Monday, February 16, 2015

Awong Chi Gongsa: The Sound of a Thousand Gongs

This weekend marked the 20th anniverary of the founding of Kalinga Province in Northern Luzon. 20 years ago the province split from the province of Apayao in order to better serve the needs of the local peoples.

The population of Kalinga province is incredibly diverse, consisting of 48 different tribes. In this diversity is a history of persistent inter-tribal violence. The name of the the province itself can be translated as "headhunter" or "enemy". While headhunting is by no means the modern way of the Kalinga people, there is still a strong sense of tribal affiliation. This at times manifests in cycles of revenge and violence. An article from an NGO operating in Kalinga quotes local Sison Paut, “most of crime cases in Kalinga are related to tribal conflicts. While it is all quiet right now and there is no war going on, peace and order in the province is volatile because hostilities that happened even long ago can be rekindled. Here in Tabuk, once it is 7:00 PM, you do not see people walking out in the streets and there is hardly any vehicle on the road. There is that fear of either being affiliated with a tribe or caught in crossfire.” National court cases concerning anything, land disputes, traffic violations, or violence, always include mediators from the tribes of the parties involved. The local Episcopal Churches are also deeply involved in efforts for reconcilliation and peaceful mediation.

In a province of so many different tribes, what brings people together? What enabled the people to come together from the far reaches of the province and celebrate together, as I witnessed this weekend? I asked a friend of mine about this, and she looked at me a little funny. Wasn't the answer clear? "Because we are all indigenous people... we have to protect our traditions." One tradition that all these tribes have in common in the playing of gongs. This is a live and energetic part of life for the people of Kalinga. In my time here, anytime there is any sort of celebration or gathering, I know it is not finished without the inevitable playing of the gongs and the dancing that goes along with it. The different tribes and regions have different rhythms and melodies, but they all play gongs.

So for this Kalinga day, the province issued a call for 1,000 gongs for peace in Kalinga. This meant that all of the 11 municipalities, and their various tribes, would have to come together and play. On Monday, February 16th, this vision became a reality. Each municipality, dressed in different colors, paraded through Tabuk ending at the local sports arena. Then, each group gave a performance of their own particular style of gong playing and dance and moved on to each form a letter in the provincial motto, "Kalina Shines".

But the real exciting moment of the day came, when at long last, the gigantic gong was struck, and all the people played and danced in unison. At this point, the letters, once segregated by colored t-shirts and tribes, moved and mixed together to form the word P-E-A-C-E. The crowd stood and roared. In that moment, it seemed like a prayer briefly answered. There was something that the people agreed upon besides the playing of gongs, a deep desire for peace, unity, and cooperation of the indigenous peoples of Kalinga province.

The Crowd and Food Vendors Assemble to Watch the Parade.

The Representatives from the Municipality of Tabuk.

The Parade Enters the Arena Alongside the Giant Master Gong

Keynote Speakers Having a Chat Before the Program

A Tableau Representing the Products and Livelihoods of Kalina Province

A Tableau Representing the Natural Resources and Beauty of Kalinga Province

Tableau Representing the Spanish Colonial and Religious History of the Philippines

Dancers Trying to Escape the Heat During the Presentation

From Left to Right: The Flag of The Philippines, The Cordilleras Region, and Kalinga Province
The Kiddos and the Motors
The Elders

The Gong Players and Dancers Formed the Motto "Kalinga Shines"

In Formation Waiting for the Playing to Begin

The Youngers

The Sound of a Thousand Gongs

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You

Here is the situation. You are many miles from home and you find that the only road has been completely blocked by a mudslide. It’s too dark to turn back to where you came from and there are no hotels. Where do you go?

Is your first instinct to head to the town church or to try and find a place to sleep in your car?

I was recently put in this situation on a trip from my home in Tabuk to visit a partner community in Saltan. When my companions informed me we would just sleep at the church for the night, I wasn’t impressed with the plan. I had tried the same approach in Memphis, Tennessee as an 18 year old on a road trip and it didn’t go particularly well.

As we approach Advent Episcopal Church in Balantoy, I notice two things. The first is a sticker on the door that says, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” and the second is large group of people sitting on the balcony of the rectory having coffee. As it turns out, the church isn’t just where stranded church employees went, but where many stranded members of the community turned for shelter. By the end of the evening, there were 12 of us sheltered together. We threw our money together and slaughtered some chickens for supper. We played cards, sang, talked, ate, and enjoyed the warm fire. When late in the evening it came time to sleep, we rolled out mats of the floor and stretched out side by side.

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You. I mean really welcomes you. I know I have been guilty of using that same sticker on the back of my own car to get free parking at Churches in historical downtown areas. I know many of us think of it in reference to the inclusiveness of congregations towards particular individuals. But I don’t think that I ever thought of it in terms of the welcoming of one individual by another. In this case, it wasn’t the articulation of an institutional guideline. It wasn’t “The Church” welcoming people. It was a statement of the responsibility and joy of an individual providing safe haven to other individuals.

When the slide was cleared, we moved onto Balbalasang and Saltan to do our training seminars and data gathering. Our timing happened to coincide with the town fiesta, so once again, we shared with rectory with 8 other out of town visitors. The whole town came together for church services, eating, a Mrs. Senior Citizen beauty contest, traditional music and dance, and sporting events. Oh and did I mention the eating?  
The men in our group holding court about the slide.

Rice Terraces in Balantoy

See that rock? That where the road used to be.

Coffee break after finally clearing the slide.

St. Timothy's Church in Saltan

All the Majorettes taking communion at the opening service of the town fiesta.

The Majorettes in action at the opening parade.

Home visits in the Saltan community.

A contest where adults place a sack of cash at the top of a very tall and greased bamboo pole.

Balbalasang from the distance.

Community members gather for a meeting in Saltan.

The ECW performs a traditional dance.

A basketball team makes a go at the pole.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Deanery Conference

This past weekend we hosted the deanery conference at St. Phillip’s Church in Buluan. Forty members from seven parishes were present. At first, I encountered nothing unexpected from the meeting. We held a mass, went over finances, trained lay ministers, had a class on the meaning of the liturgy, ate, and drank A TON of coffee. For my part, I presented the Sunday school curriculum I developed and trained a batch of high schoolers as teachers.

Saturday was coming to a close when I was suddenly hit with a great worry. How was everyone going to get home? It had poured rain all day long and some of the folks had at least an hours walk ahead of them. Well of course, they could all just stay the night. But where were all these people going to stay?

Everyone unpacked and stayed at the church. Men stayed in the church building and women slept in the rectory. I have been to many youth retreats in my day, and heard of many adult retreats. Never before had I seen, at least by my reckoning, four different generations spending the night together under one roof. Everyone, young and old alike spread out on the floor with blankets, talking, eating, joking, anything but sleeping.

I had a priest once tell me that the biggest problem she faced in her parish was the people were flat out mean to each other. I believe it too. And frankly, I find it hard to imagine ALL the members of any church I have ever gone to willingly having a middle school style sleep over together. Heck, I find it hard to imagine most families I know freely submitting to such close quarters. It was a great piece of love. 

The Deluge

Holding Court

Church Puppy

Lunch Break


Padi Sacki's Singing School

New Sunday School Teachers

SKEP the Youth Organization of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines

Rice and Rice and Rice

Here in Han Han

My first week in the Philippines I stayed in Han Han with a member of St. Titus’ Church. The church was directly behind the house, the graveyard is directly in front of the house, and to the side is the church co-op.

There were a lot of celebrations this first week. The day I arrived there was a thanksgiving mass for a parishioner who passed an exam. So, we slaughtered a pig. Then there was the mass for the blessing of a new home. So, we slaughtered a pig. Next came the celebration of a death anniversary. We slaughtered a pig. Finally we celebrated All Soul’s day. No pig slaughter. Instead, people spend the week cleaning the graves of their loved ones. On the day of, there is a mass followed by a house visits and consuming of macaroni salad. In the evening, people take candles and light the graves. Then, the party starts. Food and drink while sitting casually atop the graves. Someone brought a guitar and everyone sang late into the night.

Life here is taking a little getting used to.

Things we don’t have:
Running Water
Phone Signal
Air Con

Things we do have:
1 “Channel” (12 hours a day it broadcasts lizards, the other 12, chickens)
Dogs in Church
Lots of Children all around
People Making music
Unlimited fresh fruit
Mosquito nets
Homemade fruit wine
Motorcycles as taxis
House visits
Coffee (currently averaging 6-8 cups a day)
Sincere and Honest conversation
A worn out copy of The Brothers Karamazov 

Girls at The House Blessing

View From My Bedroom Window

Didn't Know This Was Real

24 Hour Chicken Vision

St. Titus' Church with Drying Palay

Friday, October 31, 2014

O, Death

Yesterday, we heard a sincere conversation about death.

Alone, Aunty B asked me how many siblings I had, which number was I, brothers or sisters.

I knew her to be a widow. Instead of hearing that I was an only child like most people do, she heard the truth. She took it in without comment and we continued to move through the rhythm of our day.

Alone, Padi J told me of her family life, three children, away from home and her husband dead a year.

We sat that night, Aunty B, Padi J, Padi F, and I, together drinking Bugnay wine around the table.

We heard that Thursday would be the memorial service for Padi F’s father in law, just about one year dead. In Igorot culture, when one loses their partner, they are not allowed to travel from their home for one year.

We heard that Padi F’s mother in law is ready for this service, for this release, because she is a working woman.

We heard from Padi J that it was hard to be alone, how her husband was gone in the prime of life.

We heard how he died very suddenly playing baseball during a church youth gathering. He too was a Padi. He had chest pain, then began to vomit. The hospital was very far. He arrived, was there twenty minutes, and it was finished.

We heard how Aunty B’s husband said he was ready to die. That he was not afraid. He was in the hospital for a month. Once you have diabetes, the doctor says there is no cure. You die from complications. That is what happened.

We heard a question about my brother. The answer was that he was very young and that the illness was long and drawn out. That death brought relief.

We heard Padi J’s opinion that forty-two, at least, was a better age.

We heard that it was well to talk about the dead, because All Souls Day is fast approaching.

We heard that when Aunty B’s husband was dying, he requested that she call a friend of his from seminary. That he was to sing amazing Grace at his funeral. The man sang beautifully. Aunty B had never heard him sing.

We heard about a priest who died and requested that Handel’s Hallelujah be sung at his funeral. You know, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Halle-e-lujah.

We heard that for the longest time it was forbidden to sing hallelujahs during a funeral mass.

We heard of many people planning their own funerals to lighten our loads.

We heard of a priest who wrote his own eulogy because he could not bear the thought that any person should be troubled by writing a sermon just for him.

We heard that a priest had assigned, in his last will and testament, a friend to do his eulogy. This priest took his own life. His friend wondered what he had done wrong to be assigned this role. The priest who dies had bone caner and was in much pain.

We heard about another priest with bone caner. The pain was so intense that he prayed to Satan. He said he would he Satan’s if only he could be healed. He was a good and faithful priest, most surely enjoying the eternal feast. No one could find fault in him. The pain was too great.

We heard silence.

We heard the bustle of dinner preparation and praise for the bugnay wine.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Welcome to the Philippines

Hello again everyone and welcome to year two of YASC blogs.

I arrived in the Philippines at 12:30 AM Thursday morning and was met at the airport by past YASCer Andrew. Together with our driver and another member of the community we had a late night dinner at Jolliebee, a kind of combination of KFC, Burger King, and Fazolis. Fast food spaghetti in the AM for the win!

We then arrived at the Episcopal Church Center in Manila where I spent the night at the guesthouse. The next morning I got up bright and early and headed over to immigration to get my first visa. Two hours later and I am can officially stay in the Philippines for the next two months. I spent the rest of the day meeting the wonderful staff at the Church Center and running errands, like getting a phone.

For dinner I went out with the Prime Bishop of the Philippines, the Bishop of Northern Luzon, which is where I will be stationed, and a couple other members of the church staff. Followed by a nice early bedtime for a VERY jet lagged me.

I woke up on early once more on Friday morning and began the second leg of my journey. I flew North to Tuguegarao and was met at the airport by a priest from the Diocese of Northern Luzon. We had a nice lunch and drove two and a half hours to Tabuk where the diocesan office is located.

The drive was a tad bit arduous. The corn harvest has just come in and the government limits the locations where the crop can be dried. Thus, the farmers use the highway to dry their crop. This means many sections of the highway had only one lane available as the other was filled with corn. But we arrived safely and checked into the hotel.

This evening we will have a dinner to meet with the staff members of the diocese. Tomorrow morning we will wake up bright and early once again and make the two-hour drive to Connor where after a long 8 weeks on the road, I will finally be at home. 

Breakfast at Becky's Place. Rice, Fried Egg, and a Bean Porridge.

The Episcopal Church of the Philippines Compound in Manila

The Seminary Chapel at the Church Compound.

Guest House Where I Stayed My First Two Nights.

National Church Offices

Becky's Place. A Restaurant in the Church Compound.

Map of the Diocese of Northen Luzon Where I Will be Working.