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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 f…

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 thin…

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) des…

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 r…

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.

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 th…

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 colon…

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.

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 …

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 movi…

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 …