I went looking for masculinity in the Bible & this is what I found.

There has been a lot of discussion of late among the circles that I am involved in about what “Biblical Masculinity” is. We like things to be clearly defined, particularly areas that define how we are supposed to live. The assumption is often along the lines of “God has a plan for the way we are to live so if we can just figure out that plan then it will be easy for us to live it.” To that end, I went to the Bible to try and find out what it means to live as a man. Note that in this case I am not using the universal “man” to denote all humans but rather males specifically. Remember also that Masculinity is in its most basic sense the “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men” (OED) or “the approved way of being an adult male in any given society” (Gilmore, 1990).

In my search, I found myself in 2 Samuel 3, which is chock full of masculinity. Let’s see if we can extract a masculinity for us to emulate as faithful men of God. We also need to be reminded that the bible sometimes prescribes actions (stuff we are required to do) but more often describes actions (stuff other people did).

The man who fathers six children with six different women. Wait. What? Not the first example of biblical masculinity that I thought I would encounter. It actually flies in the face of contemporary Christian masculinity that champions fatherhood in the context of the nuclear family. What is interesting is that Absalom and Amnon have issues, that David is unwilling to work on, and as a result Absalom will eventually seek David’s throne and his life. Even though he fathered many children (and there are more besides these ones here), he clearly wasn’t always a very good father. Is a biblical man one who imitates David in this way?

The “Godless Fool who was so self-centred that his disrespect for others led to his own death (and whose wife was more honourable than he). We read about Nabal, whose name means Godless Fool, in 1 Samuel 25, where he is described as “harsh and mean,” and such “a worthless man that it’s useless to talk to him.” The reason he appears here is because David eventually married Nabal’s wife, Abigail, and it’s her son, Chileab, who is one of the six kids mentioned above. Is a biblical man a godless fool?

The man who faithfully serves his master’s family even in the face of open warfare. Abner was a good guy. Even though he appears on the wrong side of history, given that he supported Saul over David for the kingship, the Bible is very clear that he is honourable. And this honour was in the face of hand to hand combat. It’s quite the thing to face your enemy, grab him by the head, and stick your sword into his side — all while he is doing the same thing to you. If it was me I would probably run. What’s also interesting is that Abner remains loyal to Saul’s family even though he knows God has replaced him with David! That’s pretty strong resolve, isn’t it? Is a biblical man one who is a faithful servant?

The man who acts to defend his honour. Abner’s loyalty and faithfulness is then besmirched by Ishbosheth who falsely accuses him of raping one of Saul’s wives. We really have no context for this claim, other than what we read in this text, but Abner’s response is not unsurprising in someone falsely accused in this way. Is a biblical man one who defends his honour?

The man who wins his wife with 100 Philistine foreskins. If you are interested in this story, take a quick look at 1 Samuel 18, where we read that David doubled the required amount to 200, but that he also had help. What is involved in taking 200 Philistine foreskins? Killing 200 Philistines first because I can’t conceive of a situation where these would be willing turned over. Would you agree to those terms? How would that conversation go?

David: “Hey, bro, can you do me a solid and give me your foreskin so I can use it to get a wife?”

Random Philistine: “Over my dead body.”

David: “Okidoki.”

So, 100 Philistine foreskins = 100 dead Philistines. Obviously, winning a wife in this way requires a man capable to acquiring 100 foreskins. Is a biblical man someone capable of taking 100 foreskins? Is a biblical man someone who demands his wife back after she is already married to another?

The man who follows his wife down the road weeping because she is being taken back to her first husband. Paltiel, son of Laish wasn’t having a good day. He was squeezed between to fighting families and lost out in the end because he had to give up his wife. Michal, his wife, had originally been David’s wife — the one he paid 100 Philistine foreskins for. In 1 Samuel 25:44 we read that Saul had given Michal to Paltiel. He obviously loved her a lot to become so vulnerable in this way. Is a biblical man one who cries when his wife is taken from him?

The man who kills an honourable man as revenge for his slain brother. Joab and Abner were enemies from the day that Abner killed Joel’s brother Asahel. He had been awaiting this moment for quite some time. During those years in Israel, families were allowed to avenge deaths. If you accidentally killed someone you could flee to a city of refuge, where you would be safe until the death of the high priest. That ended anyone’s claim over your life. What is odd is that in this case, Joab killed Abner in Hebron, which was a city of refuge. Is a biblical man one who takes revenge on his enemies?

The man cursed to only be able to operate a spindle or to fall by the sword. David was upset over Joab’s revenge killing of Abner so he curses Joab’s family in an interesting way. Joab’s family would always have a man who would operate a spindle. A spindle was used for spinning and wasn’t apparently something commonly used by men in that in the only other usage in the Old Testament it is used by a woman. Death on the battlefield is a necessary part of warfare, but people’s preference is to live on the battlefield because that means that you have won. If your families always die, then they aren’t very successful. Is a biblical man one cursed like Joab’s?

The man who shows, through ritualistic mourning that he is innocent of another man’s blood. David expressed a lot of emotion during the funeral for Abner, including loud crying, singing, and not eating. He did not protect himself from shame or appearing weak, but rather put honouring Abner above his own interests. It was this vulnerability that caused the people to believe his innocence. Is a biblical man one who shows this kind of vulnerability?

Even though we can technically answer “Yes” to the question “Is a biblical man one who ______?” it is also obvious that not all of these men are to be emulated. It is also obvious that It seems as if there is not one universal masculinity expressed in this chapter. Men can also, apparently, express different masculinities in different situations. It leads us to ask, “Why are there so many examples of men in this chapter?” The answer is because rather than just one, universal masculinity, the world actually has a variety of masculinities. I have written about that here, here, and here.

What does this mean for Christian men today? There isn’t one, single, biblically defined version of manhood for us to emulate. We can express our manhood in a variety of ways, none of which are biblically prescribed. It also means that things are as clear as some are saying about what it means to be a Christian man. It takes the ability to interpret and understand the text of the Bible it a way that acknowledges its complexities.

What are your thought on masculinity? Why not leave a comment below?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lesson from Men in Black.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Windowless Room and Theologising.

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

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

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

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

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

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What does it take to be a man, Part 3: How many masculinities is too many?

In a previous post, I discussed the idea of masculinities. In it I mentioned that masculinity should really be masculinities because there is not one standardized way to be a man. A followup post focussed on masculinities in the Philippines, an area of significance in my own life. In the comments, Mike Swalm and I chatted about the extent of these masculinities looking at the question of how many masculinities is too many? Mike pointed out a key issue with an infinite amount of masculinities and wisely says, “we move toward negation of corporate meaning. Why even talk about masculinity if it has such malleable and infinite meaning? Doesn’t that remove the very nature of the concept as something that is definable as a category, giving us no real ability to say it is “this” and not “that”?”

I thought I would take the opportunity of Mike’s question to discuss where masculinity studies is in this seemingly infinite continuum. As usual I will take a Bakhtinian approach.

Monologue. Revisiting Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity, we realise that even though there may be any number of variations on the masculinity theme within a given context, there is one that predominates the discussion so much that it drowns out the others. Interestingly enough the predominant theme doesn’t necessarily have the most supporters — it just predominates. Bakhtin called this “monologue.” Even though Connell’s insights have opened the door to other masculinities as being acceptable, masculinities more closely associated with patriarchy continue to predominate.

Dialogue. Obviously dialogue is better than monologue because it allows another voice to provide balance. We actually prefer a dialogic point of view because we enjoy dividing things up into to opposing parties. It is this recognition that leads from singular masculinity to plural mascuinities. In reality, however, things are rarely as black and white as we might like. In fact, they are often greyscale.

Heteroglossia. But there aren’t just two voices in dialogue — there are a multitude of voices, each seemingly clamouring for attention, each contributing to what it means to be a man. This moves us beyond greyscale into millions of colours. It’s actually this final idea that creates the question Mike asks because it seems to leave open the possibility of an infinite number of potential masculinities.

At the risk of oversimplification, on a practical level, there aren’t an infinite number of men in the world; the world is at least divided into males and females. That means that give or take 50% of the worlds population isn’t male. That means that the first line of demarcation is the male-female.[1]

A second line of demarcation is society itself. Society creates a framework for the conversations surrounding masculinity. Sometimes these societies are monologic in nature but quite often they provide limitations on the range of acceptable meanings within that society. For example, in a study I did in my community, where men had a variety of religious experiences and influences, I was surprised to discover that the conversation centred around only a couple of common themes. There is no limit to the horizons of epistemology in Bakhtin but the conversations still revolved around a few key clusters, including the importance of the wants, needs, and input of wives and families and seeing Christianity as central to their faith. Perhaps this means that cultures as a whole exert influence on the boundaries of dialogue that make it difficult for conversation to move beyond those points.

A final aspect of Bakhtin’s idea provides another level of demarcation. Bakhtin wasn’t really looking for that one unifying, universal answer to life. His purposes in developing his framework were not so that we could necessarily make sense of this crazy world we live in. Rather he seems to be giving us a way to recognise and embrace the messiness of this world we live in.

How does all of this work? Let me try an illustration from sports. For me, there is only one hockey team. When I refer to this team I will use the word “dynasty.” I will refer to their preponderance of Stanley Cup wins. I will refer to their aggressive style of play. Yup, you guessed it. My team is the Montreal Canadiens (How ’bout them Habs?). In many ways my allegiance to the Montreal Canadians is monologic. When we were kids we would argue about who we liked best. But through thick and thin it was Montreal for me. I know that other teams exist but what’s interesting is that I am not sure what you could do to convince me to cheer for another team.

But I do have to admit that Montreal is not the only team that exists. After all, they do need teams to beat 😉 The National Hockey League provides the fodder for the Montreal machine. It started with the Original Six (who some believe are the only real teams), then expanded to twelve in 1968, then to eighteen in 1974, twenty-two in 1992, and finally to the current thirty-two teams that take to the ice each week.

What also happened during these years is that hockey expanded internationally. What begun as an almost exclusively Canadian sport now has teams and players from all around the world. I remember watching a recreational team playing in the Philippines’ only ice rink a number of years ago. A friend was a part of a team in the United Arab Emirates around that time as well. Hockey has indeed become a heteroglossia.

What is interesting is that regardless of the level of the sport — from the NHL all the way down to shinny on the street in front of your house — the sport is still hockey. The nuance hasn’t changed that. What this has done for the sport is to make hockey better. I recall as a child reading about how Team Canada defeated some hapless international opponent 50-0. That wouldn’t happen today. In fact, international hockey is incredibly competitive, at both professional and amateur levels. The result is the reality that a team like the Montreal Canadiens cannot dominate the sport any more because other teams are able to join the conversation. Rather than a single dominant team, what we see is an entire sport that is played on an almost infinite number of levels. And the sport is better for it.

In a similar way, a deeper understanding of masculinities can only make those masculinities better. We need to move beyond the idea of a singular approved masculinity into a better set of masculinities.

What contribution are you making to the masculinity conversation? How are you making your voice heard? Please feel free to leave a note in the comments below to let us know.

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Missed the previous posts on this subject? You can read them here: Part 1 and Part 2.


Notes:

[1] The 2SLGBTQ+ conversation is still going strong, and is still undergoing development. What started out as simply “straight” or “gay” has exploded into a seemingly infinite number of options as heteroglossia in that area develops. The male-female demarcation that I use here is not intended as a rejection of those voices but merely a recognition of the fact that, one, the voices are still sorting themselves out and, two, that I don’t understand them enough to place them into an easily-explained framework.

Image by Andrew Wulf on Unsplash.

What does it mean to be a man, part 2? Masculinities in the Philippines

In a previous post, I introduced the idea of masculinities. In it I mentioned that masculinity should really be masculinities because there is not one standardized way to be a man. In this post I will expand on that in talking about how crossing cultures also increases the complexities surrounding the subject. Our specific focus will be on masculinities in the Philippines.

Masculinity in Filipino Popular culture.

Filipinos love to make puns and while humour is used to make people laugh, there is generally a hidden truth behind the humour (Maggay 2002). What is interesting is that the majority of these puns define men based upon their relationships with others, primarily with their wives (see Angeles, 2001, pp. 2-3).[1]

Some of these terms, such as Padre de pamilya [“Father of the family”] and Haligi ng Tahanan [“Pillar of the home”] refer to the key strengthening roles that men play in the home. While men may provide the strength within the home, the mother, as ilaw ng tahanan [“light of the home”], provides the spiritual direction. Does this imply an inherent spiritual role that mothers play that isn’t considered a part of the father’s role?

Other terms clearly depict the struggle for power within husband and wife relationships: Ander de saya [“Under his wife’s skirt”] describes a henpecked husband. Kumander is a common term used by husbands to describe their wives. For example, when asked if he would like to do something, a man will often reply, “Di ako sure kung pwede ako. Magpaalam muna ako kay Kumander.” [“I’m not sure that I can do that. I need to get my Commander’s permission first.”] Machu-machunirin [“obedient to his wife”]. This is a play on words based on “macho” and “masunurin” [“obedient”]. Rubio and Green (2011) see these puns as evidence of the greater-than-equal status of women in Philippine cultures.

Others connect masculinity to the ability to perform various tasks or act in certain ways. When performing certain tasks, particularly where strength is required, men will often be told, “Nakasalalay ang pagkalalaki doon” [“Your masculinity depends upon you being able to complete this task”].

One of my professors recalls that her mother would ask, “Wala ka ba’ng bayag?” [“Don’t you have any balls?”] of her brothers when they acted afraid. On other occasions I have heard mothers telling their crying sons that, “Tumigil ka. Hindi umiiyak ang mga lalaki” [“Stop. Men don’t cry”]. This provides some evidence that mothers share in the responsibility in constructing the pagkalalake of their children.

Formal pagkalalake studies in the Philippines.

One of the first studies of pagkalalake in the Philippines was Santiago (1977), who studied men in a Philippine village in Bulacan. Santiago identifies three ideal measurements of pagkalalake: lalaking-lalaki [“manly man”], tunay na lalake [“real man”], and mabuting tao [“good person”]. Lalaking-lalake identifies those few who achieve the katangian [“characteristics”] of pagkalalake, tunay na lalake identifies those few men who achieve the kakayahan [“ability”] to do the things men do, and mabuting tao identifies those few men who achieve goodness as humans.

She identifies three categories of pagkalalaki, namely “mga katangiang panlalake;” [“male characteristics”], “kakayahan sa pagganap ng tungkulin na initas sa mga lalake o inaasahan ng lipunan ng kanilang gampanana” [“Ability for men to perform the roles that either they or society expects of them”]; and “mga kilos at ugaling sekswal” [“sexual activities and behaviour”] (p. 168).

Santiago divides the measurement of pagkalalake into four areas, namely “ang dapat mangyari, ang mangyayari, ang hindi dapat mangyari ngunit nangyayari, ang nangyayari noong araw ngunit hindi na umiiral.” [“Things that must happen, things that happen, things that shouldn’t happen but still do, and things that used to happen but don’t anymore”].

She identifies three categories to pagkalalake as follows: “Mga katangiang panlalake.” This includes those thoughts, actions and emotions that are not seen in women. “Kakayahan sa pagganap ng tungkilin na initas sa mga lalake o inaasahan ng lipunan ng kanilang gampanana” (p. 168). This includes the ability to perform tasks that either he identifies or society identifes as male tasks. “Mga kilos at ugaling sekswal” (p. 168). Santiago admits that she didn’t gather a lot of information about this aspect of pagkalalake. She identifies two possible reasons: because 1) she, as a woman, wasn’t able to gather this information, or because 2) she didn’t have enough time to devote to this aspect of pagkalalake. She suggests that a male researcher may be able to gather more information on this category because “higit na palagayang loob ng mga lalake sa kapwa lalake” [“it’s easier for a man to open up to a man”] (p. 168). Note that Santiago’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

Tan (1989) identifies fathers in the Philippines as either procreators or dilettantes. Procreators neither enjoy nor spend much time at fathering because their understanding is primarily biological. Tan identifies this with the Philippine understanding that all children have utang-na-loob [“a debt of honor”] to their parents merely “for giving them life” (p. 34). Thus, siring children is enough. The dilettante, while having a positive fatherhood experience, is not very “active” as a father. Tan identifies OFW fathers as fitting into this “… supporting role to the main caretaker, usually the mother” (p. 30). Note that Tan’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

de Castro (1995) follows the common gender discussion of distinguishing between sex (physically male) and gender (socially constructed) but also moves into the ethical aspect of the gender debate. According to de Castro “ang pagkalalaki … ay walang aspetong etikal. Wala itong kinakailangang implikasyon para sa dapat at hindi dapat; walang itinataguyod na tama o mali” [“masculinity … has no ethical aspects. It has no necessary implications for what should or shouldn’t be; nothing is right or wrong”] (p. 141). de Castro proposes introducing the term pagkamaginoo in order to achieve the ethics that are missing from the other terms. Ethics seems to mean proper interpersonal relationships between people, regardless of their gender: “ipinamamalas ng magulang na naghahanap-buhay, nagtitiyaga sa pag-aalaga ng kanyang mga anak, nagmamalasakit para sa kanilang kapakanan at nagpapakita ng katagan sa oras ng kagipitan o sakuna” [“this is demonstrated by both parents in working, they both patiently take care of their children, they both care for their interests and show stability during times of emergency or disaster”] (p. 141). While this does provide perhaps a glimpse into how maka- Diyos might fit, it is a primarily theoretical argument based upon imprecise data.[2] This study wants to find out what Filipinos actually believe rather than simply exploring possibilities of what they can believe. Note that de Castro’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

Aquiling-Dalisay et al (1995) identify three categories of Filipino males, namely pagkalalaki [“manhood”], tunay na lalaki [“real man”], and ganap na lalaki [“perfect man”]. Note that Aquiling-Dalisay et al’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

Pingol (2001) perhaps comes closest to identifying Filipino masculinities. In a series of fifty interviews in Ilocos in 1997, she develops a Filipino notion of male identity, which she categorizes as “Prominent,” “Ideal,” “Other,” and “Lesser extent.” Prominent among the responses were: the “Ability to provide for the family” and “Success in the workplace;” the Ideal responses included: “being a good leader with intelligence and expertise, being principled, being helpful, being decent, being law-abiding, being trustworthy, and being understanding;” while the Other” responses included: “virility, physical strength, and good looks; and the “Lesser extent” response was: “the capacity to take risks, as in gambling or illicit affairs, and yet remain responsible to one’s family.” (Pingol, 2001).

What is disappointing is that she then applies Connell’s (2005) concept of hegemonic masculinity to the Philippines rather than using definitions drawn from her interviews. Pingol does, however, go on to discuss two sub-aspects of Ilocano masculinity, namely kinalalaki and malalaki. Each is seen as a culturally legitimate way of gaining masculine power in society but kinalalaki does this by means of the “ideal typical traits of the responsible husband” while the malalaki does the same through “the machismo of rogues and daredevils or malalaki” (Pingol, 2001, p. 4).[3]

Filipino Male Spirituality.

While some studies have been conducted on Filipino masculinity very few if any have been conducted on the connection between masculinity and spirituality. “Ang Manifesto ng Tunay na Lalaki” [“The Manifesto of a Real Man”] declares that “ang tunay na lalaki ay hindi nagsisimba” [“a real man doesn’t go to church”] (Xyxo Loco, 2009).

Filipino Male Spirituality plays a rather small role in Pingol’s study. I was surprised to initially find a rather negative tone to her comments. At one point, after describing how she had to politely decline the religious advances of three “evangelists,” she commented, “I had to make them feel that their religious mission was as valid as that of others” (p. 23). Her conclusion, however, points to the help that some of her informants, both male and female, did receive from their religious beliefs as they sought to reshape their masculine identity. She does note, however, “[t]urning to the Bible is not something men in the locality automatically do in times of crisis” (p. 252). I was further puzzled by the discovery that when she did a similar study of female migrants in the Middle East that religiosity was front and centre in her study. Does this indicate that perhaps religiosity is not part of Filipino male identity but is a very large part of Filipina identity? Or perhaps it indicates a change in the researcher herself.

In spite of the dearth of information on male spirituality or religiosity, there were some evidences of husbands following a moral code that helped them cope with the departure of their wives. The men interviewed showed varying abilities to cope with the changes brought about by the migration of their wives. In her discussion on changes in the sexual dynamics of the relationship, Pingol refers to a “masculine code” that some of the men chose to keep that ensured the marriage bed would be kept pure (p. 228). She connects this “code” with the concept of kinalalaki (p. 105).

This distinction between two categories of masculinity, however, while not pointing directly to spirituality, at least hints at a kind of morality that makes behaving properly worthwhile. Is this perhaps a hint of Filipino male maka-Diyos?

Rubio and Green (2011) develop a psychological instrument for use among Filipino men called the “Filipino Adherence to Masculinity Expectations scale.” Based on a study of students at St. Louis University in Baguio City, their instrument “takes into account indigenous and non- Western conceptions of masculinity in the Philippines” (p. 78) To this end, they identify seven “Filipino masculine dimensions,” namely Responsibility; Family Orientedness; Respectful Deference to Spouse, Women, and the Elderly; Integrity; Intelligence and Academic Achievement; Strength; and Sense of Community (p. 82). Once again there was no component of this masculinity framework that included maka-Diyos.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you recognise the unique features of the masculinities within your own cultural milieu? If so, what do they look like? Please put them in the comment box below.

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

Read Part 1.


Notes:

1. There are several popular conceptualizations of pagkalalake in the Philippines. Both Aquiling-Dalisay et al (1995) and Rubio & Green (2011) provide good overviews of the discourse surrounding Philippine masculinity, both from the perspective of psychology.

2. de Castro has apparently no hard data to show that this is what Filipinos actually believe. See his use of “halimbawa” [“for example”] with no citation (p. 142). Even his use of “ayon sa ilan, tanda ng tunay na lalaki ang pagtupad sa pangako” [“according to some, the sign of a real man is carrying out his promises”] (p. 142) is supportive of a constructed masculinity that is at odds with what he is proposing.

3. There does not appear to be an equivalent Tagalog gloss for these two Ilocano words. The closest might be perhaps pagkamaginoo and macho.

References:

Angeles, L. C. (2001). The Filipino Male as “Macho-Machunurin”: Bringing Men and Masculinities in Gender and Development Studies. Kasarinlan Journal of Third World Issues, 16(1), 9-30.

Aquiling-Dalisay, G., Nepomuceno-Van Heugten, M. L., Sto. Domingo, M. R. (1995). Ang pagkalalaki ayon sa mga lalaki: Pag-aaral sa tatlong grupong kultural sa Pilipinas. Philippine Social Sciences Review, 52.

de Castro, L. D. (1995). “Pagiging lalaki, pagkalalaki, at pagkamaginoo.” Philippine Social Sciences Review, 52.

Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities. 2nd Ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

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

Rubio, R. J. & Green, R. (2011). Filipino men’s roles and their correlates: Development of the Filipino adherence to masculinity expectations scale. Culture, Society & Masculinities, 3(2), 77–102. doi:10.3149/CSM.0302.77

Santiago, C. E. (1977). “Pakapa-kapa: Paglilinaw ng isang konsepto sa nayon.” In R. Pe-Pua (Ed.), Sikolohioyang Pilipino: Teorya, metodo at gamit (pp. 161-170). QC: Surian ng Sikolohiyang Pilipino.

Tan, A. L. (1989). Four meanings of fatherhood. Philippine Sociological Review, 22(1), pp. 27-39.


Image of Jose Rizal by Jim Stapleton on Unsplash.


What does it take to be a man? An introduction to masculinity studies.

For the past year I have been promising some posts on masculinity. Masculinity is in its most basic sense the “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men” (OED) or “the approved way of being an adult male in any given society” (Gilmore, 1990). While these definitions may seem simple at first, there is a lot to unpack.

As you may guess, the first issue arises with the two phrases: “traditionally associated” and “approved way.” Note that both phrases are preceded by the definite article: “The.” This implies that there is only 1 way to be a man. But is that true? I talk more about this below, but in reality, there are several different masculinities in any given society. We also need to ask who does the approving and who makes the associations referred to in these definitions?

The second issue arises with the phrase “in any given society.” This means that not only are there various masculinities within any given society, but also that the number of masculinities increases when one crosses cultures. For example, when I was a child in Canada I often heard it said that the husband was responsible for taking care of the finances of the family. I remember one new widow who had absolutely no idea about the family’s finances when her husband died — it was quite a learning curve for her to figure it all out. On the other hand, I would challenge you to find a family in the Philippines where this is the case! Rather, the husband brings his salary home to his wife who is responsible for budgeting and spending. I will talk a little about some cross-cultural features of masculinity in a subsequent post on Philippine masculinities.

Finally, we need to realise that when making definitions is that there are often 2 levels of rules, one Formal and the other non-formal. In her 1985 study of air traffic controllers in Los Angeles, Normita G. Recto noted that even a field as precise as air traffic control exhibited this two-level formal vs non-formal system. The same can be said of subjects such as masculinity.

How do these questions help shape our understanding of what it means to be a man? What follows is an attempt to introduce us to the complexities surrounding masculinities.

According to Mackie (2019), the field of gender studies is more complex than simply talking about men and women. There are layers of meanings encompassed in different pairs of words. On the simplest level, society has both men and women. Sometimes these people are categorized based upon their sex, which is either male or female, although those in the medical field also recognize that there are other types of biological sex identity such as hermaphroditism (F. D. M. Caube, personal communication, 15 November 2016). Sometimes these people are categorized by their gender, which moves into the realm of social and cultural construction and is characterized by words like masculinity and femininity. Gender can be expressed culturally, such as through “desirable models of dress, deportment, language, behavior, occupations” (Mackie, 2019). It can be expressed structurally, such as through gender relations order. It can also be expressed metaphorically, such as “a primary means of signifying relationships of power” (Mackie, 2019).

The fields of men’s studies and masculinity studies are subsets of gender studies (Mackie, 2019). In line with the constructed nature of gender, masculinity and femininity are also cultural constructs. This means that they are not natural but are acquired (Tylor, 1871). It also means that there are completing models of masculinity and femininity. Connell (2005) is a major contributor to the idea of plural masculinities as opposed to the traditional singular masculinity as a field of study (see also Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). The model was developed in opposition to the concepts of gender traits and gender roles. She uses the term hegemonic to indicate 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).

Several have written about the intersection of religion and masculinities. The gender debate is not restricted to the world outside of the church. Gallagher & Wood (2005) talk about the variety of understandings of masculinity that came out in the 1990s among protestant evangelical Christians in the USA. Even a group that is known for seeing the Bible as the central authority has a variety of different ways of understanding gender in general and masculinity in particular. Gallagher and Wood discuss different approaches to masculinity in two movements in the Protestant Evangelical church in the United States, namely Promise Keepers, and John Eldredge’s bestselling Wild at Heart.

Promise Keepers was a men’s movement in the 1990s that focused on getting men to make and keep seven promises that would help them to be better men. The promises exhibit a “breadth of gender perspectives,” that include helping men have better communication and connection with their families, more vulnerability, participate in racial reconciliation, and be responsible in providing, loving, teaching, and protecting their families. Eldredge’s 2001 book emphasized a different approach that emphasizes the themes of “desire, passion, and following one’s heart” (Gallagher & Wood, 2005).

The authors draw several conclusions, including that there is a much broader range of both beliefs and ideas regarding gender – and understandings about those beliefs – in evangelical churches than one would assume. Additionally, it seems that evangelicals have two basic components to their epistemological system, “personal experience and the bible” (Gallagher & Wood, 2005). I was involved in the Promise Keepers movement when it first came out. I have also read and enjoyed several of John Eldredge’s books, including Wild at Heart. My experience supports Gallagher and Wood’s conclusions that there are a variety of perspectives on gender and masculinity within the evangelical church and that authority is practically measured both through the Bible and through one’s own evaluative efforts. I think it’s also important to point out that, while Promise Keepers and Wild at Heart might represent opposing perspectives, neither of these perspectives is monolithic. Areas of belief and practice like this are often eclectic in the evangelical church.

Gerber (2015) also talks about masculinity in the Evangelical Christian church, particularly among groups that belong to the so-called ex-gay movement. This movement seeks to change “sexual orientation through a mixture of therapeutic and devotional techniques.”

Gerber discusses godly masculinity rather than hegemonic masculinity as the key ideological factor among Evangelical Christians. Godly masculinity is defined as “idealized forms of masculinity that evangelicals use to articulate subculturally specific gender ideals, criticize hegemonic forms of masculinity, and vie for their own hegemonic positioning in the culture at large” (Gerber, 2015). It is similar to hegemonic masculinity in that it is both binary in orientation and sees masculinity as dominant. It differs in that “it operates by a different set of cultural rules and expectations, generating traits that can differ from those of hegemonic masculinity” including traits that fall into what Gerber calls “gender queerness.” Gerber identifies the specific differences between this new godly masculinity and hegemonic masculinity as “de-emphasizing heterosexual conquest, inclusive masculinity, and homo-intimacy.”

The result is a more fluid understanding of what it means to be a man. Rather than emphasizing the characteristics that make up hegemonic masculinity as the definitive maleness, this godly masculinity that is created from ex-gay ministries allows for men to express their maleness using both masculine and feminine traits.

Lomas et al (2016) talk about the “positive hegemonic norms” associated with hegemonic masculinity, rather than simply focusing on possible negative aspects. Their study describes the impact of a different form of religious activity, namely meditation as practiced in Communities of Practice, on hegemonic masculinity in Southern England. While meditation is a part of many religions, meditation in this case refers primarily to Buddhist-style meditation. The study showed that involvement in these Communities of Practice impacted the masculinity options that men felt they had, including “interpersonal intimacy, abstinence, and a sense of connectedness through spirituality.” The men in the study also felt, however, that hegemonic masculinity influenced both practices inside and outside of the Communities of Practice they were involved in. there seemed to be something to the fact that the meditation was conducted in community and not just alone in helping the men embrace some of these new definitions of masculinity. The reality that the men faced about conflicts between their old and new Communities is illustrative of the fact that theory and practice don’t exist in discrete realms but that these realms are constantly interacting with each other.

The discussion of hegemonic masculinities seems centred on masculinity as defined in the West. Certainly, on the surface, some of the issues that these religious takes on masculinity seek to redefine don’t need redefinition in the Philippine context. For example, the subject of men and touch is much different in the Philippines than Canada where I grew up. While men touching each other may be strange in Canada, certainly in the Philippines touch between men is an accepted form of interaction. I wonder, too, if the term “hegemonic” in and of itself creates difficulties in communicating the theory because it automatically leads one toward the negative? Lomas et al do present a good overview of the potential positives of hegemonic masculinity, but of greater use for our study will be what kinds of hegemonic structures men in Pingkian construct when looking at masculinity and what aspects, if any, of other hegemonies they redefine?

I am curious about your thoughts on the topic of masculinities. Is it true that there is more than one way to be a man? What impact does this have on how we work at shaping a better world? Please leave your thoughts in the comment box below.

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

Read Part 2 and Part 3


References:

Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities. 2nd Ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & society, 19(6), 829-859. doi: 10.1177/0891243205278639

Gallagher, S. K., & Wood, S. L. (2005). Godly manhood going wild?: Transformations in conservative Protestant masculinity. Sociology of religion, 66(2), 135-159. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/4153083

Gerber, L. (2015). Grit, guts, and vanilla beans: Godly masculinity in the ex-gay movement. Gender & Society, 29(1), 26-50. doi:10.1177/0891243214545682

Gilmore, 1990, Manhood in the making: cultural concepts of masculinity, Yale University Press.

Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2016). New Ways of Being a Man: “Positive” Hegemonic Masculinity in Meditation-based Communities of Practice. Men and Masculinities, 19(3), 289-310. doi:10.1177/1097184X15578531

Mackie, V. (2019, February 13). Gender and sexuality studies: Asia-Pacific perspectives. Lecture presented at University of the Philippines Asian Center, Quezon City, Philippines.

Recto, N.G. (1985). Cultural analysis from a native-view perspective: An ethnographic study of air traffic controllers. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Southern California.

Tylor, E. B. (1871). Primitive culture: Researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom, Vol 1. London: John Murray.


Image by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash.

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

Gerhard & Katarina Fast on their wedding day.

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

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

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

What lessons can we learn?

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

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

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

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

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

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

Ginugol ko ba ang aking kabataan sa paggawa ng mga maling bagay? Paano kapag hindi tinutupad ang ating mga pangarap sa buhay?

English

Mahal ko ang gubat. Noong bata pa ako wala akong ibang pangarap kundi mamuhay sa gubat bilang isang ermitanyo! Nais kong magtayo ng sariling kong log cabin at “live off the land.” Nabasa ko ang lahat ng uri ng mga libro tungkol sa pamumuhay sa gubat. Nagtayo ako ng mga tent sa loob ng bakuran namin doon ako natutulog. Ginugol ko ang aking mga bakasyon noong High School sa pagsasagwan ng mga ilog sa Nilagang Saskatchewan, kapwa bilang bahagi ng Nemeiben Lake Canoe at Bible Camp at kasama ang aking pamilya. Sinagwan ko ang mga Ilog Churchill, Paull, Geikie (salungat sa agos), South Saskatchewan (nang mag-isa lang ako), at Foster. Pinatakbo ko (at lumangoy) ang mga lagaslasan at nagsagwan ng mga lawa. Sinaliksik ko ang mga programang pang-edukasyon na makasisiguro na nakatira ako sa gubat habang buhay ako. Nakakatuwa naman.

Ang aming kamakailang oras sa Canada ay muling binuhay ang aking pagmamahal sa gubat. Itong nakarran na taon nagkaroon ako ng pagkakataong gumawa ng pagsagwan at nagbalik na rin sa Ilog Churchill. Ngunit marahil ang pinakamalaking epekto sa aking mga pangarap ay ang palabas sa TV na Alone. Ang saligan na palabas ay iiwan ang 10 mga tao na nag-iisa sa gubat. Pinapayagan ang mga ito ng 10 mga bagay upang matulungan silang makaligtas. Ang taong tumatagal ng pinakamahabang panahon ay mananalo ng kalahating milyon dollar. Nagkaroon ng maraming mga dalubhasa sa paligsahan sa loob ng 8 seasons ng palabas at napagtanto sa akin ang isang bagay: Ginugol ko ang aking kabataan sa paggawa ng mga maling bagay (I had a misspent youth).

Una kong narinig ang katagang iyon ay sa aming paglalakbay sa Faith Academy Senior High School trip. Naglalaro kami ng Fuzbol, isang medyo nakakagulo na laro na tila nagsasangkot ng maraming pag-ikot ng mga tungkod na may mga kalalakihang plastik na nakakabit sa kanila. Anumang mga shot na nashoot namin ay tsamba lamang. Lahat maliban sa isang manlalaro. Si Sir Dan Larson ang aming guro sa photography at may kakayahan siyang kontrolin ang bola. Matapos ang isang kamangha-manghang shot kung saan maliksi niyang inilipat ang bola gamit ang isa sa kanyang mga tagapagtanggol at pagkatapos ay hinampas ito sa goal, sinabi ng aming advisor sa klase na si Sir Derek Foster, “Ah. Ginugol mo ang iyong kabataan sa paggawa ng mga maling bagay! (A misspent youth).”

Iyon ang nagpapatibay sa kahulugan ng term para sa akin: “Isang kasanayan na may kaduda-dudang halaga na nakamit ng isa dahil sa paggastos ng labis na oras dito kung kailan dapat silang gumugol ng oras sa ibang gawain.” Napagtanto ko habang pinapanood ang mga dalubhasa sa Alone na hindi ako gumugol ng oras upang paunlarin ang mga kasanayan na gagawing matagumpay sa akin sa palabas. Alam ko ang ilang mga bagay at may tamang pangarap ngunit ang aking mga kasanayan sa basic survival ay hindi pa binuo.

May napagtanto din akong iba. Kasalukuyan akong nabubuhay sa buhay ng aking mga pangarap. Mayroon akong isang kamangha-manghang soulmate at pamilya na ibinabahagi ko sa aking buhay. Ginagawa ko ang gusto kong gawin – nagtuturo ng teolohiya ng simbahan at kultura sa mga tao sa buong mundo. Nagtatrabaho ako sa isang mahusay na samahan. Nakatira ako sa isang mahusay na lungsod. Mayroon akong mahusay na mga kasamahan sa gawain. Wala talaga akong mga reklamo na sulit banggitin. So ano ba’ng nangyari?

Sa tingin ko may dalawang pangarap ako noong bata ako – dalawang pangarap na hindi magkatugma. Ang isa ay mabuhay mag-isa sa gubat at ang isa ay magiging isang misyonero. Marahil ang isa sa mga pangunahing kadahilanan kung bakit nais kong mabuhay mag-isa sa gubat ay ang aking pagkamahiyain. Ako ay takot-na-takot makipag-usap sa mga tao. Naaalala ko ang isang pag-uusap ko sa isang dalaga sa aming grupo ng kabataan – Ginugol ko ang oras sa pagtingin sa sahig na nagbibigay ng isang salitang mga sagot. Sinadya kong guluhin ang taunang mga talumpati na kailangan naming ibigay sa elementarya para lang hindi ko maipakita sa buong paaralan. Kakaiba na ito ngayon ang ginugugol ko sa aking oras sa paggawa.

Bilang mga kalalakihan madalas tayong masabihan na “sundin ang aming mga pangarap,” ngunit paano kung ang aming mga pangarap ay hindi tugma sa kung sino tayo? Nabanggit ko sa itaas na ginalugad ko ang mga programang pang-edukasyon na magpapahintulot sa akin na manirahan sa bush habang buhay ko. Ang hindi ko nabanggit ay hindi ako nakapasok sa mga programang iyon. Sa halip ay nagtapos ako sa isang degree sa araling relihiyon mula sa University of Saskatchewan, at isang degree sa seminary mula sa Canadian Baptist Seminary. Humanga pa rin sa akin na ang isang mahiyain, tahimik na tao ay pipili ng isang pampublikong papel na ginagampanan sa isang ministeryo at mga misyon para sa isang landas sa karera! So anong nangyari? Sa palagay ko ang pagkakaiba ay maaaring ipaliwanag sa pamamagitan ng isang pagtawag kumpara sa isang panaginip. Ngayon napagtanto kong maaaring nagse-set up ako ng isang maling dichotomy dito ngunit magtiis ka muna sa akin. Hindi ako masyadong malayo sa aking karanasan sa seminary nang inaasahang mangangaral ako ng isang sermon. Sa pagtingin ko sa unang sermon na iyon (mula sa Mga Taga Roma 7 pa!) hindi ko naalala ang anumang pakiramdam ng pagiging mahiyain o takot. Wala akong ibang paliwanag para doon kaysa sa binago ako ng Banal na Espiritu. Hindi na ako naghanap ng mga pagkakataon upang maiwasan ang mga tungkulin sa pagsasalita sa publiko o pamumuno.

Sa palagay ko sa ilang mga paraan naging totoo sa akin ang turo ng Roma 7 dahil sa wakas ay nagawa ko ang hindi ko nais na gawin! Nasasabi ko na masasabi ko kaysa sa maling paggastos ng aking kabataan ay ginugol ko muli ang aking kabataan sa pagbuo ng mga kasanayang kakailanganin ko upang matupad ang bagong pangarap na aking nabubuhay. At wala akong babaguhin para sa mundo!

Sa palagay ko dapat ko ring sabihin na ang aking buhay ay naging medyo tahimik kahit na nakatira ako sa isang exotic na lugar. Hindi ako nakaranas ng anumang trauma. Ang aking mga relasyon ay buo lahat. Ni hindi ko naisip na nakagawa ako ng maraming sakripisyo. Ngunit napagtanto ko na ang iba ay nasa ibang kakaibang sitwasyon kaysa sa akin at maaaring hindi maging masaya sa kung nasaan sila ngayon.

Ano ang iyong mga pangarap mo noong bata ka pa at paano ba ito’y tumugma sa ginagawa mo ngayon? Ok lang ba yun? Mayroon ka ba’ng mga bagong pangarap ngayon?

Paano mo maipapaliwanag ang mga pagkakaiba? Maaari mo bang makita ang katibayan na ang Banal na Espiritu ay naging isang pangunahing bahagi ng mga pagbabagong iyon? Sa anong paraan?

Palaging malugod na tinatanggap ang feedback.

Pagbabahagi ang ginagawa ng mga kaibigan.

Akin ang Larawan.

A misspent youth? What happens when the dreams of the past don’t come true?

Tagalog

I love the bush. When I was younger I had no other dream than to live my life in the bush — as a hermit! I wanted to build my own log cabin and live off the land. I read all kinds of books about living in the bush. I built tents in the back yard and slept in them. I spent my High School summers canoeing in northern Saskatchewan, both as a part of Nemeiben Lake Canoe and Bible Camp and with my family. I paddled the Churchill, Paull, Geikie (upstream), South Saskatchewan (solo), and Foster Rivers. I ran (and swam) rapids and paddled lakes. I explored educational programs that would ensure that I lived in the bush for the rest of my life. It was fun.

Our recent time in Canada has rekindled my love for the bush. I have had a chance to do some paddling over the past year and even made a return trip to the Churchill River. But perhaps the greatest impact on my dreams of late has been the TV show Alone. Alone’s premise is to leave 10 people alone in the bush for as long as they can last. They are allowed 10 items to help them survive and the person who lasts the longest wins a cash prize. There have been a lot of highly skilled contestants over the 8 seasons the show has been on and it made me realise one thing. I have had a misspent youth.

I first heard that term on our Faith Academy Senior High School trip. We were playing Fuzbol, a rather perplexing game that seemed to involve a lot of spinning of rods with plastic men attached to them. Any goals scored by us seemed to be merely by chance. All except one player. Dan Larson was our photography teacher and he had the ability to actually control the ball. After one amazing shot where he deftly moved the ball with one of his defenders and then slammed it into the goal, our class advisor, Derek Foster, said, “Ah. A misspent youth!”

That cemented the definition of the term for me as “a skill of dubious value that one has gained because of spending too much time on it when they should have been spending time elsewhere.” I realised while watching the experts on Alone that I hadn’t taken the time to develop the skills that would make me successful on the show. I knew a few things and had the right dreams but my survival skills have not been developed.

I also realised another thing. I am currently living the life of my dreams. I have a wonderful soulmate and family that I share my life with. I am doing what I love doing — teaching theology of church and culture to people all over the world. I work for a great organisation. I live in a great city. I have great colleagues. I really have no complaints worth mentioning. So what happened?

I guess I really had two dreams when I was a kid — two rather incompatible dreams. One was to live alone in the bush while the other was to be a missionary. Perhaps one of the major reasons why I wanted to live alone in the bush was my shyness. I was petrified to talk to people. I remember one conversation I had with a young lady in our youth group — I spent the time looking at the floor giving one-word answers. I purposely messed up the yearly speeches we had to give in elementary school just so I wouldn’t have to present to the entire school. It’s odd that this is now what I spend my time doing.

As men we are often told to follow our dreams, but what if our dreams are incompatible with who we are? I mentioned above that I explored educational programs that would allow me to live in the bush for the rest of my life. What I didn’t mention is that I never entered those programs. Instead I ended up with a religious studies degree from University of Saskatchewan, and a seminary degree from Canadian Baptist Seminary. It still amazes me that a shy, quiet guy would choose such a public role a ministry & missions for a career path! So what happened? I guess the difference might be explained by a calling vs a dream. Now I realise I may be setting up a false dichotomy here but bear with me a little. I wasn’t very far into my seminary experience when I was expected to preach a sermon. As I look back on that first sermon (on Romans 7 of all things) I don’t recall any feelings of shyness or fear. I don’t have any other explanation for that than that the Holy Spirit changed me. I no longer looked for opportunities to avoid public speaking or leadership roles.

I guess in some ways Romans 7 became real to me in that I ended up doing what I didn’t want to do! I guess I could say that rather than mis-spending my youth I re-spent my youth developing the skills that I would need to fulfill the new dream I was living. And I wouldn’t change anything for the world!

I guess I should also say that my life has been pretty vanilla even though I live in an exotic place. I haven’t experienced any new trauma. My relationships are all intact. I don’t even think I have made a lot of sacrifices. But I do realise that others are in a much different situation than I am and may not be as happy with where they are right now.

What were your dreams growing up and how do they match what you are doing now? Is that ok? Do you have new dreams?

How can you explain the differences? Can you see evidence that the Holy Spirit has been a key part of those changes? In what ways?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image taken by me.

Magpakalalake tayo! Let’s be men! Understanding how the power of manliness comes through joining God on his mission.

Let’s be men!

Today there are lots of phrases designed to help men be men, ranging from the rather tame, “Man up!” to the more crass “Grow a pair!” In the Philippines we say, “Magpakalalake ka!

Did you know that this term is used in the Bible? Try and guess where. You may be surprised. It isn’t used as a command for Jesus’ followers to emulate. It’s not used to stir God’s people to serve Him in a more faithful way. In fact it is used by a group of people who are so inspired that they defeat God’s people and capture their most important religious artifact. 

The story is told in 1 Samuel 4. The scene opens on a battle between Israel and the Philistines where Israel ends up losing. As a way to ensure that they win the next battle, they quickly run home to get the Ark of the Covenant. When the Ark arrives the men of Israel “shouted so loudly that the earth rang with echoes.” This causes the Philistines to be afraid and they say,

“A god has come into ⌞their⌟ camp.” They also said, “Oh no! Nothing like this has ever happened before. We’re in trouble now! Who can save us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every kind of plague in the desert. Be strong, Philistines, and act like men, or else you will serve the Hebrews as they served you. Act like men and fight.”

What was the result? “The Philistines fought and defeated Israel!” I don’t know about you but this is very surprising to me. This story seems to be saying that if men are men that they can do the following:

  • They can defeat ancient Israel, God’s chosen people. 
  • They can chase everyone back to their own home. 
  • They can kill 30,000 enemy soldiers.
  • They can kill the priests that God has annointed and cause the death of their father, the nation’s leader.
  • They can capture the Ark of the Covenant and take it home as the spoils of war. 
  • They can keep themselves from being slaves of their enemy.
  • They can defeat the God of Israel!

This raises a lot of questions, doesn’t it? One of the key aspects to interpreting the Bible is “if you have a question, keep on reading.” If we keep on reading we will find out more.

When we keep on reading, we find out that the battle was in fact a part of God’s judgement against the evil things that Israel had done over the years. Perhaps the best sum up that we have of how Israel was acting during that time is in Judges that reads, “In those days Israel didn’t have a king. Everyone did whatever he considered right” (God’s Word). Even their priests are described in 1 Samuel 2:12 as “good for nothing,” which is pretty bad, they are also said to have “no faith in the Lord.” God saw what they were doing and pledged to fix things. He gave a sign to Eli, the High Priest, that this would all happen. “What is going to happen to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you: Both of them will die on the same day” (1 Samuel 2:34; see also 1 Samuel 3:13).

In 1 Samuel 5 we read that the Philistines placed the Ark in their own god, Dagon’s temple. This resulted in Dagon’s humiliation. In addition to that “The Lord dealt harshly with the people of Ashdod. He destroyed them by striking the people in the vicinity of Ashdod with tumors.” In an effort to appease the LORD, the people shuffled the Ark around from city to city. Finally they had enough and sent the Ark back to Israel. 1 Samuel 6 tells the story of the Ark’s return to Israel. So in the end, manning up didn’t really work out all that great for them.

There are other accounts in the Bible of how when people banded together, they were able to do the impossible. Genesis talks about the tower that people started building in what was to become Babylon (a name that eventually stands for humans grouping together against God). God, when he saw that they were going to be very successful, ensured that they wouldn’t be able to finish it. He said, “Now nothing they plan to do will be too difficult for them.” He confused their communication systems because he knew that his plans for them were much greater than their own. It wasn’t until Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit removed the language barriers, that God’s purposes are fully revealed. Rather than building a tower to reach the heavens (ie. their own kingdom), God wanted them to build his kingdom, which in the end is a much better kingdom. We know this because Babylon eventually stands for humans grouping together against God and we see it’s animal-like nature every day. I have written about that here and here.

So what does trusting God as men look like?

The enmity between Israel and Philistia continued for generations. One of the most famous encounters we know as the story of David and Goliath, where Israel emerges as the victor. What is interesting about the story of David and Goliath is that Goliath is the epitome of the man’s man — big, strong, famous, and arrogant. David, on the other hand, is just a kid. Even King Saul says, “.”

Paul’s claims to fame that reads almost like a manly bucket list of fame and adventure in 2 Corinthians 11:21-28:

  • Hebrew? Check.
  • Israelite? Check.
  • Abraham’s descendant? Check.
  • Christ’s servant? Check.
  • Worked hard. Check.
  • Been in prison because of Jesus? Check.
  • Been beaten? Check.
  • Faced death? Check. 
  • Beaten with 39 lashes. Check x 5.
  • Beaten with clubs. Check x 3.
  • Almost stoned to death. Check.
  • Shipwrecked. Check x 3.
  • Drifted on the sea for a night and a day. Check.
  • Faced dangers from raging rivers, from robbers, from my own people, and from other people. Check.
  • Faced dangers in the city, in the open country, on the sea, and from believers who turned out to be false friends. Check.
  • Gone without sleep, been hungry and thirsty. Check.
  • Gone without proper clothes during cold weather. Check.
  • Daily pressure of my anxiety about all the churches. Check.

What’s interesting is that Paul doesn’t give us this list to show us that he grew a pair or manned up. Rather he says something rather odd and seemingly unmanly. He says “If I must brag, I will brag about the things that show how weak I am.” Paul then goes on in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 to say, “Satan’s messenger, torments me to keep me from being conceited. I begged the Lord three times to take it away from me. But he told me: ‘My kindness  is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.’ So I will brag even more about my weaknesses in order that Christ’s power will live in me. Therefore, I accept weakness, mistreatment, hardship, persecution, and difficulties suffered for Christ. It’s clear that when I’m weak, I’m strong.”

Paul’s appeal for healing and Jesus answer can help us find answers on how best to be men. Jesus’ “No!” may seem unfair at first until we look closer. We need to remember how Jesus expresses his own masculinity. First of all, Paul’s appeal for healing and Jesus answer can help us find answers on how best to be men. Jesus’ “No!” may seem unfair at first until we look closer. We need to remember how Jesus expresses his own masculinity.

First of all, Jesus himself was a man who gained victory through his weakness. His cry of anguish in the garden of “take this cup ⌞of suffering⌟ away from me” is also answered by his “However, your will must be done, not mine.” He knew that he could achieve victory for himself in his own power but that the victory God wanted through him was achievable only through God’s power because it was so much bigger than just for him.

Secondly, Jesus’ answer to Paul is that he will provide the strength for Paul’s struggle, because Jesus’ dream for Paul is far bigger than Paul can accomplish.

So what should we do instead? It’s clear that the call to “be a man” is powerful enough to cause us to do impossible things. We can defeat the enemy. We can build a tower that reaches to the heavens. It’s also clear that the impossible things we can accomplish are not necessarily good in the end nor are they necessarily what God wants us to accomplish. To truly be men we need to join God on his mission and await his power so that we can help him accomplish it!

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do!

Image by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash.