A Challenge to Filipinos in the Diaspora
“Scattered and Shared” was the theme of the annual Balikatan (IVCF alumni group from the Philippines in North America) Conference, held at UC Berkeley, CA from July 1-3. One of the speakers was Miriam Adeney, PH.D, author of the book, Kingdom without Border, missiologist, and professor at Seattle Pacific University. Below is an excerpt from her message.
WHAT DO WE BRING?
“One thing Filipinos offer is the massive experience of out migration that has brought opportunities for service. But what more? In what ways are Filipino Christians God’s particular gifts to the church and the world? Our Creator delights in diversity. He creates in colors. He generates smells, from onion to rose. He shapes every fresh snowflake. He births billions of unique personalities. Is it any surprise that he programs us with the capacity to create an amazing kaleidoscope of cultures to enrich His world? God ordained culture. But customs that glorify God are not the only reality that we observe around us. Instead of loveliness, harmonious creativity, and admirable authority, we often see fragmentation, generation gaps, alienation, lust, hate, corruption, selfishness, injustice, laziness, disorder, and violence cultivated by our culture. We are not only created in God’s image. We are also sinners. Because we have cut ourselves off from God, the cultures we create reek with evil. We are called, then, not only to rejoice in the patterns of wisdom, beauty, and kindness in our culture, but also to confront and judge the patterns of idolatry and exploitation. Who is to judge? Indigenous leaders who are immersed in the Word and the Spirit. Outsiders work with and under them.
WHAT ARE THE PATTERNS OF BEAUTY IN PHILIPPINE CULTURE?
When I lived in the Philippines, I saw strong families. Warm hospitality. Lots of time lavished on children. Enduring friendships. A heritage of economic freedom for women. The ability to live graciously on little money. Sauces that extended a small amount of meat to many people. A delight in sharing. Skill in the art of relaxation. Lithe, limber bodies. The ability to enjoy being with a large number of people continuously. Since every good gift is from above (James 1:17) and since all wisdom and knowledge come from Jesus Christ (Col. 2:3), such beautiful qualities in Filipino culture must be seen as gifts of God.
But one cultural pattern caught my attention. During an IVCF staff session on culture, someone asked me, “Why do we Filipinos adapt graciously to our conquerors? And how can we be proud of such a culture?” That led eventually to my Ph.D. dissertation. I studied “action models” in ten narratives, including the novels of Jose Rizal; Nick Joaquin—Portrait of the Artist as Filipino and The Woman Who Had Two Navels; N.V.M Gonzalez—The Bamboo Dancers and Season of Grace; and Carlos Bulosan—The Laughter of My Father and America is in The Heart.. In these stories, I found four recurring “action models” in the face of cultural invasion: the rebel, the victim, the “tuta”; and the balancer. I came to see the last model—DYNAMIC, RESILIENT BALANCING—AS A DISTINCTIVELY FILIPINO EMPHASIS, WITH POTENTIAL TO BLESS THE WORLD. From a historical perspective, given the Philippines’ location at the crossroads of powerful countries, resilient flexibility is an adaptive survival mechanism. It is not a weakness but a strategic response. Wave after wave have washed up on these shores. Successive torrents of Malay, Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Spanish, Americans, and Japanese have arrived. Generally Filipinos have allowed these new forms of life to take root and grow. Yet Philippine culture has not been drowned. Continuity in spite of massive change is evidenced by ongoing values like respect for elders, utang na loob, awareness of the supernatural, skillful speaking, and skillful flexible balancing.
Balancing is rooted in Filipinos’ bilateral kindred, which contrast with Chinese, Arab, or Indian patrilineages, where sons are all important and daughters are married out. In the Philippines you have the opportunity to create new relatives through ninongs every time someone is married and every time a baby is born. But you already start out with 400 relatives because of all the kin and in laws on both sides. This trains you in dynamic, flexible balancing, dancing among relationships. Symbols in the literature are the kawayan, the tikling birds, the tinikling dance and the pandanggo sa ilaw dance. Yet Filipino virtues are not always gracious and polite. My dissertation is titled “Filipino Narrative: A Model for Ethnic Identity balancing Pakikisama and Protest.” Perhaps the most beautiful example of protest was the People’s Revolution of 1986 when Filipinos of all backgrounds called on God and put their bodies on the line to deliver their country.
Reprinted with permission from Balikatan Newsletter (August 2011 issue)