Sunday, March 12, 2006

Intestinal Theology


I. Two Introductory Stories

When I was a young lad of five, there was a poor family in our neighborhood in northern Philippines. Often, the padre de pamilya came to our house to borrow or ask for a chupa of rice, a pinch of salt, a few match sticks, some stalks of kalamunggay leaves, etc. My mother, being a compassionate, caring, and generous, would always share something in response to the need of this poor family. Fortunately, there was always something to share from our house to this poor family.

But one early morning the father came and stood in front of our house. He was very mad--burning with rage. With a bolo tacked on his waist, he told my mother: “Nana, If only I know where God is to be found, I’ll go to him and quarrel with him.” The red face and the fiery look from the man’s eyes are still vividly etched into the screen of my consciousness until now.

One more story. In September of 1990, a former successful student of mine at Silliman University treated me for lunch in a cozy eating place [Mid Town Ramada Hotel]. At that time, he was one of the Pastors at Ellinwood-Malate Church, the biggest UCCP churches in Manila. [Unfortunately, this Pastor died suddenly on December 20, 1990].

After our sumptuous meal, we walked back to the church passing through Pedro Gil Street, which is lined up with cheap Chinese food stalls. On this street, we passed by a man, very filthy, foul-smelling, squatting on the pavement. He was eating something which obviously came from the garbage box nearby. To me, it was a terrible sight. I felt revolted and I could hardly look at the man -- a human being eating something that is fit only for the dogs!

II. Linguistic Analysis and Phenomenology
of Behavior: Methodological Framework

Part of the important theological task in the Philippines is to articulate theology with the use of Filipino language, cultural, and idioms. This is an integral part of our struggle for human liberation. Giving importance to our historical experience, culture and language, is becoming more and more a must for Filipino theological articulators. It is through the promotion and utilization of our language that we could shape and develop the emerging Filipino consciousness. I am convinced that as long as we continue to make use solely of the English language in our theological articulation, we would continue to be under the skirt of Western colonialism and forever be chained to a colonial consciousness.

Allow me to present a graphic scheme on how Filipino consciousness, or any nationality for that matter, is shaped through the reflection on our historical experience and the use of our Filipino language. Here we will realize how rich, how distinct, how vivid and colorful is the Filipino language and idiomatic expressions. Our language and consciousness are potent tools in the shaping and the transforming of our society. [See the illustration below]

In reflecting on our historical experience, we are able to form our consciousness/ thought/understanding [ISIP]. Inherent in our being human is the need to communicate our thought through language [USAP]. The more we communicate through our native language, our feeling [DAMA] becomes intensified, deepened, sharpened. And because of deepened feeling and willing, we can actualize or put into practice some things [GAWA]. Individual as well as collective actions of people lead to a deeper and continuous reflection. Thus the process is repeated on an on, until our consciousness or awareness about realities around us become more intense. I submit that this frame-work of analysis [developed and articulated in Filipino language] could enhance our doing of theology in an authentic Asian way.




Experience, Language, and Filipino Thought
Toward a Meaningful Life

Doing theology the Asian way must take seriously the whole gamut and matrix of life--human and other forms of life. Central to the matrix of life, the continuance and sustenance of life, is food. The availability of food, or lack of it, becomes crucial, central challenge for the church in its theological and missiological witness throughout all of Asia. Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church as well as of history, is not only the “life of the world” [Jn. 14:6] but is the bread of life which comes from heaven [and] anyone who eats this bread lives forever...” [Jn. 6:48-51].

The Gospel of John was written for the purpose that people may believe that Jesus Christ “is the Son of the living God, and that believing [they] may have life in his name” [Jn. 20:31].

In the original Greek language, there are three words used which refer to life: BIOS, PSUCHE, and ZOE. In my simple under-standing, these words could be used to describe the three levels or dimensions of life. Our present situation indicates that the life of the vast majority of peoples in Asia is in the precarious bios-dimension. This means to say that human life has been dehumanized and demeaned to the level of beastly existence. This level of life that is barely surviving or subsisting, which the Filipino idiomatic expression describes as isang kahig, isang tuka existence. Literally, like a hen scratching the ground: each scratch is followed by a pick. It is that kind of life lived by the man we saw squatting in the pavement of Pedro Gil Street in Malate, Manila. That man embodies a beastly existence. And he represents countless people, including innocent children and aging adults in Asia, subsisting and eating food fit only for the pigs!

Human life in our time is characterized by “the cycle of production==> consumption ==>competition==>exploitation==>domination syndrome. It is a kind of life that has been reduced to a beastly existence. Human life particularly in the bios-dimension is threatened by an insidious and pervasive philosophy. It is a philosophy which advocates the notion that without the requisite conditions, life is not accorded with sanctity and infinite worth that God intends human life to be. Because of this, it becomes so easy to “salvage” [extra-judicial killing] or murder a person because of political and ideological convenience. In like manner, it is so easy to abort the fruit of an ill-timed intimate relationship between a man and a woman because it is devoid of commitment and responsibility.

Let us look at the second level of life, the psuche-dimension. Psuche is the root of the word “psychology” or “psyche”. In all the three Synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark and Luke], almost every reference to life is psuche. For instance, “Whoever wants to save her/his psuche, will lose it, whoever losses her/his psuche for me and for the Gospel will save it. What good is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit her/his psuche”[Mk. 8:35-36]. Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your psuche, what you will eat or drink, ... I not psuche more than food?” [Mt. 6:25; Lk. 12:22f.]

From the perspective of the Synoptic Gospels, the psuche-dimension of life transcends the mere survival or subsistent level of life. Therefore, it is more advanced than the bios-dimension. It is a dimension of life that aspires to realize or satisfy what Abraham Maslow calls “the hierarchy of needs”. Nevertheless, it is a dimen-sion of life is still full of worries and anxieties. It worries not only about basic necessities such as food, clothing shelter; it also concerns itself with socio-economic, political and psychological satisfaction.

It is very clear that the psuche-dimension of life revolves around the preservation of self-interests, selfish aspirations, and the actualization of one’s egoistic agenda. It is pre-occupied with how one could out-shine, out-smart, and out-maneuver our fellow human beings. Because of this, there is always a deep-seated desire to equal if not surpass others. That is why isip talangka [“crab mentality”] dominates our personal and social relationship.

And because of the limitations of what we can do, many a time we could not accomplish what we want to accomplish; we cannot actualize most of our intentions. Thus, worries and anxieties beset our life. We are faced with complex and complicated problems such as lack of finances, physical and psychological handicaps, lack of health, etc. Thus we become not only helpless but hopeless. This is the psuche-dimension of life with all its stark realities and problems which all of us share and experience. It is the dimension of life that is often vulnerable, violated and victimized.

According to the Synoptic Gospels, life in the psuche-dimension is not capable of fully realizing and fulfilling the higher longings and aspirations of life. Therefore, the third dimension of life is necessary. This is the zoe-dimension. This is the dimension that is spoken in the Gospel of John. It is the life that is definitely in accordance and consistent with the will of God. It is a spirit-filled life because it is a life submitted to the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is a purposeful and meaningful life. This is the life promised, offered, demonstrated and exemplified by Jesus here on earth. In other words, it is the life eternal; the life that became, and still is, the light of the world [Jn. 1:4].

The zoe-dimension of life is God’s free gift through Jesus Christ. But we can claim this gift only through our firm faith in God. Acceptance of this free gift of life enables us to offer ourselves in steadfast commitment to serve God, and seek the welfare of our fellow human beings and the rest of God’s creation. This means sharing in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ through the Church, which is the “body of Christ.” “For the bread of God is that which... gives life to the world” [Jn. 6:33].

III. Towards an Intestinal Theology:
Sharing in the Body of Christ.

n the New Testament, the central concept or image of the Church is that of the “body of Christ.” Picturing the Church as the body of Christ is really significant especially in the thinking and under-standing of the Filipinos. Filipino language and consciousness is definitely more dynamic, concrete and picturesque if compared with western thought. And most of our key concepts are connected or intertwined with the parts of the human body. For instance, a person who is without shame is makapal ang mukha [‘thick-faced”]. In western thought, the concept of brotherhood/ sisterhood is somewhat abstract. But in the Filipino language, the words kapatid/igsoon/kabsat [Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, respec-tively for brother/sister] connote a concrete relational meaning. Literally, a brother or a sister is “cut- off from my intestine.” In other words, brothers and sisters came from the same intestine; they have one and the same intestine. Therefore, it follows that they have a very strong linkage, or connection, or relationship. Our being a relative with one another is defined or determined by the fact that we have only one bituka/tinai/bagis [Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, respectively for intestine].

Based on our linguistic analysis, therefore, it appears that the most central and vital part of the body, as far as the Filipino is concerned, is the intestine. It is not the heart. This is the reason why when one is wounded or cut, we would say: “Huwag kang mag-alala, malayo yan sa bituka!” [“Don’t you worry; it’s far from the intestine!”]. So the concept of sisterhood/brotherhood among the Filipinos could really be solid and strong. There is really a strong relationship and camaraderie among Filipinos because they share the same bituka or intestine.

That is why for us it is important that the Church is the body of Christ; as members of the Church, we are magkakapatid [of one intestine] in Christ. Therefore, more than the incarnational theology which we strongly affirm, we must also develop and promote an “intestinal theology”!

One simple yet profound truth in the life of magkakapatid [brothers/sisters] is the quality of food they put into their intestines. What kind of food they eat? Food and the intestine are always intertwined in a person’s life in order to survive. This new theology--nutritional/intestinal theology--is backed up with a philosophical dictum: “Comido ergo sum” “I eat, therefore, I am.” This dictum presupposes the fundamental fact that the quality of food we eat determines, to a great extent, the quality of our human existence. In this light, it is amazing to remember that during the 1986 “Snap Presidential Election” in the Philippines, one of the issues that tilted the victory of Mrs. Corazon Aquino over Mr. Ferdinand Marcos was the lowly galunggong, the fish that is always in the table of poor Filipinos because it is the only one they could afford.

In 1990, a book entitled Lasa: A Guide to Eating Out in the Provinces was published. This book argues that “food is the most concrete definition of what or who the Filipino is.” In a culture known for its pakiramdaman [sensing the feelings of others] rather than direct confrontation, it is “only through food that the Filipino expresses her/his deepest feelings, longings and even prejudices.” This is the central thesis of the said book. And going through this book enables one to taste “the morsels of Filipino character.” There are three significant insights from the book. First, the Filipino eats almost anything: dog meat, frogs, beetles, crocodiles, snakes, etc. Second, temporal routine determines the Filipino dietary habit. Thus, eating time is agahan [breakfast], tanghalian [lunch], and hapunan [supper]. Thirdly, food, like the Filipino moral behavior, is very flexible or adjustable. The Filipino eats, and acts, depending on the situation. The Filipino’s manner of food consumption depends on the circumstances: in times of abundant harvest, there is feast; but in times of suffering or famine, the Filipino learns to eat austerely.

Nonetheless, eating together or table fellowship is a very significant value and practice among Filipinos. This is the indication of an intimate and close relationship. This is the reason why when a friend visits another friend’s house, the usual and immediate question asked by the host is not “How are you doing?” but “Have you eaten already?” There is also a practice of padigo among Filipinos that is sharing a bowl of viand or special menu with the next-door neighbor. Again, this is an indication of a close and wholesome and intimate relationship. This practice of padigo is a symbolic act of connecting one’s intestine with that of the neighbor.

One of the most moving and intriguing stories in the Old Testament is how Esau was cheated by Jacob twice over. First, he was forced to sell his birthright to Jacob with a bowl of pottage [Gen. 25:28-33]. Second, Esau was further cheated by his brother when the final blessing of their dying father was stolen by Jacob [Gen. 27:1-45].

Central to both stories is the importance of food. Also, there was the all too human reality of someone taking advantage of the weakness of another. What is most pathetic is the use of deceit against an old, weak and dying father. What seems to be un-justifiable is the manipulative scheme perpetuated by a mother against her dying husband and against her eldest son just to gain favor for her favorite son! I could not imagine how feminist hermeneutics would deal with this text. Nevertheless, this was accomplished through the preparation of a very savory dish to satisfy the final wish of the dying and almost blind father [Gen. 27:1-45].

In the New Testament, eating together or table fellowship is seen as crucially significant in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Before he face his death, Jesus expressed his earnest longing to eat with his disciples [Lk. 22:15-16]. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus risked his reputation and integrity by eating and drinking with sinners. Because of this, he was accused of being a glutton by his enemies [Matt. 11:19].

In the feeding of the five thousand which was recorded by the three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus insisted: “You give them food to eat” against the disciples’ suggestion to send the crowd away at day’s end [Matt 14:16; Mk 6:23; Lk 9:13]. In the post-resurrection appearances, Jesus revealed his power and purpose in the context of table fellowship or eating together with his disciples. For instance, the two disciples whom Jesus joined in the journey to Emmaus recognized him only when Jesus “broke the bread, blessed it and gave it to them” [Lk 24: 28-31]. Jesus’ third appearance by the lake of Tiberias was through his invitation to the disciples to eat breakfast with him [Jn 21:12-14]. Shortly after their breakfast, Jesus singled out Peter, spoke to him three times, and gave to him his parting mandate “to feed my sheep” [Jn 21: 15-17].

When the early Church started to expand beyond the narrow ethnocentric perspective, it was the same old Peter who was first transformed, almost against his will, into having a much broader outlook. While he was praying at noontime, he became hungry and desired something to eat. He saw a vision of heaven being opened and of a “great sheet” let down from heaven containing “all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.” A voice commanded him to “kill and eat” but Peter refused. He said, “I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” But a voice from heaven was heard three times: “What God has cleansed you must not consider unclean.” [Acts 10: 9-15].

These selected Scriptural references directly and definitely provide an explicit affirmation that food plays a central and vital part in the whole drama of God’s redeeming purpose and action in the life of God’s people. Food is one important element in the trinity that makes human life meaningful and worth living. The other two are freedom and faith.

VI. Concluding Statement

Let us go back to the first story in the introduction. The raging anger of that poor father in Pangasinan happened because of the lack of food in his house. He could not feed his hungry and crying children. “If only I know where God is, I will go and find him and quarrel with him!” These could be uttered only by a person who experienced a great want: want not only of food but also of hope.

From the perspective of a five-year-old lad, nurtured as I was in the bosom of a God-fearing, neighbor-caring and not-so-poor Protestant family, those words were really shocking to me. They were blasphemous words. If only I could protect and defend God from that malevolent man! What a thought raging in the mind of a five-year-old lad!

In retrospect, however, the vivid image and the words of that angry man were the first shattering yet profound theological reality I ever encountered. For more than forty years since that incident, and with the help of an insight into the psychology of human suffering as well as the Gospels’ preferential option for the poor, I can now see that the poor man’s outburst was a primordial datum in my understanding of a genuine struggle and spirituality. In fact, that incident is among the significant revelatory events in my life as a pastor and theology professor.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread which comes from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, that one will live forever; the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” [Jn 6: 51]. We who are members of the Church are part of the body of Christ. Our intestines are intertwined in Christ because the food we eat and partake in is the one body of Christ. Therefore, we have a distinct pagkakapatiran [sisterhood/brotherhood] and a strong solidarity with one another. We celebrate our oneness in the sharing of the one body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. This is the central symbol and mystery of our Christian faith. Also the most prominent symbol of God’s reign in the teaching of Jesus Christ is that of the continuing banquet and feast where people are eating together, having table fellowship in total harmony and unity [Matt 22: 1-10; Lk 14: 15-24].

Is this not the realization and fulfillment of our aspirations for peace and justice and freedom and equality among men and women, of all races and socio-economic, political and cultural situations?

Questions For Group Discussion

1. What would be your reaction to a person who is intensely angry at God and wishes to quarrel with God? How could anger with God be a “primordial datum in understanding genuine spirituality” or a “significant revelatory event in one’s life”? Are there any parallel incidents recorded in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Psalms or among the prophets?

2. Do you agree with the model of a dynamic process of consciousness that is formulated by the author? Explain how this model be applied to your group, organization or church.

3. Kung ang wikang Ingles, ayon kay Isagani Cruz, “ay balakid sa pag-unlad ng literaturang Pilipino” dahil ito’y nagdadala ng mapanlinlang na kamalayan ng kolonyal na kahapon,” totoo din ba na ang patuloy na paggamit ng wikang ito ay balakid din sa pag-unlad ng teolohiya at simbahang Pilipino?

4. Is it clear in our mind as church workers, the “Wholisdtic View of Reality” and can we relate this to our programs in the organizations of our church? Regarding the five elements of a wholistic view of reality, where could your church organization contribute more? Explain.

5. Explain the three levels of life: bios, psuche, zoe. Do we really need a clear understanding of these levels in order to be effective in our preaching and teachiung ministry?

6. An important element in the formulation of a Filipino theology is the methodology of social sciences particularly of “linguistic analysis” and “phenomenology of behavior.” Relate these methodologies to the importance of food and intestine in the Filipino culture.

7. Totoo nga bang bukod-tangi sa kulturang Pilipino ang pagkain at pakikisalo sa kapwa. Ano ang implikasyon nito sa misyon at gawain ng simbahan?

8. Is there enough biblical bases in formulating a “theology of intestine and food”? What are your suggestions in order to strengthen the biblico-theological bases of this paper?

9. Ang mukha ng karukhaan, pakikipagsapalaran, at “pananangis ng huling tao sa daigdig,” ayon kay Cirilo Bautista, ay tataw at tugma sa karanasan ng nakararaming Pilipino. Ano naman ang akmang tugon ng ating simbahan bilang isang maka-propetang organisasyon? Magbigay ng kongretong halimbawa.


1 Isagani R. Cruz, “Teoriya at Wika: Kung Bakit Malabo ang Ingles pero Hindi Dapat Lumabo ang Ating Paningin,” PANTAS: A Journal for Higher Educa-tion, November 1989, p. 11.

2 Ibid., p. 12.

3 Alberto E. Alejo, S.J., TAO PO! TULOY! Isang Landas ng Pag-unawa sa Loob ng Tao. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1990, p. ix.

4 Ibid., p. x.

5 Ibid., p. x.

6 Hinango ko ang pananaw na ito kay Ponciano Bennagen, “Cultural Analysis for Social Transfor-mation,” United Church Letter, XXXII, 1 [1988], pp. 1; 6-9.

7 Ang awiting ito ay katha ni Jose Corazon de Jesus noong 1928, sa panahon ng makabayang pakikibaka laban sa mga Amerikano.

8 Howard I. Towne, “The Impending Ecological Nightmare: Can We Prevent It?” in Riding the Third Wave into the Third Millenium. Ed. By Richard L. Schwenk. Manila: SEED Center, 1991, p. 41-52.

9 Dioscoro L. Umali, “Be The Heroes We Never Were and Live,” in Schwenk, ibid., pp. 27-32.

10 Dennis Arroyo, “Hard Times Ahead for the Economy,” Sunday Inquirer Magazine, 11 November 1990.

11 Edicio de la Torre, “Toward A Just Reconciliation: The Philippines’ Post-Marcos Challenge,” Sojourner Magazine, Aug.-Sept. 1986, pp. 20-24.

12 Jose de Mesa, Kapag Namayani ang Kalooban ng Diyos. Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1990.

13 Tingnan ang aklat ni Padre Leonardo N. Mercado, Elements of Filipino Philosophy. Tacloban: Divine Word Publications, 1974.

14 Doreen G. Fernandez and Edgardo N. Alegre, Lasa: A Guide to Eating Out in the Provinces. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1990.

15 Cirilo F. Bautista, “Ang Pananangis ng Huling Tao sa Daigdig,” Philippine Graphic Magazine, February 11, 1991.


Alejo, Albert E. S.J., TAO PO! TULOY! Isang Landas ng Pag-unawa sa Loob ng Tao. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University, 1991.

Baustista, Cirilo F. “Pananangis ng Huling Tao sa Daigdig,” Philippine Graphic Magazine, February 11, 1991.

Bennagen, Poncinao. “Cultural Analysis for Social Transformation,” United Church Letter, XXXII, [1988].

Cruz, Isagani R. “Teoriya at Wika: Kung Bakit Malabo Ang Ingles Pero Hindi Dapat Malabo Ang Ating Paningin,” PANTAS: A Journal of Higher Education, Vol. III, No. 1 [November 1989].

De Mesa, Jose. Kapag Namayani Ang Kalooban Ng Diyos. Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1990.

Fernandez, Doreen & Alegre, Edgardo N. LASA: A Guide to Eating Out in the Provinces. Manila: National Book Store, 1990.

Schwenck, Robert L. Riding the Third Wave into the Third Millenium. Manila: Philippine Christian University SEED Center, 1991.

Torre, Edicio dela. “Toward A Just Reconciliation: The Philippines’ Post-Marcos Challenge,” Sojourner Magazine, September 1986.


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