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

Read this post in English.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basahin mo sa wikang Tagalog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image by Denis Agati on Unsplash.

Some insights on why fake news and conspiracy theories are obvious to some but not to others.

Basahin sa wikang Tagalog.

I have been enjoying Alexandre Horowitz’ On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the art of Observation. It is an eye-opening (see what I did there?) book on how to better pay attention to our communities. One particular part caused me to reflect on the current debate about truth. What is true? What is false? What makes something or someone trustworthy? Why do some believe “conspiracy theories”? Why do others believe “science”?

Horowitz talks about grandmasters in chess and relates it to how we pay attention to something. Here is the quote:

“Grandmasters remember phenomenal amounts of chess. It is estimated that a typical chess master remembers on the order of 50,000 to 300,000 “chunks”—arrangements of five to seven pieces placed normally, not randomly, on a board. They might know, unconsciously, 100,000 opening moves. These memory stores allow them to recall the precise positions of a large number of pieces on a series of games in progress, having seen them once. Sometimes this ability even extends to random piece placements, since a randomly placed piece is surprising, and distinctive, to someone who can see the logic in the piece placement of a game underway. By contrast, when a novice chess player looks at a board, he sees a jumbled arrangement of black and white pieces. If he is attentive, he might later be able to remember a few squares of the board, or a handful of pieces neighboring one another. Nothing else. The difference is that the scene is meaningful to the chess master but not to the novice. To the expert, every piece relates to the others, and every arrangement of pieces on a board relates to previous boards the player has seen or made. They become as familiar as the faces of friends.”

Nahati sa dalawa: Isang master ng chess at isang baguhan. Magkaiba ang kanilang mga alam pagdating sa chess. When I posted the quote on Facebook, my friend Aaron, who also was provoked by the quote, responded.

“As I read this, I thought of a variety of things:

The earliest victims of fake news were Adam and Eve.

Where is the problem, with the “novices” or those who spread fake news and conspiracies? Is there anything we can do to combat this problem? Or it is just unavoidable because we each have our own “mastery” in life and associated with it that we will not be able to master all aspects of the world. For example, some people are good at technology, while others of us are good at history, politics or law. Those who are good at technology may not have “mastery” in politics or law, so they can also fall victim to fake news about it.

Scientists acknowledge that their “mastery” is to discover, improve our knowledge and find answers to questions such as where we came from. The church, on the other hand, also has “mastery” properties such as the strengthening of faith. But there are times when the teaching of the church does not match the teaching of science. Both have mastery, but there are differences. And if there are differences, who are we to believe? And if science has proofs of their findings and the church refuses to accept and continues to enjoy existing teachings that are contrary to the findings of science, who are we to believe? If science has proof but those in the church still believe differently, isn’t it like we are the ones spreading fake news to the members of our church?

These are just thoughts I just want to share. The curiosity of my mind is likely to attack again.”

Great, isn’t it? It caused me to start thinking again so here are my responses to him:

“Thanks for the reply. Your mind is really flowing. I think we will find the answer in the flow of the mind 😉 It is true that Adam and Eve must have been deceived-that is at least what the bible teaches about Eve. Adam knew very well what he was doing wrong.

When it comes to the idea of mastery, one part is experience. Chess masters will probably be good because they have a certain something. But they are also good because of the practice they do every day. I think, even though I know almost nothing about chess other than the basics of the pieces and layout, when I play every day, I will probably also have mastery somehow. Or if not mastery and at least I have an appreciation for the mastery of the master.

For us, it is important to give appreciation to people who are on the other perspective. Often, what we do is purely imaginary. We think that they are stupid. We think they don’t know. We think whatever. But how can we say that when we have no appreciation? There are reasons why those in favor of science are in favor of science. And those in favor of conspiracy theories etc. are in favor of that. We must first find out where they are. We will probably find the solution by talking.

This is the framework given to us by Ka Jose de Mesa when it comes to appreciation:

Attitude #1: Presume the cultural element or aspect under consideration to be positive (at least in intent) until proven otherwise.

Attitude #2: Be aware of your own cultural presuppositions and adopt the insider’s point of view.

Attitude #3: Go beyond the cultural stereotypes.

Attitude #4: Use the vernacular as a key to understanding the culture in its own terms.

Issues such as the conflict between science and faith are likely to be answered as well.

You? What do you think? Is this a solution to our problem of fake news? What would you add? Please use the comment box below. 

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Image by Rafael Rex Felisilda on Unsplash. 

Ang ilang mga insight kung bakit ang mga pekeng balita at mga teorya ng pagsasabwatan ay halata sa ilan ngunit hindi sa iba

Read in English.

Natutuwa ako sa aklat ni Alexandra Horowitz na On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the art of Observation. Ito ay isang pagbubukas ng mata (nakita mo na ba ang ginawa ko doon?) na libro kung paano mas bigyang pansin ang ating mga komunidad. Isang partikular na bahagi ang naging dahilan upang pagnilayan ko ang kasalukuyang debate tungkol sa katotohanan. Ano ang tunay? Ano ang huwad? Ano ang ginagawang mapagkakatiwalaan ang isang bagay o isang tao? Bakit may mga naniniwala sa mga “conspiracy theories”? Bakit ang iba ay naniniwala sa “agham”?

Pinag-uusapan ni Horowitz ang tungkol sa mga grandmaster sa chess at iniuugnay ito sa kung paano namin binibigyang pansin ang isang bagay. Narito ang quote:

“Natatandaan ng mga grandmaster ang napakalaking dami ng chess. Tinatantya na ang isang tipikal na master ng chess ay naaalala sa pagkakasunud-sunod ng 50,000 hanggang 300,000 “chunks”—mga pagsasaayos ng lima hanggang pitong piraso na inilagay nang normal, hindi random, sa isang board. Maaaring alam nila, nang hindi namamalayan, 100,000 pambungad na moves. Binibigyang-daan sila ng mga memory store na ito na maalala ang mga tumpak na posisyon ng malaking bilang ng mga piraso sa isang serye ng mga laro na isinasagawa, na nakita ang mga ito nang isang beses. Minsan ang kakayahang ito ay umaabot pa sa mga random na placement ng piraso, dahil nakakagulat ang isang random na inilagay na piraso , at katangi-tangi, sa isang taong nakakakita ng lohika sa paglalagay ng piraso ng isang laro na isinasagawa. Sa kabaligtaran, kapag ang isang baguhang manlalaro ng chess ay tumitingin sa isang board, nakikita niya ang isang pinagsama-samang pagkakaayos ng mga itim at puting piraso. Kung siya ay matulungin, siya baka mamaya maalala ang ilang mga parisukat ng pisara, o isang dakot na pirasong magkatabi. Wala nang iba. Ang kaibahan ay ang eksena ay makabuluhan sa master ng chess ngunit hindi sa baguhan. Sa eksperto, e ang mismong piraso ay nauugnay sa iba, at bawat pagsasaayos ng mga piraso sa isang board ay nauugnay sa mga nakaraang board na nakita o ginawa ng manlalaro. Nagiging pamilyar sila gaya ng mga mukha ng magkakaibigan.”

Nahati sa dalawa: Isang master ng chess at isang baguhan. Magkaiba ang kanilang mga alam pagdating sa chess. When I posted the quote on Facebook, my friend Aaron, who also was provoked by the quote, responded.

“Habang binabasa ko ito, naisip ko itong iba’t-ibang bagay:

Ang pinakaunang biktima ng fake news ay si Adam at Eve.

Nasaan nga ba ang problema, sa mga “novice” o sa mga nagpapakalat ng fake news at conspiracies? May magagawa ba tayo para malabanan ang problemang ito? O sadyang hindi ito maiiwasan dahil may kanya-kanya naman tayong “mastery” sa buhay at kaakibat nito na hindi natin magagawang maging master ng lahat ng aspeto sa mundo. Halimbawa, may mga taong magaling sa larangan ng teknolohiya, samantalang may iba sa atin ang magaling sa kasaysayan, pulitika o kaya batas. Ang magaling sa teknolohiya ay pwedeng walang “‘mastery” sa pulitika o batas, kaya sila ay maaaring maging biktima rin mga fake news na tungkol dito.

Ang mga scientists ay ina-acknowledge natin na ang “mastery” nila ay ang pagtuklas, pagsasabuti ng ating karunungan at paghahanap ng mga kasagutan sa mga katanungan tulad ng saan nga ba tayo nagmula. Ang simbahan naman ay may mga angking “mastery” din tulad ng pagpapatibay ng pananampalataya. Ngunit may mga pagkakataong hindi nagtutugma ang turo ng simbahan sa turo ng agham. Parehong may “mastery”, ngunit may mga pagkakaiba. At kung may mga pagkakaiba, sino nga ba ang paniniwalaan natin? At kung may mga proofs ang agham sa mga natuklasan nila at ayaw tanggapin ng simbahan at patuloy na tinatangkilik ang nakagisnang katuruan na salungat sa natuklasan ng agham, sino ba dapat nating paniwalaan? Kung may proof na ang agham pero iba pa rin ang paniniwala ng mga nasa simbahan, hindi ba parang tayo mismo ang nagpapakalat ng fake news sa mga myembro ng ating simbahan?

Galing, diba? Napaisip ulit tuloy ako kaya it ang mga tugong ko sa kanya:

Ito ay pawang mga thoughts lamang na gusto ko lang ibahagi. Umaatake na naman malamang ang pagiging curious ng aking isip.

“Salamat sa tugon. Maganda talaga ang agos ng isip mo. Sa palagay ko hahanapin natin ang sagot sa pag-agos ng isip 😉 Totoo naman ciguro na niloko sina Adan at si Eva — yun at least ang turo ng bibliya patungkol kay Eva. Alam na alam ni Adan kung anong ang kanyang pinapasukang mali.

“Pag dating ng ideya ng mastery, isang bahagi ay karanasan. Malamang magagagling ang mga chess masters dahil meron silang certain something. Pero magaling din sila dahil sa mga practice na ginawa nila araw araw. Sa palagay ko, kahit halos wala akong alam sa chess bukod sa mga basics ng mga pieces at layout, kapag araw-arawin ko ang paglaro, malamang magkakaroon din ako ng mastery kahit papaano. O kung hindi mastery at least meron akong appreciation sa mastery ng master.

“Para sa atin, mahalagang bigyang appreciation ang mga tao na nasa kabilang perspektibo. Kadalasan, puro akala pala ang ating ginagawa. Akala natin bobo. Akala natin hindi marunong. Akala natin kung anu-ano. Pero paano ba natin masabi yun kapag wala tayong appreciation? May mga dahilan kung bakit ang mga pabor sa agham ay may pabor sa agham. At ang mga may pabor sa conspiracy theories atbp ay may pabot diyan. Alamin muna dapat natin kung nasaan sila. Malamang matutuklasan natin and solusyon sa pamamagitan sa pakikipag-usap.

“Ito ang gabay na binigay sa atin ni Ka Jose de Mesa pagdating sa appreciation:

Saloobin #1: Ipagpalagay na ang elemento ng kultura o aspetong isinasaalang-alang ay positibo (kahit sa layunin) hanggang sa mapatunayang hindi.

Saloobin #2: Magkaroon ng kamalayan sa iyong sariling mga pagpapalagay sa kultura at tanggapin ang pananaw ng tagaloob.

Saloobin #3: Higit pa sa mga stereotype ng kultura.

Saloobin #4: Gamitin ang katutubong wika bilang susi sa pag-unawa sa kultura sa sarili nitong mga termino.

Malamang masasagot din ang mga isyu katulad ng paglalaban ng agham at pananampalataya.

Ikaw? Ano ba sa palagay mo? Solusyon ba kaya ito sa problema natin sa fake news? Ano ba’ng idagdag mo? Pakisulat sa mga comments sa ibaba.

Ang pagbabahagi ay ginagawa ng magkakaibigan

Larawan ni Rafael Rex Felisilda sa Unsplash.

What four myths do I need to consider when talking about deconstruction & how can I counteract them in my own process of deconstruction?

Deconstruction has been in the news of late — especially in the news surrounding Christian theology and practice. Christians, dissatisfied with the way things are going, have been pushing back against the status quo. And with good cause. For example, in just in the past year we have seen pushback against:

  • The usefulness of borrowed theologies to the church.
  • The Canadian Indian Residential School System and the church.
  • Gender and the church.
  • Race and ethnicity and the church.

So what’s the big deal? Why deconstruction?

Deconstruction is a push back against the idea that there is one standard interpretation of meaning in the world. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, “Deconstruction focuses on a text as such rather than as an expression of the author’s intention, stressing the limitlessness (or impossibility) of interpretation and rejecting the Western philosophical tradition of seeking certainty through reasoning by privileging certain types of interpretation and repressing others. It was effectively named and popularized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida from the late 1960s and taken up particularly by US literary critics.”

For example, I grew up in the era when martial arts didn’t exist. What we had was the karate chop. As time progressed, and as our knowledge grew, we came to understand that the term karate chop was problematic. First of all, karate is only one of many martial arts, each with their own methods and systems. Second, chop is only one of many martial arts moves. In fact today karate chops seem to be limited to striking boards with the side of one’s hand. They have also lost much of their coolness factor — I challenge you to find a karate chop in a Marvel movie! The meaning system of karate chop has been deconstructed from its dominant place and been relegated to one small part of the larger category of martial arts.

Deconstruction is a necessary process but it is challenging because it deals with the very basic definitions of “meaning.” Those raised with a concept of Absolute Truth find it hard to separate Absolute Truth from the truths that I believe at any given time. [For more of my thoughts on truth, see my posts, herehereherehere, and here]. For example, it is Absolutely True that the karate chop is a thing. There are many experts in the technique in the world today. However, what isn’t absolutely true is that the karate chop universally identifies all forms of martial arts today. The term has been replaced with Martial Arts.

I should also point out that it is important to not simply deconstruct — one also needs to construct a new system that is more reflective of the basic realities of the world. Granted this has been a rather simple explanation of a very complex topic. If you want to understand it more you will need to read Derrida for yourself. However, I do believe that there are four myths, or false assumptions, that we need to be aware of when we engage in deconstruction. Without understanding these myths we won’t be very effective in our deconstruction-reconstruction process.

The myth of the noble savage.

There is an idea that pre-civilisation was an idyllic time of peace, joy, and happiness that was subsequently destroyed by the arrival of various civilising forces. The noble savage represents the people unsullied by civilisation and is often the person that we wish we were and that we sometimes deconstruct to become. Of course, we can’t deny that colonialism has wreaked havoc on the world but to say that pre-colonial cultures were perfect is also an error.

Often our ideas of deconstruction want us to return to this idyllic time of peace, joy, and happiness. How can I counteract this myth when I deconstruct? Rather than assume that all new things are bad and all old things are good, it might be better to find culturally appropriate ways to deal with all these bad things so that our new, reconstructed world, is a better place. Even though both pre- and post-colonial times are problematic, deconstruction seeks to find indigenous solutions to the problems.

The myth of the tabula rasa.

Tabula rasa means simply, “clean slate” and is the belief that all people are born as blanks that are slowly filled up over a lifetime.

Theologically speaking the only true tabula rasas were Adam and Eve, who had original righteousness. Once they began their slavery to sin — a condition that now affects the entire human race — their slates were no longer blank.

What we often also miss in this is that while we may be born blank, the influences around us are by no means blank. We are socialised and enculturated using specific systems, languages, structures, and processes that may or may not vary from other systems, languages, structures, and processes in the world. One key aspect to military training is battle school that is designed specifically to extract a person from as many of these influences as possible and reshape them into soldiers.

Often our ideas of deconstruction want us to return to an existence where all influences are removed and a whole new set of influences are written. How can I counteract this myth when I deconstruct? We often wish that we were blank slates. I myself have said many times that I wished I was able to read the Bible for the first time again. The reality is that we are not blank slates and no amount of hoping will change that. Rather we can embrace our previous experiences and seek ways of writing into the margins of what we have already done.

The myth of cultural purity.

No one is an island and no culture exists in isolation. All are impacted by cultural hybridity.

I remember when our class on Philippine Society and Culture at the University of the Philippines read Alvina and Madulid’s Flora Filipina: From Acapulco to Manila that talked about how Spanish trade introduced many botanical species that are popularly considered native to the Philippines. This is called the Columbian Exchange. Alfred W. Crosby coined the term and defined it this way,

“In 1491, the world was in many of its aspects and characteristics a minimum of two worlds—the New World, of the Americas, and the Old World, consisting of Eurasia and Africa. Columbus brought them together, and almost immediately and continually ever since, we have had an exchange of native plants, animals and diseases moving back and forth across the oceans between the two worlds. A great deal of the economic, social, political history of the world is involved in the exchange of living organisms between the two worlds.”

On a more local scale, the church is not merely a bunch of individuals who share some common beliefs. The church is a community — a body, a building, a vine, a nation, a people — that shares life, work, and wonder. That’s why none of what the church does is to be done in isolation — we need the input of others in our theologising.

How can I counteract this myth when I deconstruct? Rather than trying to remove all outside influences, it might be better to embrace cultural hybridity by engaging others to find new perspectives, new ideas, new world views, and new paradigms that will help us to see things in a more complete and complex way. For example, if my own experience with Jesus is framed around guilt-innocence then dialogue with those who have an honour-shame or power-fear framework would help me to see that salvation is a much more complete and complex thing.

It’s also important to point out that this is a two-way street because both parties in the exchange are impacted.

The myth of cultural essentialism.

Cultural essentialism is the belief that cultures must contain certain essential characteristics. A simple example would be, “Americans are rude and Canadians are polite.” The problem that neither of these statements is entirely accurate — there are many polite Americans and many rude Canadians. Furthermore, there is no law that says that in order to identify as an American I need to be rude, or to identify as a Canadian I need to be polite.

Essentialism a form of generalisation that doesn’t take into account the differences that exist within cultures and seeks to smooth them out into some kind of manufactured, easily defined, timeless reality that isn’t really real. Reality is more nuanced than that. The example of Americans and Canadians above also doesn’t take into account a vast range of other factors that can’t merely be smoothed over, including but not limited to, gender, socio-economic position, race and ethnicity, geographical location, and political bent.

I should point out here that the oft-mentioned idea of “colonial mentality” is related to this. The term is used in a pejorative way to indicate those who don’t think in an appropriately indigenous way (which is also used often in a pejorative way).

How can I counteract this myth when I deconstruct? The simplest way is to find ways of looking through Other’s eyes. For me, a middle-aged white male, that would mean developing relationships with people different than I. The Bible’s meaning may be clear to me but is that only a false clarity? Is there another perspective I need to see?

These are some of my initial thoughts on deconstruction so I am sure that I have missed something. What do you think? Is there another myth we can add to this list?

Your voice is important to me. That’s why commenting is open on this post. Please let me know what you think below.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by alleksana on Pexels.

“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).

Adam Savage & Mikhail Bakhtin on why sharing matters to us.

I just finished reading Adam Savage’s Every tool’s a hammer: Life is what you make it. In the book, Savage, one of the stars of Mythbusters, talks about his life as a maker. One chapter is devoted to sharing and it struck me as particularly powerful.

Savage says, “I’ve run into many people who don’t believe in sharing their work, or more specifically that sharing their work, their methodologies, their custom processes, even their enthusiasm, incurs a direct cost to them…. Why would you not want to share the things you love? Why would you not want to share the cool things you’ve made? Or the triumph of a challenging project you’ve overcome with your friends? Why would you hide the knowledge you’ve acquired over the years or pretend that your hopes and dreams aren’t worth shouting from the rooftops? In my experience the more you give away the richer you will be.”

The same can be said for theologising. Rather than trying to protect the truth and putting it in a box — as if the truth needs protecting and as if I have a corner on that truth — it might be better to share the truths that I have come to know so that I can learn from the truths that others have come to know and that together we can journey towards the Truth!

This is because the opposite of sharing is selfishness.

Mikhail Bakhtin likened this kind of selfishness to monologue. For Bakhtin, monologue isn’t the carefully created comedic routine of the standup comedian. Rather monologue is the predominance of one voice over and above all other voices. It’s when, for example, one group, one church, one person, or one coalition claims to have a corner on the truth and subsequently rejects, silences, or bids farewell to any other voices. In many ways it sees other voices as opposing voices rather than voices to chat with. These are “It’s my way or the highway” kinds of voices.

Bakhtin saw truth as being discovered through dialogue. As he says in his Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, “Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.” This solution was what he called dialogic and heteroglossia, or the recognition of other voices in the conversation.

It’s only through dialogue that I can see the Other’s perspective. Usually in theology we come into a situation with a pre-defined perspective — of darkness and light, good and evil, insiders and outsiders, sheep and goats, etc. These are certainly biblical concepts that describe the world. However, where it all falls apart is when I begin placing people into these various categories without actually finding out if in fact they should be placed there! It also falls apart when I miss whether I myself need to be placed into the negative category. What I mean is that the tendency we have when reading scripture is to place ourselves in the role of the hero when in fact we may be the villain.

Case in point is the story of the prodigal son. We all like to identify with the prodigal son, who goes away and lives a wasteful, sinful life before repenting and returning to his father. While the father is the true hero of the story, it’s the prodigal who does the right thing. What I have yet to hear preached (nor have I myself preached) is a sermon where I identify with the older brother, who starts out inside his father’s home but ends the story outside the home. The son who is the bad guy. The fact that, even though both sons are given equal time in the parable, we identify the parable as being about the prodigal son proves my point.

When I engage in dialogue with others, when I share with them and when they share with me, I discover things about them that I didn’t know and about myself that I also didn’t know. Because we have now shared our stories, we can begin a journey together towards a proper relationship with God.

But I do have a confession. Even though I enjoy discovering truth together with someone else, I am not really that good at doing it. I prefer to be right. I prefer to be the one that people listen to. I prefer to already have the answer figured out. It’s hard for me to sit and listen rather than sit and think about what I will say next. I need to continue to work on listening rather than answering.

I’m curious as to your take on this, which is why comments have been enabled on this blog post. Is it easy for you to engage in dialogue? Please share your thoughts below.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

The 10 most read posts of 2021 on michaeljfast.com

Even though I started blogging in 2005, I didn’t seriously do much blogging until this past year. As you can see people are interested in reading about theology, truth, anthropology, and the pandemic.

Here are the top 10 blog posts for 2021.

  1. 3 Types of Evil
  2. When is it appropriate to appropriate? Why appropriation is bad. (Part 1)
  3. A misspent youth? What happens when the dreams of the past don’t come true?
  4. Did you know that Matthew 18’s instruction to “go, confront him when you are alone” isn’t the only Christian way to deal with conflict? and it’s Tagalog version Alam mo ba ang tagubilin ng Matthew 18 na “puntahan mo siya at kausapin nang sarilinan” ay hindi lamang ang tanging paraan upang harapin ang hindi pagkakasundo ng mga Kristiyano?
  5. Alam mo na ba na meron sa Bibliya ang Pagpapagaling sa Pamamagitan ng Gamot? (Part 1)
  6. Emic vs Etic: Understanding how insider & outsider perspectives interact when doing theology. An example from the Philippines.
  7. Ang bakuna at ang Tatak ng Halimaw: Bakit ang pagtuon sa iba pang tatak ng Bibliya ay mas kapaki-pakinabang sa ating buhay Kristiyano and its English version The Vaccine and the Mark of the Wild Animal: Why focussing on the Bible’s other mark is more useful to our Christian lives.
  8. On negotiating truth and drawing lines in the sand: Does the fact that all truth is negotiated need to worry me?
  9. What is the life lesson I taught my kids every day?
  10. Oh no, Canada: Reflections on Canada on Canada Day

Thanks for reading this year!

As always, I love hearing your voice. That’s why the comment section is open below.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.

Changing ways of approaching truth: When “West” sometimes means “North” (but still really means “West”)

Truth and its discovery has taken a beating of late. The above photo was taken while I was facing North and is often laughed at by the local kids who pass by daily on the schoolbus. “How can it be ‘Highway 31 West‘ when the road goes North?” they scoff. This is compounded by the fact that the arrow under ‘West’ on the sign does actually point North. How can this be? The answer is actually quite simple but it does take some extra knowledge in order to figure it out. We need to know that Highway 31 only heads north for another couple of kilometres before turning West once again. In addition, we need to know that the general trend of Highway 31 is East-West and not North-South. Finally we need to realise that the sign is on another road and the arrows simply indicate the direction one needs to travel in order to go either East or West. Once we know this additional information we realise that the sign makes perfect sense and that the sign speaks the truth.

It reminds me of the meme that circulates from time to time on social media where two people are looking at a number lying on the ground. From one’s perspective it is the number 6 but from the other’s perspective it’s the number 9. The meme is presented as a way of showing that truth is governed by our perspectives. What the meme doesn’t point out, however, is that a 6 is a 6 and a 9 is a 9. In fact on some playing cards where the context is not able to immediately determine which number is intended, a line is placed under the number to show us the proper intent. We can’t just change a 6 to a 9 or a 9 to a 6 willy-nilly depending on our perspectives. So then how can we figure these kinds of things out?

The process of knowing the truth is called epistemology and it is more complex than we might think. [For more on whether we can actually know truth, see my posts here, here, here, and here].

Luke’s prologue in Luke-Acts shows us the complex nature of the epistemology used it writing the book when he says “many have attempted to write,” receiving information from “eyewitnesses” and “servants of God,” that he himself has “followed everything from the beginning,” and all of this confirms as true “what you have been told.”

Just like Luke, we also use a rather complex process in determining whether something is true or not. This process often includes five factors: Ancient source, family, expert, frameworks and institutions, and self.

1. Ancient source. Sometimes this is the Bible. Even the textual criticism of the Bible is partially based on “the earliest and most reliable mansuscripts.” I like how the Manga Messiah says that Jesus’ stories are “Adapted from the Ancient Texts.” Other times it’s the older of two documents making truth claims about the same topic. For example, in the property disputes in the Philippines are often determined based upon whose documents are older. Regardless, we tend to prioritise older sources over newer sources, perhaps because they are tried and tested.

2. Family members. Family members are instrumental in both setting the stage for how we know if something is true or not and in how we negotiate truth on a day by day basis. The faiths that we follow, the truths that we believe, and the traditions that we hold dear are largely because of the family members who have helped shape our reality. Our family is also significant in helping guide us as we change our truths from one to another.

3. Experts and Guides. We often look to experts and guides when trying to determine truth. But sometimes our understandings of who fits this category change. For example, medical doctors used to be people that were listened to without question. Lately it seems that this is no longer the case. The speed of changes that have happened during the pandemic have opened the scientific process to scrutiny in ways that are unprecedented. Any change in official responses to or understandings of COVID-19 are viewed with suspicion because the general populace is largely unaware of how the scientific process works.

Of course none of this is news for people in science or in the medical profession as a whole. My wife Eva likes to recount her experience as a Public Health Nurse. She did it long enough for the advice she was giving to come full circle. She started out saying one thing, then that changed to something else, which then changed back to the original thing after a few years. Rather than this being evidence that medical experts don’t know anything, it is actually reflection on how the process of scientific discovery takes place. Each and every truth claim is constantly being tested and retested through a process that includes peer review, re-experimentation to try and duplicate results, other researchers discovering new things about old topics, and changes in the frameworks and perspectives behind the science.

Those who claim persecution [“I have been fired from my position for taking this perspective”] or censorship [“read this before it gets taken down!”] are often touted among some circles as experts because they are going against the flow. These outliers have assumed the role of new experts among some segments of the population. What is important to notice here is that there is also lots of evidence of manipulation taking place on this level, especially through the use of social media and big data. There is a complex system of networked disinformation that through an elaborate system of levels create a buzz on social media that seems to change political outcomes. See the Cambridge Analytica scandal for how this works. What this means is that a mere claim of persecution or censorship may be merely one of the cogs in the misinformation or fake news system.

4. Institutions and Doctrines. Many times our beliefs line up with the institutions or the agreed set of rules that those institutions espouse. Whether it is signing a code of conduct, a statement of faith, or a contract, these rules govern to a certain extent the way in which we interpret truth. Take for example the arguments churches have over the minute details of the church constitution when there is a problem.

There has been a growing mistrust of institutions over the years. From the concept of “the Man,” it has grown to distrust and sometimes anger towards the government, the church, etc. And for good reason — sometimes institutions get it wrong. Sometimes they only prioritise one perspective at the expense of the Other. Sometimes they have an agenda that may or may not be opposed to the interests of the majority. Examples abound.

Doctrines are undergoing deconstruction largely because people are dissatisfied with them. I like this quote from Zachary Wagner: “A huge percentage of people who ‘deconstruct’ are trying to save their faith, not abandon it. They’re reevaluating the relationship between the Christian culture and Christianity itself because they *don’t* want to lose faith in Jesus.” To this I would add, deconstruction is okay for the Christian, as long as it follows Jesus’ path of redemption, rebirth & resurrection.

5. Personal experience. Ultimately it all boils down to this. All of the above sources of truth are filtered through our own understandings and frameworks. Are we skilled enough at this? In reality it has always come down to this. But since our personal experiences have led to mistrust in the other parts of epistemology, our final decisions will be different than past generations.

This complex epistemological process is why it is difficult to change the way people think and act; why it’s nearly impossible to change how someone views the truth because even if we are able to change one of these factors there are four others ready and willing to keep on keeping on the way it has always been.

What do you think of all of this? Do you find these are also your go-to sources when determining truth?

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Image taken in Herschel, Saskatchewan, Canada is mine.