Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Si Lazaro at ang Mayaman

Mula sa mga Igorot ng Cordillera hanggang sa mga Lumad sa Mindanao, hitik ang ating kasaysayan at kolektibong karanasan sa mga taong nag-alay ng buhay dahil sa pag-ibig sa kapwa, sa bayan, at sa Dios. Marami sa kanila ay mananampalataya-- mayroong humawak ng sandata upang ipagtanggol ang bayan, ang mga anak, ang buhay laban sa mga puwersang mapang-api at sakim; mayroong namang hindi. Si Andres Bonifacio ang pangunahing halimbawa ng unang grupo, si Jose Rizal naman ang sa pangalawa.

Maliwanag ang koneksyon ng mga kuwento ni Rizal sa kanyang pagkakabaril sa Bagumbayan bilang kaaway ng imperyong Kastila. Ang hindi maliwanag sa maraming Kristiyano ay ang koneksyon ng mga kuwento ni Jesus sa kanyang pagkakapako sa krus bilang kaaway ng imperyo ng Roma. Lumaki tayo sa mga parabola ni Jesus subalit ang nakagisnang interpretasyon ng karamihan sa atin, na galling sa mga paborito nating Amerikano at Europeong iskolar at komentaryo, ay makalangit ang mga kuwentong ito at walang koneksyon sa pang-araw-araw na buhay at pakikibaka ng mga tao. Hindi kasi tayo mahilig magbasa ng bibliya. Ang binabasa natin mga libro tungkol sa bibliya. Sa halip na basahin natin ang Lumang Tipan, ang alam na alam natin ang interpretasyon ni Bernhard Anderson. Sa halip na basahin natin ang Bagong Tipan, ang halos memorize na natin ang komentaryo ni Raymond Brown. Marami sa ating mga simbahan, Purpose Driven Life ang textbook!

Now if we read our bible and prayed everyday, unti-unti nating mapapansin na tuwing nagku-kuwento si Jesus, nagpupuyos sa galit ang mga lider ng relihiyon at politika. Kagaya ng mga prayle noong panahon ni Rizal. Sabi nga ng maraming eksperto sa kuwento, “myths are stories that create order, parables, on the otherhand, are stories that subvert order.” Parables are subversive speech. Ang parabola ay nagbabaligtad ng status quo. Ang mga kuwento ni Jesus, hindi tungkol sa langit, kundi tungkol sa kaharian ng Dios dito sa lupa. Ang mga kuwento ni Jesus ang mga bida yung mga kontrabida sa mata ng mga lider ng relihiyon at politika. Ang mga kuwento ni Jesus nangangako ng bagong umaga sa mga kapus-palad at inaapi, nagbibigay ng babala sa mga nasa-posisyon at sakim sa kapangyarihan. Ang mga kuwento ni Jesus ang dahilan kaya siya pinapatay.

Bakit ba napunta sa Hades ang mayaman na may mataas na tarangkahan sa parabola sa Lukas 16? Kung babasahin natin ang buong ebanghelyo, maliwanag ang sagot: hindi puwedeng maging bahagi ng kaharian ng Dios ang mayaman. Mula pa lang sa unang sermon ni Jesus sa sinagoga sa Nazareth sa Lukas 4 sinabi niya na siya ay sinugo para dalhin ang mabuting balita ng pagkalinga ng Dios sa mga mahihirap, sa mga inaalipin, sa mga bulag, at mga api. Unang sermon pa lang ni Jesus muntik na siyang mapatay, muntik na siyang ihulog sa bangin ng mga tinamaan niya.

Sa Lukas 6, mas matalim ang sermon niya—ang kaharian ng Dios ay para sa mahihirap, para sa mga nagugutom at mga umiiyak—hindi para sa mayayaman at mga busog. Sa Lukas 11, may parabola—tungkol sa mayamang hangal. Sa Lukas 18, may mayamang gustong sumunod kay Jesus pero umaatras. Alam na natin kung bakit. Kung susundin niya si Jesus ay mawawala lahat ng kayamanan niya. Ang kaisa-isang mayaman na sumunod kay Jesus sa Lukas, si Zakeyo sa kabanatang 19, pinamigay lahat ng kayamanan—kalahati para sa mahihirap at apat na ulit, 400% kabayaran sa lahat na kanyang niloko at ninakawan.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Ang pinakamayaman sa panahon ni Jesus ay ang mga puno ng relihiyon at politika. Sila ang proud na tawaging ama si Abraham. Sila ang mga love ni God. Sila na mamahalin ang suotin. Sila na nagpi-pista araw-araw. Sila yung siguradong-siguradong ligtas sila at pupunta sila sa kanlungan ni Amang Abraham. Sila na nakalimot na hindi mo puwedeng mahalin ang Dios kung hindi mo mahal ang kapwa mo. Sila na nakalimot na hindi ka puwedeng yumaman kung talagang mahal mo ang kapwa mo. Sila na kayang-kayang magpista araw-araw sa loob ng naggagandahang mga bahay, mga opisina, mga templo na protektado ng nagtataasang mga trangkahan at bakod, habang ang mga pulubi’y naghihintay ng mumo sa labas, habang nagugutom ang mas nakararami... Sa kuwento ni Jesus, sila ang pupunta sa impiyerno.

Sigurado akong maraming tumangis, maraming umiyak ng mamatay ang mayaman sa parabola ni Jesus. Mga kamag-anak, mga kaibigan, mga kasosyo sa relihiyon at politika, mga binayaran para umiyak… marami. Sigurado rin akong magarbo ang libing niya. Si Lazaro namatay sa kadukhaan. Ni walang karamay. Malamang mga asong kalye ang mga huling saksi sa mga huling hininga niya. Si Lazaro namatay, ni hindi nailibing, kagaya ng hindi mabilang na Lazaro sa mundo, mga Lazaro dito sa Pilipinas... namamatay dahil sa gutom, dahil sa malnutrition, dahil sa simpleng sakit na hindi malunasan dahil sa sobrang mahal na gamot…

Alam na natin kung bakit inihatid ng mga angel si Lazaro sa kanlungan ni Abraham. Basahing nating muli ang ebanghelyo ni Lukas: ang mabuting balita ng pag-ibig at pagkalinga ng Maykapal ay para sa mga dukha, para sa mga Lazaro. Lahat ng Lazaro sa mundo ihahatid ng mga angel sa kanlungan ni Abraham.

Ang pangalang Lazaro ay Griyego ng Hebreong Eliezer. Ang sabi ng kasulatan, si Lazaro ay dukha, pulubing nakahandusay sa may tarangkahan ng mayaman, umaasa sa mga mumo, kasama ang mga asong kalye na dinidilaan ang kanyang mga sugat. Maraming Lazaro sa mundo—walang maaasahan kundi ang Dios, walang matatawagan kundi ang Dios, walang karamay kundi ang Dios, walang tutulong kundi ang Dios. Iyan, mga kapatid, ang ibig sabihin ng Lazarus o Eliezer—siya na tutulungan ng Maykapal; siya na ang Dios lang ang pag-asa.

Kaya nga sa takdang panahon, nagkatawang tao ang Dios upang dinggin ang iyak nila na siya lang ang tanging pag-asa. Ang buong buhay ng ating Panginoong Jesus ay inihandog para sa kanila. Tayo naman ay tinawag at patuloy na hinahamon ng ating panginoon upang sundan ang kanyang mga yapak—sa paglilingkod, sa pakiki-isa, at sa pag-aalay ng buhay para sa mga Lazaro.

Ang hamon sa atin ay gumawa ng mga tulay ng kalayaan, ng pag-asa, ng hustiya, ng ginhawa, ng pagkakapantay-pantay. Subalit hindi madaling gumawa ng tulay. Lalong-lalo na, hindi maaaring gumawa ng tulay mula sa gitna—“no one builds a bridge from the middle.” Sinusuka ng Dios ang nasa gitna. We need to take sides. Alam natin yan. Napag-aralan na natin iyan—“preferential option for the poor.” Pero marami sa atin hindi natin yan ginagawa. Kailangan tayong pumili, sa mga Lazaro ba ng mundo o sa mga mayayaman?

Kilala ng mga mayayamang puno ng relihiyon at politika sa panahon ni Jesus kung sino si Lazaro o Eliezer. Maliwanag ang kuwento sa aklat ng Henesis. Siya ang tapat na katiwalang dayuhan ni Abraham; katiwalang muntik nang maging tagapagmana. Subalit para sa mayayaman sa panahon ni Jesus, sila lang ang mahal ng Dios, sila lang ang tagapagmana, sila lang ang puro ang dugo--silang mga anak ni Isaac. Hindi puwede ang mga anak ni Ishmael—mga bastardo sila; lalong hindi puwede ang mga anak ni Lazaro, anak sila sa labas, banyaga, hindi karapat-dapat. Maliwanag ang nasa parabola ni Jesus—dinala ng mga anghel sa kanlungan ni Amang Abraham si Lazaro.

Ang buong buhay at ministeryo ni Jesus ay tanging alay para sa mga Lazaro ng mundo--ang totoong tagapagmana ng kaharian ng Dios. Sana tayo rin. Dapat tayo rin.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Reading Matthew... part 3

Look at how the pais is described in Greek, "ho pais mou," "the servant who is mine." That child's body is under somebody else's control- whether it's his father, his owner, and, as I argue elsewhere, his pedophile. The centurion's act on the pais' behalf emphasizes the latter's marginalization. As far as the text is concerned, the pais cannot speak or seek his own healing. Yet, that child because he is "paralyzed," albeit momentarily, paralyzes not just his owner-who thus seeks help from Jesus-but also the imperial expansions (the goings and the comings) in Matthew. Throughout the gospel, characters come and go, border crossings are effected: magi from the East come seeking the king of the Jews (2:1-12); Joseph and his family flee into Egypt (2:13-15); Herod sends his death squads to Bethlehem to murder children (2:16-18); Joseph and his family go to Nazareth, from Egypt (2:19-23); Jesus goes to John the baptizer and is led by the Spirit into the wilderness (3:1-4:11); Jesus leaves Nazareth and makes his home in Capernaum (4:12); the centurion comes to Jesus and the latter is convinced of the imperial authority that effects goings and comings, of travel to distant lands, of control-at-a-distance (8:5-13). The disciples are systematically prepared for their commissioning (10:1-42); the Canaanite woman comes to Jesus (15:21-28); the heavy-laden come to Jesus (11:28). Jesus eventually sends out his disciples at the end (28:16-20). Everyone moves in the story, except the pais in Matthew 8:5-13. Yes, even for a brief moment, the pais revels in the "space" her "paralysis" brings. For about eight short verses, in the very long, twenty-eight chapter Matthean narrative, the pais is free of the centurion, the colonized is free of her colonizer.

Majority of Filipinos remain colonized subjects, a mental colony. Migrant Filipina domestic workers, numbering over 7 million, are the global servants of late capitalism. Tens of millions find themselves squatters in their own homeland. Those who have opted for "The Promise Land," the United States, find themselves treated as second-class citizens. Yet, despite all these, they have always resisted. The jeepney is the best symbol of resistance and decolonization for Filipinos. Now, they have another symbol--the pais in Matthew.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Reading Matthew... part 2

Interpretation, by definition, is always perspectival and particular. In other words, everything-including the supposedly objective historical-critical method-is reader response. My selective literary analysis of Matthew as imperializing text presupposes the reality of empire as backdrop to the construction of the narrative. Many Filipinos employ a similar assumption when engaging Filipino resistance literature: Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Francisco Baltazar's Florante at Laura, and Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart. My analysis does not equate the Gospel of Matthew with historical facts. What it does is argue that the Gospel is a narrative discourse constructed and framed by a particular historical setting, in this case the Roman Imperial occupation. Anti-colonialist Frantz Fanon and educator Paolo Freire show that dynamics leading to literary production exist not only between the colonizer and the colonized, but also between various interest groups of the colonized, some of which try to gain power to define national cultural identity, as well as to compete for the attention of their collective oppressor. My analysis argues that Matthew is not rejecting the imperialism of its time but is seeking its favor, or at least condoning it.
My reading also presupposes resistance, as reflected in what activist Salud Algabre and historian Reynaldo Ileto call "little traditions." Algabre and Ileto memorialize all those resistance fighters that have been victimized by the violence of institutionalized forgetting, a fate most of the unnamed children in Matthew share. These traditions coincide with the argument of postcolonial theorists that in the wake of imperial reality lies the inverted, deconstructing dynamic of resistance/fear, where the margins actually take the initiative, and the center is forced into a reactive position.
I agree with New Testament scholar Musa Dube who posits the following questions in order to measure whether Matthew is an imperializing text or not: Does the text offer an explicit stance for or against the political imperialism of its time? Does the narrative encourage travel to distant and inhabited lands and how does it justify such travel? How does the narrative construct difference? Is there dialogue and liberating interdependence? Or is there condemnation and replacement of all that is foreign and "other"? Is the celebration of difference authentic or mere tokenism? Does the text employ representations to construct relationships of subordination and domination?
Using these questions to analyze Matthew's rhetoric, Dube concludes that the implied author's stance toward the imperial powers of his time presents the imperial rule and its agents as holy and acceptable. Matthew constructs a politically un-subversive Jesus and encourages travel to distant and inhabited lands. The positive presentation of empire and the decision to take the word to the nations (28:16-20) is born within and as a result of stiff competition for power over the crowds (Israel) and the favor of the empire. In envisioning the mission to the nations, Matthew's model embodies imperialistic values and strategies. It does not seek relationships of liberating interdependence between nations, cultures, and genders. Rather, it upholds the superiority of some races and advocates the subjugation of differences by relegating other races to inferiority. Matthew's model employs gender representations to create relationships of subordination and domination by featuring the Canaanite woman (15:21-28) and the centurion (8:5-13) in contrasting stories foreshadowing the mission to the nations. Matthew's presentation of Pilate, his wife, the Roman soldiers at the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus show a clear-cut pro-empire position (27:1-28:15).
The encounter between the centurion and Jesus, according to Dube, particularly highlights Matthew's stance toward the empire. Both men are presented as having authority that effect things simply by the power of their words (vv. 8-9). Dube continues: the paralleling of Jesus' authority with that of the centurion's has the effect of sanctifying imperial powers. Jesus pronounces the centurion's faith as surpassing the faith of everyone in Israel (v.10), a statement that contrasts the imperial agent with the colonized and exalts his righteousness above them. The passage casts imperial officials as holier beings and predicts that they, and other groups, will have more power. Such characterization not only disguises what imperial agents represent, institutions of exploitation and oppression, but also pronounces imperialism as holy and acceptable. A quick survey of the reception history of Matthew and centuries of Western colonization, euphemistically called "civilizing missions," in Asia, Africa, and Latin America shows that most interpreters followed the gospel's imperial rhetoric.
Back to my metaphor, the centurion is to Matthew as the 30-caliber machinegun mount is to the military jeep. To read Matthew inside a jeepney is to celebrate the fact that the first thing Filipinos did in their transformation of the military jeep is get rid of that machine gun mount. To read Matthew inside a jeepney is to remove our gaze from the centurion-and even Jesus who mimics the centurion-and focus it upon someone else. I suggest privileging the servant, pais in Greek, of 8:5-13.
The pais, whether I translate it son, daughter, girl, boy, servant, slave, or sex slave, is a child and he or she serves to remind flesh and blood readers that the reality of empire-in varying forms and degrees-is experienced by children and by those constructed as "children." Political sociologist Ashis Nandy, in Leela Gandhi's Postcolonial Theory, draws attention to the colonial use of homology between childhood and the state of being colonized.
Fred Atkinson, the first American General Superintendent of Education in the Philippines, inaugurated over a century of racist public education in the islands when he remarked: "The Filipino people, taken as a body, are children and childlike, do not know what is best for them ... by the very fact of our superiority of civilization and our greater capacity for industrial activity we are bound to exercise over them a profound social influence."
The pais reminds flesh and blood readers that children's oppression-of varying forms and degrees- is inscribed in the text because, despite the rhetoric that God's reign is for children (19:14) no child is ever named-except Jesus-or is given a voice in the gospel-except Herodias' daughter who says what her mother tells her to say. Yet like the Canaanite woman's daughter (15:21-28) and the pais, Herodias' daughter serves only as a medium through which competing discourses present their claims. The girl falls prey to manipulation by her mother and by Herod. We don't even get to hear the cries of the children who are massacred in 2:18, only their mothers'. Children are the primary victims of Matthew's "culture of silence." [To be continued]

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Reading Matthew inside a Jeepney

Introduction
Biblical interpretation has privileged the centers of power, within, behind, and in front of the text. Biblical Studies, in the Philippines, have been a stronghold of colonial scholarship for over a century, especially among Protestant Churches. Denominations refuse to go autonomous and continue to depend on "mother" institutions in the United States. Church buildings and institutions are named after "benevolent" foreign church leaders and missionaries. Seminaries continue to have more foreign teachers (who are paid in dollars by foreign boards) than Filipinos (who are paid in pesos and usually way below the living wage). Libraries are filled with books authored by European and American scholars, and continue to receive donations of old ones from the First World. Traditional historical critical methods remain the key reading paradigm. Establishing what texts meant is the first step toward discerning what they mean today. Reading programs that do not follow this so-called fundamental paradigm is labeled eisegesis or reader-response. Filipino Protestants know more about Bible and American history than their own, and they read the Bible the way their colonial masters did and do because they have been socialized for generations that this is the correct way. Filipino social scientists call this collective condition of the Filipino psyche as colonial mentality. Historian Renato Constantino traces it to the systematic mis-education of the Filipinos. Theologian Eleazar Fernandez argues that the Philippines can be called a "mental colony" of the United States of America.


But side by side with this "reading the Bible the way our masters do" is the wealth of Filipino literature, practices, and reading strategies that engage the Bible in unexpected ways. I call these interpretations models of jeepney hermeneutics. The jeepney is the most popular mode of public transportation in the Philippines. It is an excellent example of the Filipinization of an American icon, the military jeep. It is also, as I will argue, one very powerful metaphor for Filipinos' engagement with another icon, the Bible, offering a range of decolonizing reading strategies.

The US Army back in 1940 required an all terrain reconnaissance, go-anywhere, vehicle that seated three and had a mount for a 30-caliber machine gun. Filipinos have turned this military vehicle into some sort of mini-bus that could accommodate about more or less 20 people. There are those who look at a jeepney and call it a Frankenstein's monster. There are others who see it as a "Filipino home on wheels" complete with an altar. The military jeep was, and still is, an imperializing "text." A jeepney resists this "text." [To be continued]


(from Daniel Patte, Justin Ukpong, Monya Stubbs, and Revelation Velunta, The Gospel of Matthew: A Contextual Introduction for Group Study (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003).

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Resonance and Fishing

According to Dianne Bergant, "...Anthropologists when confronted with the particularities of social reality attempt to construct a “thick description” of behavior, a highly detailed ethnographic analysis that explicitly includes, as far as this is possible, the insider's perspective. The most common approach toward this end is through a process of radical empiricism known as participant observation. Concerned with the comparability of empirical data, it begins with a particular, microscopic life-situation, and moves toward a contextualized understanding of meaning with the hope that general principles or parameters might be formulated. The findings then are tested against data from other life situations. Conclusions are drawn by induction as well as by comparison. The key authenticating factor here is resonance."

By resonance, I mean the power of a text, an object, or a song to reach out beyond its set boundaries to a larger world, to evoke or conjure up in readers, viewers, or hearers a variety of memories, feelings, or responses. In the Philippines, the invitation “Mangisda tayo” (Let’s go fishing) has at least two meanings in Tagalog (the language spoken by a third of the population). The literal is the summons to go catch fish. With over seven thousand islands, the Pacific Ocean to the West and China Sea to the East, many Filipinos are fisherfolk. The symbolic meaning, according to Leny Strobel, "...comes from Tagalogs of the 16th century who listened to friars’ sermons in Spanish, and fished out words and phrases out of the stream of the sermon and arbitrarily assigned them to their own imaginings. Out of a barrage of unreadable signs, the Tagalogs were struck by recognizable words then went on spinning out narratives that bore no relation to the logic and intent of the priests’ discourse." “To fish” is to conjure up unexpected meanings.



Friday, August 20, 2004

From war machine to Pinoy "home on wheels"

On July 7, 1940, the US Army requested the War Department for an all terrain reconnaissance go-anywhere vehicle that seated three and had a mount for a 30-caliber machine gun. Tens of thousands of these vehicles were used in World War II. For many Filipinos the jeep was, and—with the continuing presence of American troops in the islands—still is an imperializing “text.” The jeepney, the Philippines’ most popular mode of mass transportation, resists this “text.” A jeep becomes a jeepney when it ceases to serve its original purpose and is transformed into something else, like beating swords into ploughshares. Jeepneys are unexpected readings of a jeep. Filipinos did at least three things to the jeep: they removed the machine gun mount, increased its limited seating capacity from three to sixteen-plus-passengers, and transformed the military vehicle into a “Filipino home on wheels.”

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Jeeps and Jeepneys...

Mark Lewis Taylor, during the 2000 Annual SBL/AAR meeting, celebrated the publication of the Dictionary of Third World Theologies and called it "A Dictionary for Resisting Empire." For him, the volume summarizes critical reflection arising from people's movements in resistance to "empire," i.e. to the hegemony of Western powers whose metropole centers seek an ever-strengthened global power to subordinate and control each and every facet of the lives of masses of peoples. For him, the book preserves and marshals the archival power of Third World peoples' own discourse of resistance and liberation. To this developing archive I would like to contribute one model of Filipino decolonizing reading, jeepney hermeneutics. If the Filipino jeepney is a “resistant reading” of the U.S. military jeep, then jeepney hermeneutics is a resistant reading of the Bible.

Biblical Studies is one area that remains a stronghold of colonial scholarship, especially among Protestant Churches. Filipino social scientists call this collective condition of the Filipino psyche as colonial mentality. Renato Constantino traces it to the systematic mis-education of the Filipinos. Eliezer Fernandez argues that the Philippines can be called a "mental colony" of the United States of America. Carlos Abesamis remarks that nothing is the matter with foreigners doing foreign theology (for themselves). The issue is that Filipino theology is a photocopy of Euro-American theology.

Jeepney hermeneutics challenges this colonial mentality in biblical studies by drawing on the Filipinos’ legacy of resistance. From mortar shells to church bells, from implements of death to instruments of music, from jeeps to jeepneys, Filipinos have turned weapons of mass destruction to symbols of mass celebration.

The colonization of biblical studies, especially in the field of hermeneutics, among Protestant communities in the Philippines requires no special pleading. Thus there is the need for a decolonized hermeneutics—a jeepney hermeneutics. Jeepney hermeneutics acknowledges the depth and the breadth of meanings represented by the Filipino Jeepney as symbolic of a people’s ability to beat swords into ploughshares.