Friday, December 10, 2010

The Asian Journals Of Bishop Dan: Part 9

It was a sad parting in Santiago. As much as I’ll be glad to be home, it was hard to say goodbye to new friends – both human and terrestrial. I’m going to miss white cranes lifting and lowering their wings slowly as they fly just a few feet above the green rice plants while water buffalo wade through the fields.

I boarded a small plan to Manila. The only thing eventful about the flight was the flight attendants’ delight that I was reading Noli Me Tangere, the first of two Philippine classic novels by the revolutionary hero, Jose Rizal. The works of Rizal and other Filipino writers were banned until the 1970’s along with patriotic Philippine folk songs, but the children all learned the words and music to “America the Beautiful.”

The adventure began when I got to Manila. Someone from the National Church Office met me at the airport and dropped me off at my hotel at 1 p.m. with the intention of picking me up later, at a time TBA, for dinner with the Prime Bishop and National Church Office staff. But the hotel said I was too early. So I left my bags and ventured forth a-foraging. I lunched at the Tree House, an open air restaurant serving barbecued chicken. As I waited in that decidedly tropical ambience, the radio played “Walking In A Winter Wonderland.” The next song was an excellent cover of the R&B classic “Just My Imagination.” Manila is by the way totally decked out for Christmas in ways I cannot begin to express. One example is along one downtown street there is a 30 foot structure that is a cross between a Christmas tree and a pagoda, with large snowflake shapes of white lights along its sides. Pertinent to my story, crèches are everywhere, absolutely everywhere, some rustic, some bedazzled.

While waiting for my room to be ready, I also stopped off for a ventoso style massage. Best massage I have ever had!!! It was a spiritual experience. I was in one mellow mood when I got back to the upscale hotel. Then they told me I had no reservation and the hotel was full. Homeless. No phone. No phone number. Nada. What to do? I needed a drink – of coffee – my drug of choice, so I went to Starbucks. A little caffeine settled my nerves. I reasoned that eventually they would have to come looking for me, maybe send the police. And the place they would start looking is the last place I had been seen – the upscale hotel. So I went back there and hung out for several hours. It was a Joseph and Mary moment – no room in the inn – but at least I wasn’t in labor. I commended myself a bit for remaining as calm as I was about the whole situation, but then I thought Joseph and Mary probably weren’t too calm. Faith isn’t always calm. It’s more about God being faithful whether we are calm or frantic. God is there with us regardless of our mood. That’s why all the crèches in Manila pertain to today.

Eventually, the mortified National Church staff showed up and took me downtown to a less upscale but more my style kind of hotel. I’m on the 9th floor over a busy downtown street with lots of honking and whistling down below. Reminds of seminary days in New York.

Hunger had become a factor and the dinner with the PB and staff was canceled due to my MIA status. I’m having breakfast with the PB instead. So I went looking for more food. I found a Korean restaurant and to my naïve surprise discovered that not only the servers but the clientele were all Koreans. The cooks however were young Filipinos. Not sure what to make of that. I ordered something I didn’t really recognize but felt daring, until I realized that there were no forks. I had not seen a single chop stick in the Philippines. They don’t use chop sticks in Santiago. But here it was all chop sticks and I have used them in years, never was proficient.

Whenever I was sure no one was looking, I speared the food. Occasionally the food landed on my sleeve and I would discreetly wipe my face and snag the food with my tongue as it went by. Little by little, by hook or by crook, I ate most of it, even the rice. The music in the Korean Restaurant – Ann Murray “Just one touch and then it happens . . . .;” Abba “Dancing Queen” just what we were listening to while driving North, also the Eagles “Hotel California” and John Denver “You Fill Up My Senses.”

So when I fly away tomorrow, what will I bring back with me? It may take awhile to answer that. Certainly a different impression of how they do church here and a lot of inspiration and ideas for how we might do church better. (This really is role reversal from the old missionary days. We can learn more from Santiago on most points. There are a couple of things we have more experience at and can share.) There is some possibility, just a faint glimmer of a possibility, of some funding from her to help us get started with an Asian ministries outreach like we started Latino ministries last year. Bishop Alex is working on it for us. We need this decidedly Christian country to support some missionary work in our not so Christian land.

I have a new Philippine vest I intend to wear with my purple clergy shirt, so Asian people in Nevada will see it and think “What is that white bishop doing wearing a Philippine vest, here in Nevada of all places?” They will ask me about it and I will tell them about Asian ministries in Nevada. I will explain the Episcopal Church and say “It isn’t just for Igarot anymore. We have thriving Ilocano congregations in Santiago where we just ordained a non-Cordilleran” – this will all make sense to them if they are Filipino – “and,” I will continue, “there are growing Tagalog congregations in Manila and we are in full communion with the Philippine Independent Church. Our priests and their priests go to the same seminary, you know.” In other words, I’m getting ready to do a better job of evangelism to Nevada’s growing Asian population.

Beyond that, there’s the spiritual thing. “Spirit” is not about emotions. It’s about connections -- connecting to each other in God through Christ.” I am more connected now. I have heard dozens of stories that are not in these journals. I have told the people of Santiago stories – stories about our diocese, stories about Nevada, my own personal stories. We have shared life and that is the essence of communion. I feel deeply blessed by my time here and I will return looking for opportunities to share the blessing from this watery world with my fellow desert dwellers. The Deans and I talked of connecting congregations to congregations, ECW’s to ECW’s, joining their diocesan education person, Andrea, to our Parish Educators Google Group. “It does not yet appear what (this) shall be but when (it) appears it will be like him (Christ.)”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Asian Journals Of Bishop Dan: Part 8

My last day in Santiago was dominated by the retreat I facilitated for the clergy and the diocesan staff. My self-review is that parts of it went quite well. The preface on post-colonial theology generated good discussion and report back in the plenary session.

I then did the theoretical presentation for my exercises on psycho-synthesis and bio-spiritual focusing. The response was mixed. Some folks were nodding and definitely engaged if not downright intrigued. Others were bored. The first exercise went ok, but just ok. The second went better and they had great one on one dialogues afterward. By the time we got to the transpersonal self guided meditation, almost everyone seemed deeply engaged. It felt profound. Then the free association of God’s children meditation went quite well and the loving kindness mediation seems worked exceptionally. It was moving when they meditated on the blessing, “May all persons in the Dioceses of Santiago and Nevada be filled with loving kindness. May they be well. May they be peaceful and at ease. May they be happy.” So once we got past the theory, which some liked even that, it went well.

The deans met with me over lunch again and we continued to plan how to build a network between our dioceses. They told me more about how the deaneries work in the Philippines. The deanery is a key unit of church life here and the deans have a substantial role – more so than in Atlanta or Nevada. They really make things happen, like youth ministry. The ECW meets for the deanery and at convention. ECW lives beyond the parish boundaries here more than in Nevada. I learned much and was prodded to do more with what I already know.

There was a wonderful farewell. The clericus gave me a large woven cloth. They also gave me the banner welcoming me to the diocese in Ilocano. There were many mutual expressions of appreciation for each other. I kept promising to return until I realized how much like Douglass MacArthur I sounded. After the retreat, two young adults, Andy Burns (a YASC engineer) and Jocelyn Ittiw (an agricultural engineer doing community development work) interviewed me. Good questions. I over answered them because I enjoyed the young people so much. I want to be them when I am reincarnated.

This has been a fantastic visit. I feel changed by it in ways I cannot describe. I regret having to leave tomorrow though I do enjoy Manila as well and look forward to meeting the Prime Bishop. I am also just exhuasted.

But I fly away laden with loving gifts -- a Philippine vest, wood carvings from Ifugao, a framed ceretificate from the dedication of St. Joseph the Worker, as well as the woven cloth and the banner they gave me today. The generosity of these good people exceeds even thier reputation.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Asian Journals Of Bishop Dan: Part 7

This was tourist day. Bishop Alex, his adult daughter, Maria, and Padi Nancy picked me up just past 8. First a definition of Padi: It means Nancy is a priest. No Padi is not derived from Padre – no etymological connection whatsoever. It is not Spanish, but Ilocano – a Filipino language from the plains area around Santiago. It is a gender neutral title for a priest. Filipinos have the most gender inclusive version of English I’ve ever encountered. They use the masculine and feminine pronouns with total disregard for the gender of the person being discussed. It’s a little confusing to an American, but quite delightful.

As I was saying, before language took me astray, three wonderful people picked me up this morning and drove me up, up, up into the mountain forests. We stopped by one church and then dropped in at another, Padi Nancy’s, St. John’s in the Wilderness, to have coffee. Then on to the Banaue rice terraces, the 8th wonder of the world. Along the mountain sides, they have constructed earthen terraces. Irrigations systems which I cannot get my mind around keep these terraces flooded with water just like rice paddies on the flat lands. So they raise rice on the mountainsides. They are huge. It is an engineering marvel. Now when do you suppose they constructed these rice terraces? The oldest ones are from about 2,000 B.C.E. They were centuries old when God spoke to Moses. And they are still in active production.

I couldn’t see all of them because there was rain and heavy fog. But the rain and fog were pretty amazing to this desert rat. The foggy mountains were mystical and mysterious. The rain was cold and made sitting on Padi Nancy’s porch drinking coffee all the cozier. On the way back down the mountain, we stopped off at the Las Vegas Café. However, there was not a buffet. By the way, I said something amiss in a previous post. I said I had stopped for lunch in Turo Turo. Well, it was actually San Jose. Turo Turo is not a place but the name for the Filipino version of fast food. It means literally point point. There is no menu, just a deep bowls of food and you point at what you want.

When we got back to Santiago, I had dinner with the 6 deans. We had a good talk about the joys and challenges of their ministries and how deaneries work in this diocese. They are a good deal more active than our deaneries or even our mission districts. They have formal structures with officers etc . And they are responsible for implementing diocesan programs.

The deans’ main interest they wanted to discuss was forming congregation to congregation partnerships between Santiago and Nevada. They are not looking for financial support. Quite the contrary, self-reliance is one of their core values. They are looking for a spiritual partnership. They want to know our people and be known by them. It’s about friendship in Christ. We are going to exchange lists of congregations with brief descriptions, then set up small committees on each side to match up congregations and give them some direction for how to start the relationship. How to continue it will be up to the congregations. They are very enthusiastic about making these relationships happen.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Asian Journals of Bishop Dan: Part 6

This is the preface to the Advent Retreat for clergy and dioscesan staff I will be facilitating tomorrow:

Our advent retreat is Watching And Waiting: The Practice Of Soulful Attention.
There will be some teaching and some exercises.
The purpose is strengthening our souls’ capacity to heal and reconcile
our lives and the lives of others through curious,
compassionate, observation.

But as an American offering a retreat in the Philippines,
I need to say a little first about post-colonial theology.
I need to say this because the American role in your history has been oppressive.
Through Bishop Brent and others,
it has served to convey the gospel,
particularly the Anglican brand of the gospel,
but our colonial power distorted the gospel and in some ways,
made it harder for you to know Christ – not easier.

So I need to say a little about the need for a post-colonial theology
to overcome the obstacles we and the Spanish created for you.
I will say only a little because I know only a little.
But I need to say something because your generation’s challenge
is to work out a post-colonial theology in the Philippines.
The work has already begun.
Sr. Mary John Mananzan, for example has been at this since the early 1980’s.
But as movements in theology go, that is pretty recent.
What’s more the theology that matters most isn’t academic articles.
It’s what you do when you teach, when you preach, when you lead churches.
You develop a theology while giving pastoral care.
Most critically you develop a theology when you reflect
on the economic and community development work you are doing.
Such efforts have to grounded in faith
and linked to sharing the gospel
if they are to survive and flourish.

When you form a cooperative, process coffee, or manufacture soap,
when you help people come together to support each other,
then you ask “Where is God in this?”
You read your Bibles and ask, “What part of the salvation story
do we hear as an echo in our community development work?”
You look at the Holy Mass through new eyes and ask,
“How does this ritual express what we are doing in the community?”

You develop a theology of the cross as you address human rights issues.
You are doing post colonial theology in your liturgy
as you develop indigenous prayers and rituals.
You already have Filipino intellectuals writing post-colonial theology,
but, more importantly, you are all already theologians
doing your theology in this unique context.

What I have to say about post-colonial theology is relevant
to our Advent retreat for two reasons:
First, post-colonial theology does not yet exist as a doctrine.
Important work has begun; most of it is still emerging.
We are watching and waiting for the birth of this new theology in our time.
Christ is about to reveal himself in a new way;
so in Advent 2010 we wait for that revelation
as people in 4 B.C.E. awaited the messiah.

Second, because of who I am, because of my culture and our history,
I am unable to teach a theology that is true for the Philippines.
I can only express my personal regret and apology for the American occupation,
and I can teach spiritual practices that will help you pay attention
to your own experiences,
and pay attention to the situations arising around you,
then to tell the truth about what you see.
If you pay attention in this context and tell the truth in this context,
that will be the best theology for the 21st Century Philippines.

I understand just two things about post-colonial theology.
First, it isn’t about making Christianity politically acceptable.
It’s about telling the truth.
When we describe God as Trinity, we mean that God,
the heart of reality is a mutual loving relationship.
God is a dance and an embrace.
God is not a king or general barking orders.
God is more like a cooperative than the general of an army.

God does not dominate the world, but loves it into being.
And when the world falls away, God responds not with dominating power
whipping us into shape but with the suffering, reconciling love
manifest in Jesus Christ.
That is the gospel. It is a gospel of love and freedom.
Such a gospel cannot be imposed.
We cannot impose love and freedom.
So whenever the gospel is imposed, it is twisted.

It is twisted by colonialism but it is not made completely false.
It is a miracle and a grace that the gospel is so strong
it can survive even the twisting.
The truth of the gospel is so bright,
it shines through the clouds of colonialism.
I can see in your worship and in your service to each other
and the community that you have received the gospel very well indeed.

But the task of separating what is truly Christian
from what is just American or Spanish is essential to your mission.
The task of growing a Filipino Christianity is still a work in progress.
As you grow a unique Filipino Christianity, you are making the whole world richer.
You help us see the true faith better.
You proclaim the gospel in a new language
which we Americans may not understand but we can admire its beauty
as we admire your art.

The second and last thing I know about post-colonial theology is this:
The post-colonial world is still new.
The social structures are unsteady on their feet like a newborn lamb.
Vestiges of the old power system distort the newly emerging society.
Post-colonial theology has to speak to these realities
if it is going to have anything to say that people care about enough to hear.
That is what our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Latin America
have been doing – and getting in trouble for it
– as some of you have gotten in trouble for it.
It is the same task – to discover what the gospel says in the Philippines
about the distribution of wealth,
about political killings and violence against dissidents,
bout the rights and dignity of women and children,
about human trafficking, about care for our earth.

Before beginning our Advent retreat proper,
I want to suggest to you two subjects for reflection.
They will not give you answers to any questions.
Rather they are meant to spark your imaginations and free your thinking
to come up with your own new theological ideas.

First, I invite you to ask yourselves a “what if?” question.
We have the history that actually happened.
Christianity began in Jerusalem, then became the dominant religion in Europe.
Catholic Christianity then came to the Philippines with the Spanish.
Anglican Christianity came later with the Americans.
That’s how you got the brand of Christianity you got.
My friend Demi Prentiss, an educator in Texas, says:
Christianity began in Jerusalem as a relationship.
In Greece, Christianity became an idea.
In Rome, it became an institution.
In America, it became a business enterprise.
So that’s what you got.

But I just recently learned that Christianity spread from Jerusalem
to the East very early.
Christianity was a living wisdom tradition in China from at least as early
as the 300s until the 800s.
Christianity was first called “the Way” which sounds a lot like “the Tao.”
Christians were respected by Taoists, Confucians, and Buddhists
as fellow sages.
They were having a wonderful, rich interfaith dialogue.
All this lasted through the reign of the Khans.

It was after the Khans fell from power,
that the Ming Dynasty stamped out Christianity in China.
It had been a rather different Christianity from the evangelical version
taken there by American missionaries in the last century.
Now here is my “what if?” question.
What if the Mings had lost and Christianity had not
been crushed in 9th Century China?
Then the Philippines would almost certainly have received the gospel
from China instead of Spain and received it centuries earlier.
What would that gospel have looked like and what would it have become?

Second thing to think about:
You may well already have thought this through.
Perhaps I am saying it just so you will know that I am thinking about it too.
I am just now reading your great novelist and national hero, Jose Rizal.
But I gather his novels are quite critical of the Church.

When Rizal was asked if he intended to attack the faith, he said,
“I am aiming at the friars,
but since they were shielding themselves
behind the rites and superstitions of a certain religion,
I had to free myself from it in order to strike the enemy behind it.
Those who abused its name must bear the responsibility.”

Any post-colonial theology in the Philippines
must take Rizal’s critique of the faith seriously.
We must hear the voices of the prophets in our own countries.
But there is an irony in the life of Rizal that also deserves to be noticed
as you develop your theology.
Here was a rebel who spoke against the Church.

But he was a man, who gave his life to telling the truth,
to justice and to healing
to challenging authority and exposing hypocrisy.
For his integrity and his compassion, he was martyred.
No one has more clearly walked in the steps of Jesus;
no one has more faithfully followed Jesus’ way.
A theology for the Philippines has to take Rizal into account
– not in just one way, but in two ways --
both as a challenge and an inspiration.

-- Thanks to Fr. Joe Duggan for helping me correct substantive mistakes in the first drafts.

The Asian Journals Of Bishop Dan: Part 5

It was another festive dinner -- this time with the diocesan staff and the clergy who had gathered from around the diocese and from other dioceses – some had driven from Manila (9 hours) to get here for the ordination of the transitional deacon. These folks really show up for each other.

One retired priest, when prompted, shared a recollection from the Marcos days. He was on the government enemies list. One day someone told him the death squad would come to his house that night to kill him, so he stayed in another town. When he came back, his home had been burned. He said there were several such death threats over the years, but he figured he would die when God was ready.

Today, we ordained (yes, I got to be in on it – asked questions – hands on the head, the whole bit) Baby Auhra A. Galope as a transitional deacon. I know our context is different, but their discernment and formation process is so different from ours that it has to say something. She became an aspirant in 2002. She finished her 4-years of seminary in March, 2009. She then served as an intern lay pastor until today. I asked the bishop if there was some reason for the nearly 2 years between graduation and ordination, expecting him to explain why it had been so long. Instead, he told me there was a pressing need for her services so was on the fast track. It is normally over two years. She will now serve as a transitional deacon for two more years before being eligible for ordination to the priesthood. We are talking about a 10 year track to priesthood going at it full time.

It was a splendid service. In addition to ordaining Baby Auhra, a sparkling eyed diminutive young adult as the first non-Cordilleran clergy person to serve in this diocese, we dedicated the brand new St. Joseph’s Church. Their stained glass West window commemorates St. Joseph the Worker, showing him not with carpenter tools but plowing with a water buffalo.

We also had baptisms, confirmations, and receptions. I got to do the receiving. 11 new Episcopalians. The open air church sat 150 people. It was packed SRO plus chairs and people standing outside for a marathon liturgy in hot humid, often raining weather. The high point for me, after the ordination and the receiving, was the offertory. We sang a rousing version of Standing On The Promises while the new deacon censed the altar, the altar party, and the congregation. I have never seen incense used while Standing On The Promises was being sung. I loved it!

After the liturgy and lunch, we had a full afternoon of presentations. First, the MC invited the Senior Warden to say a few words about the construction of the new church. He took the mike and sang Victory In Jesus in mellifluous soulful tones! Asian Gospel! The last time I was so moved by a song, it was a Filipino singer at St. Luke’s, Las Vegas, singing Why Me Lord – I recall doing a blog post about it. There was of course playing gongs and dancing galore. There were more speeches and more songs.

At one point, the cutest little girl – about 6 with a missing front tooth – wearing a pink ballet outfit came over and placed a pale blue ribbon around my neck. The blue ribbon held a circle of pink ribbons enclosing white daisies. I wore it proudly the rest of the day. The children were simultaneously fascinated by me and shy with me. The afternoon was full of children and singing, dancing celebration.

You may recall I visited another brand new church yesterday, and stopped by yet another one with the paint barely dry on my way back from dedicating St. Joseph’s. The faith is on the move in the Philippines.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Asian Journals Of Bishop Dan: Part 4

Last night I had dinner with Bishop Alex Wanadag and a young engineer from New York who is here with the Young Adult Service Corps doing community development work with the diocese. We then shared a traditional Filipino breakfast this morning before joining the diocesan staff – about 18 of them – for Morning Prayer.

After the daily office, the staff told me about the things they do. There is a major push on evangelism. The Episcopal Church has traditionally been identified mostly with the Igarot tribes, but is now drawing members from other tribes as well, especially in this diocese. The other big push is on Christian formation, specifically “lay enhancement” (particularly training lay preachers and Eucharistic Visitors) and continuing education for clergy. All of the clergy come to the two clergy retreats per year. I was about to explain that our clergy cannot do that because of our vast distances. To set up my explanation I asked Bp. Alex how long it took the most distant clergy to get to the retreat. He said, “It’s about a two days’ walk.”

Next I heard from their staff members who work full time in community development. There were 6 of them. They have more people working in community development than our entire diocesan staff. Community development includes a variety of projects like: forming agricultural cooperatives, setting up micro-credit small business and agricultural lending to free farmers from usurers, building a warehouse to store agricultural products without charge to the farmers, converting a water project’s power source to solar for cost savings, working with Heifer International to provide livestock to farmers and overseeing the farmers’ passing on the offspring of their gifts to other farmers.

Community development begins with the diocesan worker living with the community for a few months to learn their needs and earn their trust. They then do Asset Based Community Development analysis: what could this community do together for economic support? The diocese then offers training – first in the values of Christian living essential to being a cooperative, then in business methods and financial responsibility, then in the enterprise itself.
The government has also tried to form these cooperatives but theirs fail while the ones established by the Episcopal Church survive. The difference is the Church builds a real community with relationships and values.

I was inspired by the enthusiasm of the whole staff about how they were overcoming poverty through creative enterprise and Christian values. Instead of offering band aid charity to the poor, they are putting people on their feet. Self-reliance is a core value they practice and teach. Their challenge is to keep the social ministry tied to evangelism so that they nourish the souls as well as the bodies of the people. It is a challenge but it is a front burner priority for the community developers. This is, by the way, closely related to what we are trying to do through PICO in Reno and Las Vegas Valley Interfaith with our community organizing efforts. It is so inspiring to see the Episcopal Church here going beyond maintaining its Sunday morning operation and going beyond hand-out charity, to make a lasting difference in people’s lives and transform the society and economy around them.

This afternoon, I visited two small open-air churches. One had a large concrete slab used for drying the members’ grain and a warehouse for storing it. The priest, Fr. Tando, also showed me their health clinic. They have no doctor so they use herbal remedies, massage, and acupuncture. They grow their own herbs and have begun a major herbal soap business. Fr. Tando is also a bee keeper and has hives there on the grounds. Poor farmers can’t sustain the church with cash so honey and soap sales go to pay the bills; and the farmers can give more since they are not paying a warehouse to store their grain. Other churches are helping farmers convert to organic farming. Some are helping their coffee farmers who have been selling raw coffee beans to big companies process the coffee for sale themselves.

Bp. Alex and I had a serious talk this morning about the human rights situation here. I don’t think it best to blog about that, but one story is public knowledge – except that I somehow missed it. Did you? On Nov. 23, 2009, there was a massacre here in Miguindanao. One political leader had warned a potential rival that if he announced his candidacy, he would be killed. So the rival sent his wife (figuring in a Muslim region women would be safe) to make the announcement accompanied by a convoy of journalists. The entire convoy of 57 people was abducted and gunned down in broad daylight. 32 of them were journalists. 42 were women. That case was unusual because of the numbers, but political killings here are frequent and usually go unpunished. Human rights violations are being addressed this week by a group of visitors from the World Council of Churches. Participating in or reporting on the political process here is not for the faint hearted.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Asian Journals Of Bishop Dan: Part 3

Sunday began for me at 4:30 a.m., up early to pack and get ready for Church. The 6:30 service was Holy Mass in the National Cathedral's side chapel. It was a service at once simple and high, as a side chapel Cathedral service should be. I believe this is my favorite form of the Eucharist. Two young men in albs assisted an old white bearded priest, who presided at the liturgy of the table facing liturgical East – which is to say the altar was against the wall. He reminded me a bit of the Rev. Canon Edward West who was this sort of priest at my beloved Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. (Here I resist the urge to go on a long tangent about Canon West.) The liturgy was close to our Rite 2 Prayer A with a few variations in the ECP BCP. I loved it! It was just so Episcopal! I miss services like this so much – no personal idiosyncrasies, no egoistic surges of “creativity,” no attempt to mix other liturgical season into Advent, no carving on the liturgy to make it acceptable to someone’s theological sensitivities – just the ritual reverently prayed by two dozen early risers, with a solid competent Advent sermon by one of the young men in an alb. There are many wonderful ways to celebrate the Eucahrist. I respect them all and enjoy most of them, but this one is my favorite.

After Mass, the old priest, who turned out to be a seminary professor, invited me to breakfast at the student café. He talked at some length though I only understood some of it, for he mumbled a bit and seemed more interested in his ideas than he was in either me or himself. He was not so much communicating as pondering aloud. I did not even learn his name, only that he was an American from Maine but had spent most of his adult life in Asia and planned to be buried here under a tombstone which will say “I lie here in protest and hope for the resurrection.” He also quoted someone – was it Ramsey? – who said “A priest is someone who stands before God holding his people in his heart.”

Then it was on the road with my driver, Wilson. Having a sidekick named Wilson keeps me feeling as if I am in the movie Cast Away and that my experience of Wilson as the son of a miner, husband of a working wife, and father of three children, one of whom is autistic, might all be my own delirious projections onto a soccer ball. If you haven’t seen the movie, just disregard this paragraph.

The drive was long and wonderful. Once out of Manila, we drove through rice paddies and sugar cane plantations – the sky sunny with a few clouds, the weather warm and humid, coastal. The cd player brought us Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton “Islands In The Stream” -- Abba, “Dance With Me” – Elton John “Daniel” (personally significant because of my brother’s death in the 70’s) – The Carpenters “I’m on the top of the world, looking down on creation . . . .” – Ann Murray – “Just one touch and then it happens. I fall in love again. . . .” Somehow you hear all that differently while driving through rice paddies.

Then it was up into the mountains, where lush tropical forests were interrupted by villages and more rice paddies – didn’t know rice grew so high up. Today I have seen my first water buffalo and my first ox carts. In fact, these may have been my first oxen. Where are the oxen in America? I know we used to have them. There were security checkpoints on the road. Wilson tells me they are looking for illegal logging and guerilla insurgents. I haven’t seen either – just water buffalo, oxen pulling carts, and the occasional goat.

We stopped for lunch at Angelina’s Eatery Ihaw Ihaw (which means the food is roasted over coals) in Turo Turo a village consisting of two, maybe three buildings. I had chunks of pork over rice. Wilson said it was a typical Philippine lunch. We ate al fresco under a thatched roof. As we left, the owners told Wilson I was the first “foreigner” who had ever eaten there. I hope I behaved well. Wilson said he would get flack from the National Church Office for taking a visiting bishop to lunch there. I’m glad he did.

As the sun was setting, we arrived in Santiago City, capital of Isabella Province – the last region to succumb to the American military in the 1920s. One of the diocesan clergy helped us find our way to the Gatian Hotel & Resort. I cannot figure out what sort of place this is. I have a simple suite in a compound that has lots of bright Christmas lights. Outside my window is a multi colored star of lights with more lights circling it in a progressive round flow of red. (Keeps me from being too homesick for the Fiesta Casino sign that flashes outside my window in Henderson. By the way I did put up last year’s Las Vegas style Christmas tree and ornaments before commencing this Asian odyssey.) Inside there are sticker signs. One is a sticker on the door to the bedroom saying “Jesus never fails” and one on the mirror says “Jesus Loves You. John 3:16” – which is not exactly what John 3:16 says, but the point is good anyway.

There is a Gideon Bible and towels so I am content. There is also an unplugged floor lamp. Remembering what happened to Thomas Merton, I plan to leave it unplugged.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Asian Journals Of Bishop Dan: Part 2

Today has involved car rides all over Manila, revealing way too much to take in, much less express. This morning I was amazed to see a salon advertising in big bold letters “skin whitening.” I had already been put off by all the Shape, Cosmopolitan, etc magazines on the stands here. They don’t seem to belong. But “skin whitening”? That troubled me. I am sure most people here would not do such a thing, but that is should be an issue is sad.

The first long ride took me to a complex of buildings and grounds that included the Cathedral, the National Church offices, St. Andrew’s Seminary, Trinity Episcopal University, an Episcopal school, a teaching hospital, the homes of various church personages including the prime bishop, and some rental property the church owns. Lunch was Filipino cuisine shared with about 8 or so staffers. We had a good talk, comparing notes on church life and discussing people we knew in common. I have come to suspect that everyone in these islands has some connection to our Fr. Jun, Teogenes Bernardez, Jr.

I then took a jaunt around the grounds with the chaplain for the university. There is a lot of Episcopal school presence in the Philippines and the faith is taught there. Each diocese has a diocesan school. They central office has a priest whose full time job is Christian Formation and Evangelism. No wonder there are about 200,000 Episcopalians here. All their churches are overflowing with children and they all have Sunday Schools. They could use more money to sustain their mission, because so many of the Episcopalians are poor. But they are spreading the gospel big time. The chapel of the seminary was excellent, lovely light – and there were many outdoor crèches made from local materials, palm fronds etc. – simple, creative, holy.

We then visited a bookstore where I picked up the classic novel by the martyr of the Philippine Revolution, Jose Rizal, revolutionary, novelist, ophthalmologist. I also got a book on Culture and History by another intellectual giant of the Philippines, Nick Joaquin; and a book of stories from the Revolution.

Leaving the bookstore I slightly pulled a quadriceps while dodging traffic. This was a cultural mistake. I did not realize that in Manila a car cannot hit you if you show it your palm; so I was trying more athletic means of self-preservation.

I then accompanied about 20 seminarians and college students to tour a new, state of the art hospital. As we drove along the road, we passed a scene that pierced me. It was an old woman with straight white hair and a weathered face, sitting on the sidewalk. Her face was turned down and to the left, twisted aside as one does to hide grief. She was crying. A little girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old, stood to her right, stroking her hair. You could see in the child’s face how inadequate she felt to the task of consoling the old woman.

Not too many blocks later, we were stuck in traffic. That happens a lot. An older woman leading an even older (as in probably her father) blind man walked between the cars with a begging cup. I rolled down the window and gave them a little money. I know that is not always the thing to do. But the old man’s blindness was compelling and the old woman with the little girl was still on my heart.

The hospital was high tech and state of the art. The staff was justly proud of it. By the way, their chaplain also knew Teogenes. But some of the seminarians were troubled that the location and the pricing of the upscale hospital made it a facility “just for the foreigners.” In fact, few Filipinos would be served there. It is for the higher rolling diplomats and corporate executives from other countries. We talked about health care systems. It sounded as if the Philippines has more extensive insurance coverage for the employed than we do – but they have more chronically unemployed.

There was a difference in the attitude both of the visitors and the hospital staff. It seems to me that most Americans rather prefer to avoid hospitals, that they are a little afraid of them, that the smell morbidity. But these students were having a great time, laughing, taking each other’s pictures, enjoying being shown how things work. The staff members who were showing off their workplace were deservedly proud of their technology. An American hospital staff would be proud too. Yet, there was a difference. I wonder if the Americans have an unspoken anxiety behind their pride, a voice in their ear reminding them “this is serious stuff.” The staff members here in Manila were more like chefs on the Food Channel showing how they do their magic. All in all, it felt more like touring the Hershey Chocolate Factory than a place of morbidity. I hope it is clear I mean something good. There was a lightness and happiness in the project of healing. There was professionalism and caring – but an element of worry had been removed. I wondered if I might be getting a glimpse of why so many of our good nurses in Nevada are from the Philippines.

At the time when the mood may have been the lightest, we passed two women in the hall, one crying inconsolably while being held by the other. We knew someone they loved had died. And we passed is silence with respect. I was not surprised that the students were respectful. I did note that, despite the fact that several of them had just finished CPE, none of them broke into the women’s grief with officious pastoral “support.” The absence of anxiety was matched by an absence of codependency – all the while, wisdom and compassion were fully present.

I talked with the seminarians about many things. But here’s an interesting one: they wondered if I would send our seminary students to their seminary, St. Andrew’s. It struck me as an excellent idea. They do program relating to economic and community development that are way ahead of what any of our seminaries do. They have good practical hands on educational opportunities. A semester here would do more to deepen and expand spiritual experience. The cost is quite low. And it would prepare seminarians to do Asian ministries and evangelism. This deserves further pondering.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Asian Journals Of Bishop Dan: Part 1

Here at last. It took a long time – longer than the 19 hour flight. I have wanted to go to Asia since 1966 when I was captivated by an episode of I Spy in which Robert Culp portrayed a Southeast Asia warlord resisting the modernization and westernization of his world. Then came my young adulthood spent immersed in Eastern religions, mostly Buddhism. So here I am, following in the footsteps of Gary Snyder, Thomas Merton, William Johnston, and so many personal heroes. The title of these blogs by the way is a tongue in cheek reference to The Asian Journals Of Thomas Merton. My posts will be less enlightening than Merton’s, but I hope that, unlike Merton, I’ll make it back alive.

The flight was uneventful except that there was so much interest in the hat case I was carrying. It has a cowboy hat and belt, my presents for Bishop Wanadag. Passengers, flight attendants, and customs agents were all curious. “What is in that?”

I arrived at 4:15 a.m. in the rain. The temporal math has me confused but I think I gained 8 hours but lost a day. It seems to be Saturday. My schedule said I was to be met by an NCO. I had images of the Sergeant from Gomer Pyle. But it turns out NCO meant National Church Office. I was met by Betsy, the secretary for the Prime Bishop, the Most Rev. Edward Pacyaya Malecdan. However, we did not find each other for awhile, so I was wandering about the cab stations pondering my fate having no one’s phone number and no working phone in my possession. I then heard my name paged and all was well.

NCO Betsy who has served 4 Prime Bishops and Wilson the driver got me to my hotel where I freshened up and had an excellent breakfast of fruit, sardines, saffron rice, eggs, and a darn good sausage.

I then checked out the TV and found too many American channels, but a lot of international news – then came across a channel that is mostly in Japanese, I think, but I saw this program in English called Tzu Chi This Week. It was all about interfaith programs doing good things, mostly in the Philippines – helping victims of fire and flood, providing medical and ophthalmological care to the poor, etc. – Buddhists and Catholics together. There was a banner across the bottom saying “Many Ethnicities One Love.” The first segment showed a group of South Africans performing traditional Zulu dances in a hospital here. The South Africans, wearing surgical masks because the patients had infectious diseases, were saying words of encouragement including something about the “Buddha spirit” – which shows they weren’t really Buddhists. Buddhists would say “Buddha nature” – not “Buddha spirit.” They were spreading hope and love, doing their best to speak the religious language of the people they were there to help.

I now have to figure out the exchange rate and sally forth in search of an ATM to get some pesos. Next on the agenda is lunch with the national church staff. I have a church service at an outrageously early hour tomorrow morning. Then Wilson and I head north toward Santiago City. My sense of geography here is extremely uncertain. But I think Santiago City may be in or near the Isabella province where there was a major typhoon in late October. It this turns out to be wrong, I’ll recant in a subsequent post.

To learn more about this church I am visiting, check out (This link inexplicably does not work. But go to the url. It is there.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why I Am Going To The Philippines

Tomorrow I will board a plane to fly 19 hours to Manila, then ride in a car 9 hours north to Santiago, a transportation hub and See City in the mountains of the northern Philippines. If you had asked me a month ago why I was going to do this, I would have said it is because the Diocese of Nevada and the Diocese of Santiago are companions, and such visits are what you do. I expect why I am actually going will be revealed to me when I get there. God works that way. We think we are doing things for our own reasons, but it turns out we are doing his mysterious will accidentally. “Direct us in all that we do to the fulfilling of your purpose.” But already I am getting a better sense of it.

I am not going to Santiago to do anything for the people there. I do have a cowboy hat to give Bp. Alexander Wanadag and I will lead an Advent retreat for the diocesan staff and the clergy of the diocese. But those are just courtesy gestures. I will participate in an ordination, help consecrate a church, and have dinner with the primate. But those are things they are doing to include me in their ecclesial life. It could all happen without me. The real reasons are deeper.

I am going to express the caring respect of Nevadans for our brothers and sisters who live the Christian life in these distant island mountains. I hope to visit the Philippines in an authentically Christian way. That is important because of colonialism. Christianity came to the Philippines as a medicine mixed with the bitter base of colonialism.

Spain imposed conversion to Christianity, and the friars ruled the people harshly for hundreds of years, actually preventing them from learning Spanish or how to read and write. It was a ruthless subjugation that brought the word of grace. Then the United States acquired the Philippines in 1898 in the Spanish-American War. But no one asked the Filipinos. We were engaged in military conquest of the Philippines until 1902, during which 200,000 Filipino civilians and 20,000 soldiers died from combat or disease. Their guerilla resistance continued on the mountain regions I will be visiting until the 1920’s.

The United States and Japan fought in and over the Philippines during World War II and the local people paid a heavy price. They participated with Americans as prisoners in the Bataan death march, and it might be said that we “destroyed (Manila) in order to save it.” Certainly the United States was a more benign ruler than Spain had been or than Japan would have been – but we have nonetheless been an imperial power like Rome to Galilee.

While all of that was happening, the Episcopal Church spread the gospel albeit in the colonial context. It started with a military chaplain to the occupation force celebrating the Eucharist in 1898. Then the Brotherhood of St. Andrew sent missionaries. In 1901, we established the Philippines as a missionary district of the Episcopal Church. (Remember we in Nevada were a missionary diocese until not so long ago.) That missionary district flourished and became the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, an independent Province of the Anglican Communion in 1990 – only about 20 years after Nevada became a full-fledged independent diocese.

I met Bishop Alex on a bus headed from Kent to London at Lambeth, 08. He knew our priest, then deacon, Teogenes Bernardez, Jr. I found Bishop Alexto be a man of great dignity and mischievous wit. We talked and I asked about the possibility of a companion diocese relationship. His first impulse was "No." He explained that their independence was important to them, and they did not want to receive the largesse of a wealthy American diocese. I said, “Then we are the companion for you, because we have nothing to give.” Thereupon a series of meetings and visits culminated in each of our dioceses adopting companionship resolutions.

I want to visit the Philippines as a friend, representing the friendship of the Diocese of Nevada. We are not oppressors and not benefactors. We are friends in Christ. I hope this will be a sharing of the gospel and a sharing in the gospel uncontaminated by colonialism. Finding the authentic faith is harder when it has been presented by a dominating power. Ask our First Nations Peoples about that. Being there on an equal footing is the all important point.

I also hope to learn something while I am there. I know I will learn a lot, but I particularly want to learn how we can strengthen Asian ministries in Nevada. For starters, I’d like to be a better bishop to the Filipino Episcopalians already in our pews.

I am also thinking of evangelism. The Asian population of Nevada is nearly twice the national average. Asians accounted for 2.9% of Nevada’s population in 1990; 4.5% in 2000; and 6 % in 2008. That is already over 156,000 people. There is presently a movement of Asian Americans from urban centers from the East and from California to the Mountain West. I am grateful for the Asian worshipers in our congregations, but I estimate about 155,900 of them are missing. We have been blessed with Asian ministries that were self-started. But we have not set out to deliberately invite Asian Americans to worship, pray, and share with us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Frankly, I am not sure where to begin. I hope with this trip I will begin to learn.

God willing and the angels of information technology cooperating (do you suppose if the Annunciation happened today, Gabriel might just text Mary?), I’ll report in as the adventure unfolds.