Filipino Values and Our Christian
© 1990 Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano
Away From Home : Help and Encouragement for OFWs" available in
a Kindle edition only as of 2012
Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Manila
All Rights Reserved
1. Christianity Philippines. 2. Christian life Philippines.
3. Christianity and culture Philippines. 4.
Philippines Religious life and customs.
BR115.C8 M53 1990 ~~ Dewey: 261 ~~ LCCN: 90946093 ~~ OCLC: 25527171 ~~ 126p.
Filipino Values and Our Christian Faith by Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano is presently held by 26 libraries including Yale University and Harvard Divinity School.
Table of Contents
Lusot, Lakad and Lagay : A Trilogy of Maneuvers 1
Did God Say "Bahala Na"? 13
Taking Another Look at Pakikisama 19
Bayan Ko : Strengthening Our Weak National Consciousness 29
Who's the Boss in the House? 47
Brocades, Facades and Edifice Complex 59
What to do with Utang na Loob 69
Witness in the Home 76
Beyond Christian Rhetorics 91
Appendix: Of Songs and Words and Gestures 103
A small token dedicated to David my husband, for whom life is a constant adventure of the Christian faith and an affirmation that to be Filipino is to be rooted in our land.
From the Jacket of the Book
Despite Westernized education and outlook, we Filipino Christians remain essentially children of our culture, hardly conscious of how our values, customs and traditions impinge on our biblical faith. Perhaps it is time to reflect and ask ourselves honest questions, suggests author Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano. What is the value of pakikisama (fellowship) in the context of new life in Christ? How far should our utang na loob extend? How does the expression "It must be God's will" differ from bahala na? How are we to respond to all the talk about nationalism and nation-building?
In this thought-provoking work, Mrs. Feliciano urges us to begin examining ourselves, and seriously consider the possibilities of what we can become.
Mrs. Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano has written several fast-selling books for OMF. She was a prize-winner in the 1978 Catholic Mass Media Award for her book Conduct for Today. A former executive director (1991-93) of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC). Mrs. Feliciano is now trainer-resident writer there.
She lives with her husband David, a pastor, in Silang, Cavite. They have two adult sons.
Modeling a Christian lifestyle is a serious and difficult business. Many of us are not aware we do it most of the time in our families, offices, schools, and dealings with people. We would rather talk about our Christian faith; rather, write about its why's, wherefore's and meanings than practice its principles in the context of Filipino culture. So much of our Christian life remains unexamined. Our conduct as Christians may consist of knee-jerk reactions rather than well thought out actions born out of conviction. This is one reason, perhaps, why there is a dearth of evidence for the transforming power of an authentic biblical Christianity in our country. But we have a lot to show how religiously-inclined we are.
We are still children of our culture. We live and breathe our Pinoy values and traditions despite our westernized education. We are hardly conscious of how Filipino culture affects our Christian faith. Perhaps it is time to be more reflective; to be more deliberate and responsible. We could ask ourselves:
What is the value of pakikisama (fellowship) in the context of life and belief in Christ? How far should our utang na loob extend? Is "God's will," which is our favorite phrase, any different from the prevailing notion of bahala na? What should mark a Christian Filipino lifestyle? How are we to relate to the talk about nationalism and nation-building?
These may not be life-or-death issues to some of us. But to have a Christian perspective here and in other areas will add to the quality of our lives (and deaths) as witnesses to the redeeming love of Christ. We simply cannot be indifferent shrug our shoulders and say, "Para ano pa? (What's the use?) It has been our custom since time immemorial, so why should I make myself an exception now?" The opposite extreme might be this: "We should shun everything that smacks of native culture. It is of the devil."
But let us take the time to assess the bits and pieces of who we were, what we are today, and what we will be in the future. What we can affirm as true, good, beautiful and Christian from our own cultural roots, we must cling to with pride and thankfulness to God, without reservations. What cannot pass the test of clear biblical mandate, we must tear ourselves from no matter how difficult, heart-wrenching and un-Filipino it may look. And those that appear on the borderline, we give expansive allowance with grace and wit.
All things in this life, in the final analysis, including ourselves, need redemption. Redemption in Jesus Christ requires judgment and affirmation. Then a wholehearted acceptance of what we are and can become. This is true of us. This is also true of our cultural values.
Lusot, Lakad & Lagay : A Trilogy of Maneuvers
During the intermission of the rock concert Evita at the PICC, four of us ladies went down from the fourth floor to the check-in counter to retrieve our baon from the snooty guards. We were hungry and didn't have much money. Then we bumped into some friends who had tickets like ours, but were blissfully lodged in the orchestra section.
"What?" we chorused in disbelief. "How did you do that?" We were piqued by the obvious unfairness of it all.
"Oh, it was easy," Nits said, shrugging her pretty shoulders nonchalantly. Seeing her casual shrug, I quelled an impish urge to strangle her. "It's just that before the concert started, we sweet-talked the orchestra usher (he's cute you know!) into letting us in, as that section was only half full. And ... he let us in! Nakalusot kami, ano?" And she burst into a delighted, triumphant laugh.
We didn't laugh. "But that's unfair!" we cried out again. Soon we were all over the young now bewildered usher,
a rather handsome, prepossessing fellow. My friend tried to wheedle seats from him, then dropped names, and eventually threatened to report him to the management for discriminating against patrons of the arts! All we really wanted was to gate-crash the orchestra section. But the fellow stood his ground in his best cultivated English.
So finally, we marched fuming to our fourth floor seats where we could only catch a glimpse of the shining pate of a dear friend who was debuting as a stage actor. Too bad, we were unable to make a lusot. Was it because two of us were not as young as the others? Or that we were not properly dressed? Or that the young man, in a moment of weakness, gave in to our pretty, winsome friends? We never did know.
Lusot literally means to escape from something by wriggling into a hole or through a slit. It points to a mentality that is concerned with getting away from an undesirable, unpleasant or altogether difficult situation in the fastest and least painful manner possible. To make a lusot implies cutting corners, side-stepping responsibilities, or wriggling out of a sticky situation with cunning.
For instance, if a student passes his exam by cheating without being detected, he has made a lusot. If a driver gets through a red light without being apprehended by a traffic officer, he would congratulate himself for being clever. If a taxpayer understates his income without the BIR noticing it, it is a big lusot. If a work-starved Filipino with fake papers lands a job in Saudi Arabia without being discovered by the government employment board, his friends would call him mautak or wais (brainy), and masuerte (lucky). Many would try to imitate him.
A young friend pretended she was married to a distant cousin so she could reply to a "couple wanted" advertisement in France. As we were both Christians, and she asked for my prayers, I pointed out that the fake marriage license,
the lies they have to tell, and the situation they would put themselves into once they were accepted as newly married, are all wrong. She answered me in the most Filipino fashion:
"Eh, baka makalusot lang naman. Kung hindi, talagang kalooban ng Diyos na hindi." (Well, we are simply taking chances. If we don't make it, then it must not be God's-will.) Hearing her say that I shuddered to think how the expression "It is God's will" is used (abused) nowadays.
But not in all instances is a Filipino able to sweet-talk a problem away, or drop big names with effect, threaten, or escape from sticky situations. Students taking exams are caught red-handed with kodigos; reckless drivers get tickets; vendors are discovered with defective scales; employees are found cat-napping in their work, or filching office supplies; judges are caught taking bribes, and religious people get involved in immoral activities. What will they do next?
Lakad and lagay come in handy.
Lakad literally means walk. It is a euphemism for making an attempt to smooth out difficulties by using a network of "connections." Here the Filipino padrino system (literally, a godfather, or a sponsor who can help a person, or his work) comes to the rescue.
A church member who had been unemployed for some time wanted to get the driver's license he needed for a driving job. "All I need is just three hundred pesos. I have a friend at the LTC office, and he's willing to help me."
"Why do you need that friend to help you?" I asked. "Couldn't you just go through what is required by the law and pay up?"
"Well...," he paused for a while. "That can be done, why not? But it's different when you know somebody inside. It facilitates the paper work." And he launched into a story of a friend who now works in an important office. A kumpare who has a nephew working inside that office introduced this
friend to him. The nephew in turn, introduced the friend to his boss who was the nephew's ninong at his wedding. "Let's face it," he added philosophically this time, "In this society, who you know still holds not what you know."
I hope he knows how to drive, I thought, quite unnerved by the idea.
The phenomenon of lakad breeds a new kind of work that is the exclusive domain of the so-called "fixers." If it is not possible to penetrate the inner sanctum in an office for lack of "connections" inside, one may approach a fixer to help for a fee. He may be an employee whose sideline is "fixing." Or he may be one of those who hang around office corridors outrightly offering his services to any taker. His advantage is that he knows some people inside who, in turn, could help him in his "fixing" business. Whatever payment he gets is spread over to those who have aided him. The price can sometimes be exorbitant. The whole bureaucratic system, especially in our government offices, fertilizes the growth of fixers and eventually, this monstrosity is called graft and corruption.
"Connections" and fixers are almost always oiled by the use of lagay (literally "to put"). Lagay means grease money, payola, tong (when illegal gambling operations are concerned) or plain bribe. The phenomenon of lagay has been the subject of serious study especially in Third World countries. Some sociologists explain its existence as inevitable in informal, familistic Asian societies that regard tokenism and patronage as cultural givens. It is not really bribery, they say. It's just a gesture of goodwill, a gift given after business is done, that spurs an employee to work well and fast. Besides, most civil servants are overworked and miserably underpaid. A little pocket money eases their lives. And this the average citizen should understand. Lagay so permeates our Philippine life that one can hardly escape its clutches despite our moral pretensions.
Some time ago my husband and I had to face the reality of lagay when we were working out a land title. A friend recommended somebody in town who makes lakad for such things. Wanting to save his time and energy for writing and farming, Dave contacted the person. To his dismay, my husband discovered that the fixer would make as much as a thousand pesos for himself over and above the actual payment for the processing of the papers. "That's highway robbery!" Dave exclaimed. He vowed that he would not pay any grease money but instead would do it himself even if it took a year.
He went to the provincial capitol and asked directly for the head of the land-titling office. But he didn't get beyond the first desk. He was referred to a second- or third-rank employee with a very religious sounding name, whose real work, ironically, was "fixing-for-a-fee." Anyway, for a much, much lower fee, he quietly and unobtrusively promised to have the title out within the next few weeks. But my husband countered, "Couldn't you just tell me who I should go to for signatures and things like that?"
"You see," the man tapped the table, seemingly in deep thought, "you need at least two main signatures and four others to authenticate your papers. And not all of these people are always available. You practically have to hunt them down. You will just wear your shoes thin and spend more money coming and going for nothing. And as I look at you, you are a busy person, right? But if you let me do the job, all you need to do is wait." He gave Dave a beatific smile, his pockmarked face all wrinkled like a prune.
Dave came home that day in a thoughtful mood. Would he or wouldn't he? He had yet to write a paper for an IVCF national convention, our farm needed weeding, and there were a few chores that had to be done. This insider seemed reasonable and, we hoped, efficient. Besides, if we consider
the monumental red tape Dave needed to hurdle, our best efforts would most likely be an exercise in futility. Dave finally capitulated. For all our moral crusading, we simply cannot buck the system overnight. He carefully explained to the insider that the extra money was not meant to pay him off for a job expected of him. Rather it was to help him meet whatever need he had for the moment. "Yes, yes, of course!" the man readily conceded with a mischievous glint in his eyes. Within a month, we got our land title.
For all that time, our discomfort remained regardless of time and efforts saved. In paying the man, did we act simply out of expediency and not on biblical morality? Did we really help him, or allow him to sink deeper in the mire of corruption which apparently is part of his lifestyle with or without us? How truly honest can a Christian be in a culture that has accepted lusot, lakad and lagay as a system operating outside legal and official policies? Are we just being overly sensitive to what is a standard procedure? How are we Christians to conduct ourselves in this sin-marred culture?
It is continuing agony and struggle just answering these questions truthfully. Not only for us, we believe, but for many Christians, who deep in their hearts, want to do right. Let us once more look at these three values biblically.
We can collectively heave a sigh of relief when we realize that these social maneuvers did not begin with us Filipinos. As early as the dawn of history, our first parents wanted to make lusot from a seeking God by hiding themselves. And when it did not work, they resorted to blaming each other and the serpent. Cain, after killing Abel, tried to bluff God when asked about his brother's whereabouts, by answering arrogantly, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Abraham, who is called the "Father of faith," twice passed off Sarah his wife as his sister. God consistently
exposed the lies, to his deep embarrassment. Jacob was not named "The Supplanter" for nothing. And we can go on citing biblical characters who have had similar experiences. Making lusot escape, is symptomatic of the innate sinfulness of man who keeps trying to elude the call of God.
To say this, however, is not to justify such escapist tendencies. Lying, maneuvering, resorting to guile and other tricks whether big or small, are all outrightly condemned by Scriptures. "Cursed is the man who accepts a bribe," according to Deuteronomy 27:25. "No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house," declares God in Psalm 101:7, "No one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence." The psalmist himself wrote: "You destroy those who tell lies; the Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men." (Psalm 5:6).
On the other hand, King David gives a formula for good living: "Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it." (Psalm 34:13) And this is echoed by the apostle Peter when he wrote: "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and lips from deceitful speech." (1 Peter 3:10)
Making palusot by lying, being deceitful and crafty reveals a weakness in character. We admire people like Jose Rizal, Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora and recently, Ninoy Aquino, who stood up courageously in almost impossible situations. We admire men and women who admit their faults and crimes, and unflinchingly face up to whatever is coming to them; children who buckle down to their work even when difficult; and parents, who confess to the difficulty of raising children, yet do not excuse themselves from their responsibilities. But people who constantly cut corners may find themselves one day cut off.
Many things in life have to be done ploddingly and patiently before any satisfaction is achieved. Some duties have to be done well before they yield longed-for privilege and comfort. A diploma must be earned before it can be of any use in practical life. Work must be done well before it can be commended. But a fast break, head-long rush regardless of moral scruples often results in broken bones and bashed heads. Lusot works at times, why not? But it works in a limited and often dangerous way. It is highly doubtful whether God could commend any one who makes palusot, even if it is done for His glory.
Lakad on the other hand, we can view with ambivalence. There appears to be nothing wrong or immoral in social networking. To a great extent, life in our culture is a mesh of interrelationships blood kin, ritual kin, social and political kinships. Westerners envy us because, on account of the close intertwining of our lives with other people, we Filipinos can count more relatives and friends than they do. Thus, calling upon our contacts to make personal follow-ups (for no monetary gain at all), or seeking help in time of need is almost an expected move. Using a go-between is an acknowledged social process. In case of conflict it helps avert bloodshed and may create temporary peace. In bureaucratic dealings, our "connections" inside, whether a relative, compadre, or a friend of our compadre, admittedly are a help.
However, resorting to fixers and making under-the-table deals with them, cutting corners, forging documents or short-changing others is always morally questionable. Since giving pang-kape ("coffee-money") to hasten processing of papers is already a dubious practice, then how much more doubtful is the practice of deliberately employing worldly-wise persons to distort or manufacture supposed facts! Yet, how we are tempted to do so.
Another point that needs to be raised in relation to "connections" or the padrino system is the issue of personalism. Personalism is our tendency to recommend, appoint or employ a person whom we know for a particular job or responsibility. Usually we do not inquire whether that person is fit or qualified for the position. What matters is that we know him personally. And that he could easily be approached by people we know.
The problem arises when Juan de la Cruz, a nondescript Filipino citizen, is not known in the place, and has nobody to introduce him to this person in the office. Nor has Juan de la Cruz the money to pay a fixer to do his business. Who will handle Juan de la Cruz's papers? Who will listen to his case? Is his business or cause unimportant or invalid because he has no money nor connections? Should civil servants attend only to those they know and those who could pay them?
No wonder Juan is easily swayed by other groups espousing ideas that appear friendlier and more attentive to his needs. No wonder we are losing countless Juan de la Cruzes to other political ideologies. We are helping perpetuate a personalistic, rather than an objective and service-to-all oriented bureaucracy. Such a personalistic system is open to the influences of elitism, discrimination and corruption values that are never promoted as positive in the Scriptures.
Instead, Scripture teaches us to regard all men as our equal without any preference or distinction. Moses made this point strongly when he said, "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribe." (Deuteronomy 10:17) And the writer of the Proverbs reminded us that, "giving preferred treatment to rich people is a clear case of selling one's soul for a piece of bread." (Proverbs 28:21 Living Bible) James is more emphatic in
pointing out that "you are breaking this law of our Lord's when you favor the rich and fawn over them, it is sin." (James 2:9 Living Bible) These injunctions need to be seriously reflected upon by professing Christians in both private and public office, as well as by citizens who deal with them. A better society can only be achieved if there is a collective will to transcend our own interests and extend a helping hand to another Filipino whoever and whatever he is.
Lagay, as we have already seen, is a dubious practice that didn't start with Filipinos. It has been a weakness of mankind since the beginning of time, tracing its roots to our first parents' disobedience to God. We may have made this practice worse by allowing it, through our indifference, to infiltrate our way of life, thereby lending it a respectability it never deserved. Bribery makes us furious, it is true. But we have not gone beyond whining "What can we do?" And we go ahead to shell out a fifty peso bill, tucking it under our driver's license to give to the apprehending traffic officer.
Lagay is ethically and morally indefensible. It remains so even if we succumb to it in the process of working out our affairs, either as a victim or an initiator. God clearly cannot tolerate bribery by whatever name it is called. It cannot be rationalized as a cultural or an economic need, and therefore, cannot be excused or condoned. One of the greatest heartaches of the prophet Samuel in his old age must have been seeing his errant sons, whom Scripture describes this way: "In his old age, Samuel retired and appointed his sons as judges in his place ... but they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and were very corrupt in the administration of justice." (1 Samuel 8:1-3 Living Bible) And the deeds of Samuel's sons were partly what made the people ask for a king to lead them, a plan that was not in God's mind at all. Several centuries later, another
prophet called Amos thundered: "For many and great are your sins, I know them all so well. You are the enemies of everything good; you take bribes; you refuse justice to the poor." (Amos 5:12 Living Bible)
Plainly put, lagay is sinful. It is corrupting. It feeds on greed and avarice. It regards people as things. One who accepts a bribe demeans himself by being bought with money. And somehow, the bribe-giver becomes important to us because of what he can fork over. And when we begin to think that money is the focal point in our social relationships, then it becomes our god. The apostle Paul was so right when he reminded Timothy that the "love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:10)
Did God Say Bahala Na?
He sat in the waiting-shed by the roadside, all forlorn and crumpled up, I could hardly believe a man could look so dejected on a bright early morning.
"Good morning, po," I greeted him cheerily.
He smiled wanly and harrumphed his answer.
"Anything wrong, Mang Vic?" I asked.
"Heto, wala na namang trabaho." (Here I am, out of work again.) He muttered an expletive, spat on the dirt floor and ground his spittle with his rubber slippers.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Mang Vic," I said, scanning the highway for a Manila-bound bus. "What will happen now? What are you going to do?"
"Bahala na," he answered, his gaze on the dirt floor and his body almost bent double, looking more crumpled than ever.
I hailed my bus and left. Since then, Mang Victor seems to have become a permanent fixture of the waiting-shed. He either looks out to the highway or stares at the dirt floor.
Bahala na. Of the many Filipino values pointed out by social scientists, this is one of the most put down. And for good reason, as exemplified by my barrio friend, Mang Victor. Bahala na is an unproductive perspective on life, observes Filipino historian Teodor Agoncillo. Rendered loosely as "Come what may" or Que sera, sera (Whatever will be, will be), it conjures up utter helplessness in the face of difficult situations. Whatever happens the Filipino believes, is the work of fate (kapalaran or suwerte). Such fatalism, Agoncillo observes, has bred in the Filipino a sense of resignation. Thus, he appears indifferent in the face of graft and corruption He stares impassively at the face of personal misfortune. For all that, Agoncillo concedes that bahala na cushions the Filipino from becoming a mental hospital patient.
However, without excusing ourselves from the ill effects of such an outlook, we will see that fatalism is not exclusively Filipino. We share this outlook with other people. Leonardo Mercado writes that the Stoics, the Taoists, the Unseen Hand of Adam Smith, the free market mechanics of classical economists, the Idea of Inevitability of Socialism in Marxism are all expressions of fatalism or bahala na.
Still this does not make bahala na any more positive or worth valuing as such. What we should ask ourselves is: What is the difference between bahala na and the Christian concept of "God's will"? This is an important question because in many instances, Christians seem to have retained the bahala na mentality, only using more religious-sounding jargon.
Bahala na means that life is determined by an impersonal force called palad, suwerte or fate. Destiny has no face. It is unfeeling, disinterested and bears a stamp of unmoving finality. On the other hand when Christians speak of "God's will," we are referring to a God whose humanity in Jesus Christ provided us access to a warm, personal and caring
relationship with Him. This God whose will, we believe, actively works in our lives interacts with us continually in love. This is the Christian God. He sees and hears, and is moved by prayers and our tears.
Thus, in the face of suffering, conflict or loss, the Christian cannot simply give up and resign himself in hopeless abandon. His faith in the Living God provides him the inner strength and energy to bear the pain. In the midst of conflicts he does not turn tail and run away. He is given the extra will to fight and to struggle against whatever forces there are, knowing that God is his defense and refuge. In defeat, he concedes, yet will not carry such loss as a lifelong badge. He knows that God meant this setback for good. So he keeps his hopes high and his faith strong. Whereas bahala na is inexorable and merciless, God's will is meaningful and purposive.
I have seen stoic, painful, bitter resignation on the faces of women friends in the barrio because of bahala na. One day Pinang showed me her numerous wounds the ugly bruises and burns, as well as the scars from verbal and emotional abuse inflicted by a drunken, good-for-nothing husband.
"I thought he had left you for good," I said. "Three years, ... four years ago? You told about it, didn't you?"
"Yes, he did. But he came back after he got tired of his woman," Pinang answered.
"Why did you take him in again? Why allow yourself to be his punching bag?" I was beginning to feel indignant and angry with her.
"I don't know, Siguro ito na talaga ang suwerte ko," (This must really be my fate) she said with finality. It seemed pointless to tell her otherwise.
Or take Edeng with whom I rode on a jeepney coming home from the market. "Come to our house," she said. "We have a wedding!"
I asked whose wedding it was and she told me it was her son who eloped and had just come back with his new wife. "We had to sell our calf for this occasion," she said with regret in her voice.
"Naku Kumare," a neighbor's voice boomed next to her. "Huwag kang malungkot sa kasal ng anak mo. Masama 'yan. Wala ka nang magagawa at suwerte iyan ng mga bata. Ipakasal mo na lang." (Don't be glum at your son's wedding. That's bad. There's nothing you can do for that's your children's fate. Just let them be married).
" 'Yon na nga siguro. Suwerte," Edeng agreed weakly. "Bahala na!"
Take Derio, whose badly battered and decomposing body was found floating in the river. We viewed his remains among the cassava plants with horror and curiosity. Then Ka Amboy with his bald head and merry eyes began to philosophize: "Alam ninyo," he began, gesturing grandly to us. "Ang buhay ay pasuwerte-suwerte lang. Iyan ang suwerte ni Derio." (You know, life is a matter of fate. And this is Derio's lot.)
I walked home slowly, silently contesting Ka Amboy's statements. No, there was an evil man or men who intentionally killed Derio. And if the barrio people had a mind to, we would know who killed him. Attributing Derio's death to destiny would only perpetuate senseless murders like this one. But no one wanted to ask the right questions. Nobody wanted to involve himself unnecessarily. Derio had no close friends or relatives who cared enough to find out how he died and why. So, we all left his gruesome death to suwerte, to bahala na, despite the unease in our hearts at the time.
Yet, anthropologist F. Landa Jocano points out that bahala na has a more positive side to it than just resignation, laziness or hopelessness. For instance, a man is cornered by holduppers and he has no option but to defend himself.
So, with half-closed eyes and adrenalin pumping into his bloodstream, he bravely resolves, "Bahala na!" faces his enemies and fights them off.
Jocano says this is not resignation. This is raw and simple courage a deliberate and willful burst of energy for effecting changes. In other situations, it may mean taking risks as when one plods ahead, doing what needs to be done even when the prospect of success is bleak. It could also mean a simple, childlike faith as in declaring: "Bahala na ang Diyos, Siya ang nakakaalam." (Let God take charge, He is all-knowing and in control.) When seen in this light, bahala na no longer means fatalism or resignation. It has become an active and aggressive motivational factor. And it has taken an optimistic face.
Though this view is quite redeeming for a much criticized Filipino value, the Christian "God's will," to my mind, is nobler in concept and more dynamic in action. To believe that God has a direct and personal interest in our lives as a church, and as a nation, does not connote passivity, as some are wont to think. The will of God is only realized through our obedience and cooperation with Him. God causes things to happen as we make things happen, based on the talents, gifts, opportunities, and vocations He provides us.
We need not get ourselves into a bahala na cliff-hanging situation to make ourselves courageous. A Christian who has a dynamic and living faith in Christ is now empowered by His Spirit. Yes, he may have his share of irrational fears which cannot be vanquished in one stroke. Yet the empowered Christian is called continuously to exert effort to slay them one by one. As we overcome our fears, we also work to manifest the overhauling effects of Christ's redemption of our person and of our environment. This may be what
the apostle Paul means when he enjoins the Philippians to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in your both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12)
To believe in the will of God is to take risks, for the Christian faith is a risk-taking faith. Paul reminds Timothy that God has not given him a spirit of timidity, of hesitancy, of vacillation and back-tracking but the spirit of power, love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). To know and experience the power of God in our lives is superior to the derring-do of bahala na because our confidence to act does not arise from desperation but from a firm belief that ours is the right action. Of course, such assertion assumes that our faith is both biblically well-formed and well-informed.
Finally, though it is true that the Christian concept of "God's will" is dynamic and active, it is at the same time acquiescent, humble, quiet and listening. It is a hopeful acquiescence, a joyful passivity, a creative inactivity, because the Christian knows that behind all the circumstances and situations in life, is a caring, loving God. He is a God who cannot be wrong. He has promised to lead us to the right path.
Did God ever say bahala na, thus leaving us to the vagaries of chance and fortune? No, I think He said, "Bahala Ako sa iyo." (I'll take care of you.) And that makes all the difference. To place our hand in His by faith assures us of a walk through life that is both full of adventure and meaning. For hasn't the Lord Jesus promised us, "I am with you always"? And best of all, our walk here on earth has a heavenly destination.
Taking Another Look at Pakikisama
In some Christian circles, pakikisama is a bad word. It conjures up scenes of wild drunken orgies, profligate living, and consorting with the dregs of society, the idlers and loafers. Time and again, religious leaders, quoting 2 Corinthians 6:14 (without understanding its context), decry the evils of pakikisama from the pulpit. Listening to this tirade, we may get the impression that Christianity is an exclusive club of the "saved" and the "saints," far removed from the dirt and grime of society. We get the impression that to associate with these people is to allow ourselves to be tainted with corruption. And Christians who insist on being with social outcasts (because they believe it is Jesus' way) are thought of as having compromised with the Evil One.
Yet, in the same urgent tone, we are equally pressured by the same religious people, to get out into the world to "evangelize" or to "witness." We are challenged to light up
darkened humanity, and salt it to prevent its decay. Now this poses a problem to many thoughtful Christians.
How are we going to obey this injunction if our dealings with the lost are mostly based on expediency? How are we to win our loved ones, friends and neighbors to Christ if we are not willing to share our lives with them in some deep relevant way? Is it possible to show our love from a distance? Can we effectively share the Gospel via remote control? Why have we allowed the great Filipino value of pakikisama to be so ill-thought of?
Pakikisama is rooted in the intrinsic Filipino value of pakikipagkapwa-tao. This core value refers to one's desire to be treated as an equal. Pakikipagkapwa-tao is thus translated into acts of helping, sharing, and cooperating with others. A Filipino would like to think that he lives and moves with his co-equals. He would also expect that the consideration he shows to others will be reciprocated.
Our famous bayanihan spirit of helping one another during crisis stems from our strong sense of pakikisama. This borne out by our camaraderie, friendship, neighborliness, or plain fellow-feeling attitude. Damayan (literally "coming to the rescue") operates on the same basis of mutual help.
With pakikisama as the norm, a person's individuality to some extent becomes merged with those of others. According to one lecturer, Filipinos as individuals are like a batch of eggs fried "sunny-side up" in a hot skillet. Each yellow yolk remains separate and distinct, yet the egg whites have fused together. To a good measure, this is a vivid picture of Filipino society. On the whole, we do want to make connections with people and blend our lives with theirs. Somehow we do not feel too good about ourselves when we are alone. A Filipino who is individualistic and too independent is most likely perceived as an unlikeable fellow. He will stick out like a sore thumb.
Most often he is regarded as mayabang (proud), suplado (snobbish), "weird," or worse, sira (crazy).
Individuals who hold distinctive opinions and ideas that contradict prevailing views are thought of as not-easy-to-deal-with, wanting to attract attention, or hard-headed. In religious circles, an independent thinker risks being labelled as a "liberal" or a "compromiser" in matters of biblical understanding and interpretation. In politics, anybody whose ideas are contrary to the popular and current thinking may find himself tagged as a "Marxist" or "communist." These people are considered walang pakikisama (anti-social). They tend to upset some people, confuse others, and win only a few to their side. People sneer at these outspoken, independent-minded individuals, calling them "stumbling-blocks" to the unity of the faith" or to the "testimony of Christ."
At its best, pakikisama seeks harmony with others, with nature and with oneself. It aims for unity, peace and cooperation. And to establish this smooth interpersonal relationship (SIR), one learns to subject his own personal desires, convictions and standards to those of his group be it family, clan, social club or barkada (gang). Often the implicit motto is "One for all and all for one." This value is nurtured by indirect communication or use of euphemisms for whatever is "best" for the group. If differences in opinion or action occur, resulting in a rift among group members, pakikisama is maintained by using a go-between, someone respected by both parties, who will patch up any misunderstanding. This ensures that nobody is put to shame and that everyone's self-esteem remains intact. With wholehearted pakikisama, almost anything could be done. We have seen whole ricefields planted on time with minimal expense because of the bayanihan spirit of the farmer's neighbors. The bayanihan spirit stems from pakikisama. Or, a whole town is spruced up overnight in time for the fiesta. People celebrate their town
anniversary grandly on short notice. So many beautiful things can happen with true pakikisama.
Though the goals of pakikisama, harmony and peace, are much sought after, there are some things that one may be forced to do for its sake that are not noble or helpful. Sometimes pakikisama brings nothing but destruction to the individual and to his family. Take the case of Mang Panyong.
Normally he is a meek and hardworking man. In fact, he is so shy that he hardly lifts his eyes to yours when you greet him. But on weekends, in the company of his hard-drinking, foul-mouthed barkada, Mang Panyong is transformed. He drunkenly heads for home late at night, hurling his curses and imprecations to the wind. He beats his wife black and blue and scares his young children out of their wits. Mang Panyong's desire to belong to his barkada drives him to drink and then lose control. When sober he is totally ashamed of himself.
Christian young people are often victims of the wrong kind of pakikisama. Mario is a seventeen-year old boy who prefers his friends to his parents, his relationship with them having become strained. He learned to drink, smoke (including marijuana) and engage in morally questionable acts. Mario thought that he was influencing his friends for good, but evidently it was the other way around. Eventually he dropped out of school altogether. Feeling that he had totally disgraced his family, he bummed around for a whole year "trying to find himself." Then, in a moment of enlightenment, "he came to himself" as Jesus would say. Mario realized he needed to return home to his parents who had loved him and prayed for him throughout his wayward years. His barkada had long since disintegrated each one to his own way. What had happened was regrettable but there was also much joy in the forgiveness and reconciliation he experienced with his parents.
Pakikisama in these examples did not bring about unity, genuine harmony nor enhancement of one's person. It only made the person bad and saddened others. This kind of pakikisama is not worth cultivating at all.
How should Christians regard pakikisama then? Is it a cultural value we should repudiate as unworthy of our biblical heritage? Or is it something we can redeem in our social life to make our witness more appealing and credible? What does Scripture say about pakikisama?
Concerning the avoidance of evil company, the Scripture is unequivocal. The lovely book of Psalms opens with the blessedness of a person who refuses to be identified with the ways of wicked men but stays close to God and His commandments. "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers." (Psalm 1:1). We notice that the influence of evil-doing does not 'happen' all at once. There is a gradual attraction to it as seen in the progression of verbs: "walk," then, "stand," and eventually, "sit." It takes godly wisdom to know which friends to keep and cultivate. The book of Proverbs reinforces this truth, "He who walks with wise men grows wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm." (Proverbs 13:20). Or, "A discerning son observes the law, but one who keeps riotous company wounds his father." (Proverbs 28:7). We need to see, however, that what is condemned is not the natural inclination to socialize: rather, it is the choice of friends and companions. Falling in with bad company may trigger the latent sinfulness within us to surface and find expression. Christians are as vulnerable to sin as any other persons; not a few need only a nudge for them to do the forbidden.
Concerning real and genuine pakikisama, no one can surpass what Jesus did. The supreme illustration is what theologians call the Incarnation the act of God becoming man
in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, in His earthly life, was seemingly so like the rest of ordinary Jews that the religious among them had trouble believing He was the Messiah. Seeing His unconventional social style, the Pharisees and scribes could only shake their heads and murmur to one another, "This man receives sinners and eats with them," and therefore, He could not be a serious religious teacher.
It was all true. The company that Jesus kept included the much-hated tax collectors, the irreligious and irreverent, the prostitutes, and the women, the pro-Roman as well as the rabid nationalists, and the rest of the unwashed and unchurched people of His day. What the Pharisees and scribes had said in whispers is what Jesus openly articulated in Matthew 11:18-19: "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners,' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."
The religious of His day felt that Jesus had too much pakikisama. If He wanted to be accepted as the Messiah, He should change His friends. Surely the religious leaders would believe in Him if He did.
But Jesus thought otherwise. That is why He cited the case of John the Baptizer, John was a loner and an individualist; in fact, an ascetic. He had no time for social amenities, for chit-chat and the mundane life. His devotion to God could not be faulted, but did the scribes and the Pharisees believe in him?
John the Baptizer was criticized as much as Jesus. "He must be demon-possessed," they said. John the Baptizer sharply rebuked them for their feeble spirituality and weak attempts at winning people to God.
As shown by both Jesus and John the Baptizer, the principle of pakikisama seems to lie on the epigramatic statement of Jesus: "Yet wisdom is proved right by her actions." The religious among the Jews criticized John's isolationism, but he moved the hearts of his listeners to a conviction of their own sinfulness and led them to repentance (Mark 1:4-8). The Jews found fault with Jesus' socializing with lowly people, but He was effectively touching lives with newness, with a new kind of goodness, and with a new power to live. Given the lifestyles of Jesus and John the Baptizer, Filipinos identify more readily with that of Jesus.
The point for us is not so much trying to duplicate what John or Jesus did socially. The principle to remember is that our pakikisama, whether with Christians or not, should have a "salting" effect. This means our person, presence, views and dealings should help fight off the influence of corruption and evil. At the same time, our pakikisama must somehow "light up" others as well. So by our words and deeds, our companions are led towards constructive, meaningful lives. The goal of our pakikisama is a transformation in peoples' lives, not just harmony of the temporary and superficial kind. Our pakikisama should be based on genuine concern for everybody's good and for the sake of Jesus Christ.
This kind of pakikisama is for men and women of principles and strong convictions. This is not for the insecure and weak nor for the social-climbers and the attention-getters. Nor does this mean that we have to be super-spiritual or very knowledgeable about the Bible before we could go out and 'consort' with other people. This was the problem of the Pharisees. They knew all about the faith, but had little understanding, respect, and acceptance for other people. They lacked humility to be real persons and friends to those who needed them most. Perhaps this applies also to some of the religious among us today.
Many Christians may be generally judgmental of others and carry a chip on their shoulders. Many of our friendships are "evangelistic" in motivation, that is, we are only interested in joining a group to infiltrate it with the Gospel, so that perceptive non-Christians find us "plastic." For if we are only interested in their "souls" and not in their persons and situations, then our social involvement with them will be limited and unbalanced.
Much of Paul's writings to the early church was an appeal to honest-to-goodness pakikisama. As in today's churches, there was much in-fighting within the churches in Paul's time. Rivalry in leadership and position; jealousy over material and spiritual gifts; discrimination based on race, gender, and social status; gossiping and backbiting all these plagued the churches then as they do now.
Paul the apostle repeatedly exhorted the brethren to "carry each other's burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). In another instance, he urged them to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3)
The apostle concluded his letter to the Christians in Rome this way: "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5-6) Within the church, Christians need genuine pakikisama that stands on biblical principles, not on superficial unity, personalities, or expediency.
About our attitudes towards our non-Christian friends, Paul gives this advice: "Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your conversation be always gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone," (Colossians 4:5-6). Paul referred to himself as an example in pakikisama by saying: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1)
This is true pakikisama. Not that Filipino pakikisama is altogether wrong; but it must be elevated to the godly standard of helping, sharing and cooperating. We must work out in our pakikisama a genuine peace that goes deep in the heart, a real unity in our spirits, and not simply avoidance of ill feelings. Let us aim for a pakikisama that affirms and upholds our potential for goodness and Christ-likeness. Anything less than this may just be a cultural change, not redemption. But since Jesus Christ redeems people and their social relationships, our pakikisama, now transformed, should bring people to Christ.
Bayan Ko : Strengthening Our Weak National Consciousness
The press dubbed it the Black Friday of August. It was the worst time to get sick especially if it was a stroke that I had. My head was swimming, my vision blurred and I held on to my son's arm as our bus swerved off EDSA, near the sites of Camps Crame and Aguinaldo. Nobody knew why we were rerouted. We were on our way to my Quezon City office to get money and a doctor to see me.
"Naku, Ate! What's going to happen next?" An office mate gesticulated to me as I came in. "Rebel soldiers have already occupied Camp Aguinaldo."
"Yes, and they have stormed TV Channels 9, 7 and 13. And now, they're in Channel 4," another girl chimed in, her ears glued to the phone.
"I am sick," was all I could say as I flopped over my desk, "Who knows of a doctor who could look at me properly?" I showed them my lop-sided mouth and my right, unblinking eye. They saw my difficulty in speaking as the muscles on the right side of my face were paralysed.
There was a chorus of "Oh, Mrs. F!" and for a moment, the military rebellion was forgotten as everybody came near to examine me closely. Just then the radio came alive, and an excited reporter started giving an on-the-spot account of shooting between government troops and rebels with sporadic bursts of gunfire in the background. The phone rang and the caller gave us juicy bits of news and rumors about the attempted coup d'etat. We motioned everyone to remain quiet for a while.
I remained seated peering through my dark glasses quite distractedly, ignored once again. I forced myself to contemplate the state of things, one ear cocked to the radio while conscious of the drilling pain in my head.
How could two tragic situations happen simultaneously? Wrapped in my own personal miseries, need I concern myself with the violence in the streets? How could I react creatively, nay even just prayerfully in a body so weak against a force so great? Does it matter to anyone, if I stay indifferent to the shattering of a fragile peace because I am ill? My feelings were all knotted inside me. I was caught between warring thoughts and impulses between patriotic sentiments and self-pity. Physical malaise and the desire to do something. Between helplessness and hopelessness. It was tearing me apart.
Yet, is not the feeling of being torn apart something most thoughtful Filipino Christians today share regarding our social and political life? I have seen friends agonizing over the decision to keep quiet, or to do something out of protest during the twenty years of Marcos' dictatorial rule. I have sat with very fine Christian men and women who were paralyzed with fear and inaction during the 1986 EDSA Revolution. I know of others who have remained indifferent to the national crisis by spiritualizing the Christian's role in society. And during that Black Friday national crisis, I again
saw the same confusion among Christians, the same helter-skelter reactions of panic, fear and passivity. Why this? I wonder.
I discover in myself and in the lives of many other Christians that love of country was not among the highly ennobling values we learned from our ministers and pastors. Even the more enlightened among us treat the subject of nationalism and patriotism circumspectly, as if these are not part of the Christian life.
"Christianity, you see, is all-inclusive ... universal," the common reasoning goes, "Remember, for God so loved the world? Nationalism, on the other hand, tends to be confined, exclusive ... putting a prideful premium on one's race, one's people, one's nation. That can't be Christian, can it?" And with this simplistic logic, we suppress innate sentiments that somehow we ought to love ourselves, our own people, our own country a little more than we love, say, the Americans, the United States, the British or the Germans. But of course.
Jose Rizal's observations1 at the turn of the century seem to still ring true today. "A man in the Philippines," he said, "is only an individual, he is not a member of a nation." This lack of national sentiment, Rizal pointed out, enabled Spain to establish dominion over the Philippines easily and strongly. "Thanks to their (Filipinos) mutual dissensions," Rizal commented wryly.
Most Filipinos today would like to believe we do have nationalistic fervor. But it remains weak and unsharpened. The respected nationalists among us are not exactly known
1. From "The Indolence of the Filipinos," in Jose Rizal, Life and Works and Writings by Gregorio Zaide, 1961, pp. 260-263, Centennial Edition, Manila
for their biblical Christianity. On the other hand, many of our brethren are known more for their pro-American or pro-Western sentiments. The kind of nationalism we frequently demonstrate seems to demand a long, festering oppression culminating into an extraordinary crisis (the 1986 fraud-ridden snap presidential elections) before it can translate itself into action (1986 EDSA Revolution). Otherwise, it is back to our regional biases and "sakop mentality." To the preoccupation of getting a green card to the United States; going "abroad" to earn dollars; imitating the latest fashion, music, and lifestyles of the advanced capital cities overseas, or perhaps, acquiring material goods for ourselves especially origs (the genuine article).
Yet the really sincere Christian has to answer still the question: "Should Christians be nationalistic?" Or, the larger issue: "Is nationalism biblical at all?"
The key is how we understand the concept of nationalism. Some well-intentioned people have criticized its negative connotations; others have made an idol of its positive sides. And before we close our minds to the idea, we might as well look it in the face before making any judgment.
Historian Carlton J.H. Hays defined nationalism as "a condition of mind in which loyalty to the ideal or fact of one's national state is superior to all other loyalties, and in which pride for one's nationality and belief in its intrinsic excellence and its 'mission' are integral parts."2 A nationalist, according to Claro M. Recto is one "whose highest ambition is the attainment and maintenance of national independence."3
2. Quoted by Robert D. Linder in Baker's Dictionary of Christian Ethics, ed. by Carl F. H. Henry, 1973, pp. 445-446. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company.
3. Insight and Foresight by Renato Constantino, p. 158, Quezon City: Malaya Press
Nationalism, as distilled by Linder, is a composite of many factors. Some of these have roots in human nature while many have a long history. It is closely related to patriotism, a concept as old as recorded history, which indicates a special feeling or love for a certain area, region or country. But nationalism is a modern phenomenon and goes beyond mere patriotism. Its modernity consists in the interweaving of patriotism with nationalism and subjecting all other loyalties to one the nation.
Nationalism has its intrinsic worth as well as its destructive side. On the positive side, as in the case of our country, nationalism has been a progressive force in our struggle as an oppressed and colonized people. It made us pine for freedom, democracy and independence.
Nationalism in history has been associated with liberalism, freedom and constitutionalism, with ideals such as the reasonableness and naturalness of nationhood, with the creative spirit of a nation and the intrinsic worth of every culture. Nationalism is also linked to national self-determination, a logical extension of the democratic principle of popular sovereignty.
On the other hand, the imperialist expansions made in the name of nationalism, have been and are still eroding efforts to achieve world peace. The great world powers have justified their colonization as an expression of their own nationalistic sentiments. And the Philippines is just one of their colonies among many countries. Today, in a world of apparently independent nations, nationalism is a divisive factor in international relations. We only have to count the number of wars being waged simultaneously all over the world, where both protagonists and antagonists invoke nationalism as their guiding light in the conflicts. Thus, nationalism is both unifying and divisive.
In terms of Christian concern, historian Linder points out that, "nationalism has become the popular religion of the modern world. The outright rejection of Christianity by many individuals and its secularization by others has created a religious vacuum that many have tried to fill with nationalism. Furthermore, nationalism, in a sense, is an extension of the pride one feels towards his group; which is inherent in fallen man." Linder further says that the major dilemma nationalism presents for Christian ethics lies in the realm of primary loyalties. The question asked of Christians is this: "Which should I choose? My country right or wrong?" or, apostle Peter's declaration: "We must obey God rather than men"?
In a free society like the Philippines, Christians are less likely to be forced to choose between God and country. For if it were so, nationalism would be altogether repugnant. But our problem as a people is not having too much nationalism but rather that we are simply footloose and fancy-free. We are too colonially-minded, fighting issues and causes of other countries and peoples, forgetting what is good and beneficial and constructive for ourselves as a nation.
Nationalist historian Renato Constantino calls this our tragic mis-education. Our mis-education is so deeply entrenched that to many of us our Christian faith seems not like the Christian faith at all if not garbed in Western clothes, programs and liturgies, as well as money. The theologies predominantly taught to us are interpretations of Western minds of biblical truths as they relate to Western contexts. Yet, we gladly accept them in toto, as if they fit our own culture. We lap up all the methodologies and semantics uncritically, forgetting our people's sensibilities, culture, worldview and spirituality. Too often, the so-called Christian leaders live, behave and speak the language of their Western tutors or benefactors, altogether alienating
themselves from the rest of their countrymen if not physically and geographically, then in thought and perspective.
Considering these problems and the factiousness of our society as a whole, Filipino Christians need a healthy dose of reasonable patriotism today more than at any time in our history. It means having a mind and a heart that declares this:
"God created me a Filipino and gave me only one country the Philippines. As a Christian Filipino I must be actively concerned for my country's peace, freedom and progress. I will do my best to realize that goal not only for myself but for all my people Christians, Muslims, atheists, pagans alike. I will be one in work and prayer with the rest of my countrymen.
"If in Jesus Christ, I have been transformed, then, it is also my Christian duty to reach out to my countrymen so they may experience the same transformation to enrich their lives here and thereafter.
"I will always be proud of the best in the Filipino, and in my culture and people. I will help to the best of my ability, to eliminate what is perceived as weakness, and to develop values for the greater good. I belong here, not somewhere else."
To have this thoughtful, deliberate and reasonable nationalistic mindset is not at all antithetical to the Christian faith. The Jews, through whom Christ came, were a people who generally put Yahweh first and still took unabashed pride in their Jewishness. In fact, they were (and still are) intensely nationalistic a virtue that enabled them to survive the Diaspora* and numerous untold sufferings and
* The dispersion of the Jews after the end of the Babylonian captivity.
persecutions at the hands of other peoples in history. "See you in Jerusalem, at this time, next year," Jews would say to encourage one another. This strong national link to the land of their birth and the symbol of their unity as a people regardless of where they were at the moment gave impetus to the birth of modern-day Israel. The rebirth of the Jewish nation is not only biblically prophetic. God, I believe, implanted in the Jewish people a nationalistic fervor and national consciousness which they nurtured so carefully throughout the ages for their survival.
I am inclined to think that love for one's country and people is a God-given gift, and not merely an extension of man's fallen nature. The apostle Paul assumed this in his magnificent speech at the Areopagus." (Acts 17:26) God must have intended such when He created Adam and Eve and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). They could have been the forerunners of an ideal nation, a divinely ruled one. But they sinned.
Despite that, Yahweh pursued His idea of a nation under His sovereignty through Abraham. "I will make you a great nation," He told him, "and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2; 46:3; 48:19). And with that promise, He built into the lineage of Abraham a unifying sentiment that preserved and developed what they had human resources, culture, government, religion, language and other aspects of their society. The Jewish nation has become great. And God equally endowed other nations, past and present with this predilection for their own.
In the New Testament, nationalism is not at all explicit. It is assumed. Jesus Christ Himself, born a Jew and who on several occasions lambasted the religious leaders of His day for their spiritual blindness, fitted quite comfortably in the Jewish social and religious life. In his preaching on the new world order of redemptive love, He did not denigrate nationalistic passion. In fact, He brought the Gospel first to His own people (Mark 7:24-30; Romans 1:16). He gave them preferential treatment but they refused Him, so He proclaimed the Gospel to the Gentile world. And today we are the recipients of salvation!
Jesus Christ, too, had an apostle called Simon, the Zealot (Matthew 10:2-4; Luke 6:12-16). "The Zealots" was a subversive political party whose goal was to free Palestine from the colonial power of Rome. Nowhere in the gospels did Jesus attempt to dissuade Simon from his patriotic duty.
Apostle Paul, in all his entanglements with both Jewish and Roman courts would take pride in saying one time, "I am a Jew" and at other times, "I am a Roman citizen." He never denied his Jewishness. To his detractors he identified himself as having been circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to the righteousness which is in the Law found blameless (Philippians 3:5-6). Yet, Paul recognized that in relation to God and salvation, all these impeccable qualifications do not matter. He subjected his nationalism under the rule of Christ, which it should be for Christians. The point, is that Paul maintained his national identity. This, to my mind, is Christian nationalism.
How much do we have of this creative force for nation-building? Very little and most likely in its germinal stage. For like other Filipinos, Christians of all kinds of persuasions fit
very well Ruben Santos-Cuyugan's description when he says:
The Filipino has not had a chance to pull together the 'shreds and patches' of his cultural traditions. He has been busy keeping up with the invading forces from across the seas ... As a result, the Filipino has developed 'reverse ethnocentrism' ... which is somewhat unusual, the vast majority of known cultures are ethnocentric* ... The Filipino is more likely to use standards from outside his cultural system, standards that contravene, even debase his own ... The true, good and beautiful to the Filipino is what looks Greek, Semitic, or generally Caucasian ... the Filipino has rejected his own brown image.
A Christian nationalist does not have to hate other nationalities and races nor put down other nations to prove himself a lover of his own people and country. That would not be Christian at all. Scripture teaches us that before God there is neither Jew nor Greek for Christ died for all mankind. A Christian needs to nurture the thought that all things being equal, he is duty-bound to look after his own people's good more than his personal interest and to act according to the light that the Lord has given him. By birth, after all, he is first a Filipino. And the duality of our citizenship here and in heaven should make us equally sensitive to our patriotic or nationalistic obligations as well as to opportunities we may find to "do good to all people, especially those who are of the household of faith" without regard to ethnicity (Galatians 6:10).
* A view characterized by the attitude that one's own group is superior.
It was the turn of a kumpadre, newly-elected president of our local PTA, to say a few words to the graduating pupils. When his name was called, I saw him slinking away in a hasty retreat behind the grandstand. "Why, Kumpadre? I asked him later on. "Nahihiya ako, I didn't know what to say," he lamely shrugged.
Mang Anding, a farmer-friend once came to us to borrow a hundred and fifty pesos to buy nipa thatch for his leaking roof. We lent him the money but a year passed and we saw not even a shadow of him. "Why is he like that?" my husband asked me quite indignantly.
"He's ashamed," I replied.
"Why should he be ashamed?" he continued to ask in a tone that sounded as if I were the one who owed him money. "Isn't it more shameful to simply disappear than to come here and perhaps explain why he couldn't pay?"
"You're either a Filipino or somebody else," I countered. "As if you don't know how a Filipino behaves when he can't keep a promise. He will come around, you'll see."
Half a year passed and sure enough, very early one Sunday morning Mang Anding came with a sackful of rootcrops. He and Dave talked about a lot of things, and finally when he was about to leave, he blurted out, very red in the face, how ashamed he was for not paying us. He explained he had been sick, the harvest wasn't too good, and his children were sick, too. What could we possibly say?
A no-nonsense type foreign missionary, who perhaps in his "newness" considered siesta as a plain waste of golden opportunities, asked his Filipino friend to introduce him to the local pastor after lunch.
"After lunch?" his Filipino friend asked him, quite taken aback.
"Yes, right after lunch," the missionary repeated.
"It can't be. That's too early for visiting," his friend explained.
"But that's the only available time I have," the missionary insisted.
"But it is his siesta time. Nakakahiya. Natutulog ang tao. (It's improper. The man is asleep.) Look, do it some other time and I will gladly go with you," his Filipino friend said. The missionary could only shake his head in bewilderment.
These three incidents illustrate how hiya operates in Filipino society. When a Filipino feels inadequate to face up to something that involves other people whom he thinks expect much from him, he is nahihiya. The English term for this is embarrassment, or possibly timidity, modesty, or shyness, depending on the situation.
On the other hand, when a Filipino fails to keep his word to someone, it is also possible that he is napapahiya (ashamed). When he commits a crime and he is found out, he feels
a sense of shame (Napahiya siya). Hiya is triggered off, it seems, by loss of face or deflation of one's amor propio or self esteem. Usually, the sense of shame is more intense when the sin or crime is discovered or divulged to others.
The third use of hiya, however, has nothing to do with feelings of inadequacy, failure, or commitment of any crime. Nahahiya in the missionary's story means having a strong sense of propriety. Visiting the pastor is not appropriate at siesta time, just as it is nakakahiya to simply approach the President of the Philippines without the proper protocol. Or, to speak loudly while the pastor is in the middle of his sermon. Hiya here has something to do with etiquette and ritual. It pertains to delicacy of feelings, propriety and manners.
The case of Mang Anding is often a cause of frustration to the more forthright among us. To this category belongs the student who simply avoids his professor because he cannot submit a major requirement for some reason. Or, a neighbor who gives you a wide berth when he sees you coming, because he has lost your hammer. Or, a friend who would rather quit his job than be criticized by his boss for fouling up production.
"Shame" in these cases seems quite misplaced and uncalled for especially from the Christian point of view. To "lose face" in any of these situations is more like nursing an inverted form of pride. It looks like cowardice and an evasion of one's responsibility, a childish reaction of running away. The more decent and Christian way is to simply own up to our failure, explain and apologize as far as possible , and make amends in a gracious and humble spirit. This is important if we want to keep our social relationships intact and growing. Of course, it takes gutsiness and decency on our part. But in the long run, our moral muscles are strengthened and we will be freer persons. For many Filipinos, however,
this whole area is a constant struggle. These things are easier said than done. But if we try, the effort may yet liberate us from the false shame.
Sin, on the other hand, should always make us ashamed. Not only when we are found out, but because it is sin, and therefore wrong. Some research studies show that Filipinos have a rather weak sense of guilt, but a very strong sense of shame especially so when the sin is discovered. There is truth in this observation. Consider the usual way parents criticize an erring child: "Hindi ka na ba nahihiya sa ginagawa mong 'yan? Ano ang sasabihin ng tao ?" (Aren't you ashamed of what you are doing? What will people say?) The bone of contention is not the morality of the child's action, but that he is embarrassing his parents and other family members! Such sensitivity to public opinion can be seen further when some people are quarreling in a house. One is likely to overhear someone hushing the protagonists with these words: "Stop it! It's embarrassing!" Again, his concern is not the wrongness or rightness of a violent confrontation, but that the neighbors may overhear and think badly of the entire household.
That we concern ourselves primarily with our reputation rather than the morality of our action is also illustrated in this case. An 18-year-old girl came to me for help. A married bus driver got her pregnant. When her parents came to know of her condition, they tried to force her to have an abortion, but fortunately she had qualms of conscience. "But is not abortion wrong?" she asked me. "Isn't it wrong to commit another sin to conceal the first?"
"Yes," I told her. "It's wrong. You have no valid reason at all to take the life of that child."
"What will I do then?" she wailed. "My mother says she will die of shame if people find out what happened to me. That's why she wants the baby aborted."
Sociologists say that this concern for "saving face" stems from our being "others-directed." That is, we tend to base our judgment of the rightness and wrongness of actions on the prevailing morality what other people would think, or say. In contrast, an "inner-directed" person is one who has specific and definite moral standards of his own. He tries to live by them regardless of public opinion. Neither extreme makes for a balanced life. A person with no moral moorings of his own, and who only goes by the standards of the marketplace, will be a wishy-washy individual, a moral jellyfish not worth respecting. On the other hand, a moral but rigid person may solidify into an obnoxious, holier-than-thou snob, too upright for any fellowship or social interaction.
What then is the happy Christian balance?
Christians should not be completely insensitive to the opinions of others. Once in a while, we should put our ear to the ground to listen to what people are saying about us. And to reflect whether what we are hearing is true or not, and if necessary, to mend our ways. Our Lord Jesus Himself is concerned that we might be well thought of by others. That is why He reminds us: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
There is also the need to be aware of what God is saying to us through His Word, the Bible. Christians are called to develop keen sensitivities so that the ethics of God's kingdom, not the prevailing values of the times, will be seen in their daily conduct. For much of today's moral standards are simply variations of old-fashioned sin.
Sin, however attractive and culturally acceptable, should always bring shame to God's children. Take adultery for instance. We tend to gloss over the querida system in our
culture. It is frowned upon, yes but if it cannot be helped at all, then it is tolerated. It has even become a measure of "manliness" in our society the more mistresses a man keeps, the higher his star rating among his peers. But the author of the book of Proverbs, in contrast to our cultural thinking, is very strongly against this system.
He who commits adultery has no sense;
he who does it destroys himself.
Wounds and dishonor will he get,
and his disgrace will not be wiped away.
"You shall not commit adultery," the eighth of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) is a more compelling reason.
Idolatry, too this passion of our people to worship the things of the world rather than the One who created the world, should cause not only personal but national shame. The prophet Jeremiah, lamenting over Israel's apostasy, likened her to a wanton prostitute pursuing lovers in every bush and tree. The prophet sternly warned: "As a thief is disgraced when he is caught, so the house of Israel is disgraced they, their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets." (Jeremiah 2:26). God Himself will shame them by bringing about their deep humiliation and defeat at the hands of their enemies.
Violation of honor and modesty should bring anyone shame. An extreme example is Tamar who was raped by Ammon, her own half-brother. She resisted, protesting: "No, my brother, don't force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don't do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace?" (2 Samuel 13:12-13) But Ammon's strength prevailed and he raped his sister. When she finally left his chambers, or rather was thrown out of it,
she wailed loudly, tore her virgin's robe and put ashes on her head to show she had been sexually violated. Definitely, it was not kept within the family closet. Two years later, Absalom, Tamar's own brother, took his bloody revenge on her behalf.
The biblical concept of shame is basically humiliation as a result of sin, or departure from God's law. The act of sinning brings about strong condemnation and rejection by both God and men. In this respect, we Filipinos should hone our sensitivities to sin for all its lure and guile in order to deepen our sense of shame. We should rather be more careful about not losing face before God than saving face before men. For God's eyes penetrate through and beyond what is culturally acceptable.
The feeling of shame as a result of sin can have a positive effect. It may lead to repentance an action which God awaits from all His erring children. The biblical teaching of repentance is not merely being sorry or regretful for the wrong we have committed. Repentance is recognition of our inability not to sin, so we come to God to be delivered from it. Repentance is David confessing to God after having been confronted by the prophet Nathan of his sins of murder and adultery. David said: "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight ... " (Psalm 51:3-4) He continued to plead for cleansing and promised that he would never commit such sins again.
What happens to our shame after we have repented of our sin?
In God's generosity and grace, He forgives us and removes our guilt. He sets us free. The Apostle John assures us:
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). He says that as long as we abide in or obey God, we will have the confidence not to shrink from Him in shame at His coming (1 John 2:28).
The Christian sense of hiya is more than cultural accommodation. Hiya is refined to a higher degree of spiritual sensitivity, taking into account what God says. It goes beyond public censure, or adulation. The Christian sense of hiya dispels false shame when what is necessary is forthrightness, honesty, courage and being responsible. It upholds delicacy of feeling by observing decorum that does not violate other people's privacy or property. Our sense of hiya must be rooted in the ethical and moral standards of the Bible to show just how different we are from the world.
Who's the Boss in the House?
A group of married men, perched atop the back of a large wooden bench, were whiling the late afternoon away after a hard day's work on their farms. The conversation turned to who should be the boss in the house. One large, athletic type brought down his foot on the bench, raised his big fist and snarled: "In my house, I am the boss and everyone knows that!" He glared and took his seat again.
"Well, guys," a voice broke the momentary lull, "I'd better get going. I still have some things to do in the house." He jumped down from his perch and walked away amidst the guffaws and catcalls of his comrades.
When the noise died down, another man spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. "Well, to me it really doesn't matter who is the boss." The men laughed. "Sometimes it is the wife because her ideas, I must admit, are better than mine." The listeners
broke out in laughter again. "Yet," he continued, "at other times, I am the boss, for we both see that my thoughts are really great. It all depends, don't you see?"
A murmur of agreement and objections arose and the lively discussion went on. And who do you think was right?
Before we answer this question, let us first address three important areas which are related to our topic in this chapter.
What is the biblical concept of leadership in the home?
What is / are the pattern(s) of leadership that exists in Filipino homes?
How can we make the leadership pattern in the home both biblical and Filipino in orientation?
A Biblical Perspective of Leadership in the Home
The Genesis account shows that leadership in the family context as typified by Adam and Eve is shared, cooperative, and mutual. God's commandment to "go and multiply and subdue the earth and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28) was given to both man and woman.
In the account of how humans came to be, we can see that Eve was created from Adam's rib to become "a helper fit for him" (Genesis 2:18), that is, to be his complement. But being a helper does not at all seem to imply that the woman was inferior, subordinate, or incapable of sharing leadership with the man. Adam, in fact, happily exclaimed: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Genesis 2:23). Adam's jubilant cry affirmed Eve's identity as another human person, thereby sealing her as his co-equal, and making humankind a completed whole. For Adam saw himself reflected in Eve's person, and found completeness in her.
For this reason, God made it the man's responsibility to leave kindred and home to cling to his wife, to love and protect her. (Genesis 2:24)
But this mutual sharing and ruling was shattered by the Fall. With the entrance of sin (Genesis 3), the nature of leadership pattern in the home changed dramatically. One of the punishments given by God to Eve was a change in her status in relation to her husband "... he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16, RSV) or, as expressed in the Living Bible: "he shall be your master."
Since then, the master-follower relationship between man and woman has prevailed. Jewish society in both Old and New Testaments was patriarchal in structure. Family ancestry (was always traced along the male lines. Husbands could divorce their wives but not vice-versa. Wives did not have any legal standing before the courts of law, and were classified together with their husbands' slaves and possessions like oxen and plow. Daughters were merely passed on from their fathers' authority to their respective husbands'. The woman's social identity and sense of worth primarily was derived from her marriage, and the ability to bear children.
This is not to say that women of those times were not loved or respected. They were. We have a Miriam, a Deborah, a Ruth, a Mary and a number of other women who stand out in an otherwise male-dominated history. But women were ranked lower than men within the structure of Jewish society; and it was the men who ruled over the women's lives, and the whole of society. This system prevailed under the harsh rabbinical laws where the male status was higher than the female.
Then Jesus came to restore all things according to God's original plan. This included the marred relationships between man and woman; between husband and wife; between parents and children. First He brought about this work of restoration through active life demonstration.
In the gospels, Jesus in no uncertain terms showed that women were not to be regarded as mere chattel, but as persons in contrast to the current thinking of His time. He treated Mary, His own mother in the flesh, with a loving thoughtfulness up to the time He was hanged on the cross (John 19:26). He talked with the Samaritan woman, at whom the religious men would not even deign to look in a public location (John 4:7ff.). He allowed himself to be touched by a long-suffering, hemorrhaging woman condemned as ritually unclean (Luke 8:43-48), and healed her as well. He set free from sin a woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11). To sisters Mary and Martha, Jesus was a true friend, and a brother in times of crisis (John 11). Among His followers were women who supported His ministry (Mark 15:40-41). After His resurrection, He showed himself first to a woman who became the first person to announce the good news that He is alive (John 20:11-18). During His ascension, some of those who saw Him being lifted up to heaven were women (Acts 1:12-14).
In His teaching, Jesus never discriminated against women. He outrightly condemned divorce, saying it is not at all God's original intent for man, but rather a concession to the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 19:3-9). He denounced men as committing a sin if they as much as threw a lustful glance at a woman passing by (Matthew 5:27). He included women in His parables and teaching illustrations, making it clear that the message is also for them. By honoring women, Jesus gave them equality with men and demanded the same standard from both sexes, and offered the same way of salvation.1
1. J.D. Douglas, editor, The New Bible Dictionary, 1962, p. 1336
The Apostle Paul equally affirmed Christ's concept of man-woman relationship with Christ. In verses 21 to 33 of the fifth chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, the passage begins with a crucial admonition often ignored by some teachers in their desire to put wives in what they believed to be the proper place that of absolute submission to their husbands.
The critical prerequisite set forth by Paul is verse 21: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." Only then did he continue to explain that wives should be subject to their husbands in everything, as much as husbands perform their function of loving, caring and protecting as befitting the "head."
The most important point to remember is that Paul first laid down the principle of individual submission to Christ, and then, mutual submission to one another. This gives us a chance to deduce that if there can be a mutuality of submission, then there can also be shared leadership in the home. Given this assumption that is backed up by Genesis 1-2, and Jesus' own teachings, the biblical concepts of submission and leadership become fluid and dynamic rather than absolute and static.
Some Bible commentators point out that the predominant idea of headship or leadership in Ephesians 5:21-33 (found also in 1 Corinthians 11:13) is not superiority in rank and authority over another, as much as being the source of life and energy.2 In this vein, for Paul to speak of a husband as being the head highlights his responsibilities rather than his privileges. For it follows that the husband is to be the main provider, the moral and spiritual source, the strength to his wife and family.
2. Ibid., p. 508
Paul concludes: " 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." (Ephesians 5:32-33) Again, Paul describes the Edenic pattern of shared, cooperative leadership in the home only in different words and imagery.
Leadership in the Filipino home
If we look at the sociological literature closely enough, there seems to be three patterns of leadership in the Filipino homes.
The Filipino home is described as having inherited a hispanized version of Christianity very strong in macho image making it male-dominated, not very unlike the Jewish pattern. The father is the recognized head and the principal breadwinner. His income provides a sense of economic security to the family. The mother or wife may share in the exercise of authority and decision-making but the man of the house almost always has the final say. The father projects the image of a stern, authoritative personality, the dispenser of discipline as regards the children and often-times, the sole arbiter in family affairs.3 The husband and father prides himself as the padre de familia and enjoys the rank, authority and respect it carries.
However, some studies show that this description of the father as the dominant figure in the family may not be really so. In many instances, it may just be an idealization of family life rather than the actual description of reality. It was noted that the number of studies on the family has declined
3. Espiritu, Hollnsteiner, Hunt, et. al., Sociology in the New Philippine Setting, 1976, p. 178-179
over the last ten years; it is possible "that the Filipino ways and institutions we are talking about are not images or creatures of the present, courtesy of media."4
Our society, some have observed, is basically matriarchal, as shown for instance, by our excessive devotion to Mary rather than to Jesus. Such that if ever the husband-father becomes the head of the family his is merely a nominal position. He is allowed to be the figurehead, but actually it is the wife, the woman who is dominant. She has the inviolable position of holding the family purse, of running the household, of training the children, of motivating her husband to succeed in his work. Many times, through sheer ingenuity and hard work, she adds to the family coffers, thus enhancing her position and sphere of influence. Such dominance, however, is not exercised in an open belligerent defiance of the husband's traditional position. But through seeming submission, obedience and unselfish service, she is able to exert a strong and dynamic influence in family matters, and sometimes even beyond it.
Still there are those who contend that leadership in the Filipino home is more of a shared reciprocal venture rather than either solely male or female-dominated. This leadership pattern has its roots in the past, as equality of men and women is an ancient Malay tradition that has withstood Muslim influences in Indonesia and Spanish Catholic traditions in the Philippines.
Pointed out as an interesting indication of this equality concept is the use of siya, a singular third person pronoun which is equivalent to either "he" or "she" in many Filipino
dialects. "Filipinos do not differentiate male and female in conversations, thus reducing the likelihood of making one or the other superior."5
A recent study conducted nationwide by the Institute of Philippine Culture, on patterns in family decision-making, appears to support this claim of shared leadership by parents. Between 43 and 71% of decisions in the areas of discipline of children, choice of school for them, and family business ventures are made by both parents.6 Though this pattern is viewed by the researchers as a modern tendency, it is not really so if seen historically.
The question is: Which of these home leadership patterns is practiced in our society today? To my mind, all three presently exist. Some households, and this is more common, are definitely male-dominated, the father's word is the law and the mother and children hold him in awe and, sometimes, in grudging obedience and respect. On the other hand, domineering wives lord over some homes. In such families, weak, cowering husbands live under their bigger-than-life shadows and loud voices, and the children regard their fathers with disgust and embarrassment. Yet, there are other couples who seem to have struck a happy balance of mutual consultation in a loving, objective manner before decisions on family matters are finally made.
In the light of the Scriptural ideal then, let us try to evaluate each of these leadership styles and suggest which is the more meaningful option.
5. Guthrie and Jacobs, Child Rearing and Personality Development in the Philippines, 1966, p. 42
6. Porio, Lynch, Hollnsteiner, The Filipino Family, Community and Nation, 1978, p. 24
Definitely, an injustice is done to the biblical standard of leadership when either the husband or the wife lords over the other because of a mistaken perception of headship or leadership (Ephesians 5:21). Filipinos traditionally think of positions in terms of rights and privileges, rather than in terms of responsibilities and duties. This holds true in the concept of man as the "head" of the family. It always means that he is to command, to make the final decisions, and to be obeyed by the rest.
But as we have already seen, the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul both stress leadership as servanthood. To the questions of His disciples as to who is great, Jesus answered that their model should not be the Gentiles, whose main concern is exercising authority over others. "It shall not be so among you," Jesus said, "but whoever proves himself to be great among you must be your servant; and whoever wishes to occupy the foremost place among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)
Paul speaks in the same vein. The qualities and responsibilities of a husband as "head" are not to oppressively dominate but to serve and practice self-sacrifice for his wife's sake "as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her." (Ephesians 5:25ff). When understood in this light, there is no room at all for the man to be arrogant, tyrannical, or arbitrary in his actions and decisions if he expects his wife to respectfully submit to him.
Equally a distortion of the Scriptural injunction is the ander-de-saya syndrome common enough in Filipino society. There are marriages in which wives not only run the household but the lives of their husbands as well, covertly or otherwise. To henpeck one's husband is a real temptation to a Filipina wife. Generally the ladies are, by
reason of upbringing, strong personalities despite their meek appearance and submissive air.
Girls are raised intentionally to become responsible. For instance, while boys are allowed to play in the streets, girls are expected to assist mother in the home. Most of the time, it is the girl, and not the boy who is left to run the household when the mother and father are away. Thus, girls mature and become more responsible earlier than the boys. Carried over to adulthood, women tend to be more insightful, decisive and ingenious.
Sometimes these positive qualities produce an aberration in the family life when the wife misuses them to dominate her husband. Sometimes, this syndrome persists because the husband may have given up his role as protector and provider. In such a situation, the wife is forced to assume a more aggressive and powerful role, overshadowing her husband in the process. This seems to be true in a number of cases. Or there may simply be an ignorance of Scriptural teaching on this matter, as well as the absence of the proper role models.
The reciprocal approach to leadership in the home appears to be closer to biblical principles at first glance. We contended earlier that the pattern in Eden was one of mutual, shared, and cooperative leadership between husband and wife. This is the structure that the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul taught in sermons and expositions. It meant that planning, managing and decision-making in the home be done together, with no one dominating in absolute terms. But in prayer and consultation, in consensus and agreement, decisions are reached in an orderly and objective manner. Of course, exceptions should be made in instances where immediate action has to be done; and whoever is the partner involved or present should take responsibility. What is important is the emotional and psychological support that a couple
can derive from each other and that there is cooperation and sharing.
We advisedly say at first glance because the reciprocal pattern of leadership in a non-Christian family obviously lacks the spiritual dimension and motivation. To make the pattern really biblical and Filipino at the same time, both husband and wife must first give their allegiance and loyalty to Jesus Christ as their ultimate Head and their Lord and God. Such submission to Christ is the basis for their submission to one another in humility and love. And on the basis of that dynamic and personal relationship with Christ, each partner is given strength and grace to fulfill the call for mutual leadership and submission under His divine rule.
It is no surprise if some Christians would consider this kind of home leadership as a monstrosity, or worse, a two-headed beast. But such thinking is quite far from the Scriptural idea of man. It dichotomizes man, splitting man and woman apart and letting them fight each other. It seems to be saying that it is impossible and unbiblical for both husband and wife to share in the leadership. And that necessarily the wife should be in a subordinate-follower position.
However, Scripture does not look at man as split or divided. Rather, the Genesis account regards man as one entity in two expressions. Adam and Eve is the completed humanity, a wholeness, a unity. For both of them to rule in their home kingdom is a realization of the divine plan. With that in mind, there would be no fear of power struggle, no jockeying for position, no bitter rivalry.
The biblical pattern of home leadership is something we need to work hard on in our own homes. This kind of reciprocal, mutual leadership is not something that comes to us naturally, or that can be absorbed from culture, for we are
a pluralistic society. It is a divine plan with God's blessings. And it is only for those who understand what redemptive faith in Christ does to relationships.
Brocades, Facades and Edifice Complex
Pa-impres, palabas, pasikat, pabongga, paporma have become by-words especially in the past era where the national mania was to be the first in many things. Our leaders wanted our country to be placed on the world map as having "the biggest," or "the longest" or "the most beautiful" whatever. Millions and millions of pesos were spent on infrastructure with impressive facades and cultural extravaganzas of dubious worth. But when the dazzling fireworks die down, we find ourselves virtual paupers for tolerating such national inanities.
On the individual level, pa-impres or pabongga is a common enough outlook. A friend was once in a quandary whether to buy a new kitchen range or not.
"What's wrong with your old one?" I asked.
"Nothing. It works fine. Except that it is quite old and has a small oven."
"Why do you want to buy a new one?" I asked again. "Are you into big-time baking?"
"Baking? Of course not! she looked at me in mock horror, "I have so much to do that I don't even know where to place myself. How in the world could I go into baking?"
"But why do you want a bigger oven?" I countered.
"Well," she looked up with eyes alight with mischief. "I'd be the first one to own something like it around here, wouldn't I?"
Or, consider a particular house I visited for a Christian fellowship party. Once the main door opened, we stepped on to luxuriously carpeted floors. Everything in the house exuded velvety richness from the piano covers, to the upholstered living room set, to the table runners, etc. But the velvet seats had plastic covers on, so we stood around, unable to sit anywhere until the gracious hostess ushered us to the patio and garden with its kidney-shaped swimming pool and bar. I had the feeling that the owner did not have a house; she owned a showroom. It seemed that everything she had in it was for viewing, not for touching or enjoying. It was so unlike a doctor's house on whose door hangs this sign:
"This house is clean enough for you to be healthy
and dirty enough for you to be happy. Come in."
At the national level, not many of our leaders are able to get over this palabas syndrome. Consider the frivolous gimmicks some agencies engage in to call attention to themselves. Christian leaders may often succumb to erecting impressive but high-budget church buildings and headquarters. Yet they can only pay a pittance to their church staff and workers, and treat them just a little better than peons.
I once visited a modest-sized church whose members have spent about half-a-million pesos on it. Carpeted and
chandeliered, with cushioned pews and tastefully chosen furniture to match, the building was elegant in fact, far too elegant to be in a rustic setting. During lunch, I was brought to the back of this elegant building. This was an unpainted, narrow hallway, sparsely furnished with dingy-looking chairs. This was the pastor's accommodations the casa pastoral. There were bedrooms on its upper floors, and the midday sun beating down on galvanized iron roofing had made the rooms as hot as an oven. It seemed that the pastoral house was an afterthought to the chandeliered chapel. And the pastor's pay is anybody's guess!
Not only do we tend to suffer from an "edifice complex." We are also prone to the "ceremonial syndrome." Consider, for instance, the amount of frothy hype we put into any program-launching activity for this or that noble cause. Speakers are convincingly passionate, the entertainment numbers are excellent, the food is great and the place has a certain ambience. But what usually happens after this? The program is either relegated to oblivion, or pursued in a half-hearted fashion while project funds are frittered away in some other mindless pursuits. But reports make it appear that the program was completed and was a smashing success at that.
This is not to say that we Filipinos, Christians in particular, are a hopelessly superficial and frivolous people. No, we too, have our moments of greatness. But we have to honestly admit our predilection for the froth and bubble rather than the substance and meat of things. We are easily distracted by splashes of colors and buntings, shows and parades, songs and dances. How did we become like this?
We have it in our cultural blood, social historians say. Our Malay ancestor, according to Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, is one of the world's nature children. He could have been the original hippie. With an abundance of natural resources around him,
and small fortunes within easy reach, he is not adverse to throwing away a year's salary on fiestas, or to sit in his garden all day, listening to his pet birds sing. Fun and birdsong, he has learned, are more dependable than five-year socio-economic programs.
Added to this happy-go-lucky spirit, is the Chinese influence of "kingliness" as seen in our elaborate dress, pride of place, rituals and etiquette, propriety and wealth, and class distinctions. The Spaniards, too, mixed in a good measure of "gentility," or the emphasis on appearances, on reputation, privilege and status and delicadeza.1
That is as far as culture goes.
But perhaps, this tendency to window-dress is sinful human nature itself, traceable to our own original forefathers much farther back than our Malay ancestors. Adam and Eve's pathetic attempt to hide from God by covering themselves with leaves could have been the beginning of this futile exercise in pretense. Or, of the human desire to perpetuate oneself as Noah's descendants showed. They came together and said : "Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth," (Genesis 11:4). And since then, man has been hiding behind all kinds of pretenses to escape the sordidness of life and his need for God, whose joy it is to seek out the lost that they might be redeemed.
Our Lord God is never impressed by outward appearances. An Old Testament incident illustrates this. Saul was a
1. Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, "Filipino Roots and Foreign Influences," The Philippine Quarterly, Nov 1970
disobedient king and the mantle of kingship was removed from him by God. The prophet Samuel was commanded to look for a candidate among the sons of Jesse. Samuel, at first glance, was attracted to Eliab. "'Here before the Lord,' Samuel thought, 'is His appointed king.' But the Lord said to him, 'Take no account of it if he is handsome and tall; I reject him. The Lord does not see as man sees, men judge by appearances but the Lord judges by the heart.'" (1 Samuel 16:6-7)
God rebuked a number of women in the Bible for their passion for outward beauty without the complementary inner attractiveness. Like their modern counterparts, they were preoccupied with painting painting their faces and lips and fingernails. They were concerned with headdresses and jewelry, perfumes and lotions, and silken brocade gowns. And most of their activities were not only inane and superficial, but sometimes malignant and destructive. Jezebel, known as the "Painted Queen," ruled Judah in violence and bloodshed. The prophet Amos called the women of Samaria "cows of Bashan," describing their appetites for more and more frivolities, driving their husbands to oppress others just to please them.
Men, too, have their vanities and posturings, whims and caprices. King Solomon has his wisdom, his art shows and cultural complexes, his palaces, his military might and his "machismo." (Imagine having 600 wives and 300 concubines!) He had everything imaginable that a person could wish for in life. But apparently, his grand, royal lifestyle didn't prevent him from becoming dejected in his twilight years. We could almost imagine an old, crumpled Solomon muttering to himself:
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing ...
I have seen all the things
that are done under the sun;
all of them are meaningless,
a chasing after the wind.
Ecclesiastes 1:8, 14
Also denounced by God are man's religious rituals in their pretensions. This is the kind we often engage in to impress ourselves and others with our spirituality. The Jews in Amos' time were doing a lot of knee-bending and incantations to God. They assembled to worship, to burn incense and offerings, and to sing praises to Him. Yet God was not impressed at all. He knew they were simply making up for their sins empty ritualism, arrogance, greed, oppression of the poor, materialism. He declared:
I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
Buildings and structures do not impress God. Recently-found documents of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon show the massive construction of temples, streets, walls, palaces and ziggurats. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Archeology has
presented evidence of Nebuchadnezzar's boast in Daniel 4:30, "I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city as my royal residence, and as the capital of my empire."
Yet for all these seeming "solid" accomplishments and religiosity, Nebuchadnezzar had to learn that God was not at all interested in monuments, altars and statues. "Heaven is my throne," God declares, "and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?" (Isaiah 66:1)
Where do all these leave us as Filipino Christians? This can cause us to ponder the kind of outlook and lifestyle we have. It is possible that we are simply being carried along by the cultural currents of pa-impres or pabongga. We might catch ourselves as being overly concerned with what people think of us. So we try to dazzle them with our personality, intellectual prowess, educational credentials and eloquence, especially when we haven't got the money or the right connections. Or, we may get into the habit of craning our necks to find out the newest acquisitions of the neighbors so we can keep up with them. Or it has become our nature to judge people by the clothes they wear, the houses they live in, and the possessions they keep.
Our interior life may also be suffering from superficial posturing. It has no depth, genuineness nor honesty. It may not be able to withstand the rigorous test of suffering and pain, failure and loss. We easily crumble under pressure and wail Ito ba ang Dios? (Is this really God?)
And what is the preoccupation of our church? With things and activities? Or, with people and individuals? Is our social action just a part of the church program or is it our act of obedience to God to help the poor and the needy? How do
we regard the disadvantaged as persons or mere statistics among many?
It is tragic that the strength of our spiritual lives has been eroded by worldly standards. Such erosion is difficult to detect because of our tendency to window-dress, using religious terms and rituals. To many of us, anything perceived as "God's will" is beyond question.
Organizationally too, a truly Christian lifestyle of sharing and serving is harder to carry out because social structures are well-set and roles sharply defined. There is nothing much an individual can do but fit as a cog in a wheel of well-oiled institutional machinery. Workers of Christian services are expected to routinely provide goods and services to victims of calamities and disasters. Often, it is easy to minister to the needs of the multitude without shedding a tear or showing compassion. It is not uncommon for ministerial workers to harden themselves against human suffering, to the point of hearing nothing, and seeing nothing at all.
But Christians should never allow their hearts to harden in the process of serving people. Compassion is the heart of a Christian lifestyle. Coupled with compassion should be a keen interest in what is happening in the Philippines at any time. This is important because the national life is the place where the Christian lifestyle is made visible. Often, the church suffers from the same defects individual Christians have, such as as the tendency to be extravagant with words and promises, and offering palliatives to serious national problems. Our involvement should provide a distinctly Christian outlook to a highly secularized and idolatrous society.
A Christian lifestyle, therefore, embraces the whole of our lives our eating, drinking and living; our motives and
directions; our values and sensitivities; our relationships and visions; our involvements and service.
There is only one Christian lifestyle in the final analysis and this is Christ-likeness. Jesus Christ, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:7)
Responsible stewardship, servanthood, humility, service ... and even death, if need be, is the norm for the Christian lifestyle. Jesus Christ Himself has set us the example. Setting our eyes on Him, we may yet shed off our puny pretenses and posturings.
What to do with Utang na loob
Walang hiya ka! Wala kang utang na loob! (Shameless! Ingrate!) A father thundered at a child who may have been careless in showing filial respect and gratitude.
Utang na loob ko kay Don Jose ang aking buhay. (I owe my life to Don Jose). A tenant may testify of his landowner who helped pay his hospital bills.
"Utang na loob, take my money but not my life!" pleads a desperate Filipino to a holdupper.
All these are the ways utang na loob is used in Filipino culture. According to Leonardo Mercado, to understand the Filipino as an individual, we have to contend with the concept of loob (kasi in Ilocano and buut in Cebuano). Loob is a Filipino's inner person or self that constitutes his intellectual, volitional, emotional, and ethical life. This is evident in the preponderant use of this term in his speech and behavior.
Loob enables the Filipino to be holistic in his approach to life, says Mercado in his book Elements of Filipino Philosophy. Loob covers the whole emotional-ethical range of mercy, charity, clemency, leniency, benevolence, and tolerance.
Utang na loob specifically means debt of volition. It is an interior law which dictates that the recipient of a good act or deed behave generously towards his benefactor as long as he lives.
To a Filipino, to show a lack of due gratitude is outrageous; being grateful is almost second nature to him. His sense of utang na loob defines his integrity as a person in the context of social relationships.
How should Christians view this important Filipino concept?
There is a sense in which utang na loob in enslaving. When the father, in our first example, wants that his child's loyalty, service, and affection be given exclusively to him because he is the one who sired, raised, and sent him to school, the kind of utang na loob he demands can turn into a form of bondage. Some parents, by the way, have this kind of mentality.
Likewise, if Don Jose expects his tenant's unswerving service for life because of his one act of kindness towards this tenant, then utang na loob becomes a form of indentured slavery. Thus, many landless farmers become bound this way to big landowners.
Utang na loob as seen in these instances, can be manipulated. Someone who is out to win indebtedness from others to serve his selfish interests can arrange situations and events to make himself appear good and benevolent. Some of our traditional politicians are obvious examples.
As election time looms, these politicians would make themselves quite visible to their constituencies. Individuals are helped in their needs. Barangays get a start of feeder road projects. School buildings are hastily built. Bridges are erected. Health centers are staffed with personnel and stocked medicines. All these and more may be done by these politicians to ingratiate themselves to the people.
Then comes the campaign period. The politicians would go around, reminding people of the projects and services done for constituents. Directly or indirectly, these officials would ask for the people's votes in return for their seemingly noble deeds. The poor folks, now emotionally stirred up, eager to shake hands with the "big people," and with their deep sense of utang na loob, will surely re-elect the same persons to office. Yet, in their more lucid moments, these folks regard such politicians as corrupt, immoral, and inefficient.
In the same manner, utang na loob can easily be misplaced and exaggerated. The Filipino's seeming endless affection and gratitude towards the United States is a good example of how we have unquestioningly enshrined this cultural trait in our national life. Despite the U.S. government's apparent self-serving motives towards our country, we have consistently and slavishly acceded to its political, economic, and military policies, however disadvantageous these are to us as a nation.
Somehow it has been drummed into our heads that the USA was, and still is, our savior. The U.S. wrested us from the wretched rule of Spain, gave us the American type of education that enables us to speak and write in English, taught us to govern ourselves, and fought for us against the Japanese imperialists! They offered us our independence, and provide us today with economic aid. The communists are being held at bay by the presence of the U.S. military bases. For all this
"legacy," therefore, we should show our utmost utang na loob by providing America with whatever it wants from us. America will always be our friend and best ally. We cannot possibly let her down.
Though it is true that North America has enriched our culture in so many ways, let us bear in mind that this enrichment is only one side of the coin. There were enormous trade-offs exacted from us that affect us to this very day. Our gratitude, therefore, must not be the groveling kind. Rather, it must be tempered by objectivity. As a free and sovereign nation, our gratitude must not inhibit us from insisting on being on equal footing with the U.S. or with any other nation of the world.
Generally, the lifetime indebtedness aspect of utang na loob draws from the fact that it is difficult to measure one's debt of gratitude. It is an indebtedness that is harder to pay than money owed. Nothing is said about it. Nothing is counted or quantified. Everything is played by ear and the poor recipient is never sure whether what he has done suffices to repay his debt. Thus, he is bound to be at the beck and call of his benefactor. Unless the benefactor outrightly tells him to stop, or releases him from the burden of a self-imposed obligation.
Evidently, an unquestioning form of utang na loob tends to create a patron-client relationship that is oppressive. It creates a kind of dependency and mendicancy detrimental to the formation of a truly free, self-respecting individual, or nation for that matter.
How do we release utang na loob from its negative, oppressive element and make it as biblical as possible?
We will notice that utang na loob thrives on doing what are perceived as good deeds, kind acts and helpful services.
When Christians do good deeds, we are not to expect anything in return lest we bind people under us. Rather we do good deeds as our act of obedience to God. The Apostle Paul says:
Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17
There are three reminders in this passage: First, Christians are to do Christ-like actions. Definitely the "whatever" includes good deeds, kind gestures, and noble acts. These are Christian obligations from which we cannot be exempted. It means our faith binds us to positive actions toward God, others, and toward ourselves. No Christians can then reason out, "I refuse to do any good act," or, "I will only do it when I feel like it."
Take for instance, the simple act of giving or sharing. The Scriptures remind us many times that as an exercise in loving our enemies, we must, as Jesus said: "Lend and expect nothing back" (Luke 6:34), Or, "give freely as you have received" (Matthew 10:8). Or that lovely reminder of the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts: "There is more happiness in giving than in receiving" (Acts 20:35). And to the general act of doing good, the Galatian Christians were enjoined: "So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest. So then, as often as we have the chance, we should do good to everyone, and especially to those who belong to our family in the faith" (Galatians 6:9-10).
Next, the motivation of our actions is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We do things not to be repaid but we do them in His name. We try to honor Him in whatever we do. He is the reason for our being and doing in this life.
Third, our utang na loob, or thankfulness is focused on God the Father. He is our Maker, the Initiator of all things. He sent His only Son, Jesus, for us. Jesus died on the cross for our salvation and to give us eternal life. We owe Him our all. To Him belongs our gratitude. Again and again the psalmist repeats this grand refrain: "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!" No heart is too big not to be grateful to God, nor too small to squeeze it out. With this attitude our lives will overflow constantly with thankfulness to the One who made us in His own likeness.
How about if we find ourselves on the receiving end?
Not one of us can say we are self-sufficient, that we have no utang na loob to anyone. We live and move and have our being not only in God but among our fellows. We have parents, children, relatives, friends and neighbors and many others who nurture, help, teach and love us, and to whom we should always be grateful. Thankfulness should be the hallmark of our lives as we live in community with others. We should aim to always manifest a spirit of gratitude for one another. A caring spirit. A thankful heart. If it is Christ-like to outdo one another in showing acts of kindness, then, it is equally Christ-like to receive them in the spirit of humility and servanthood. Let us do good deeds with grace and without loss of face.
It is good to remember that a burdensome kind of utang na loob thrives only in an unequal relationship; that is, when one person constantly becomes the benefactor and the other is always the recipient. To avoid such inequality, the recipient must strive to become self-sufficient as much as possible so not to be always soliciting help. When he has become self-sufficient, he can be his own person, and can return in kind the good deeds he has received to someone who needs help. Such a state of equality and mutual helpfulness
encourages the healthy growth of relationships, and keeps people from becoming mendicants. For Scripture condemns laziness (Proverbs 6:9-10, 20; 20:13).
It is also helpful to think this way: If someone has done me a good turn, my first response, of course, is to be grateful and express my thanks to the person. Then, I direct my thankfulness to God with the thought that this person has been used by the Lord to meet my particular need. Therefore, God is my ultimate Giver. Though I am sufficiently grateful to the person used by God, I should be most thankful to God Himself. Thus with this frame of mind, I won't feel compelled to go out of my way to please, flatter or fawn over this particular person. If I can do something to help him or her in the future, then I will gladly do so; not as a repayment, but as a simple Christian gesture of helping someone in need.
This appears to be the big difference between utang na loob as understood and practiced in our culture, and the utang na loob that we are trying to practice as Christians. In the former, the gratitude becomes an obligation that is most often joyless and burdensome. In the latter, there is freedom to be fellow human beings living interdependently under the grace and mercy of the sovereign God in true partnership and fellowship with one another.
Witness in the Home
To us Filipinos, kinship is one of the strongest elements of our cultural fabric. For it largely influences, if not determines and controls, our interpersonal relationships. Most of our attitudes, aspirations, decisions, preferences, as well as prejudices are often kinship-based. Kinship extends beyond the limits of blood relationship. It is enlarged through marriage and further widened through the compadre-comadre system. The importance of kinship is verbalized in such expressions as "Blood is thicker than water" or in "It is not what you know but whom you know that counts." A Filipino, on the average, can claim for himself 80 or 100 or more people as relatives.
As Filipinos, we find our essence and meaning in our immediate family the heart from which pulses the
network of our relatives and kin. This is how sociologists describe us:
... Early in childhood, an individual is taught to be loyal to his family and to know who his relatives are. It is impressed upon him by his parents that he can turn to his close relatives for support in time of need, or for protection in time of danger. Their goodwill therefore, will have to be cultivated. This means getting along with them. And getting along requires conformity to the basic code of group behavior which includes respect for elders and subordination of one's view to theirs. As this norm is internalized in the process of growing up, it becomes the individual's guidepost for future action. Family solidarity is thus ensured and kinship loyalties become binding. High regard is placed on respected figures in the family and kin group, and submission to his social surrogates is encouraged. Age is thus equated with wisdom and experience. A young man, in spite of his education and training, is hardly conceived of as a mature individual who is capable of major decisions as long as he lives in his parent's domicile or he remains unmarried.1
Family closeness is fostered by one cardinal law obedience of children to their parents. This demand for obedience has three aspects. First, since the child's parents, particularly his mother, brought him into this world, the child owes his parents a debt of gratitude and is expected to submit to them. Next, each member of the family is expected to obey those older than him. And third, it is believed that misfortune will plague a disobedient and disrespectful child throughout his life.2
Closeness means not only obedience to parents and elders but also a great measure of dependency on them.
1. Mendez and Jocano
2. Guthrie and Jacobs
"From the cradle to the grave," one observer says, "the family watches over its members ... Or stated differently, we might say at all times in all conditions of life people are watched by other people who are carrying out their family role."3
But dependency on our parents does not at all imply that we are unwilling to take on responsibilities. Rather, it is an expression of gratitude and deference to those we believe have more wisdom. Because this is taken as a cultural given, children neither chafe nor struggle for freedom to make their own decisions.
Now, what do all these mean to the Christians in the family?
Family Closeness, Obedience, and Christian Witness
More often than not, Christians tend to regard their non-Christian families negatively. Such over-reaction is commonly brought about by sincere but unbalanced teaching of over-enthusiastic religious workers. Their idea of checking worldliness centers on breaking all worldly ties, including possibly family ties. Thus, non-Christian family members are seen as active or passive persecutors of the new-found faith. They are thought of as either hindrances to one's effective Christian service, or as thorns in the flesh who merit a kind of a grin-and-bear-it condescension. This thinking, I believe, needs to be re-examined.
It is well to remember that Scripture affirms the family as the basic unit of human life; God created a family right from the very start (Genesis 2). He revealed His intentions and plans through men and women with families Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Ruth, and so on.
And finally, God became man in the person of Jesus Christ through a lowly family in Nazareth. Jesus spent a great part of His manhood fulfilling His duties as the eldest son. It was only when His step-sisters and brothers were well on their own way that He stepped out to take on the task His Heavenly Father gave Him. God did all this for a special reason; that salvation should come not only to individuals but to families through the saved individuals.
This happened to the family of the Philippian jailer, the Cornelius household, and to Lydia's, the trader of purple dye. The shining faith of Timothy's grandmother Lois won her family to the Lord. The implication for us today is that the possibilities of winning our loved ones to God are all there if we remain steadfast in sharing and showing the faith we received from Christ. Our words alone may not carry much weight especially when family members know who is talking. But a consistent Christian life, persistence in faith and prayer, good deeds, and much love can move the hearts in our families in God's time.
The Christian faith is a healing, reconciling faith. Under normal circumstances, it should not alienate us from people dear to us and those who love us. Many times, however, it is the Christian in the family who draws back and separates himself often in an obnoxious, self-righteous manner, offensive even to the most tolerant, non-believing family members. Think of overzealous fathers who threaten their family members if they don't go to church. Or wives who drive their unbelieving husbands out of the house with their incessant talk of doom for the unsaved. Or young people who use their Bible studies and church activities as an excuse to evade regular household chores.
Church workers may unintentionally exacerbate the sense of alienation by taking the Christian out of his non-believing family and sending him to Bible school. Or they
may put him in a whirlwind of church activities that takes him away from home and family so that he becomes a stranger there. The text usually quoted and misapplied in trying to make a persecuted hero out of a Christian is Matthew 10:27 which says: "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of me." Though it is true that God demands a hundred percent of our loyalty, the disruption and split of our family is not the norm, as Jesus Himself showed us. God calls all Christians to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12). He does not demand that all of us cut off family ties in order to follow Him.
Jesus commanded the paralytic man whom He healed to take up his bed and go home, and this man rose and went home (Matthew 9:6-7). The Gerasene demoniac wanted so much to accompany the Lord Jesus after he was healed. But Jesus told him to go home and tell his friends how much the Lord had done for him, and how He had had mercy on him (Mark 5:19). It is believed that this nameless man who went home was the key person in bringing the Gospel of Christ to Decapolis, the city from which Christianity flowed out to the Greek world.
Bartimaeus and many of the blind men who were touched by Jesus probably went home to live with their families again. The woman who was hemorrhaging for 12 years, and was healed by Jesus, went home (Matthew 9:20). Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, three of the devoted followers of Jesus, never left home. The point here is to be discerning in quoting Matthew 10:37 or Luke 14:26 as the rationale for breaking away from our families, lest we be guilty of destroying the only natural link to reach an entire clan for Jesus Christ.
In what specific ways can a Christian become a positive witness to his own family? This question needs clear answers, since
many Christians are struggling over this matter. Whether it is the father, mother, son, daughter, or even a helper in the family who has become a Christian, there are dynamic ways in which their Christian witness can shine like a light on a hill. Some of these follow:
Develop the attitude of humility. As the Apostle Paul advised the Philippian Christians: "Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4).
A young Christian in the family, especially if he is alone, tends to be selfish and conceited with his faith. He puffs up spirituality. Because of his new-found faith in Christ, he may be tempted to feel he is superior, and may look down on other family members. This is evident in the way he displays his Bible, or by his irritability when his "Quiet Time" is disrupted by family members, or by domestic duties. He may slip a Bible verse or two into every family conversation. Or, he may moralize constantly and regard with distaste the "worldly" pursuits of the other family members. He may even shun their company altogether.
He spends more time now with his Christian friends and begins to imagine that these friends are much more precious to him than his own family. Such misconception, however, goes away after a reasonable period. For under normal circumstances, even if his own loved ones would initially call him a "fool" or a "crackpot," they will still love, accept, and defend him if worse comes to worst. In many instances, what is offensive is not the Christian faith itself, but the condescending, know-it-all attitude of the new believer.
True, the gift of the new life in Christ is beautiful and precious. We need to share it with the members of our family.
But we ought not flaunt it. The right spirit of sharing is quiet, unobtrusive and timely. It does not insist but waits. And while it waits, it prays.
A humble heart shows consideration for the feelings and interests of other family members. The Christian should remind himself that he was once just like them. Yet, God in His mercy patiently dealt with him. Therefore, he, too should give members of his family enough room to be themselves, or until God in His own time (through him, perhaps) will show them the light.
Strive to do your best in whatever you do. Christians, whether inside or outside the home, must aim for excellence. Paul emphasized this in his letter to the Corinthian believers: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). This means that the converted father, if he was lazy or negligent before, should now strive to provide for the needs of his family. If he were stern and distant from his children, he will now create situations where he can express his love and affection to them. If the mother has become a Christian, she can show the change by aiming to be a better wife and mother. She will do her household chores with greater thoroughness if she was careless in the past. Or, she now does them with joy if she used to complain about the chores before. She will be more careful in spending the money her husband gives her if she were extravagant and frivolous before.
When the son or daughter is the Christian in the family, either one should now show excellence in his or her work and studies. He or she will be more punctual in coming home and will carry out household duties willingly and well.
Excellence! This should be the goal of every Christian. This does not mean that we should always come out first or be always on top, but that given our talents and abilities
within the allotted time and circumstances, we should make the best of the situation. Let's do our best not for self-glory but for the glory of Christ.
Let your Christian faith color your language and conversation. As Paul advised : "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:5-6). But these verses do not mean button-holing every family member in a corner and lecturing them on the why's of believing in Christ. We are to look for opportunities for genuine and loving relationships with our loved ones to the point where we could share with them the Good News. And such sharing requires tact and diplomacy.
Together with this should be a deliberate attempt to make our words reflect the transformation occurring within us. Filipinos generally curse and use a lot of rude words. Each geographic region has its own colorful epithets and interjections that damn the womenfolk. Also the names of God and Jesus Christ are invoked thoughtlessly in almost every situation, petty or not. Some individuals make fun of biblical passages by twisting them for a laugh.
Most often our speech gives us away. It tells others the kind of persons we are. It is possible for a Christian to be earnest in his profession of faith in Christ, yet betray himself with the foul and coarse language he speaks. As the Christians at Ephesus were reminded by Paul: "Dirty stories, foul talk and coarse jokes these are not for you. Instead, remind each one of God's goodness and be thankful." (Ephesians 5:4 Living Bible).
Witnessing through words is not the only sharing we can do, it can also be done in the way we speak. Were we harsh and rude before? Then we can learn to be gracious and
courteous now. Were we always shouting and nagging? Then we can learn to be calm and control our tongue. Were we gossipy and fond of malicious talk before? Then we can begin to look for the good points in others and start commending them.
'Learning to be' is the key. Christians are still human. We do not change our ways, including the way we talk, at the moment of conversion. But the Holy Spirit is already within us, working in us a mature spirituality. But we have to be His active co-worker by will, intent, and determination. God cannot transform us if we are unwilling. He desires our full partnership and cooperation.
Demonstrate your faith in acts of kindness both big and small. On many occasions, what really moves our loved ones to embrace Christianity is not our grand claims about it, but the little changes in us as shown by our actions. A Christian wife shared this story in a women's conference:
"After I became a Christian, I could not stomach the immoral life of my husband anymore. Every time he would come home late in the evening, I'd meet him with sermons and threats, and quarreled with him in the process. But I soon discovered he was coming home later and later at night, perhaps to avoid me. I was most unhappy and asked my friends in church to pray for me and my husband. Then, God showed me a different strategy.
"I'd sit up for him however late he would show up. When he came, I'd serve him a hot meal, attend to his needs and just be genial. I no longer asked him where he went and with whom. And, God did a miracle! Slowly, he started coming home earlier and earlier until he'd come exactly at 5:30, early evening. I asked him what made him do so. What he said was this: 'I like it better here at home because I have you. And you've changed a lot. Why?'
"I whispered a 'thank you' to God and told my husband what, or rather, Who changed me. He was just quiet but I know since then that he has been thinking a lot about Christ."
Thoughtfulness, discretion, patience, a happy spirit, a listening ear, seriousness in work or studies, serenity these are some of the ingredients of effective witnessing to our families. A Christian should never crowd out his own loved ones from his circle of activities by hopping from one Bible study or prayer meeting to another. As one speaker said, "Never boycott family reunions!"
This is not to say that we should cut off our involvement in church activities. We need them to strengthen us and help us grow to maturity. But we need to realize that our family is our primary mission field because we sleep, eat, cry, laugh and live with these special people. Most important is that we love them and they love us, however cracked and imperfect that love may be. And Christ loved this whole family enough to yield His life for it.
The Witnessing Christian Family
Some of us have been blessed with families where everyone is Christian. Such privilege should always be a cause for thanksgiving to God. Yet, we are wrong if we think that Christian homes are not beset by problems. That in such families, relationships are always loving and warm; bickerings, jealousy, and viciousness have been licked. We all know our own homes enough to admit this! Sometimes when problems come in droves and relationships become sour, we may even wonder if our home is really "Christian."
A Christian family is still made up of people human beings prone to sinning despite the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. Its members have different personalities, tastes, interests, ages, and maturity. Every one has his or her role to play, yet understanding and perception of the faith differs,
as does the spiritual maturity of each member. Thus the usual human frailties, weaknesses, and sins are still very much evident. The father may still be censorious, the mother nagging, the children hard-headed or lazy, and the grandparents interfering.
Despite these weaknesses, the Christian family, nevertheless, has a stronger bond. Not only do they belong together by blood as a family; they belong together in Jesus Christ. Together they can call upon God for help. Together they can worship God in a community of believers in a local church.
Each family member can uphold the others in prayer. Each one can gently remind another of his failings. Or encourage him with God's words and his own supportive love. Thus, one task of a Christian family is to be a source of witness, encouragement, and hope to its members. Nothing is gained even if the father is an eloquent pulpit speaker when he is a tyrant at home. It is meaningless if the mother is a recognized leader in the women's circle, when she neglects her children and leaves the house in disarray. What good is it if the children are all busy in church youth activities but will not lift a hand to help their mother in the household chores?
The Christian home can be a witness to the unbelieving relatives. The kind of family life we have should influence others, especially those closest to us. Christian families should make it a point to invite their relatives to their homes to share with them the beauty of the Christian faith. We can invite our relatives during birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries, the Christmas season, and other occasions on which talking about God and giving thanks to Him come naturally. In this way Christian families will not become exclusive groups and non-Christian relatives are not prevented from hearing about Christ.
The Christian family should reach out to neighbors and friends. Are we Christians good neighbors? Are we friendly or haughty? Do we show concern to needy people around us? Or are we indifferent to what is going on in our neighborhood? One way to establish friendly contact with neighbors is our traditional practice of sharing any special viand or delicacy we have cooked, be it a bowl of sotanghon soup or plateful of biko. Such generous giving and sharing can cement friendships that serve as a bridge in sharing our faith. Whether we live in the barrio, subdivision homes, condominiums, or apartments, Christian families need to go out of their way to befriend their neighbors. Behind the thick walls of many houses are lonely people needing genuine friends, and searching for God.
Another way of showing concern is to attend funeral wakes. We can demonstrate our sympathy to the bereaved family through a small sum or gift, a carefully worded condolence card, or an offer of help. Many lasting friendships have been forged this way. What is necessary is not so much what we can give, but our genuine gesture of compassion and caring.
The Christian home has unique opportunities to witness to the community. As Christians we need to get involved in the affairs of our communities. This may mean active participation in the local parent-teacher association, or being available for election, or appointment as member of the barangay council or as barangay captain. Christian young people too, can enlarge their involvement by being members or leaders of local youth organizations. In this way Christians will have greater opportunities to influence people on the biblical perspective on family living, public service, or government perhaps, and lead them to the Lord Himself.
Normally each of us belongs to a family. We love the members of this unit, we care about its interests, and make its hopes and dreams our own.
As a Christian in a non-believing family, we are tasked to bring the light and life of the Christian to our loved ones. Not with the bigotry of a crusading zealot, but in quiet, steady and persistent demonstrations of love. The Filipino family traits of dependence on one another and being closely-knit can be used by us to make the Gospel real and genuine to our loved ones.
And when, by God's grace our family embraces the Christian faith, then it is the duty of the members to build up one another in fellowship, in the study of the Word of God, in prayer, in admonition and discipline. A Christian family must be a witnessing one to relatives, friends, neighbors and the community.
"Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you," Jesus said to the demonized man. So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed." (Mark 5:19-20)
The completely new life of this man, previously demon-possessed, was the strongest evidence of his proclamation about Christ. No wonder he became God's effective emissary to the Gentile world which was his home, neighborhood, and city. All these we can become even today.
Beyond Christian Rhetorics
The Christian faith is for living. It is not meant to be discussed in the abstract nor to be intellectualized in the aseptic halls of the academe. Nor does it need high-blown explanations. It does not even need vocal defenders willing to give up their lives for proofs of its claims. The Christian faith is meant to be lived.
This is not to say that Christianity is anti-intellectual. For given its basic assumptions about God, man and the world, it is one of the most logical religious faiths in the world. It is anchored deeply in historical facts both affirmed and substantiated by knowledge and experience of a great many notable men and women of our times. Christianity however, needs to be demonstrated in a person's life. This is the crux of the matter.
Do Christians tend to talk more about Christianity? Or do they try to live it out?
Others tend to see us doing the former more than the latter. We theorize so much when we should have acted. We theologize when we should have extended a helping hand. We do a lot of pulpit-pounding when what is needed is action.
This tendency to moralize does show. It is evident in our speech, our lifestyle, our dealings with our loved ones and neighbors, our attitude towards our work or profession, the way we regard our society and government. In this world, the whole of our conduct either denies or affirms the transforming power of our Christian faith. And if Christians are not careful, the world may be lost not because of the activity of the communists, the atheists or the radical Muslims, but because of our own inconsistencies and lack of commitment.
Consider for instance, how Christians may, figuratively and literally, claw at one another's faces in the name of right doctrines and beliefs, in defending every jot and tittle (Matthew 5:18). Resentment, bitterness, and even full-blown hatred can be kindled between Christian brethren. Theological differences may degenerate into petty personal vindictiveness, and differences in religious practices become a battle royal among power-hungry aspiring leaders. A good number of our self-appointed prophets and teachers of biblical wisdom live lives that are unbelievably different from what they preach from the pulpit, or write about in the newspapers. Some pastors, missionaries and priests have been discovered to be carrying on illicit relationships, have misused church funds, or have gotten involved in some moral turpitude conduct least expected by society from "ministers of God."
The ordinary Christians among us swim happily with the prevailing moral currents in the world. We speak of love and compassion for others, yet terrorize or neglect our own families. We denounce the violation of human rights in some
Latin American country, yet we oppress our household help, farm hands, or employees.
We oppose military rule in our country or somewhere else, yet, we do not help strengthen our country's economy by declaring our full assets in our income tax returns. Neither do we obey traffic rules nor denounce government abuses to media or to proper forums. Our hearts go out to the thousands killed in an earthquake in far-away Naples, but the children of our slums have been dying of disease and malnutrition without us even lifting a hand. Christians often speak of fellowship and community, but are not on speaking terms with their own mothers-in-law or with church members. We agonize in prayer to "win souls for Christ," but are poor stewards of material blessings and live undisciplined lives.
If somebody hates us, we hate him in return. If someone is good to us, we are equally good to him. We pray for people who pray for us (and can be thoughtless of people who forget to pray for us). We invite to our parties only people of our kind, and ignore those who do not count at all in our social register. We are uncomfortable in the presence of the deformed, the diseased and the ugly. We abhor stinking esteros and unbathed, scabies-ridden babies. We fear the effects of runaway inflation on our household budgets. We groan and complain to God in times of sickness, death or difficult situations. Gloomy weather makes us equally gloomy. Simply put, we are Christian in name only.
But no one is perfect. Ako' y tao lamang (I'm only human), we reason. No one, not even God is asking us to be perfect, that is, to be sinless. I suspect we will not achieve sinlessness while we still live in the flesh; Christ Himself did not require His apostles and disciples to be without sin. When He said,
"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), He didn't mean sinless perfection.
The Greek word teleios, which is translated "perfect" in English, is often used in a very special way. It has nothing to do with abstract, philosophical or metaphysical perfection. A thing is teleios when it fulfills the function for which it is intended. For instance, a lamb is fit or perfect for a sacrifice to God when it is without blemish. A man who has reached his full-grown stature is teleios in contrast to a half-grown lad. A student who has mastered his subject is teleios, as opposed to a beginner. Thus, a man is perfect if he realizes the purpose for which he was created and sent into the world.
The question now is: What is the purpose for man's birth and life in this world?
The creation story is clear when it tells us what God said: "Let us make man in our own image and after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). Man was created in the image of God. And one of God's characteristics "is this universal benevolence, this unconquerable will, this constant seeking of higher good of every man." The great characteristic of God is His love to saint and sinner alike. No matter what men do to Him, God seeks nothing but our highest good. Therefore, we become God-like when we begin to reproduce the "unwearied, forgiving, sacrificial benevolence of God ... to put it at its simplest, the man who cares most for men is the most perfect man."1 Real Christian perfection or spirituality then, is only realized when we learn to forgive as God forgives, and to love as God loves.
1. William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, The Daily Study Bible. 1956, pp. 175-177. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press
God-likeness, however, is not developed overnight. Though salvation by faith in Christ is instantaneous (John 1:12), Christian maturation is a lifetime process. Christianity is constantly a "becoming" faith. It is not a summer affair with Christ. We grow to become like Him as we come to know Him more intimately, as we allow His Word to infuse our spirit, and as we act upon the enlightenment or knowledge He gives us. As our inner being is transformed, our behavior towards others begins to show that such transformation is, indeed, taking place. The Christian faith then, ceases to be mere talk but walk, not mere theology but sympathy.
Neither do we stop becoming humans when we become Christians. The expression Ako' y tao lamang, which implies weakness, imperfection and proneness to sin, should only be used as an excuse by persons who are without God. But Christians claim to have Christ in their lives. And, if Christ truly resides in a Christian and empowers him, he is given the divine strength and energy to be what he ought to be. True, he may fail or sin, but he does not make sinning a habit. He might fall, heavily perhaps, and take up the Christian walk again. The Christian who sins, and then reasons, basa na lang din, maliligo na rin (literally means "once wet, there's no option but to take a bath") deprives himself of God's cleansing in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." He belittles the power of God to forgive and take him back again.
Religiosity is Not Enough
Religiosity is not an adequate demonstration of our Christian faith. Filipinos, as a whole, are deeply religious, with this trait even bordering on fanaticism. And our country, the Philippines has repeatedly been called the only Christian nation in Asia. Many of us are proud of this reputation. But the truth is this : our kind of Christianity is too often only
skin-deep, it is mere religious fastidiousness that centers on the rituals and practices of the faith, not on their meanings and substance.
Our Lenten observance is a case in point. During the Holy Week, people are generally more sober and religiously-inclined. Even the most profligate make it a point to fast, make penance, or even go through the bloody vow of penitensya (penitence) of the flagellantes, using self-mortification to atone for the previous year's sinful living. Still others have themselves nailed to the cross to experience what Jesus Christ went through, believing that the act will bring them cleansing and forgiveness.
Evangelicals may look askance at the excesses of the Roman Catholics, but they, too, go through the rituals of observing the last days of Jesus on earth with much mindless activity. Where Catholics emphasize the drama and color of the Passion of the Christ, Protestants focus on His words. The remembrance of the Seven Last Words Jesus spoke before He died on the cross, becomes the center of solemn meditation for them. Where Resurrection Day is heralded by exciting pageantry in Catholic churches via a dramatization of the meeting of Jesus and Mary, many Protestants hold an Easter Sunrise service which in some cases has become an exhortatory, expositional ritual complete with an Easter egg hunt!
But what good are rituals if these are not backed up by daily consistent Christian living? What good is fasting and penitence during the Holy Week, when the weeks after are marked by the usual riotous, immoral living? What good is there in being hanged on a tree (even upside down like Peter) when one's thinking and living is bound up in self? What good is the three-hour Seven Last Words service when people fall asleep and go home as bored as ever? What good is the pageantry of Resurrection Day and the Easter Sunrise Service
when Christians keep on living as if Jesus had never risen from the dead? Or when we behave as if there is no One to whom we are accountable in the days to come?
From the anthropological point of view, rituals are important. They affirm the beliefs of a people. They confirm their allegiance to one another. They solidify their unity as a group. But devoid of meaningful interpretation in the routine of daily living, rituals become as dead as artifacts. They are only there for view and wonder, bearing no relevance to the nitty-gritty of life. What is important is to go beyond the rituals, beyond verbal pronouncements, and to live the Christian life in the best way we know. We may fail in our attempts but the door to confession to our fellowmen and to Christ is open for us. Thus, our action-reflection-confession will make the Christian faith more authentic and real to the watching world than the volumes of exegetical studies. The Pharisees and scribes were creatures of knowledge but not of action.
In Jesus' time, the Pharisees ("the separated ones") and scribes were the epitome of religious exactness. Acting as the guardians of the Jewish law, they properly observe the ritual washing of heads, hands and feet, and meticulously prayed three times a day, fasted and sacrificed at the temple, attended assiduously every feast in Jerusalem, and tithed the littlest of herbs they have planted. They were very careful in their association with people who may be unclean the Gentiles, menstruating women, leprosy sufferers and the dead. They were zealous missionaries too. In the name of the Jewish faith they would cross the seas to go to far-away lands and climb mountains just to make a single convert. But despite their religiosity, Jesus condemned them utterly (Matthew 23).
Their religious propriety and knowledge did not make them human or humane. They had forgotten what it is to
be godly. Thus, Jesus tells the people : "... do what they tell you; pay attention to their words. But do not follow their practice; for they say one thing and do another" (Matthew 23:3). They equated their religious position with prestige. They acted, not out of noble intentions, but out of pride and self-importance (vv. 5-8). Their converts were made worse by their poor examples (vv. 13-15). They emphasized the minor details of the law but disregarded major points. For example, they tithed mint, dill and cummin (aromatic plants used to spice food) yet neglected the "weightier demands of the Law, justice and mercy and good faith" (v. 23).
Everything the Pharisees and scribes did was mere form and palabas (show). Jesus likened them to the white-washed tombs of All Saints' Day looking well from the outside, but inside were full of decaying flesh and macabre skeletons (vv. 27-28). In the most forthright, colorful terms, Jesus called them liars, blind guides, blind fools, hypocrites, people full of extortion and rapacity (v. 25), white-washed tombs, serpents, and a brood of vipers.
The common reaction of many Christians on reading Chapter 23 of the gospel of Matthew is to say : "Good for Him! They deserved Christ's tongue-lashing for they were all guilty." On second thought, however, they see that the Pharisees and scribes in Jesus' time were no worse than the religious leaders of our day. And no worse than the most devoutly religious among us.
Church politics have made religious positions a source of rivalry and enmity among the clergy. The power play is just as mean and dirty as in the secular arena, only it is sanitized by prayer and the use of "God's will." Ministers have scrambled for better positions in their conferences, dioceses, or whatever organizational set-up they have. Better positions are sought after because these mean better public exposure, higher prestige and generous allowances.
The private lives of many of our religious leaders, sad to say, do not serve as examples of moral uprightness. As one pastor was heard to say, "In my denomination, it is always wrong to drink, smoke and go to movies. But we can have women if we are discreet." This may strike us as a shocking statement coming from so conservative a quarter, but the essence of his statement is true. How many churches are so concerned with the no-smoking, no-drinking rule yet condone wickedness in their midst?
Pointing fingers at our religious leaders does not free us who profess to be Christian from examining ourselves. We are as guilty as they. We have to admit that we have made use of our religious faith to window-dress all the trivia and immorality in our lives. Our piety does not extend beyond church-going on Sundays and other holy days. We are not moved to tears or touched by human events and situations of deep pathos nor are we anymore outraged by acts of injustice and unrighteousness. We tend to look at other people as sila (them). And we want to have nothing to do with them because we are busy with our own lives building up business empires the way worldly associates build theirs, or adding up impressive credentials to our names for bigger and higher promotions. Or we are simply preoccupied with getting more in life and, perhaps, begetting, too.
In many instances we are more worldly than non-Christians! Consider for example how one Christian organization bewailed the "spiritual darkness and deep poverty" of 700 million Chinese in mainland China by hosting a sumptuous dinner in an elegant five-star hotel in Manila. Or how our little group talked about poverty in a comfortable, expensive house in a Quezon City subdivision after a delicious and filling meal. Or how some Christians talk about development in their fully airconditioned, air-freshened offices in Makati! And many of us are content to
pay lip service to these development activities in our country today. I find the whole scheme hypocritical.
There is nothing wrong with wealth or comfort. They have their appropriate places in life. What is questionable is our seeming lack of sincerity as shown by our lifestyle, even as we express our concern. We tend to mouth Christian platitudes of "compassion," "justice," "human rights," "development," etc. but our own personal lives are a poor demonstration of any of these. One Christian executive, for instance, was very pushy about development projects and seminars. But when he was asked to stay overnight in one of Manila's slums to get a feel for the squatter's life, he balked at the suggestion!
What advantage is there in pointing out our failures as Christians? Why do we have to be confronted with our guilt? Why make us feel guilty at all? Wouldn't it be more productive if we concentrated on preaching the Gospel and talked of the sweetness and light of the Christian faith? Wouldn't it be more productive if we kept saying that God is good and always answers our prayers? That our fellowship and communion with Him grows sweeter everyday? That His blessings to us exceed our expectations? That Christ is the answer to all our longings?
We cannot deny these claims for they are elements of a true Christian experience. But Christians should rise beyond a faith that thrives on feelings and mystical revelations always groping for the right mix of emotions to be able to go through life. The kind of faith that centers on self and usually becomes effete (lacking in wholesome vigor) in times of great testings. This kind of faith is weakened by its inability to look beyond self, and include the rest of humanity within its circle of responsibility.
"The unexamined life," according to Plato, "is a life that is not worth living." And we Christians claim we have a
meaningful life for we have Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It is He who said : "I am come that they may have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good Shepherd" (John 10:10). With such a claim, therefore, we need to be willing to be exposed, to be transparent and to admit our guilt and failures.
Meaning and abundance in life can only be had if the people of God allow themselves to be flooded with God's searchlight, the Scriptures. Then we may discover our weaknesses and guilt, and be corrected by God Himself or His servants. A Christian who ceases to strive to be a better follower of Christ has shut himself out of the many wonderful possibilities of usefulness to Him. A Christian who never feels guilty of failing God at some point in his life has made himself quite comfortable with Satan. A Christian who has not experienced struggling with sin in his own life has already made himself a captive of the Enemy.
Christianity means Christ and me in a growing relationship. This must be experienced not in some esoteric and mystical manner, but as that relationship affects the people around me. Our newness of life in Christ must be demonstrated before the world of men. It is a faith that must be conspicuous because it is visible in its involvement with people our own family, our neighbors, our friends and the rest of humanity. Not only in words but in terms of life and deeds; not by patronization but by our steady grip on the arms of those who are weak and failing. Not by mere mouthing of Christian lingo but by living it.
This demonstrative kind of faith was shown by many of the biblical characters and great Christians in our history. It is the faith of Jesus Christ whose whole life is a demonstration of what it means to really love God. He gave His life for our salvation and rose again to ensure for us victory, now and hereafter. It is the faith exemplified by the Lord's apostles and early disciples. It is our faith, too. But we have to authenticate it with our own lives.
Appendix of Songs and Words and Gestures
(Rethinking our liturgy in the light of indigenous art forms)*
For the prelude the organ intones 'Faith of our Fathers Living Still.' The buzzing of conversation dies down and by force of habit you bow your head, close your eyes and whisper some half-formed wordless prayer in your mind. You look at your shoes and resolve to clean them when you get home. Once again the unfolding of another Sunday ho-hum begins.
By now you know that the choir members have already stopped their bickerings, temporarily at least, and have put on their robes and serious countenances as you hear them coming, singing 'Holy, Holy, Holy' a little tiredly. They are followed by the Pastor and the Presider who ascend the steps to take their places on the platform. Then a prayer is said and a couple of verses are read not too differently from last Sunday's. The congregation then sings 'How Great Thou Art' in the tradition of the native lullabies you think it will take forever to finish the four stanzas. A responsive reading of a Scripture passage enlivens the scene a bit. People read from five or six versions and in at least two languages a babel of tongues. But then, they are reading the Bible and it really does not matter whether they understand what they are reading or one another. The choir salvages the chaos by rendering an anthem immediately after.
Then the Pastor rises for the pastoral prayer which "covers the entire world" as my twelve-year-old son would say, followed by another hymn-singing of the faithful.
* This article first appeared in ISACC's Patmos magazine, 2(2), Second Quarter 1980
The collection plates are passed around, then follows the doxology and a prayer of thanks. Finally the exhortation to prepare one's heart and mind for the sermon. And the pastor takes the pulpit.
You go slack in your seat and begin to feel just a little bit drowsy. You know that the Pastor may go on for an hour or an hour-and-a-half. As he drones on, you take the "praying stance" a strategy for catnapping right on the pew in front of you, head resting on your arm. Then, you are really sleepy. As soon as the Pastor's voice reaches the final ponderous pitch to stress his last point, you slowly raise your head, nod in pretended agreement, and say to your neighbor: "Nice sermon, ano?" The congregation hurries through the last hymn and the benediction and the postlude. The Sunday morning is over.
Peremptory handshaking at the church door with the Pastor follows. A smile here, a nod of greeting there, and a "Hi!" are all that bind the church flock. Then they hurry away to their busy lives. Like anyone else, you run to catch the bus home. Being the reflective type, as soon as you recover from breathlessness, you begin to wonder : "Was that all there was to worship? In fact, have I really worshiped as I meant to?"
Church-going is not Worship
To say that church-going is necessarily worshiping is shallow. Neither is worship "sermon-listening" nor even picking up a lesson or two from it. W. I. Sperry, author of Reality in Worship, says, "The means of edification in our age are many. The opportunities to worship are few." Too often worship is equated with liturgy, understood in its limited meaning as referring to a particular arrangement of public worship or a set of rituals for the communal gathering of the church. Thus, many Christians find it extremely uncomfortable to worship outside the prelude postlude framework. Others would not consider mere hymn singing and Bible reading as worship at all. Still there are others who get upset, and "unworshipful," if the doxology is sung after the invocation and not after the offertory "where it properly belongs."
The word "liturgy," which later became synonymous with "worship" in the Christian circle, has had a secular and a much nobler meaning than just the rituals of worship as commonly understood today. To the Greeks, leiturguo referred to the duties or services done by public officials to the government at their own expense. Thus, it meant voluntary public service.
When the early Christians incorporated the term in their religious language, it primarily meant action and very practical action at that. It is action for the sake of others or another. Thus,Paul in Romans 12:1 appealed to the Roman Christians to do the act of surrendering and offering of their bodies as worship or liturgy to God. In the same way, he enjoined the Christian slaves in Ephesians 6:6-7 to render their worship or service to their master "not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants, doing the will of God from the heart ...."
Thus, the coming together of Christians say, on Sunday is only one expression of worship or service to God. We pay God public homage for what He has done and is doing in our lives both personally and corporately. In worship we are merely responding, and this is true of the whole liturgy, whether it be praise, thanksgiving, supplication or repentance, whether observing the Holy Communion (or Lord's Supper), or baptism. As one theologian points out :
... in liturgy there is a vertical movement, the outgoing of men to God. But there is also a horizontal movement. Liturgy is celebrated with others and therefore relationships between the members of the worshiping community are of highest importance ... Liturgical worship is for the participation of the community. Rite enables people to relate to each other and also to the community.
If the essence of public worship is human action, if it is a human response to God and to one's fellowmen, one important implication is that the form and style of worship
is necessarily dictated by the culture of the worshiping people. Worship, in other words, is culture-bound.
No Liturgy is Sacrosanct
To say that worship is culture-bound simply means that it is a thread that is always woven into the Church's historical tapestry. According to Geoffrey Wainwright, at any given period and place, the liturgy must be seen together with doctrine, evangelism and holiness of life as composing the present and local image of the Church. The details and style of that picture will vary with time and space. Yet, the present and local church is of a piece with a Church which stretches back in time to Jesus Christ and which has been implanted in all parts of the globe. Thus, culture is one historical variable in Christian worship. Its contents are affected by cultural factors. It is therefore possible to say that the Roman style of worship is "pregnant," "precise," "simple," "sober," while the French and the Mozarabic (Arab-dominated Spain) is "elaborate," "effusive," and "picturesque."
Within the Protestant tradition the expressions "high" and "low" church signify differences not only in organizational structures but also the elaborateness or simplicity of the rituals. On the whole, however, the forms and styles of worship in many Protestant denominations are simpler than, for example, Roman Catholic worship, and emphasize preaching rather than symbolic rituals. The variations within the liturgical arrangement reflect the histories, the cultural milieu within which the various denominations flowered, and the very personalities of their respective founding fathers. This is to say that worship varies from culture to culture, from people to people, from one community to another. Coming down to specifics, it means that there is really nothing sacrosanct with the Presbyterian style of worship, or the Baptist, or the Mennonite or the Pentecostal. Especially within the Philippine context, where these are all transplanted and imposed, consciously or unconsciously. We need to examine these styles of worship to discover if
these are the most effective ways for Filipinos to relate to one another and to apprehend the beauty and mystery of God.
Liturgies in the Philippines Today
Observing the rituals of the average Protestant church today, any perceptive Christian could weep. Not out of holy joy or penitence but because of the blandness. The uncreativity and irrelevance. For how could a people so endowed with rich imagination and a wide variety of native artistic talents be satisfied with a form so sterile, monotonous and out-of touch with their natural environment? How could a people so full of sunshiny disposition and dramatic flair be reduced to somber statues listening to what often becomes a one-man monologue? How could they who were born almost with songs on their lips stretch and strain to sing to God melodies so alien to what they innately know? When they could praise God naturally in chants, in antiphony or round-singing? Or in balitaw or kundiman-inspired hymns, or just in simple "Pinoy" contemporary sound? Among a people so expressive in their body language, how many have used their gifts to demonstrate their worship to God? How many churches today would tolerate hand-clapping, raising of arms in praise and adoration and exalting God in loud "hallelujahs" and crisp "amens", in dance or dance-drama without feeling strained or scandalized?
It must be admitted that the liturgies of Filipino evangelical churches, except in few cultural community groups, have remained essentially duplicates of their Western counterparts. After about eight decades of assiduous learning of "Western ways of doing things," Filipinos have come to believe the false idea that there is no better way to worship God than that taught by the missionary.
The blame for this unnatural situation does not fall as heavily on the foreign influences (after all, they were just being true to their own Christian heritage and culture) as it falls on us Filipinos, who have not gone beyond the Western models of worship. We have not really given careful thought
to the form and kind of worship that is fitting, necessary and meaningful to the Filipino mind and spirit. This lack of reflective, self-evaluative disposition may be attributed to several factors.
First and foremost is our lack of appreciation and shortsighted perspective of our own history and culture. For instance, many well-meaning Christians would like to believe that the Christian faith only came to us with the coming of the American missionaries in the 1900's. Everything before that was superstition and heresy. The fact of the matter is that Christianity, however mutilated it was, may have been around for the last 300 years. We cannot possibly ignore and wash away the accretions of Christian practices, some of which are surprisingly very biblical, and have become part of the Filipino tradition.
Another factor is our common pre-occupation with economic survival. National Christians, especially leaders of missions and churches, are often times more interested in raising funds here and abroad to support or expand their work, than in creative action towards developing a Christian church that is recognizably Filipino. Worse still is that many culturally-aware and potentially creative Christians are siphoned off to work with foreign based mission groups only to become mouth-pieces and implementors of programs planned and designed in elegant boardrooms in Chicago, Los Angeles, or Philadelphia. Given secure tenure, good position and substantial pay, understandably they could not resist. The point however, is that, out of ethical considerations, these people would no longer have the chance to pursue their private visions and dreams for the Filipino church. This is if they still keep them in their hearts.
Another distraction for many Filipino Christians is their entanglement in denominational or mission quarrels, often stemming from their Western context. Filipino churches should be addressing themselves to the building up of unity among Christians in this much-splintered culture. They
should be searching for more meaningful Christian practices. But often they are distracted by these fine points of religious distinction. Even relationships among kith and kin can be severed.
Still another factor is the individualistic stance many Christians take in order to build a following of their own as a rationale for appealing for support in Western countries. This results in a scramble for power and popularity among Christians who possess an iota of leadership. Such hankering for recognition and adulation obviously does not leave them the time to ponder on the role as Filipino Christians in a Filipino society, much less think of how the Christian church in the Philippines can be rooted to its own socio-cultural soil.
This insistence on alerting the Christians, especially the leaders, to the importance of the church being related to the realities of Filipino society, is not mere culture mania. It is scriptural. It is survival. It is true evangelism. It is, in the words of one enlightened Filipino churchman, "not an option that we can take or leave. It is as Paul saying that he is to be all things to all men in order that by any means he might win some to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:22). Specifically, it is being in all things as Filipino as possible in order that by any means some of our compatriots may be won to Christ."
Re-examining and Re-creating our Liturgies
Part of this attempt to make the Christian church more and more Filipino in outlook and identity in all its variegated forms, is to challenge ourselves to re-examine it's liturgies. And, after examining, to re-create them to become expressive of the socio-spiritual sentiments of the worshipers. In relation to such re-examination, we need to consider the following:
The native tongue communicates best. Whether to use English or the local dialect is still an issue in some churches today just as it is an issue in our educational system. As this is being written, a newly installed pastor of a mainline
denomination is struggling with this particular dilemma. He just discovered that 70% of his congregation do not comprehend his English sermons well enough. Yet, the church has stubbornly persisted in using the foreign tongue for the last ten years. The reason for this anomaly is that one rich and consequently influential member seems to have an inordinate liking for English! How this young pastor solves his problem will be interesting to watch.
Subjects that touch the inner life beliefs, convictions, faith, prayer, our sorrows and happiness only become most meaningful when encoded in the language we are born to. It is real to us. It speaks to us deeply. This is so because our experiences are embedded in our language. We are not capable of truly comprehending anything that is not within our linguistic range. If such is so, how then would a Filipino who only knows a smattering of English worship God deeply and meaningfully in that language?
It would then be wise for Christian pastors, workers and leaders to use the language of the locality especially during the assemblies and worship services. Let us do away with that lingering colonial vestige that God speaks necessarily in English. This insistence is not merely linguistic chauvinism but rather insight coupled with deep concern that the life of the church become a spontaneous living reality in the life of the people. If God speaks in our language, then He surely is one among us.
The visual arts must be given a definite place in the worship life of the believers. The physical structures and the material arrangements of many of our meeting places seem to show the barrenness of our evangelical faith. Unlike the Roman Catholic churches, our chapels and their architecture don't suggest anything worshipful, as a setting for an inward transaction with God. Many of our places of worship are dark, damp and unkempt. Usually, the pulpit is centered against a bare background of curtains and the acoustical details are taken for granted. Most neglected of all are the visual effects to heighten the worship atmosphere. Our poverty of symbols
is undoubtedly an extreme reaction to the sin of idol-worship which we saw around us. It was not a well thought out reaction, and we have in the process denied ourselves things that are beautiful and heart-lifting.
For instance, it took a Balinese brother to point to me the deeper significance of our salakot chapel on campus. Its architectural design is not only a native innovation but a statement of our theology as well. Just as the salakot (native palm hat) protects a Filipino farmer from the sun and rain, so does God protect and shield those who come to Him. How much closer is this to the adoring cry of the psalmist David:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Psalm 91:1-2
Filipino Christians need to realize that the visual and graphic arts are parts of God's design to enrich the Christian life not only individually but corporately as well. There is a need for our faith not only to be heard and imagined but to be etched on wood and panels and posts and painted on canvas and murals. Let us show that the Christian faith is not abstract, ascetic and merely instructional. Talents for this kind of artistic endeavor are, so to speak, homegrown. We have them right in our midst but many have never been given the chance. If Filipino ingenuity is known the world over through the refurbished jeepneys, our fiestas, and our fashions, why then, cannot we Filipino Christians with our spiritual insights and grace rise above the mundane and stamp a mark of Filipino-ness in the Christian faith? Why not have murals, paintings, sculptures and other symbolic aids to worship?
Works of beauty can surely enhance and not distract worshipers from worshiping God in spirit and in truth. Jesus Christ did not cease from going to the Jewish temple to worship even as He tried to correct the notion of worship.
He did not disparage the symbolic features of the temple such as the ark of the covenant, the finely chiseled candlestands, the gold-inlaid figures of the cherubim and the seraphim, the incense, the fire and the sacrifices. He acknowledged their usefulness in the exercise of worship by the Jewish people.
However, to balance this deep respect for the temple and all its symbolic features, Jesus Christ at the same time stressed the fact that God cannot be contained in anything made by human hands. He is much greater than the temple or any structure dedicated to Him. He is Almighty and the Omniscient God. And many of the worship gatherings of Jesus were made under the trees and among the lilies in the field, in the homes of friends and loved ones, by the silvery shores of Galilee, under the stars and in the garden of Gethsemane.
In the same manner we should regard our places of worship. In striving to make it a rendezvous with God by creating an atmosphere of reverence and awe, let us be careful not to worship the place for itself because of the amount of money we put into it. We should all the while be conscious that God is in and with us. Hence, our worship of Him is a moment by moment and a heart-to-heart affair.
Our indigenous art forms of communication need to be carefully studied and explored for more meaningful and relevant worship. The sermon is not enough. Though it has become the crowning glory of most Christian meetings and assemblages, it does not always effectively communicate or necessarily sharpen the attitude of worship to God. It even appears that the more one listens to sermons, the less one "hears." This is so because after a time, the preachers tend to repeat themselves or one another.
Worship is more than listening. It is primarily an activity, an action which involves the whole person. Worship must not be limited to one's mind only, but involves using one's voice and even one's body. Also the rhythm of dance and instrument. This God-ward action does not involve one man or two persons alone. It should involve the whole
worshiping congregation to the point where each one responds with awareness of God, gains insight, apprehends the will of God more clearly, is stirred to a deeper understanding of spiritual reality and responds thereto. Then, we can say that the church has experienced true worship.
In a typical Sunday worship today, such heightening of awareness of God by the whole person and of the whole church seldom happens. The institutionalized rituals have made everything predictable and routine. As they are copied from foreign models without analysis, the preaching service looks almost like a re-run stage show. The few "stars" sit on the stage while the majority are mere on-lookers bearing up indulgently with whatever pakulo (happening) is going on up there. As supporting cast, the congregants give their tithes and offerings and lend their voices to the singing. Their participation is almost unthinking, passive, minimal.
People participation in the form of the barangay is a Filipino traditional practice that can be very well adapted by the worshiping church. Instead of the perennial preaching by the pastor, it may be a relief to assign a group of elders or members of the church to speak briefly on a topic based on their own study, insight and experiences. Or, the reading of the Scripture can be assigned to different persons in the congregation so long as they are properly forewarned. Even the singing of the Western hymns can be made lively and more meaningful by assigning stanzas to different groups or asking someone to read or sign a stanza which has a bearing on the subject for the day. Sharing of testimonies should be part and parcel of a church in worship. From experience and observation, more lives are touched, encouraged and challenged from listening to what God has done concretely in the life of one person than from the many three-or-four-point sermons delivered from the pulpit. Some churches, however, would object to such a suggestion because the concern is more on the preservation of solemnity and propriety of worship. A few others, perhaps, would oppose it on account of time. The questions are: Solemnity for whom? Propriety for what?
Is it improper for one brother to share his victory over sin because of Jesus Christ? And, why do the people of God always seem to be in a hurry?
Filipinos are person-oriented and socially-centered. Jesus Christ while on earth had basically the same disposition. If this is so, then church leaders do need to explore ways to make the church a helping, serving church in its moments of worship.
Balagtasan is another traditional form of art which can be used by the church to proclaim or teach the Gospel message. It is a poetical debate or discussion-in-verse on a given issue, artfully written and skillfully delivered between two contending parties. It has a moderator (lakandiwa) who introduces the subject of discussions, introduces the debaters, and who summarizes the pros and cons and delivers the verdict at the end all in beautiful poetry. The whole mode of communication is not merely entertainment, but more importantly, it is instructive. The instruction, however, is not threatening nor direct but poetical and inductive.
Any topic related to the concern of the local church can be presented in the form of balagtasan. There will always be one or two or more among the members who have the gift of putting into poetical words the contradicting sides of the issue and the biblical teaching on it. What is needed is foresight, good planning, a discernment of the various gifts of the church members, and a proper motivation to enable the gifted to do their best. A brief and emphatic challenge or recapitulation from the lakandiwa or the pastor himself to bring the balagtasan to a close may be effective.
Filipino Songs and Drama
The Judaeo-Christian faith finds some of its sublimest expressions in music, both vocal and instrumental. Wherever the faith is found, it is always enriched by musical sounds in varying tones and voices, in different tempos and meters as experienced and interpreted by the worshiping people from all parts of the world. One can only imagine the magnificent
worship patterns of the Jews as glimpsed from the poetry of the Psalms. David's final call to praise God consisted in the blaring of the trumpets, the dulcet sounds of the psaltery and harp, the happy bells of the timbrel (coupled with dancing), the stringed instruments, the organs and the high-sounding cymbals. This is without mentioning the harmony of the human voices. They must have had a glorious time worshiping God! It was beautifully their own creation.
Filipino music has yet to find a firm toehold in the musical repertoire of the church today. Without necessarily discarding the many well-loved hymns that we have learned from Western hymn books, we need to encourage the few hymn and gospel composers we have today by singing their songs in our churches. Better still is for every local congregation to encourage its gifted members to write songs for the church. In this way the church will be singing songs that describe our actual situations and experiences with God.
In this regard, there is also a need to expand our instrumental music to embrace not only the organ and the piano (if the church is lucky to have one or both) but the guitars, bandurias, ukeleles, violins, native flutes, the drums, the agongs, the kulintangs and the tambulis. The availability of many of these instruments in many communities will surely enliven many a church gathering.
For such a venture, the skeptics would ask : What, by the way, is the Filipino music whereby its sounds shall infuse the church?
A Filipino music professor, Constancia B. Belda answers the question in the course of her discussion of Lucio D. San Pedro's Concerto in D Minor for Violin and Orchestra. This work elevated the lowly folk song 'Lulay' into the category of art song. Written for a coloratura, it has the accompaniment of a piano and an orchestra. She said :
The Filipino songs are especially charming and ingenious and they become more poignant with the touch of fatalism that pervades the gayest melodies. Even of the songs
that tell of a full harvest or a successful hunt, a haunting phrase or a modulation into a somber key will suddenly reveal the touch of wistfulness that runs through the whole composition like an unresolved dissonance. This is of course easily comprehensible to one who knows the country and the people. This, then, is Filipino music, this morning song of the Igorots as well as the latest kundiman, the 'Bahay Kubo', as well as 'San Pedro's Violin Concerto.' If it is composite in pattern and protean in its characteristics, it is because the nation itself was not insensitive to the forces that swirled around it. It grew by selecting and absorbing what was necessary for the particular function to portray the East to the West in terms that the West can understand. Filipino music is an individual idiom characteristic of the people using it and the country of its origin. (Quoted from Brown Heritage, 1976)
Whether indeed it is necessary for us to interpret things for the West is beside the point. What is important is to realize that we do have a distinct kind of music that is Filipino in essence and character. It is in the lilt, the beat, the sentiments. If you are a Filipino singing or listening, it tugs your heart in a way that is hard to describe. You hear it in Freddie Aguilar's 'Anak,' in Canseco's 'Kapantay ay Langit,' in 'Bakya mo Neneng,' in 'Leron, Leron Sinta,' in 'Ay, ay Kalisud.'
When our church chose to sing English and Filipino-composed songs in our meetings, it was always pleasant to hear a livelier and more spontaneous congregational singing of 'Dakila ang Diyos' (Jose Arceo) and 'Makulay ang Buhay Kay Kristo' (Liwayway Arceo) than 'Praise Him! Praise Him!' or 'Come Thou Almighty King.' The reason lies in the distinctly Filipino melodies of the first two songs. The people can easily follow and sing along almost instantaneously.
The use of drama as a worship or instructional medium is as potent as it is popular. Millions of Filipinos have their ears tuned in to radio soap operas from nine o'clock in the morning to ten o'clock in the evening every day. Those who
have television sets, the six-to-nine evening slots have the biggest following. Flor de Luna and Kahapon appear still to be the favorites of many. These dramas are viewed and listened to not only because they entertain but also for the "lessons" they teach. The aptness of drama as a liturgical device lies in the moralistic bent of the Filipinos. We recognize truth intuitively in concrete situations, though they may be just make-believe.
Drama as art form was a possession of the religions before it ever became the property of the entertainment world. Peoples of the antiquities such as the Greeks and the Hindus used drama in their worship. So did the pre-Spanish Filipinos according to the accounts of the early Spanish chroniclers. The miracle and mystery plays were an intrinsic part of the Roman Catholic services in the Middle Ages until they were pushed out to the streets and on to the stage. Thus, when drama is suggested as an option for liturgical usage, it is simply putting it back where it belongs.
Certain events in our annual cycle lend themselves to dramatic presentations, although a regular liturgical drama as part of our Sunday services would be a welcome development. Obvious 'dramatizable' occasions are Christmas and the Lenten Week. We may add to these the All Souls' Day celebration in November and the end of the harvest season.
The indigenous caroling called panunuluyan or pananawagan which dramatizes the journey and the search for a shelter by Joseph and Mary presents vividly the biblical story of Christmas, turning the whole town or barrio into the stage in the process by the use of music, monologue, dialogue and dance. It entertains and instructs, inspires and teaches. It is noteworthy that some drama groups in Metro Manila have revived this type of dramatic form. Consider, for example, Panunuluyan staged by PETA.
It is a pity that many evangelical churches have made the Lenten season as barren and sterile as any week could be. Except for the traditional and patience-stretching Seven Sayings celebration on Good Friday and the refreshing
Sunrise Service on Sunday, The Holy Week is spent by a good many Christians in evangelistic or discipleship camps. Not that there is anything wrong with these camps or retreats in themselves, but somehow they appear to distract us from one of the momentous events in Christendom. For instance, how many churches celebrate Palm Sunday to commemorate the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem before His death? How many children look forward to the procession of palms even just in their Sunday school classes and understand its meaning in the light of the cross? That some people made a fetish out of the procession should not prevent us from using it to celebrate the occasion. After all, the event is recorded in the Scripture and is worth commemorating : it reminds us that Jesus Christ is King of the Universe.
Why is it not possible, for instance, for the local church to hold a series of meetings all throughout the Lenten week to present in various art forms the last sayings of Jesus Christ? What stops a church from dramatizing the last days of Jesus in the form of a senakulo ?
The All Saints' Day or the Feast of the Dead stands as a challenge to the Christian church. What can we meaningfully contribute to this celebration beyond littering the graveyard with tracts? (The sorrowful will not take the time to read them.) Or the Halloween party of the young people? How can the community of God show that death is not the end of life? That the destiny of man is determined by his choice while still alive? Would it be possible to present a play among the tombs to bring hope to the grieving?
It will also be equally relevant for Christians to celebrate a harvest feast rather than the November 25th Thanksgiving Day of roasted turkeys. The latter is an American tradition fraught with meaning to the American people because of its historical significance in their country (regarding their earliest settlers). This is not so for us. However, the harvest season is real and meaningful. When it comes, it is always a time of counting blessings, a season of rejoicing and thanksgiving, an opportunity to reflect and make resolutions.
To offer a ritual of praise will strengthen the faith of Christians and serve as witness to non-believing friends. This celebration may assume different names in different communities. In fishing villages, we may celebrate a Fisherman's Day. Or in urban areas, a Worker's Thanksgiving Feast.
This challenge to adapt our art forms to our liturgies is set forth to widen the exercise of our Christian faith to include the whole society of the Filipino people. For too long we seem to be restricting our witness to a minor and dim-lit corner of our community. Despite our boast of being yeast and leaven in the world, we are standing apart and refusing to permeate the place where we are with robust, living faith in Jesus Christ. Like Doña Victorina, a snobbish social-climber in Rizal's Noli Me Tangere, Christians try to create an aura of distinction based on superficial "do's" and "don'ts" without understanding why we do and why we don't.
Nor have we exhausted all the possibilities. Filipinos, in general, are innately imaginative, creative and adventurous. It is up to us to discover the many ways. Basically, I believe, we love our art, our culture, our people and our country. Deep within, Christians would like to be as Filipino as possible and deeply committed Christians as well. However, we need to be aware that the Christian faith came to us with many cultural trappings which up to this day we are still carrying. We look and behave like aliens in our own land. These trappings have to be set down and carefully examined. Our baggage of liturgies certainly has much we can do away with. We have a creativity that is uniquely ours, and the source of this beauty and art is Jesus Christ Himself, the Creator of all that is pleasing, artistic and beautiful. Let us then show forth His beauty. The time has come to look into the beauty and art that is within the Filipino soul.
Filipino Values and our Christian Faith
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