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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Please consider subscribing either via email or WordPress itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Transcript courtesy of Scraps from the Loft.]

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

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

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

Why do I say this?

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

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

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

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

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

Remember sharing is what friends do!

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

Did you know that church polity is more a reflection of political realities than some kind of biblical prescription? Did you also know that in the grand scheme of things it really isn’t a big deal what your church’s polity is?

Have you ever thought about your preferred form of church polity? Church polity basically means the ways church organise themselves. There are four main types of church polity: Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, and Hybrid.

Episcopal. This word is derived from the the Greek word episkopos, which basically means overseers or bishops. As you might have guessed, these churches often have people serving in the role of Bishops. Churches in this tradition include Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist. They find biblical support in Acts 6:6; 14:23; and Galatians 1:19; 2:9. They claim connection to the biblical Apostles because of Apostolic succession.

Reformed. The picture at the top identifies this as “Reformed” but a better term might be Presbyterian, derived from the Greek word presbuteros, which means basically elders. Presbyterian, Lutheran and Reformed churches all have this polity. The find biblical support in Acts 20:17; 1 Tim 5:17; and Titus 1:5. They claim connection to the biblical Apostles because they follow Apostolic teaching.

Congregational. Congregational churches put the congregation at the top of any organisational chart because it is the congregation that makes the decisions for the church. Churches in this tradition include Baptist, Mennonite, Evangelical Free, Congregational. They find biblical support in Acts 15:12, 22-25; Colossians 1:18; and 1 Peter 2:9. Like the Presbyterian system above, they claim connection to the biblical Apostles because they follow Apostolic teaching.

Hybrid. A blending of the above three. Churches in this tradition include many Pentecostal and charismatic groups. Because they are a blend, they find biblical support in the verses used by the other three traditions. They claim connection to the biblical Apostles because they exhibit the Apostolic signs.

As we can see, each of these systems has a series of biblical supports that they use to prove that theirs is the true biblical way. Of course that means that, if each of them has biblical proof, each one of them is biblical! It also means that none of them is actually prescribed by the Bible.

My missions professor in seminary, Dr. Vern Middleton, made an observation about church polity that has stayed with me until today. According to his observations a church’s polity is more a reflection of the political situation at the time the church was initially formed than it is of any biblical influence. Thus the Episcopal system was developed largely when Emperors, Kings, and Queens ruled; the Presbyterian system was developed largely when city and state councils ruled; the Congregational system was developed largely when democratic systems ruled; and Hybrid systems have developed only in the past 100 years or so. For example, in the Philippines many evangelical churches — even while being from a congregational tradition — often incorporate features from Episcopal systems because of the country’s long relationship with the Roman Catholic church.

More to the point, the term “New Testament church” should actually be the “New Testament churches because there was more than one of them. We often assume that the New Testament church is the one in Jerusalem as described in Acts. But what then about the other churches — in Corinth, Rome, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, etc? Are they not also New Testament churches? What also of the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3? Are they not also New Testament churches?

More importantly, does polity really matter? We often argue and act against other ways of doing things regardless of whether they matter or not. Oftentimes it’s merely an issue of preference or habit.

What really matters is functionality. Functionality is one of the main organising frameworks that I use in this blog so it shouldn’t be strange to us. In a nutshell, we propose that a church begin measuring its functionality using the fourfold matrix of kerygma, koinonia, diakonia, and marturia. Here is an example of what this looks like in real life.

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

Sharing is what friends do.

Image from Vencer, A. (2004), DAWN Vision and Strategy (DAWN Ministries Leadership Development).

Meditation kapag may Omicron na: Malaking pag-asa mula sa Salmo 23 para sa panahon ng pandemya.

Ito ang isang video meditation na ni-upload ko sa panahon ng Omicron kung kailan sa pakiramdam ko ang mga tao ay kinakabahan. Sana ito’y makapagbigay pag-asa sa mga taong dinamay ng panahon ng 4th wave. Ayon sa Salmo 23, kapag tayo’y dumaan sa natatakot na lugar, hindi tayo nagiisa — kasama natin ang Panginoon. Kapag kasama natin si Lord, hindi dapat tayo natatakot.

Siyempre, kinakailangan din natin mag social distancing, mag face mask, mag stay at home, at magpabakuna pa rin dahil ginagamit nito ng Panginoon sa atin kaligtasan (tingnan ang mga sinulat ko noong Pt 1 at Pt 2).

Ang pagbabahagi ay ginagawa ng magkakaibigan.


Audio sa kagandahang-loob ng Ang Salita ng Dios 2014, Audio Edition. Ang Salita ng Dios (Tagalog Contemporary Bible) Copyright © 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015 by Biblica, Inc. ® Used by permission of Biblica, Inc.® All rights reserved worldwide.

conversations on church, culture, masculinities, & mission

michaeljfast.com Mga pangungusap patungkol sa iglesya, kalinangan, pagkalalake, & tungkulin.

Ang bakuna at ang Tatak ng Halimaw: Bakit ang pagtuon sa iba pang tatak ng Bibliya ay mas kapaki-pakinabang sa ating buhay Kristiyano.

Read this post in English

Kamakailan lamang ang ilang mga Kristiyano ay nag-aalala tungkol sa pagkuha ng isang bakuna sa COVID-19 sapagkat naniniwala silang ito ang “Tatak ng Mabangis na Hayop” (AKA ang Tatak ng Halimaw). Hindi ako magpo-post ng mga link sa mga taong ito dahil hindi ko nais na palawakin ang kanilang platform ngunit ang ganitong uri ng pag-iisip ay hindi bago. Naalala ko ang pakikipag-usap ko sa isang kaibigan mahigit 30 taon na ang nakakalipas na nag-angkin na ang tatak ng halimaw ay ang mga code ng UPC na matatagpuan sa halos lahat ng mga produktong mabibili mo sa tindahan. Ang iba ay inaangkin na ang RFID chips ang tatak. Kapag napagtanto namin na si Juan ay nagsusulat ng isang liham sa mga taong buhay noong ika-1 siglo, at samakatuwid ay kailangang maunawaan at nauugnay sa kanila, nakikita natin na wala sa mga interpretasyong ito ang totoo sapagkat ginawa ang mga ito gamit ang teknolohiya na hindi pa natuklasan noong ika-1 siglo (ang parehong mga barcode at RFID chips ay binuo noong 1973). Maaaring sabihin ang pareho para sa mga bakuna, na hindi natuklasan ni Edward Jenner hanggang mga 1798.

Maraming isinulat ng mga iskolar na nagpapakita na ang pagbibigay kahulugan sa mga bakuna sa COVID-19 bilang tatak ng halimaw ay mali (narito, dito, at dito halimbawa). Nais kong lapitan ang isyu mula sa ibang pananaw, at iyon ay sa katunayan mayroong dalawang biblikal na halimbawa ng mga tatak na mailalagay sa kanang kamay at / o sa noo. Ang unang tatak ay isang magandang tatak.

Ang Exodo 13:9, na pinag-uusapan ang pag-alala sa araw na umalis ang Israel sa Ehipto, ay nagsabing, “Ang pistang itoʼy katulad ng isang tatak sa inyong mga kamay o sa inyong mga noo na magpapaalaala sa inyo na dapat ninyong sabihin sa iba ang mga utos ng Panginoon, dahil inilabas niya kayo sa Egipto sa pamamagitan ng kanyang kapangyarihan.”

Sinasabi ng Ezekiel 9:4, “at sinabi sa kanya, ‘Libutin mo ang buong lungsod ng Jerusalem at tatakan mo ang noo ng mga taong nagdadalamhati dahil sa mga kasuklam-suklam na mga ginagawa roon.’”

Marahil ang pinaka-makabuluhang ibang talata ay matatagpuan sa Pahayag 14:1 kung saan mababasa natin, “Pagkatapos, nakita ko ang Tupa na nakatayo sa bundok ng Zion. Kasama niya ang 144,000 tao. Nakasulat sa noo nila ang pangalan ng Tupa at ng kanyang Ama.” Ang talatang ito ay kaagad na sumusunod sa talata na nagsasalita tungkol sa tatak ng halimaw.

Makikita natin na ang unang marka ay ibinibigay sa mga nakikibahagi sa mabuting gawain ng Panginoon. Naaalala nila ang Kanyang mga gawa sa pagliligtas, nalulungkot sila sa mga bagay na nagdadalamhati sa Kanya, at nakikilala sila kasama ng Kordero at Kanyang Ama.

Pagkatapos ay ihinahambing ito sa isang markang nakalagay sa noo ng mga nanunumpa ng katapatan sa ibang direksyon – sa “halimaw.” Nakita natin ito sa Pahayag 14:9-12 kung saan magkakasabay ang pagkakaroon ng marka at pagsamba sa hayop.

Tulad ng isinulat ko ilang buwan na ang nakakalipas, “Napaisip ako tungkol sa tatak ng mabangis na hayop at nagtaka ako kung ang pagkakaroon ng tatak sa iyong noo at kanang kamay ay sa esensya ng pagkakaroon ng pananampalataya sa pamahalaan bilang magandang balita kaysa kay Hesus bilang magandang balita? Ang genre ng ebanghelyo sa Bibliya, pagkatapos ng lahat, isang pampulitika na binuo ng Roman Emperor upang ipakita kung gaano sila kahusay.”

Kaya ngayon na natukoy natin ang dalawang tatak na ito kailangan nating tanungin ang ating sarili kung ano ang hitsura ng mga markang ito?

Mayroong maraming mga listahan ng iba’t ibang mga tatak ng Espiritu, ang pinakatanyag – tinawag na prutas – sa Galacia 5:22-23 – “Ngunit ang likas na espiritwal ay nagbubunga ng pag-ibig, kagalakan, kapayapaan, pasensya, kabaitan, kabutihan, katapatan, kahinahunan, at sarili -kontrol. Walang mga batas laban sa mga bagay na tulad nito.” Ang ugnayan sa pagitan ng bunga ng Espiritu at ng tatak ay nagmula sa ideya ng pagbubuklod ng Banal na Espiritu, kung saan ang Banal na Espiritu sa pamamagitan ng Kanyang personal na presensya ay permanenteng kinikilala at sinisiguro ang bawat naniniwala sa katawan ni Cristo. Tinalakay ito sa Efeso 1:13. Ang mismong tatak na binanggit sa itaas ay sa katunayan ang pagkakaroon ng Banal na Espiritu sa buhay ng mga tao. Sa gayon ang kanilang mga aksyon – kanilang prutas – nagsisilbing ebidensya ng tatak.

Ang Galacia 5 ay talagang mayroong dalawang listahan. Ang isa (vv 19-21) ay isang listahan nga mga “sa ninanasa ng laman” at isinama ang “sekswal na imoralidad, kalaswaan, kahalayan, pagsamba sa mga dios-diosan, pangkukulam, pagkapoot, pag-aaway-away, pagkasakim, pagkagalit, pagkakawatak-watak, pagkakahati-hati, pagkainggit, paglalasing, pagkahilig sa kalayawan, at iba pang kasamaan. Binabalaan ko kayo tulad ng ginawa ko na noon: Ang mga namumuhay nang ganito ay hindi mapapabilang sa kaharian ng Dios.” Dalawang bagay na dapat tandaan. Ang mga ito ay “makilala” at ang mga gumagawa ng mga halatang bagay na ito “ay hindi mapapabilang sa kaharian ng Dios.” Mukhang kumonekta ito nang malapit sa katangian ng isang tatak (makilala) at mga resulta nito (hindi mapapabilang sa kaharian ng Dios).

Sa madaling sabi, sa halip na ang bakuna (o anupaman) na tatak ng halimaw, ito ay talagang mga bunga ng ating buhay na naghahayag kung saan nakasalalay ang ating katapatan. Ang mga tatak ay tagapagpahiwatig ng katapatan at pagkakakilanlan. Ang bunga ng espiritu ay nagpapatunay na tinatakan tayo ng Espiritu ngunit ang mga epekto ng masamang kalikasan ay nagpapakita na tayo ay minarkahan ng tatak ng hayop. Sa gayon, kung nakilala natin ang ating sarili kay Cristo at mananatiling tapat sa kanya kung gayon wala tayong tatak ng halimaw kundi ang Kanyang tatak.

Palaging malugod na tinatanggap ang puna.

Ginagawa ng mga kaibigan ang pag-share. 

Larawan ni sebastiaan stam 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.

When is it appropriate to appropriate? Why appropriation can be good. (Part 2)

“Not all appropriation is bad” may seem like an odd statement since in Part 1 of this topic I talked about all the reasons why appropriation is bad. In this part I intend to talk about one aspect of human culture that needs to be appropriated and if it isn’t appropriated then problems happen. I am talking of course about the good news of Jesus Christ.

Get this. The gospel is supposed to be appropriated. No one culture can claim ownership over it. No one group can say that they are the final authority on how the gospel should be understood and applied — such decisions need to happen in dialogue with everyone else. This is something very hard to do, granted, but also something that should be done. We know this because Jesus’ final command to his disciples — often called the Great Commission — is to spread this good news around the world.

Andrew Walls spent his life developing a framework of Transmission and Appropriation when it comes to the good news of Jesus Christ. What’s significant about Walls approach is that he sees not only the transmission side of things but also delves into the appropriation side as well. Appropriate is as intentional as transmission — eventually whatever is being transmitted is to subsequently be appropriated by the recipient. 

Walls talks about two types of recipients of the good news: Proselytes and converts. Proselytes adopt some one else’s encounter with God as their own while Converts adapt their own culture to reflect a new encounter with God. It may seem as if this is a two-stage process starting from proselyte and moving towards conversion but that is an over simplification of how things work. In fact in every culture we see examples of both co-existing. For example the practice of baptism, while debated as to its mode, is a nearly universally accepted practice among Christians, in spite of the fact that it originated in the Jewish religion.

The fact that the gospel is to be transmitted also implies that it will also be appropriated. Thus, Appropriation and Transmission must occur together. What’s also interesting is that ultimately the process also happens in reverse to create a richer transmission culture: The appropriator becomes the transmitter and the transmitter becomes the appropriator — or at least it should 🙂 Cultural hybridity is not a bad thing. In reality there are very few cultures that exist that have no interaction with other cultures. 

We have seen the dangers of what Bakhtin calls monologues — where only one person is allowed to speak. The results are staggering. 

Church participation in Cultural Genocide. I have already written a lot about this topic particularly as it relates to the Canadian Indian Residential Schools System but suffice it to say the church’s failure to listen to the voices of the Other in their missions efforts has been nearly universal. The “Other” is “someone or something who is perceived, either consciously or not, as alien or different.” In this example, while missionaries may recruit some of those they are on mission to into their own ranks, their otherness is often maintained as seen by the second example.

Marginalisation of Other clergy. My great-great-great-great grandfather, Rev. James N. Settee, was the second person of First Nations ancestry to be ordained as a priest in the Church Missionary Society (Anglican Church of Canada). He devoted his entire life to spreading the gospel among first nations peoples in Manitoba and Saskatchewan but was also forced to spend much of his time combatting the inconsistencies and discriminations that he himself experienced on a daily basis to the point that it hindered his ability to do actual ministry. What’s interesting is that he clearly appropriated the gospel into his life’s work but found baggage that needed to be peeled away in order for it to work in his context. 

Other examples. This can also been seen in the many Church splits and schisms that have marked church history as people took stands on where they thought the gospel should end — I suspect all done without acknowledging different contexts.

Rather than monologue, dialogues need to take place and it’s only through the use of dialogue that the appropriation of the good news of Jesus Christ can take place. We talked about Enriquez’ approach to what he calls indigenization from within, which is in effect a system of appropriation governed by insiders rather than outsiders and perhaps this is the best way for appropriation to take place — under the control of the Other!

Salin a Tagalog root word that means “translate” and also “pour” and talks about the process involved in making something one’s own in a different language or culture. Just as liquid is decanted from a pitcher into a glass, and thereby made useful, so also concepts can be decanted from one culture to another and more more understandable. But translation is more than simply making something more understandable — translation means that ownership is taken of the new word or phrase and making it one’s own. So how does someone make something one’s own? Here are a couple of examples from the Philippine context.

Sometimes this combination is more complex than merely combining indigenous and exogenous theories. Regardless of theoretical origins, other factors come into play that exert influence on human decisions, including sociopolitical purposes, religious institutional ends, and religious practitioners’ ends. The various actors, whether those in authority or those under oppression, are each able to exert their own will and influence outcomes. Wendt and Guazon each talk about the interaction of these three factors in the Philippines. Both describe situations where the original intent of the transmitters was re-purposed by the appropriators according to their own needs.

Wendt (1998) talks about fiesta, looking at both historical origins as a means of Spanish control that eventually was co-opted by Filipinos and reformulated into a real part of Filipino identity. Wendt says, “The functions originally intended to implement colonial rule, cultivate specific attitudes and stabilize the colonial system were counteracted to the same degree by the Filipinos’ incorporating the fiesta into their own ways of life and social structures.”

Guazon’s Crisis in the Formation of provisional members of a religious congregation in the Philippines is a study of the interactions between “formandi” and “formators” in the CICM, which is “Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae, the institute’s Latin name. CICM is a Roman Catholic male religious missionary institute of Belgian origin.” The formandi are acolytes desiring admission to the order and the formators are those charged with overseeing the initiation process. One would assume that the process is quite straight forward since the acolytes are the ones seeking admission and will presumably submit. This is not the case, however, with tension occurring on multiple levels. In the end, Guazon concludes that the formandi … are “active participants” in the process and appropriate the requirements of their new social system “according to their own cultural matrix.”

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Tyler Nix on Unsplash.

When is it appropriate to appropriate? Why appropriation is bad. (Part 1)

Cultural Appropriation has made the news again. Nuseir Yassin runs the popular video log Nas Daily. He recently made the news (herehere, and here) when he offered a tattoo course by Whang-Od on his Nas Academy. Whang-Od is a traditional tattoo artist from the Philippine province of Kalinga who was honoured by the Philippine government with the Dangal na Haraya in 2018. The controversy started when Whang-Od’s grandniece called the course a scam. It turns out that Nuseir didn’t follow the proper procedures in making the deal with Whang-Od. According to Dr. Nestor Castro, 

“Whang-od is not just an individual artist but she is also a member of the Butbut Tribe of Kalinga. Her skill on the art of traditional tattooing is derived from the indigenous knowledge of generations of Kalinga ancestors. Thus, this indigenous knowledge is collectively owned (although it may be individually practiced) by the Butbut. Thus, the consent of the members of the Butbut is necessary if this knowledge is to be shared to outsiders. Getting the permission of one individual is not enough.” [Click here to read the entire post].

Apart from this, the agreement also doesn’t conform to Philippine laws on the rights of indigenous peoples. In the end, Cultural appropriation of this type is inappropriate because it is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. The issue is culture or people’s right to be the gatekeepers of their own cultural wealth, whether that means protecting that wealth from other’s exploitations, or benefitting themselves as the owners of that cultural wealth.

Virgilio G. Enriquez, whose Pagbabangong-Dangal: Indigenous Psychology and Cultural Empowerment is from the Philippine context, presents six phases of cultural domination to which “indigenous psychology and culture have been subjected” throughout the world. Included in the stages are:

1. Denial and Withdrawal, where the “colonizers outrightly reject the very existence of what they perceive as an inferior culture.” This inferiority includes language, sport, food, law, and religion. “As the dominant culture denies the existence and worth of the indigenous culture, it also attempts to replace it with its own.”

2. Desecration and Destruction, where the “oppressive culture attempts to destroy whatever vestiges are left” of the indigenous culture. “Clearly, as the dominant culture atemts to destroy element s of the supposedly inferior culture, it tries to institutionalize and strengthen its own.”

3. Denigration and Marginalization, where the indigenous is labeled, giving the impression that it is inferior or damaged. This includes terms like Juan Tamad, quack doctor, ningas kugon, Filipino time, and talangka mentality as well as inaccurate portrayals of Filipinos in artwork depicting historical events, each of which is a negative stereotype of what it means to be Filipino.

4. Redefinition and Token Utilization, where the indigenous is “redefined and recast into the colonial mold.” Thus all indigenous meaning attached to the element is lost and it is not only completely redefined in a new context but also claimed by that new context as one of its own. Enriquez uses the Manila Galleon as an example. Here we have Filipino ingenuity in shipbuilding being redefined and claimed by the Spanish as one of their own. Enriquez also includes a discussion of what appears to be the token usage of “indigenous psychological texts” by Western-trained practitioners. It seems that they are being used not because of their value as psychological tools but because they merely make the client more at ease in an unfamiliar setting. 

5. Transformation and Mainstreaming, appears to be similar to Stage 4 only intensified. Here Enriquez focuses on the word hiyang, that at one time was considered nonsensical but is now seen as highlighting “personal differences” in therapeutic settings. Enriquez applies this to what happens in the doctor’s office, the kinds of food we eat, and folk-understandings of colors, shapes, textures, and sounds. “Once the prejudgment that the indigenous concept is merely superstitious or even useless has been proven wrong, the concept is reluctantly used but redefined according to the colonial mindset.”

6. Commercialization and Commodification, is where the real legitimacy of the indigenous is recognized by the colonizer. This can lead to one of two options, according to Enriquez. The first is “transforming and mainstreaming,” where “complete recognition and respect” is given by the colonizer to the indigenous and the two are mutually beneficial. The second option is where the indigenous culture’s knowledge and heritage are “exploited and commercialized.” Enriquez says that option #1 is rarely taken. He goes on to discuss the exploitation of indigenous genetics, both plant and human.

Enriquez proposes a counter-framework he calls “Decolonization, Counterdomination, and Empowerment” in order to guide in the recovery of what has been lost through colonialism. His model involves blending “both the modern and traditional cultural systems.” Key to his approach is what he calls indigenization from within, a traditional values-based approach that sees the indigenous as the main actor rather than the outsider. This internal orientation is essential to beginning decolonization because it puts the indigenous firmly in the driver’s seat. Enriquez identifies four aspects to indigenization from within, namely the “identification of key concepts from the indigenous culture,” the “semantic and lexical elaboration of these concepts,” the systematization and articulation of a theoretical framework, and applying and using this framework in the field. This process combines ideas and practices that are not only appropriate for the culture but also valid scientifically. So while one may conduct an interview in order to gather data, one is also free to conduct that interview in a culturally appropriate and relevant way.

Thus, by most accounts, appropriation is something that is bad but can be remedied. In our next post we will talk about a situation where appropriation is not only good, but is also the right thing to do.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

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

“All truth is God’s truth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Klara Kulikova on Unsplash.

Church, modified.

Church.

It doesn’t matter what you add to the word or how you modify it, it still means the same basic thing.

  • Underground church is a church that remains as hidden as possible due to persecution.
  • Local Church is a church in one community.
  • House church is a church that meets in someone’s house (or office, or third place).
  • Universal church is the church that has existed, exists today, and will exist in the future.
  • Indigenous church is a church that is contextualized to a certain society.
  • Persecuted church is a church that is being persecuted by another religion or by the government.
  • Mega Church is a really big church.
  • Cell Church is a really small church.
  • Online church is the online portion of a local church, whether live or prerecorded.
  • Virtual church is where every aspect of the church exists in the virtual world.
  • Live-streamed church is when a church broadcasts it’s Sunday morning services live online.
  • In-person church is when people gather for face-to-face meetings.
  • Church at home is when families worship at home.

But guess what? It’s all still church.

So what does that mean?

We should continue to be the church regardless of which modifier we pick.

  • We should continue to proclaim the good news the Jesus is our king.
  • We should live out the values of the Kingdom of God.
  • We should love God and love our neighbour.
  • We should bear witness to the truth.

How will you be the church today?

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by Skull Kat on Unsplash.

Nightmares vs Daydreams: Which do you think are more dangerous?

People often said when I was younger that I lived in a dream world — and that was true. I did spend a lot of time dreaming of an imaginary world. It is strange, however, that daydreams are often thought of as being a trivial waste of time. “It’s better,” they say, “to live in the real world.” What is also interesting is that we often think of nightmares as dangerous We worry about nightmares. We try to stop nightmares. We even make movies about them that frighten us into even more nightmares!

In reality, we should really spend more time concentrating on daydreams. Nightmares, after all, only last for a few brief moments. It’s the dreams that we have while awake that are truly dangerous because we can dream them for a lifetime, and in the end make them come true. 

As TE Lawrence says, 

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Here are my daydreams:

  • I dream of a world where the rule and leadership of Jesus makes the world a better place. A place where the poor hear good news, where prisoners are made free, where the blind can see, where the oppressed are set free, and where the Lord looks with favour on all people. 
  • I dream of a world where the values of the world are the values of God’s kingdom. 
  • I dream of a world where we love each other like we love ourselves. This is best expressed by the Tagalog word kapwa, or “shared being.” 
  • I dream of a world where the truths we shape is the Truth that is revealed to everyone by God, applied to our own cultural and local contexts. 

It is easy to dream such dreams. It is harder to make these dreams come true. But as the old saying goes, “Begin with the end is sight.” 

Keep on daydreaming!

Photo by Jonathan Mabey on Unsplash.