilising forces. The noble savage represents the people unsullied by civilisation and is often the person that we wish we were and that we sometimes deconstruct to become. Of course, we can’t deny that colonialism has wreaked havoc on the world but to say that pre-colonial cultures were perfect is also an error.
Often our ideas of deconstruction want us to return to this idyllic time of peace, joy, and happiness. How can I counteract this myth when I deconstruct? Rather than assume that all new things are bad and all old things are good, it might be better to find culturally appropriate ways to deal with all these bad things so that our new, reconstructed world, is a better place. Even though both pre- and post-colonial times are problematic, deconstruction seeks to find indigenous solutions to the problems.
The myth of the tabula rasa.
Tabula rasa means simply, “clean slate” and is the belief that all people are born as blanks that are slowly filled up over a lifetime.
Theologically speaking the only true tabula rasas were Adam and Eve, who had original righteousness. Once they began their slavery to sin — a condition that now affects the entire human race — their slates were no longer blank.
What we often also miss in this is that while we may be born blank, the influences around us are by no means blank. We are socialised and enculturated using specific systems, languages, structures, and processes that may or may not vary from other systems, languages, structures, and processes in the world. One key aspect to military training is battle school that is designed specifically to extract a person from as many of these influences as possible and reshape them into soldiers.
Often our ideas of deconstruction want us to return to an existence where all influences are removed and a whole new set of influences are written. How can I counteract this myth when I deconstruct? We often wish that we were blank slates. I myself have said many times that I wished I was able to read the Bible for the first time again. The reality is that we are not blank slates and no amount of hoping will change that. Rather we can embrace our previous experiences and seek ways of writing into the margins of what we have already done.
The myth of cultural purity.
No one is an island and no culture exists in isolation. All are impacted by cultural hybridity.
“In 1491, the world was in many of its aspects and characteristics a minimum of two worlds—the New World, of the Americas, and the Old World, consisting of Eurasia and Africa. Columbus brought them together, and almost immediately and continually ever since, we have had an exchange of native plants, animals and diseases moving back and forth across the oceans between the two worlds. A great deal of the economic, social, political history of the world is involved in the exchange of living organisms between the two worlds.”
On a more local scale, the church is not merely a bunch of individuals who share some common beliefs. The church is a community — a body, a building, a vine, a nation, a people — that shares life, work, and wonder. That’s why none of what the church does is to be done in isolation — we need the input of others in our theologising.
How can I counteract this myth when I deconstruct? Rather than trying to remove all outside influences, it might be better to embrace cultural hybridity by engaging others to find new perspectives, new ideas, new world views, and new paradigms that will help us to see things in a more complete and complex way. For example, if my own experience with Jesus is framed around guilt-innocence then dialogue with those who have an honour-shame or power-fear framework would help me to see that salvation is a much more complete and complex thing.
It’s also important to point out that this is a two-way street because both parties in the exchange are impacted.
The myth of cultural essentialism.
Cultural essentialism is the belief that cultures must contain certain essential characteristics. A simple example would be, “Americans are rude and Canadians are polite.” The problem that neither of these statements is entirely accurate — there are many polite Americans and many rude Canadians. Furthermore, there is no law that says that in order to identify as an American I need to be rude, or to identify as a Canadian I need to be polite.
Essentialism a form of generalisation that doesn’t take into account the differences that exist within cultures and seeks to smooth them out into some kind of manufactured, easily defined, timeless reality that isn’t really real. Reality is more nuanced than that. The example of Americans and Canadians above also doesn’t take into account a vast range of other factors that can’t merely be smoothed over, including but not limited to, gender, socio-economic position, race and ethnicity, geographical location, and political bent.
I should point out here that the oft-mentioned idea of “colonial mentality” is related to this. The term is used in a pejorative way to indicate those who don’t think in an appropriately indigenous way (which is also used often in a pejorative way).
How can I counteract this myth when I deconstruct? The simplest way is to find ways of looking through Other’s eyes. For me, a middle-aged white male, that would mean developing relationships with people different than I. The Bible’s meaning may be clear to me but is that only a false clarity? Is there another perspective I need to see?
These are some of my initial thoughts on deconstruction so I am sure that I have missed something. What do you think? Is there another myth we can add to this list?
Your voice is important to me. That’s why commenting is open on this post. Please let me know what you think below.