There has been a lot of talk about the “new normal” of late. Some are looking forward to it while others are waiting to get back to the old normal. Those advocating the creation of a new normal acknowledge that things haven’t always been great for many people in society.
For example, even though it’s called civil society doesn’t mean that it is very civil. Related to this is the fragmentation of society that gets more and more obvious each day. The general population’s introduction to lockdown-related isolation reveals that many people were already isolated in the old normal — it’s just that no one really paid them much attention.
In the church, there was an emphasis on what can be called Temple Spirituality — where church is what happens inside the four walls of the church — rather than realizing that the functionality of the church happens outside the four walls too. Related to this is the fact that the church has often outsourced its pastoring to professionals and neglected the priesthood of all believers.
What parts of normal are you not looking forward to returning?
What parts of the new normal are you looking forward to embracing?
“Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others.”
Mikhail Bahktin, Discourse in the Novel, 1935
What if I intended to get to Dialogue but only arrived at Monologue?
The Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin spoke a lot about language and truth in the early part of the 20th century. Since one of the foundational concepts of this blog is the function of truth telling, it’s important to see what Bakhtin can contribute to the discourse of truth discovery.
For Bakhtin, the discovery of truth happens in dialogue. That means that many voices all come together and as they interact with each other they discover truth. This is common knowledge. After all, who doesn’t appreciate the ability of a good debate to get to the core of an issue.
Now we get to the hard part. What if I know something is true already? What if, because of my religious affiliations, or my family traditions, or the advice of significant and influential people, I have developed an understanding if the truth that I feel is right? Does the purpose of dialogue then become trying to convince others of my truth?
I recently responded to a meme posted by a friend on Facebook. The meme pointed out that offence is not always a marker for truth. Of course me being me I had to comment and use the moment to teach something (not perhaps my best trait). I had two motives, the first being a genuine desire to enter into dialogue with my friend. The second was of course to be right :-p
I even had a Bible verse to back up my truth claims. I couched the reply in the form of a question on how to interpret the weaker brother verse from Corinthians in an age where it seems many get easily offended.
But the dialogue didn’t happen.
According to Bakhtin, if it’s not dialogue then it’s monologue, which for Bakhtin is the gravest of sins. My interaction with my FB friend was intended to start dialogue, wasn’t it? Are there forms of “dialogue” that are in effect “monologue”? What factors contribute to fostering dialogue? Is merely saying that “I want to dialogue on this” enough? Or is there more to it than that? Is it simply because it’s on social media that it becomes monologue?
Like most churches that I know, Pingkian Family Worship embraced the idea of a pre-recorded or live-streamed church service early on in the days of the pandemic. Now of course we are so used to that kind of worship that some wonder if there will always be a segment of society that wants to continue to do church virtually. But what if for some reason doing a hybrid live + online service is less than ideal? What options are available?
“But many church leaders are considering running two kinds of services: in-person and then a separate one devoted to online. In other words, online will become something other than just a live-stream of whatever is happening in the auditorium or sanctuary on Sunday.”
He got me thinking about Pingkian Family Worship and & the applicability of a hybrid church service. Once we can gather face-to-face again, what is the ability or desire of people in our community to watch something online? Is that something that’s even applicable in a place like Pingkian?I was listening to our class on applied leadership and Pastor Oliver from Cagayan de Oro talked about what they are doing in their church. He called it “simbalay,” which is a blending of the words “simba” [worship] and “balay/bahay” [home] together and is the idea that people are doing church in their own homes. That got me thinking that perhaps in the Philippine context a hybrid service isn’t an in person service + an online presence but rather an in person service + a worship-at-home kind of service.
So how would this fit in Pingkian? If in COVID-times an online service can serve as a means of equipping people to lead church in their bubbles, perhaps a face-to-face service can be a way of equipping people to lead their families in worship at home as well.
I guess we need to do some kind of survey among our members. We can ask them questions such as:
What do you enjoy about worship?
What do you need from worship?
And what can you give in worship?
This will help us know how we can better prepare them for leading their families at home. But there would be a continued corporate portion to our twice-a-month services as well. Perhaps there could be an online component for those who can’t make it, such as people who are isolated at home, people who are working and can’t come, and other people.
I guess we need to identify those people who have previously fallen through the cracks when it comes to being able to attend a corporate worship service in person. I’m thinking about people who because of their work aren’t able to attend. Perhaps people who are sick or bedridden or or need to stay home are also not able to attend. I wonder what other forms of isolation people experience that keeps them from attending a face-to-face service?
I came across this post I wrote almost exactly 10 years ago and I realised that God’s love and God’s justice are not a dichotomy but are in fact the same thing. i think that perhaps I was confused with some modern theological positions that somehow pit justice against love. What I realise now is that justice in the Bible is not some kind of punishment for sin but is in fact freedom from oppression.
I revisited this post today from 2012 and I think it has relevance today, especially in light of how COVID-19 restrictions have brought the discussion of what the church is to the forefront of society as a whole. Can you help me out? Do you have an answer to the question I pose here?
The Greeks used an everyday word to describe when they gathered together as Christians. We use a religious word to describe the same thing. And that fact has a tremendous impact upon how each of us understands the concept.
The funny thing is is that it is the same word: “Church.”
I spend a lot of my time trying to define this word for leaders in the Christian movement. We look at how it is used in the Bible; we look at what it meant in the original Greek; we study how it has been used through the ages since the 1st century; and so on and so forth. And when we come to a conclusion we proclaim it from the hilltops: I know what “church” means! (Of course, there is the corollary that if I know what it means then you probably don’t. So you need me to tell…
At this point it is important to discuss the concept of truth since one possible complaint of the above framework is that it promotes a concept of truth that is relative rather than absolute.
The basic goal of every person in every society is to try to understand Ultimate Truth, or what’s called sometimes Ultimate Reality. This is the unadulterated pure truth that exists beyond human comprehension or human influence. This would be the Ultimate Truth that exists behind every reality that we know. This is the Truth that every system of truth we have in our human society is trying to approach.
Traditionally, there’ve been two different ways people have tried to understand or approach this ultimate reality. Certain people look to the past and say, “Remember how it used to be? Remember how things were so good? There was a simple past. Things were safer in our society. We didn’t get caught up in technology so much as we do nowadays. I wish things were like the past.”
Other people look to the future and they have dreams for a better future. They say they say the past wasn’t that great after all. And they would like to change some things to make a better future.
When evaluating these are two different ways of looking at how we can approach ultimate truth, it’s important to remember that we don’t forget the goal is to become closer to that Ultimate Reality that exists somewhere beyond our perception. The Bible refers to our perceptions of Ultimate Reality as a “mystery” (Mk 4:11; Ro 16:24; etc.) or as seen “in a glass darkly” (1Co 13:12).
Post-Truth is a term that’s become popular lately. It implies that somehow in the past we were closer to the truth than we are today. I wonder, however, if it’s not so much that we’re in a Post-Truth society in as much as the truths we thought that were closest to Ultimate Reality in the past have now been shown to be further from the truth than we thought? Part of this is because of the introduction of different perspectives due to a blending of different cultures in our society today. In the past societies were more monolithic and isolated from other societies and so they shaped truth based upon what they knew using their common language, frame of reference, and religion. But once the world got smaller because of changes in international travel, and as people started to understand the truths as other societies understood them, they realized that maybe their original perceptions and understandings needed adjustment.
So how do we tie this together? I think we often confuse the truth as we understand it with Ultimate Truth and we assume that we’ve got it figured out: “The things that I believe to be true are the right things and if you believe different things to be true, then you’re wrong and I have to convince you about that.” I think basically that’s how we feel because that’s part of human nature, but a realization that we’re all trying to approach human nature from a different perspective leads us to conversation with one another that can help each of us come closer to ultimate truth in a better way.
This idea of conversation opens us up to an evaluation of our own societies as well. We thought our societies were fairly monolithic, but we didn’t realize that that our society is made up of a lot of disparity and a lot of divergence. Irigaray (in Hinton, 2013 & Hollywood, 1998) complained of how the “normative subject” in society was a white middle-aged man and advocated for using different perspectives to better understand society. The “normative subject” in “most western philosophical and religious discourses” is “white, male, free, middle to upper class.” Irigaray credits Freud with developing this norm but critiques it by wondering if there is then room for the feminine. Since the feminine isn’t “normal” then there must be “no sex difference.”
These this lack of difference diminishes the female voice because “normatively there is a strong tendency to deny epistemic value to differences … which are therefore epistemically suppressed and must be suppressed by the subject if she is to gain epistemic authority” (Hollywood, 234).
Irigaray is not advocating for some type of feminine norm but her critique opens us up to different perspectives beyond sex and gender including age, relationship status, health, language, ethnicity, economic and social strata, and more. We all have different perspectives and each of these perspectives is a different way for us to approach this truth in this reality.
It brings a couple of questions to mind. How do I know that my understanding of the truth is complete? Can I not learn from others whether right or wrong? Maybe somebody else has a different system of logic or a different understanding of reality, or a different system of hermeneutics than I do, and I can learn from them so that I can improve and that I can learn a new thing.
I am sure that everyone has heard of Yolanda, the massive typhoon that struck the central Philippines in early Nov 2013. The storm not only brought a lot of high winds to the area, it also pushed a 6m-high storm surge into the city of Tacloban. Reports say that this storm surge reached up to 700m inland destroying most of what lay in its path. The result was immense destruction and heartache that will continue for years to come.
Of course after a disaster of this magnitude assessments are made to find out what went wrong with the plans that were made and how can they be improved in the future. In this case, one of the issues appears to center around the warnings that were issued regarding the coming “storm surge.” Many apparently did not understand what a “storm surge” was and therefore did not take adequate precautions. Studies are now underway to find out what Filipino terms might be used in the future that would help people better understand the dangers that may be approaching. Current options include daluyong and humbak but the debate continues.
There is a similar issue in theology. The group I currently work with in the Philippines uses an Affirmation of Faith that is in English. This is because it was adopted from the Affirmation of Faith from the first missionaries to the area, who happened to be Americans. I recently had a discussion with one of my Filipino colleagues about this statement that seeks to express the faith of Filipinos in a language that is not entirely their own. Our discussion centered around making our faith understood. Of course, translating concepts between languages is fraught with danger. What if there are words that have no equivalents? What if concepts are not transferrable? Like the use of the word “storm surge” was not adequate to communication danger to those in Samar and Leyte, perhaps words like “grace,” “baptism” and “church,” which have no Filipino equivalents, are also inadequate to express God’s desire for Filipinos today. In fact the word “baptism” is itself not even adequately translated into English. Rather it is merely transliterated from the original Greek word.
It leaves us with the question: How do we make our beliefs understandable to those of other languages and cultures and how do those beliefs legitimately change when that translation occurs?
I had intended to end this post here until I was reminded of something. When I was a child in Canada, we had heard of tidal waves — massive surges of water that inundate the land. When I got older I found out that in fact “tidal wave” was not the correct term at all for that kind of wave. Rather it is “tsunami,” from the Japanese. I guess part of my misunderstanding lay in the fact that those kinds of events are quite far from Saskatchewan and therefore my frame of reference is skewed. In this case, a foreign word was needed to help me express a foreign experience.
I guess that leads to another question: How much of theology is a similar “foreign experience” that needs new words in order to be adequately expressed? Or must theology always be expressed in one’s heart language in order to be truly understood?
in november-december 2004 the philippines was hit with 2 typhoons that devasted many parts of rural luzon, particularly those communities located along the eastern coast of the island of luzon (facing the pacific ocean). one of these communities is real, quezon.
the major problem was not the wind, as one would expect from a typhoon. the problem was the rain. so much rain fell that massive landslides occurred. adding to the problem was that fact that there had been too much logging done in the mountains, thereby removing any tree cover that slopes might have needed. many cut logs were still lying on the mountains, ready to be taken to the sawmill. the result? the logs slid down the mountains in the landslides and destroyed whole communities.
the devasation was tremendous. the death toll was high. i am sure many faces were turned toward heaven shouting, ‘why god? why have we been cursed?’
so many logs were swept out to sea that helecopter pilots flying over the area said they resembled spilt matches.
a week later the people living in on patnanungan island, about 40 miles east of real, were awakened to shouts of joy. ‘come to the sea, look at what god has brought us!’ everyone ran down to the shore and began to claim their blessings. taking rope, they tied their family mark onto what the tide had brought in.
logs. many logs. many many logs were scattered on the shoreline. the people were so happy. now they woule be able to build houses, boats, and other needed things. god was good to them. i am sure many faces were turned toward heaven shouting, ‘thank you lord for all the blessings you have given us.’
of course, you have figured it out by now. the logs that had been so devastating one week — destroying houses and people — were the same logs that brought such hope to the people of patnanungan.
how can such a tragedy be at the same time such a joy?
perhaps the ways of god are harder to figure out than i thought.
for a while i have been thinking of way to effectively get out our thoughts on church life, missions, and life in south east asia as wel as encourage others to join us in our ministry here.
i came across this site from one of my former classmates’ sites and since in enjoyed the stuff he had on his, i decided to give it a try. since i am new at this whole thing, please bear with me as i get the hang of this.
today i sit here as a single man–well actually a single man with 2 kids!! eva left me for 2 weeks to attend the wedding of mike and christine, two of our former youth group members in langley, bc. she will get back on 21 july.
in my job i have the opportunity to preach in a lot of different churches. just last sunday i had the chance to preach in one of our sister churches. during the service they had a special part where they talked about raising funds for a new building. as i listened to their dreams i began to think about the dream god has for us as christians. pleas understand that i am not being critical of what is happening today in churches — i actually think they are doing a great job — i am just coming to terms with my thoughts on what impact can i have on the world!
i began to realise that god is not primarily looking for us to establish a 1000-seat church that has so many members, etc ., etc., etc.
how does god describe what he is looking for on earth? a place of justice, no poverty, blessing, hope, joy, peace, etc., in society as a whole–not just among a small group of people!!
so what does that look like? how do you create a society with those attributes? i guess that is the $64,000 question! i think that it would be more like a movement than an organisation.
how does one start a movement like that? how do we get people to change their lives to conform to those ideals?
eva gave me some good advice the other day. she told me not to change the world in a day but to start the process and slowly build up until all of a sudden the world is changed. i guess i need to change the way i think and act and not worry too much about others–the way i drive, my attitude toward those who are around me.