Mythology and Theodicy in the Visayas

My son is taking a class “Mythology and Folklore” at his university here in the Philippines. They have been studying some creation stories here in the Philippines. Some are etiological, while some are more entertaining. One struck me especially. It is “Tungkung Langit and Alunsina”… a creation story from Panay Island.

A number of Philippine Stories can be found at Visayan Mythologies

I am using the story from the blogsite:

Once upon a time when the earth was but a shapeless, formless void appeared the god called Tungkung Langit (“ Pillar of Heaven”) and the virgin goddess of the eastern skies, Alunsina (“ The Unmarried One”).
The old Visayan folklore states that Tungkung Langit fell in love with Alunsina. After he had courted her for many years, they married and made their home in the highest part of heaven. There the water was always warm and the breeze was forever cool, not a bad weather was in sight, and the couple was happy. In this place in the heavens, order and regularity began.

Tungkung Langit was a loving, hard-working god. He wanted to impose order over the confused world. He decided to arrange the world so that the heavenly bodies would move regularly. On the other hand, Alunsina was a lazy, jealous, selfish goddess. She sat at the window of their home all day doing nothing but brush her long beautiful hair. Sometimes she would leave her home, sit down by a pool near the door, and comb her long, jet-black hair all day long. One day Tungkung Langit told his wife that he would be away for some time. He said he must make time go on smoothly and arrange everything in the world and did not return for a long time. Alunsina thought he was off to see a lover, so she summoned the breeze to spy on Tungkung Langit. Tungkung Langit caught the spying breeze and he became very angry with Alunsina. After he returned home, he told her that it was ungodly of her to be jealous since there were no other gods in the world except the two of them.
Alunsina resented this reproach, and they quarreled all day. In his anger, Tungkung Langit drove his wife away. And with that, Alunsina suddenly disappeared, without a word or a trace to where she went. A few days passed, Tungkung Langit felt very lonely and longed for his wife. He realized that he should not have lost his temper. But it was too late, Alunsina is gone.  Their home which was once vibrant with Alunsina’s sweet voice, his home became cold and desolate. In the morning when he woke up, he would find himself alone. In the afternoon when he came home, he would feel loneliness creeping deep within him.

For months Tungkung Langit lived in utter desolation. Try as he did he could not find Alunsina. And so in his desperation, he decided to do something to forget his sorrow and win back his wife’s favor. So he came down to earth and planted trees and flowers that she may notice it, but she still didn’t come home. Then in desperation, he took his wife’s jewels and scattered them in the sky. He hoped that when Alunsina should see them she might be induced to return home.
Alunsina’s necklace became the stars, her comb the moon, and her crown the sun. But in spite of all his efforts, Alunsina did not return home. Until now, as the story goes, Tungkung Langit lives alone in his palace in the skies and sometimes, he would cry out for Alunsina and his tears would fall down upon the earth as rain and his loud voice, calling out for his wife, was believed to be the thunder during storms, begging for her to come back to their heavenly palace once more.

To me this is a great story from the aspect of theodicy. How does one deal with the concept of a benevolent Creator designing a world of suffering? One option is to get rid of the Creator… but, frankly, the world sure appears to have evidence of design in it. Even many of those who have gotten used to describing cosmogeny and history in terms of accident and natural (predictable) processes seem to drift into thinking of these processes as having a certain planned efficiency to them. Another option is Dualism where the world has two competing powers in conflict. It is hard, however, to reconcile the seeming orderliness of the world with such a chaotic formation and maintenance of the Universe.  So if we accept a single Designer, must we assume such a creator as being weak or somewhat evil?

The World, in the above myth, was created by Tungkung Langit, a single god of order. Although there is a female godess here… the godess is not part of the creation (either positively or negatively) but rather the motivation for creation.

The Visayan Creation described is an act of love and sorrow, of loss and of hope. The world we live in has order, beauty, and suffering. The suffering, however, is not without hope.

To me, the Creation story in the Bible is highly etiological. It’s primary role is in telling us why we live in the world we live in, and who we are with respect to each other, creation, and our Creator. It also explains why there is suffering in the world. However, there is still somewhat lacking. After all, if God is omniscient, all-powerful, and all-righteous, the whole mess should seemingly have been fixed before it started. For me, the Creation story in the Bible is not fully satisfying until one ties in the story of the Cross. Once we bring this story in, we find that God did not simply create a world with suffering, but God is one who suffers with us. But that suffering is not meaningless… but motivated by love and directed towards hope.

“Tungkung Langit and Alunsina” reminds us of the truth we learn from the Gospels. Suffering and loss are not what what distances us from God but what draws God close to us. Suffering and loss, love and hope, are brought together in the Cross.

The Supreme Parable

Lesslie Newbigin

Quote of Lesslie Newbigin.  “The Open Secret,” chapter 4:

The supreme parable, the supreme deed by which the reign of God is both revealed and hidden, is the cross. When Israel rejected Jesus’ call to repent and believe the good news of the reign of God, there were two roads which (humanly speaking) he might have taken. One would have been to withdraw with his disciples to the desert and there, like the contemporary communities of which we know from the Qumran documents, pray and wait for God’s action to establish his reign. The other would have been to take the way of the contemporary “freedom fighters” and seek to establish the messianic order by force. Jesus did neither. He led his disciples right into the Holy City at the season dedicated to the memory of national liberation. He chose a mount, however, that suggested a humble royalty, a kingly meekness. He challenged the leaders of the nation at the very center of their power, and he accepted in his self the full onslaught of the powers that refuse the reign of God. Here is the supreme parable: the reign of God hidden and manifest in the dying of a condemned and excommunicated man; the fullness of God’s blessing bestowed in the accursed death of the cross. 

I believe this parable applies to Christians today as well.

1.  Some love the HAWK form of Christianity. Triumphalistic, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” Spiritual warfare and Power Encounter as primary tools of ministry. The zealots/sicarii of the 1st century are alive and well.Some appreciate real weapons of war. Others may not use weapons but maintain the attitude of war.

2.  Some choose the DOVE approach of Christianity. For me, this is the radical separatism of some. The focus is on purity and perfection. The Essenes of teh 1st century are also alive and well with groups today that fear the surrounding culture and pull back to a defensive position.

Both of these are “anti-culture.” (3.) One might suggest that the Herodians of the 1st century are alive and well. Although we don’t know much about them, we may assume that they were cultural accommodationists…letting politicians and political movements greatly influence their own form of faith. (4.) Some might argue the Sadducees as being a bit similar in practice… pragmatists first, people of faith second. Generally, I think most Christians in the countries I have spent time in are accommodationists and pragmatists… although Hawk and Doves have their place (especialy in the US).

Jesus should be a challenge to all four groups. Challenging culture, but not anti-cultural. Subversive but non-violent. Pure but culturally interacting.

Later in the same chapter:

‘In what way has Jesus brought the reign of God near?’ Negatively I have said it has not been done by the introduction into history of a power which is manifest to the natural perception of men and women and which will therefore progressively overcome and eliminate the powers which oppose it. Positively I have said that the coming of Jesus has introduced into history an event in which the reign of God is made known under the form of weakness and foolishness to those to whom God has chosen to make it known, and that it is made known to them so it may be proclaimed to all.

Missions would do well to follow Jesus not these other popular models.



No More Changes?

pousson4I like this image. It is based on Ralph Winter’s Waves of modern Protestant Missions. I think it has a certain amount of relevance. But this particular version I found online has something I must take issue with. It is the timeframe for People Groups. The time is “1934 to Mt. 24:14″.

I have no problem with the approximate start of the “wave,” but I have to question the end. The verse says

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  -Matthew 24:14

So by putting it as the end date suggests that nothing is going to change between now and the end. There seems to be no reason to think that is true (theologically or observationally). And when one teaches and acts as if it is the “final stage” one tends to reject needed change or even research into possible changes as situations change.

I have met people who use the argument that Jesus is the same “Yesterday, Today, and Forever” as argument for not learning, changing, and growing. But behaviorally, within history, God changes a LOT. Culture changes a LOT. So missions needs to change CONTINUOUSLY.

I will leave it to others to read the future (I can barely read the now), but I would suggest the next wave will be (or is) GUCs. This stands for GREAT URBAN CENTERS. It is a geographical targeting but different from both from Coastlands focus and Inlands focus. It would also be cultural (since GUCs have certain cultural commonalities) but would be considerably different from UPG or people group focus. Great Urban Centers have their own unique sense of both identity and diversity. The methods will be (and are) greatly different from what has been utilized commonly in the first three waves. Of course, waves don’t die out. We still reach the coastlands. We still reach the inlands. We still recognize and work targeting people groups. But GUCs may be the new center of focus that must be identified and valued.

The following is proposed… but others may disagree. Something to think about.

pousson VARIATIONOh, and by the way. I know some from the geographic waves may have grabbed hold of Acts 1:8 to suggest that Christ returns when the gospel reaches the “ends of the earth.” And I still hear people thinking they can speed up God by (loosely based on Matt. 24:14) reaching “all people groups.” I hope that no one will find some verse in the Bible to suggest that reaching every GUC will result in Christ returning sooner. If by doing something, specific we could speed up Christ’s return, then we best not do it. Because we have a lot more to do. We are servants who haven’t been very faithful in keeping the house of the master clean and organized.

God’s timing is God’s timing. Our job is to be active, vigilant, and faithful.

Why Not Begin with Babel?

Originally posted on jacksonwu:

What if evangelistic presentations began with Babel? Or, what if they at least were framed by the Babel story? This post explores these two questions.

BebelPreviously, I examined common problems that emerge when we start with the Adam story (Part 1, Part 2). I also suggested another way one could start with Adam and Eve without succumbing to individualism or running into a number of apologetic questions.

Today, I offer an example whereby we can start with the group rather than the individual, i.e. the nations rather than Adam as an individual.

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Some More Thinking Inside the Box. Part 3

3.  Limitations inspire creativity.

I think, commonly, when people speak of “thinking outside the box,”  they really mean the ability to think creatively despite the limitations. So, there is not really a disagreement between “thinking outside of the box” and “thinking inside the box.” However, the point here is that creativity comes from focusing on one’s limitations instead of seeking to transcend them without understanding them.

As I have mentioned before… the engineering design trinity is QUALITY, ECONOMY, and SPEED. One can have two out of three but not all three. One standard must be lower than the other two. Economy (cost) and Speed (time) and quality (meeting performance criteria) are constraints… walls in a sense. Creativity lies in the careful balance of meeting the constraints.

We see this especially in the creative arts. Painting is the use of colors on (commonly) canvas. All sorts of creative “tricks” are needed to display three dimensional scenes in 2-dimensional paints. And when one seeks to go beyond that which is thought of as “real” the challenges become even greater. Yet those same limits may actually be assisted in showing the impossible.

In oral media (storytelling) or in written literature, the challenge is equally great. How does one draw people into a story they cannot see and have not experienced. The limitations of the media, however, often can add to the overall story. I collect old-time radio programs. In radio media, the lack of images often enhance rather than detract from the story.

Truthfully, if one had all the time in the world… all of the funding in the world… and all of the space and material resources to create… most of us would create nothing.

Thinking outside of the box requires a firm understanding of the actual limits of the constraints, and appreciation of those constraints, and an understanding how these constraints can be overcome (in some cases) and even utilized at times.

In missions, there are lots of constraints. Rather than thinking outside the box… let’s appreciate the boxes we are in. Once we understand our constraints, we should be open to utilizing them and growing with them and allowing them to inspire our creativity.



Some More Thinking Inside the Box. Part 2

  1. Limitations aid growth.

Maybe the best way to explain this is by example. I preach periodically. It used to be that I really enjoyed being given full freedom in what I am to preach on. I liked choosing my topic. But over time, I learned to appreciate being given a topic. The reason is that the limitations actually make me work and study and grow. When I pick my own topic… I tend to fall into old ruts in the road.

Matrix 7I remember a friend of mine telling a story of an acquaintance of his. This other pastor was asked to speak in a church in a different city. He was given a topic to preach on. However, upon arrival he stated that he could not do the topic he was given. He said that on the bus ride to the city, his sermon was picked up by the wind and blown out of the bus. This pastor took that as “divine guidance” that he should be guided by the Holy Spirit on what to preach on. This sounds really holy… but my friend had his doubts. The sermon this other pastor ended up preaching was on the topic he almost always preaches on, based on a passage he commonly uses. My friends view was that the pastor wasn’t seeking to be guided by God… but seeking to be self-guided and, in fact, be lazy.

One can embrace the limitations and recognize them as part of one’s freedom. I believe I have used this example before… but years ago we had young children and an open backyard. We were afraid to let our children get more than a few feet from us in fear that they would run at full speed into the road. We eventually bought a chain link fence. After this, we could allow our children explore our entire backyard. Now if you think about it, there were limits/boundaries before the fence and after the fence. Before, they were there but poorly defined (from our children’s perspective) and poorly maintained (from our perspective). Therefore, we had to keep a close eye on our children. After the fence was installed… the boundaries were clear to our kids and well-maintained from our perspective. The result was great freedom for our children.

We often grow because we are forced to grow. It is good to embrace the limitations as opportunities.

Some More Thinking Inside the Box. Part 1

I have talked about this before… but it seems to be worthy of more thoughts. Since I have started intentionally listening for the phrase “thinking outside of the box” or the instruction “Think outside the box”,

1. The issue isn’t thinking outside of the box but understanding the difference between real constraints and areas of freedom.

Consider the classic 9 point grid. I have used this before. (Ptr. Bart Dela Cruz used this illustration for an article he wrote for our group. I will use the same basic idea but look at it from a slightly different angle.)

Matrix 1What is the fewest number of lines to hit all of the points?  Here are four possible answers:

Matrix 2Matrix 3Matrix 4Matrix 5So four possible answers to the question are 3, 4, 5, and 1. Which is correct?

It depends on two things: DEFINITIONS and CONSTRAINTS.

DEFINITIONS:  What is a line. The last figure shows a single line. Some would argue that it is not a single line because it is curved. They might argue that a line is straight. They learned that in math class. Of course, there may be more than one definition. An artist is likely to question of limit lines to straight ones. Besides, even if one used a mathematical (and Euclidean) understanding of lines, other problems come up. In math, a line goes in both directions forever and ever and ever. That may not seem to be an issue, but when one gets to constraints… this is important. Line segments have endpoints, lines do not. One can also ask how thick is the line. In math, lines have no thickness… but in the real world they do. If one allows a thick enough line, the entire grid can be covered by one tiny part of a straight line. But we won’t worry about that (or non-Euclidean space and other novelties).

CONSTRAINTS. If one uses straightness as a limiting part of the definition, there is still the question whether the correct answer is 3, 4, or 5. One constraint would be boundary constraints. Is one allowed only to use the space with in the grid, or can one use all space. Another constraint is action constraints. For example, can one lift one’s pen during the action or no? One could also add equipment constraints, such as whether one can use a special pen with two or more marking components or a pen that can turn off and on marking while never leaving the surface of the paper. Once again, won’t concern myself with that here.

mATRIX 6Consider the matrix above. Suppose the leftmost column describes definitions of lines and the top two rows describe combinations of constraints, then the blue and red text describes the possible answers to the question of the least number of lines to hit every point on the grid. The point is not to “think outside of the box” but to understand what genuine limitations one has and what limitations one does not have.

A little game we do in Community Development training. It is tower-building. We give two teams some materials (like string, tape, and straws). and tell them to each build the tallest tower. Sometimes we tell them that they are limited to the materials we give them (external assets). But sometimes we tell them nothing on that issue. Therefore, they are not constrained from using other stuff they can find, like desks, chairs, and the like. The point there is that in one case one is limited by a real constraint (external assets of string, tape, and straws) and sometimes one has no such real constraint. In the latter case, the real constraint is missing and so one has the opportunity to discover which team (or both) constrained by their own self-made limitations. Of course, one could take it further. One team could tape one end of the string to the ceiling of the room and let it dangle to the ground where it is again taped off and call that a tower. In such a case, the definition of what constitutes a tower (free-standing, self-supporting, or not) needs to be addressed.

In other words… the key point is to be able to separate genuine limitations (walls) one must deal with, and limitations that we may place on ourselves but are not inherent to the problem. One must recognize the difference between the real box and the box that we mistakenly create for ourselves.

The next two posts will deal with a couple of other issues regarding the box (limitations). The second post is that limitations help us grow. The third, related somewhat to the second, is that limitations inspire creativity.