Monday, December 23, 2013

NO ROOM...

The first Christmas. We re-enact it almost every December in our school plays and in our church pageants. St. Francis started the tradition in the 1200s. In our re-enactments, Joseph and a very pregnant Mary find no room in any inn. No one is ready and willing to welcome the couple. Eventually, they find shelter among animals, in a manger, where Jesus is born. Soon, visitors arrive: angels, shepherds, even the Little Drummer Boy in some of our plays, and then the magi bringing gifts. Incidentally, in one TV spot I saw abroad, one of the magi brings the Baby Jesus the newest Android Smartphone. In an artwork going around in our social networks, the magi cannot visit Jesus because an apartheid wall blocks their path. In the image above, Mary and Joseph experience an IDF checkpoint. Our plays usually end on a happy note because we either end it with everyone singing carols or with a rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, sang by the choir or blasted through our sound systems. And we forget that the play ended the way it began: there was no room in the inn. In rare occasions we do find people going against the script. Sometimes, someone from the audience, someone from our congregations would volunteer to welcome Joseph, Mary, and Joseph to their homes. Sometimes, we hear someone crying out: “There is a place for them in our home.” Today is one of those times when we are challenged to affirm that “there is a place in our homes.” Today, more than ever, we need to go against the script. We cannot afford to close our doors. We cannot afford to put up walls. We cannot afford to be inhospitable. We cannot afford to spend Christmas without opening our homes to the Christ who confronts us through the least among the least: the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the prisoners, the unclothed, the complete stranger, the orphan, the widow... the thousands left homeless and devastated in the Visayas by the tragedy we call Yolanda; the thousands victimized by years of unabated mining, logging, militarization, and the culture of impunity. Today, we are called to have open hearts, open minds, open homes, open tables, open doors... ------ *[image from cifwatch.com]

Monday, September 23, 2013

Matthew's "Tabernacle"

The Tabernacle motif, though implicit, plays a critical role in the Matthean narrative. The Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle symbolized, literally, God’s presence among God’s people (Exodus 35-40). In the 40-year sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness, God was always with them via the Tabernacle, a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. In other words, where the Tabernacle was, there was God. Matthew begins and ends with Immanuel, God-with-us (1.23, 28:20). Thus, the Gospel effectively sets the boundaries of its own “tabernacle.” Matthew creates a world of insiders and outsiders relative to this “tabernacle.” 1 And right at the middle of this “tent” is the greatest symbol of faith in the gospel—the centurion (Matthew 8:10).
The encounter between the centurion and Jesus, according to Musa Dube (in Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible), particularly highlights Matthew’s stance toward the Empire. Both men are presented as having authority to effect things simply by the power of their words (Matt. 8:8-9). The comparison of Jesus’ authority with that of the centurion’s has the effect of sanctifying the imperial power. Jesus pronounces the centurion’s faith greater than the faith of everyone in Israel (Matt. 8:10), a statement that contrasts the imperial agent with the colonized and exalts his righteousness above theirs. The passage casts imperial officials as holier and predicts that they, and other groups, will have more power (in the kingdom of God). Such characterization not only disguises what imperial agents represent—institutions of exploitation and oppression—but also pronounces imperialism holy and acceptable. A quick survey of the history of the interpretation 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. In Matthew’s “tabernacle,” God’s presence is most evident in a military officer, in an imperial agent. The first one thousand years of Christianity was one millennium of war and destruction in the name of Jesus Christ. And those “civilizing missions” have not stopped. Even today, the most oppressive and dehumanizing societies are led by “Christian” centurions who have no qualms maiming and destroying those who are not “one of them.”
The centurion is to Matthew as the 30-caliber machine gun 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 was to rid it of that machine gun mount. To read Matthew inside a jeepney is to remove our gaze from the centurion—and, yes, even Jesus, who mimics the centurion—and focus it on someone else. I suggest focusing our attention on the servant (pais in Greek) of 8:5-13. The pais, whether translated son, daughter, girl, boy, servant, slave, or sex slave, is a child. 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 who are treated as children. Political sociologist Ashis Nandy draws attention to the way the colonized are viewed as children by the colonizers.2 The pais reminds flesh and blood readers that children’s oppression—of varying forms and degrees—is written in the text because, despite the rhetoric that God’s reign is for children (Matt. 19:14), no child is ever named—except Jesus—or is given a voice in the gospel—except Herodias’s daughter, who says what her mother tells her to say. Like the Canaanite woman’s daughter (15:21-28) and the pais, Herodias’s 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’ cries. Children are the primary victims of Matthew’s “culture of silence.” 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, or, as I have argued elsewhere, his pedophile. The centurion’s act on the pais’s behalf emphasizes the latter’s marginalization. As far as Matthew is concerned, the pais cannot speak or seek his own healing. Yet, because that child is “paralyzed,” albeit momentarily, he also paralyzes his owner, who must seek help from Jesus. The child also interrupts the goings and the comings of the centurion’s soldiers, since the centurion is not with them to give them orders (Matt. 8:9). Thus, with his paralysis, the child also interrupts the imperial expansion. Throughout the Gospel, characters come and go, borders are crossed: 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, travel to distant lands, and 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 (28:16-20). Everyone in the story moves, 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 28 chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, the pais is free of the centurion. The colonized is free of her colonizer.
Notes: 1. The Gospel of Matthew is a narrative discourse constructed against the backdrop of Roman imperial occupation. In other words, it is a story of people in this imperialistic situation. 2. See Leela Gandhi, Postcolonial Theory (New York: 1998), 32.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reading the Gospel of John inside a Jeepney

Jeepney hermeneutics is but one among many “Canaanite” readings. And it is a reading that (1) presupposes that the Bible is a “jeep,” an imperializing text, and that said jeep can be (2) transformed into a “jeepney.” Let me offer a brief example using the Gospel of John. Third World theologians have argued for decades that the connection of the Bible, its readers, and its institutions to Western imperialism do not call for special pleading. As Alan Lawson and Chris Tiffin insist: “Imperial relations may have been initially established by guns, guile, and disease, but they were maintained largely by textuality.” Simply put, the Bible was and is the key tool in the “textual takeover of the non-Western world” (Boehmer). Yet, most commentaries and expositions on John available in Philippine seminaries take for granted or do not find problematic the gospel’s imperial rhetoric. Spivey and Smith’s popular introductory text (Anatomy of the New Testament. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995) describes the Gospel as reminding its readers that faith is “walking by the light of Christ, and walking the way he walked… it is dependent on the source of life, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent” (203). Both argue that Christians have tended to read the other Gospels, indeed the whole New Testament, in the light of John’s christological and theological constructions (203). Musa Dube points out that “Mission studies indicate that John’s Gospel has been the most influential text” (1998b: 132). Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), another popular textbook, applies five methods in its analysis of John: literary-historical, redaction, comparative, thematic, and socio-historical. All five approaches lead to one major conclusion: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life now.” Adele Reinhartz (Befriending the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John. New York: Continuum, 2001) resists John’s rhetoric because of its anti-Semitism. James Charlesworth (The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John? Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1995) using contemporary historical Jesus methodologies argues that Jesus’ beloved disciple was really Thomas and, contrary to feminist arguments, could never have been a woman. “Imperializing texts take many forms and are written by a variety of people, even by the colonized, either collaborating with the dominant forces or yearning for the same power. Regardless of who writes imperializing texts, they are characterized by literary constructions, representations, and uses that authorize taking possession of foreign spaces and peoples” (Dube, 1996:41-42). The Gospel of John, according to Dube, may have been written by an oppressed minority group and among the colonized Jews. This setting does not automatically guarantee that it is an anti-imperial text. Post-colonial studies indicate that the colonized do not always resist their oppressors: they also collaborate and imitate the imperial power at various stages of their oppression (1998b: 119).
Why is John a “jeep”? Dube brings the following questions to the text (2000:57-58): Does the Gospel have an explicit stance for or against the political imperialism of its time? Does it encourage travel to distant and inhabited lands and how does it justify itself? How does the Gospel construct difference: is there dialogue and liberating interdependence, or is there condemnation and replacement of all that is foreign? Is the celebration of difference authentic or mere tokenism? Does the text employ representations to construct relationships of subordination and domination? Dube points out that the problem of reproducing imperial strategies of subjugation is also evident among interpreters (2000:26). As Kwok Pui-lan posits, “They operate more from a hermeneutics of consent than a hermeneutics of suspicion. They have not dealt adequately with the harsh reality that the Bible discloses a hierarchical social order in which slavery and male domination are seldom challenged” (42). John’s imperial discourse pervades the whole gospel. The “Word” that became flesh (1.14) was with God and is, actually, God (1.1). All things came into being through him (1.3) and in him was life and the life was the light of all people (1.4). This “Word made flesh,” the one who came from heaven is above all (3:31) and thus greater than John the Baptist (1.20,3.30), Moses (1.17-18,3.13-15), Jacob (4.12), and even Abraham (8:58). This “Word made flesh” goes into Samaria and tells the woman by the well, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (4.22). This “Word made flesh” is “The Bread of Life” (6.35), “The Light of the World” (8.12), “The Resurrection and the Life” (11.25), and “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” (14.6). And if every one of the things that this “Word made flesh” did were written down, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (21.24). Dube points out that John’s Jesus, as savior of the world who is not of this world, shows a colonizing ideology that claims power over all other places and peoples of the earth (1998b: 132). Moreover Jesus’ followers receive a transference of power. Jesus tells them that they do not belong to the world because he has chosen them out of the world (15.19), and then he sends them out saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (20.21). In other worlds, Christians are not of this world yet they are sent into the world with the power to devalue and subordinate differences like John’s Jesus (Dube, 1998b: 130). With rhetoric like this it is not surprising, as Ali Mazrui points out, that Christianity, the religion of the underdog, became an imperial religion (Dube, 2000:11). More than this, the gospel’s reception history is, on the whole, an expected response to its imperializing rhetoric. Back to my metaphor, the gospel is a jeep. And most of its interpretations, especially those available in seminary libraries in the Philippines, are jeeps. All of the interpreters I have quoted above present legitimate readings. They are relevant to communities that find them relevant. But Good news is always relative. Many interpretations that ignore or even perpetuate John’s imperial rhetoric are products of the hermeneutics of consent. Many interpretations that challenge the gospel’s discourse are products of the hermeneutics of suspicion. It is tempting to classify Reinhartz’ reading as an example of jeepney hermeneutics. She has problems with compliant readings of John. Hers is a resistant reading to the gospel’s constructions of representations and structures of relationships. Ehrman too raises the problem of anti-Semitism in his discussion. Both then find problematic the anti-Jewish sections of the narrative and argue for alternative, liberating readings. On the other hand, both completely ignore the imperial ideology of the gospel. Jeepney hermeneutics, as decolonizing interpretations, suspects both text and interpretation. Ehrman employs a hermeneutics of suspicion as far as John’s reception history is concerned. Unfortunately, he employs a hermeneutics of consent as far as the “source text” is concerned. The Bible remains authoritative, normative, archetypal, God’s special revelation, blameless. Those responsible for Christianity’s sins are the Bible’s interpreters. Gomang Seratwa Ntloedibe-Kuswani cautions that an imperial ideology—that Christianity is the superior religion over all others and its God the real God—underpins the colonialist communication theory of “source text and receptor languages.” The Bible is the given and cannot be changed, languages, cultures, and peoples can and must be changed to make room for the Bible. Thus, even in translation work, there exists the colonizing ideology that renders receptors into slaves of the “source text” (80-81). Ntloedibe-Kuswani quotes Aloo Mojola who argues that translation is never neutral. It is an instrument of ideological and theological formation grounded on fidelity and faithfulness to the source text (81). Spivey and Smith are faithful to the “source text.” And so is Charlesworth. He is totally indifferent to the inherent problems of the Johannine rhetoric and instead uses the narrative as a window to a historical past, a privileged past, in order to find a historical beloved disciple. Kwok Pui-lan, I might add, classifies past and contemporary historical Jesus quests as imperialistic in nature: the West’s need for the “noble savage.” Sugirtharajah’s comments are more pointed: “The whole enterprise serves as an example of how the dominant discourse holds on to its deep-rooted Eurocentric bias, namely the assertion that anything theologically worthwhile can only emanate from Greco-Judeo traditions… Eurocentrism works on a double premise. It looks to Greece for its intellectual and philosophical roots, and dips into its Judaic heritage for its religious origins” (1998b: 113). Reading John inside a jeepney requires privileging Filipinos and their plight as modern-day “Canaanites,” insisting that the Bible informs, it does not define, life, and engaging the biblical text in search of the marginalized, the subaltern, the “Canaanite” characters—those whom Gandhi describes as “the ones who disappear because we never hear them speak. Those who only serve as medium for competing discourses to represent their claims.”
The paidarion, the lad of John 6:9, like the pais of Matthew 8:5-13 that I have argued as symbolic of Filipinos (2000:25-32; 2003), can also represent the continuing plight of Filipinos. 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"(Schirmer, 1987: 43-44). The child who offers the five loaves and two fish is absent from the Synoptics. Only in John is the source of the food identified. In the midst of a crisis involving adults, a child’s food is appropriated. The crisis is averted. Jesus is praised. The child disappears into the background from whence he came. He is never thanked. He is never mentioned again. The child gets one verse in the entire 21 chapters of the gospel. Filipinos, numbering over seven million, offer “loaves and fish” to countless peoples throughout the world as overseas contract workers. Many do not even get “one verse.” As De Quiros points out, “They do not figure in the narrative.” The Samaritan woman is another character that can represent Filipinos. Dube, going against the traditional feminist reading of John 4, presents the woman at the well as illustrative of control-at-a-distance strategies of empire (1996: 37-60). I agree. Spain and America domesticated the mujer indigena for over four centuries and turned her into their most effective subject. Yet like the woman at the well, despite being told that her worship was wrong and she did not have to fetch anymore water because of what Jesus was offering her in terms of “correct worship” and “eternal springs of water,” still left her jar by the well. Fernandez points out, “Though subjected to the most sophisticated political machinations and cultural genocide, the Filipino soul has never been totally crushed.” “Useless” is a relative term. The tens of thousands of rusted military jeeps the US Army thought useless at the end of World War II in the Philippines, Filipinos found useful as raw materials for what was to become the most popular mode of public transportation in the islands, the jeepney. Paul’s letter to Philemon is explicit--that for a while, Onesimus was “useless.” I read that to mean that for a while he ceased being a tool to either Paul or to Philemon or even to Christ. For a while, Onesimus was not Paul’s child, not a part of Philemon’s household, nor Christ’s slave. For a while, Onesimus was free. Dube’s reading complements mine. She explains why John is a “jeep” (to use my metaphor) by comparing and contrasting the Gospel with other imperializing texts like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the epic, Aeneid (1998b: 119). Dube refuses to read the biblical text in isolation from other works of literature and is thus able to argue that John’s colonizing ideology that claims power over other peoples and places on earth is not so different from other constructions in secular literature (1998b: 132). I, on the other hand, “fished” for characters that formed a totally different narrative. In other words, I took the “jeep” and transformed it into a “jeepney.” TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reading against "Authorial Intent"

I have been privileged to participate in learning situations that showcase the wealth of Filipino practices and reading strategies that engage the Bible in unexpected ways. The works of Edicio dela Torre and the late Carlos Abesamis offer excellent examples. You can try these: Take a regular Bible Study session among women. Let them role-play a passage in the Bible. Let’s say, Luke 10:38-42, Jesus visits Martha and Mary. In my experience, most women WILL NOT follow the biblical script. They will change the story. In my biblical writings class this term my students, in six groups, role-played the passage and came up with six different interpretations. Not one followed the original script. Take a nursery Sunday School class. Tell the story of Jonah. Most adults will identify with the plight of Jonah, including the nursery teacher. But children have no problem reading the text from the perspective of the fish, the vine, and the worm, all of whom, by the way, obey God. I call these readings interpretations that go against “authorial intent.” The jeepney is an example of going against authorial intent. I do not believe for a second that Willys or Ford imagined that the military jeep could become a Filipino home on wheels.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Reading like Canaanites...

Jeepney hermeneutics is an example of “reading like a Canaanite” (see Laura Donaldson and Jace Weaver), “re-invading the land” and "re-claiming stolen spaces" (Leticia Guardiola-Saenz), and beating swords into plowshares. This proposal addresses contextual issues, concrete life settings among Filipinos. “The Canaanites are, of course, the much vilified people who occupied the ‘promised land’ before the arrival of the wandering Israelites. Yet they also stand in for all peoples whose lands have been conquered and expropriated” (Donaldson). Filipinos, as one of the most colonized peoples in the world (Eleazar Fernandez), are modern-day Canaanites. Reading the Bible inside a jeepney simply means creating space, offering a home for Filipino “Canaanites” to think, to speak, to sing, to commune in Canaanite languages.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Beating Jeeps into Jeepneys...

Jeepney readings have at least three distinct characteristics, three explicit choices, textual, theological, and contextual, made by the reader. First, as far as textual choices are concerned, it involves reading texts by disregarding, setting aside, or resisting imperial rhetoric, its agents and those who mimic them (getting rid of the jeep's machine gun mount). This means privileging what Renita Weems calls “random aberrant outbursts in a world otherwise rigidly held together by its patriarchal attitudes and androcentric perspective.” This means privileging the subaltern in texts, not just the “voices from the margins” but also the “voiceless from the margins,” what Leela Gandhi describes as “the ones who disappear because we never hear them speak. They only serve as medium for competing discourses to represent their claims,” like the pais in Matthew 8:5-13 and Onesimus in Paul’s letter to Philemon. This fundamental choice, this switch of focus from center to periphery allows the marginalized in the text to “mirror” the plight of the marginalized in front of it. This is akin to Delores Williams’ argument about the power of Hagar’s story to inform and inspire the continuing struggle of many African-American women.
Jeepney hermeneutics involves a fundamental theological claim that the insights, stories, and answers the Bible provide (like the three-seater jeep) are not enough and may even be wrong or hurtful for the questions being asked by many communities, thus the need to create space for other texts that help inform—not define—peoples’ lives and struggles (therefore, the necessity of the sixteen, or more, passenger jeepney). Jeepney hermeneutics creates space for other voices, for Filipino “traditions, myths, legends, to harness insights, values and inspiration towards the full flowering of communities and persons” (Mananzan). Jeepney hermeneutics then takes seriously the affirmation that God and God’s activity is bigger than the Bible, bigger than Christianity, and even bigger than Jesus Christ. God did not arrive in the Philippines in 1521. God was already here. According to Mark Taylor: “The Bible, once the “sword” of the imperial spirit, will have to find its new possibilities amid many other spirits that its Christian bearers often spurned.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How does one do Jeepney Hermeneutics?

It begins with one’s view of scripture. As Vanderbilt University's Daniel Patte points out in conversation, “Traditional roles of scripture are problematic, when they involve submission to the text, or more exactly, defining the authority of the text in terms of moral prescriptions or vision (ideology, religious views, etc.) that it posits or carries.” Many interpreters of Scripture begin with the theological affirmation, explicit or not, that the Bible is “God’s Word” and that it offers access to the Complete and Final Revelation of the One True God, Jesus Christ. Jeepney hermeneutics presupposes that the Bible is a “jeep,” a sword, an imperializing text – a dangerous text, as demonstrated throughout history by the many horrendous crimes committed in its name (see for instance, Susanne Scholtz, ed. Biblical Studies Alternatively: An Introductory Reader [2002]).
Imperializing texts, according to Musa Dube, take many forms and are written by a variety of people, even by the colonized, either collaborating with the dominant forces or yearning for the same power. She adds, “Regardless of who writes imperializing texts, they are characterized by literary constructions, representations, and uses that authorize taking possession of foreign spaces and peoples… Reproduction of imperial strategies of subjugation is also evident among many interpreters.” I draw heavily from Dube’s work with the following questions in explaining why many biblical texts are imperializing and why many of their interpretations are the same. (1) Does the text have an explicit stance for or against the political imperialism of its time? (2) Does it encourage travel to distant and inhabited lands and how does it justify itself? (3) How does the text construct difference: is there dialogue and liberating interdependence, or is there condemnation and replacement of all that is foreign? Is there celebration of difference authentic or mere tokenism? (4) Does the text employ representations (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, divine, etc.) to construct relationships of subordination and domination?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Jeep...

The U.S. 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 a sort of mini-bus that can accommodate about twenty people. There are those who look at a jeepney and call it 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, a sort of imperializing text. A jeepney resists this text. The inventors of the jeep never imagined that this weapon of mass destruction can be transformed into a public transport vehicle. The jeepney is an “unexpected reading” of a jeep.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Jeeps, Jeepneys, and Jeepney Hermeneutics

Mark Lewis Taylor, during the 2000 Society of Biblical Literature meeting, celebrated the publication of the Dictionary of Third World Theologies (Virnia Fabella and R.S. Sugirtharajah, eds.) 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 have proposed 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. Many 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 Eliezer Fernandez argues that the Philippines can be called a "mental colony" of the United States of America. The late Fr. Carlos Abesamis, SJ, had argued 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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Remembering FPJ

Most Filipinos love stories, telling them, listening to them, or watching them. Filipinos who do not enjoy movie watching are quite rare. I remember the moviehouses in the barrios where we used to go during summer vacations. Most of these had double programs. Your ticket bought you two movies to watch. A few had triple programs. We saved up for those triples, especially if they starred the late Fernando Poe Jr. who should have turned 74 today. We came in before lunch and came out six or so hours later. My kuya (older brother) and I are FPJ fans. In grade school I saw my kuya, on two occasions, apply the FPJ rapid-punching technique on two bullies bigger and taller than him. The technique worked. I was 7 when I first went to see a movie by myself. It was FPJ’s Asedillo. It was the first movie I saw that painted a totally different picture of America, and Manuel Quezon, and the period of American occupation many among our elders, even today, longingly call “peacetime.” It was the movie that introduced me to the Sakdal uprising of the 1930s. I was in high school when I saw Aguila. I consider it one of the best movies Philippine cinema has ever produced. Aside from FPJ, it had Christopher de Leon, Jay Ilagan, Sandy Andolong, Eddie Garcia, Johnny Delgado, Charo Santos, Amalia Fuentes, and a host of top caliber artists. Basil Valdez sung the theme song. The 3 ½ hour movie presents a stark portrait of Philippine society and offers at least four ways of dealing with its reality: join the underground, go to America, learn to deal with it, or live with the indigenous communities. If you haven’t watched Aguila and Asedillo. Go and do so. Then you will know why those who call FPJ the Arnold Swarzenegger of the Philippines don't know what they're talking about. And as you watch Asedillo and Aguila (both are available online), remember that FPJ was busy helping prepare relief goods for distribution on the night he suffered a massive stroke. Better still, we can remember FPJ's birthday by celebrating our birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions by reaching out to those whose only hope is God, by contributing the best we can offer to those who need God the most, by being each other's keepers the best way we can. Especially today.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Martha, Mary, and Jesus

MARTHA, MARY, AND JESUS LUKE 10: 38-42 While doing his rounds Jesus finds St. Peter, at the pearly gates, looking worn out and very, very tired. “Rocky,” he says to his friend, “why don’t you take a break. I’ll handle the processing for you.” “Thanks, Jesse,” Peter replies with glee and leaves. With his rooster. Jesus takes over and as he looks down the long line of people being processed, he notices an old man who looked very, very familiar. Jesus feels he knows the old man. Eventually, he is face to face with the old man. Jesus asks, “Sir, what did you do when you were back on earth?” “I was a carpenter,” the old man replies. The reply got Jesus very excited. “What made your life very special then?” he continues. “I had a very special son,” was the reply. A carpenter who had a special son? This gets Jesus more excited! “What can you tell me about your son?” Jesus draws closer as he asks. “Nails and wood!,” the carpenter answers. Nails and wood? Jesus was beyond ecstatic. He blurts out, “Father?” The old man responds, “Pinocchio?” Diversity is a gift. Difference is a fundamental fact of life. No two people are exactly alike. No two fingerprints are exactly alike. The same goes with experiences. And UTS seminarians. Plurality is a gift. Father and son, nails, and wood do not always point to Jesus. They can also point to Pinocchio. There is always more than one reading of a text, including what Prof. McDivith calls “Living Human Documents.” Actually, there is legion. Interpretation is always particular and perspectival. Good news is always relative. When David killed Goliath, it was good news to Israelites, bad news to Philistines, and tragic news to Goliath’s mother! Our lectionary reading for Sunday, the story about Martha, Mary, and Jesus, has been interpreted throughout the centuries in so many different ways. Yes, legions. Prof. Antonio Pacudan has a very good essay on the Lukan passage in Anumang Hiram where he celebrates the discipleship of Martha. He also contrasts the characterization of Martha in the Gospel of John. In her essay, “Scandal in Bethany” (in Babaylan Volume 1), Prof. Lily Ledesma celebrates Mary and her quest for learning and education at the feet of Jesus (a typology that should remind us of Paul learning at the feet of Gamaliel). Two weeks ago, the Juniors in four groups role-played this passage. One group had Martha being portrayed by a man who was busy preparing the meal. The gathered community convinces Martha that the meal can wait so everyone can study together. Everyone then prepares the meal and all share the food, including the audience. Another group situates the interpretation of the passage inside a church building during worship where many of the members of the congregation are, like Martha, distracted by other things: their cellphones, talking with others, or, simply, impatiently waiting for the service to end. A group, broke the fourth wall, by conjuring up a narrator, a lizard (a very big lizard actually) on the wall, filling in the gaps in the familiar story. The fourth group had Martha and Mary reminding Jesus what he taught them, servant leadership, so Jesus actually prepares the meal for the gathered community. I have always believed that God’s greatest gift to UTS is not the land. It is not even the mango trees. It is its people: seminarians, staff, and teachers; the choir who just sang; the middlers who will sing after my message; the sixteen dedicated young women and men whom you have elected to the student government; all of you! The six different interpretations of the same text I just shared with you only help to prove my belief! Now, I would like to share my reading. If we read our Bibles and pray every day, we will grow, grow, grow in the realization that Luke and Acts are a two-part work, like Rizal’s Noli and Fili. Many students of the Bible do not read the Bible, they either read books about the Bible or very small parts. Many seminaries and bible schools are well-known for proof texting. UTS is not one of them. One of the best ways to understand scripture is to read each passage as part of a greater whole. Luke 10:38-42 is part of Luke 10. Luke 10 is part of Luke. Luke is part of Luke-Acts. Liberation Theologians have argued for years that Luke-Acts is the best source for underpinning the church’s preferential option for the poor. Good news is proclaimed to the poor. The Sermon on the Plain declares blessings to the poor and woes to the rich. The rich are challenged to sell everything they have, give all the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus. The Acts tell of communities where no one was in need and where ministry to widows and orphans and strangers were a priority. I have previously argued that the Roman Empire was built on five pillars. First. The Legions, 6000 soliders each, protected the borders of the empire. There were 28 Legions. Second. The Roman roads secured communication, transportation, and delivery of goods and services. Third. Power resided on the landed and the rich, where fathers possessed everyone and everything in the family and had power of life and death over each. Fourth. Ideology. Actually, theology. Rome is a gift from the gods, and Caesar was the Son of God. Caesar was LORD. Each subject of the empire was required faithfulness. Pistis. Fides. Fifth. Now those who defied Pax Romana was either jailed, exiled, or executed. Death to enemies of the state came via crucifixion. The first century movement that included Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Martha and Mary of Bethany, and many others was, I dare say, built on five pillars as well. First, if the Roman Empire had legions to secure the borders of the Roman empire, “God’s empire” had house churches all over, and Martha’s home was one of these. Second, Rome’s economics was built on roads which they guarded and controlled; God’s empire was built on the open table. An open table is where everyone, even those who could not share anything, was welcome to partake of bread, to share wine, to have fellowship. EVERYONE. Third, if Rome’s empire drew its power from the powerful and those who possessed, God’s empire came from the powerless, the poorest of the poor, those whose only hope is God, the dispossessed. Fourth. For Rome, Caesar Augustus was the Son of God. For God’s Empire, Jesus, the carpenter, the Galilean, the one who spoke with a strange Northern accent, was the real SON OF GOD. Jesus, not Caesar, is LORD. Fifth, Rome had the power execute anyone, but God can raise up everyone that the empire executes. In response to Rome’s threat of death and execution, the movement believed in the promise of Resurrection in God’s empire. Read against a backdrop of these pillars of the Basileia movement, we can find historical memory in the passage we are studying: Martha and Mary’s home was a house church, open to everyone. A sanctuary. Martha was involved in the ministry of the open table, Eucharistic table ministry. Jesus’s admonition to her that “there is need for only one” is a reminder to us that, one dish was enough, “tama na ang isang ulam,” especially for the poorest of the poor who were most welcome in these house churches. The fact that Jesus is called LORD three times in the passage reminds us of the movement’s most fundamental, SUBVERSIVE affirmation, JESUS IS LORD AND NOT CAESAR! And what about choosing the better part? But what is the better part? Martha and Mary’s sanctuary was a simple home, not a cathedral most churches today want their worship places to be. Jesus admonished Martha that the open table needed just one dish for everyone, not a feast or a banquet most of us believe are expressions of prosperity and fullness today. Moreover, Jesus’s lordship is not a declaration of absoluteness or greatness but a critique on those who abuse power and oppress the people for life, healing, restoration and resurrection for all. Jesus’s lordship is about taking the side of those who need God the most. The better part is evident in the story before this one: the Samaritan. In the midst of death, pain, suffering, abandonment, indifference, the Samaritan chooses life, healing, restoration. Resurrection. As we come together to share the open table, let us remember what the open table represents. Let us also remember what the affirmation, Jesus is Lord, requires from each of us and from all of us. Moreover, on Monday, July 22, we will be given the privilege to join those whom God has chosen to side with: the farmers, the fisherfolk, the laborers, the masses, those whose only hope is God… outside congress for the People’s SONA. They have much to teach us. We have a lot to learn from them. They will teach us how to struggle for life, for healing, for justice, for liberty, and for land. They will teach us how to celebrate over one simple dish. They will show us what taking sides really means. They will show us the real meaning of rising up and not giving up against all odds. Finally, they will show us what resurrection is really all about. AMEN. Revelation Enriquez Velunta Union Theological Seminary, Philippines 18 July 2013