Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Sunday in the Village: UU Worship in the Philippines, followed by lunch, face painting, water-buffalo riding, a walking tour, dancing, and too many smiles

After a big buffet breakfast (and brewed coffee, not Nescafe!) at the O Hotel (not named after Ms.Winfrey but her magazine is in the lobby), we took an hour’s van ride out of Bocolod City up the hill to the village of Malignin.  There are 50 families there, about 15 of them UU.   On the ride up one of our group, a doctor, recounted what he said to a friend back home:  “This is depressing:  everyone here is terribly poor and they are all terribly happy.”  And after six hours in Malignin we were all full of joy ourselves.

I also have some envy … of First UU Church of San Diego, which is the partner church of Malingnin.  Rev. Arvid Straube, lead minister, is here for his first time, and he gave the sermon, ably translated by his 61-year-old counterpart, Rev. Miguel Castaneda.   When asked when the service would start, our UUCP organizer and guide, Nihal, said it will start when we get there.  In rural areas, your presence is much more important than a time schedule.   We spilled out of the vans at 10:30 and shook many hands.  The bumpy ride had made myf full bladder even more uncomfortable than it normally would have been.  After greeting a number of women, I asked one of the men to direct me to a comfort room.  He did not get my pronunciation, but when I said “C.R.,” he immediately too me to the unisex outhouse.


The crowd smothered San Diego’s returning pilgrims with kisses and hugs and greeted the two S.D. first-timers (and the rest of us) with great warmth.  Finally we were called into the sanctuary (i.e., the one-room building).  Service began with Joys/Concerns, and then the lighting of a chalice candle and ringing of a little bell three times, by a child.  Another child read the call to worship (Psalm 98:4-6).  We sang (they sang) “Ang Iglesia Nga Gintwawag sang Dios.”  I recorded it but by the third singing of the chorus I could have sung along.  The minister’s daughter gave the opening prayer from the pew (a plastic chair, the kind we see all over US back yards).  The next song was “Ginmanduan Ako Sang Dios.”   The most charming sight was a little boy, Renzo, sitting next to and looking up at 73-year-old Al, singing along with him, and Al watching the boy’s lips to sing along with him. 

Then we had a responsive reading, also led by a child, also in Hilagainon.  Scripture reading was Gospel of John 15:11-17, read in both languages.  Next on the program was “Message through a Song,” and the song we all sang was “Spirit of Life,” which all knew.  Arvid gave the sermon, saying how moved he was to be here, and to finally meet them, and how much he loved this beautiful country and its people.  He gave some basic information about family life in San Diego and the U.S., illustrating how material good fortune does not mean universal happiness or security for Americans, and noting that we have an epidemic of loneliness.   Yet in spite of our different lives, we are all the same inside, and we all have the seeds of godliness in us.  We can cultivate and water those seeds and live lives that blossom in love and service.   He cited William Ellery Channing’s “Likeness to God.”   He expressed surprise at how fitting the Gospel reading was for his sermon, even though he had not known it had been chosen.   Rev. Mike translated after Arvid finished each paragraph.  Then he gave his own message, in both languages, but mainly said that Arvid had said basically the same thing he had planned to say in his own sermon.  We sang “From you, I receive, to you I give; together we share, and from this we live” over an over as the offering was taken.  Most everyone put money in the small bowl as it came around; 20 Peso notes spilled out (that’s about 45 cents, which is about 1/4 of the average daily income of a Philippino.)   The closing hymn was “Kalag Balik Sa Dios,” which was written by UUCP founder, Rev. Toribio Quimada, and which can be found with a hard-to-sing western tune at #142 in the UUA’s hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition.   Rev. Mike gave the closing prayer (with mention of the people suffering in the Middle East and in Japan) and all recited words together, which I assume was the prayer that Jesus taught.  They sang the Doxology, but the tune was not the western version.  After Mike’s benediction, the service ended with endless shaking of hands, “good mornings,” and personal introductions.   As at every other church, kids squealed and cried now and then, a few scrawny dogs wandered in and out, and chickens and roosters wandered outside the windows, which had yellow-painted metal bars on them, allowing for a nice breeze.  Through the windows I could watch the fowl and also see more folks gathering outside on benches to listen to the service. 


As two long tables were carried into the building (whose doorway was open, with no door), and plates of the familiar Pilipino specialities were laid out for us as guests.   Rev. Ann Schranz from the church in Mont Clair was asked to say grace.   Another big meal, but when fresh mango came out at the end, I somehow found room for two pieces of that, and then for a big slice of watermelon.    The S.D. folks brought school supplies–paper, crayons, coloring books, etc.–for the kids, as well as 27 pairs of flip-flops (Philippino village hiking boots, school shoes, church shoes, and casual wear).  I had taken Barbre for a walk to a variety store in Bacolod last night to buy the shoes.   I gave one of the young women a  couple of posters:  pictures of animals and multiplication tables.   Renzo and several younger kids were bringing Al back from a tour, and I expressed disappointment at having missed it, so they turned around and took me on one.  I saw rice fields, homes small and smaller (mostlyof bamboo but one of concrete, brightly painted), roosters, four large hogs (who snorted for their close-up pictures), and a mother duck and its ducklings kept in a pen (though others had been wandering around outside).

Arvid and I sat and chatted with Rev. Mike.  He’s been here 31 years.  He was recruited by founder Toribio Quimada to come to this church.  He said he came only on condition that Quimada train him and teach him about UUism.  He’d said he wanted to learn the doctrine and the Principles.  Quimada’s reply, he said, was “We don’t have any doctrine, only Principles.”  He was struck to find a religion that affirmed so much of what he thought about God and religion.  All religions may speak of different deities, use different terms and descriptions for the divine, but there is only one God, he said. “If you believe in God, then you have to ask, who created everyone, including the people who don’t believe in God?  It was the same God.”  He said: what’s important, if you believe in God, is to praise God and to work for peace and for a better world.    I had met his sons and daughters earlier.  One daughter has a BS in nursing and is getting her board certification.  One son, early 20s, has a degree in marine transportation and works a week at a time in Manila, going back and forth from this island village to Manila.   He hopes to get a more steady job.  Another son, age 15, has a year of high school left. He likes physical education, the outdoors, and Boy Scouts.  He’s going to a jamboree for a week later this month, at Salas National Park, and is raising donations to cover the cost of food and of a uniform.   Philippine villages are clan based, and many of the folks in this church have the same last names as others.  Same thing in other villages:  a few surnames predominate. 

One woman showed a few guests an herb garden, explaining what is used for what illness, and later pulled a couple of leaves, which our doctor friend put on his temples to ease a headache he had.   While grownups visited, wandered and snapped photos outside,  inside the church “Grandpa Len,” age 84 from San Diego and here for his 3rd visit, showed a “Sesame Street” DVD and gave out some colorful UUA flyers showing the UUA Seven Principles for kids.  (The UUCP has Eight Prinicples.)   After that Barbre put on her clown makeup and yellow hair and red nose (in front of the kids so as not to frighten them) and then put stickers and face paint on all who were willing.  Then a group of kids (Renzo was the only boy) led some of our friends in dancing and singing as music videos played on the wide-screen TV that had been used for “Sesame Street.”  The popular song of UUCP kids (here and in Dumagete) seems to be “Don’t Want Nobody But You,” with dance moves to match.  I never heard of this American group of girl singers before,and now I can’t get the tune out of my mind.

Our partings from UUCP village churches remind me of midwestern family reunions:  people say goodbye multiple times, hugging, kissing, waving and taking yet more photographs.  “See you next year!” the kids and parents called out–and rather insistently.  It was a feast of love, and a full Sunday for us.

Day 3 in Manila: Maslow’s Manila Hierarchy of Needs and 2 UU congregation visits on Sunday

Maslow’s Manila Hierarchy of Needs

I went out of the hotel Sunday late morning for a walk through several urban neighborhoods and for lunch.  Near the boulevard by the bay, many highrise office and residential buildings loomed.  Just blocks away, some streets were narrow, others wide, some clogged with pedicabs and Jeepneys (station wagon-shaped jeeps that go on set routes and charge a nickel a person), motorbikes and cars.  Lots of food stalls and a few department stores, upscale bars closed for the daytime sharing street space with hungry and homeless parents and children.  Men come up to offer me things like fake designer watches:  “Omega only $10, sir.”  No thanks, I don’t wear a watch.  “American silver dollar coins, sir, 1801, good price.”  No thanks, I don’t collect coins.  No, thanks, really.  “Viagra, Cialis, sir, your choice.”  Do you think I need Viagra? I joke in a demanding tone.  “Sir, you are strong, but this will make you stronger.”  No thankss, I say numerous times. 

On another streets, a short, worn looking man in a brown tee shirt comes up.  He motions for me to come over to a bar and meet the girls.  No, thanks, I say.  He pulls out a laminated card with face pics of several young women.  Are those your daughters, I ask.  He doesn’t get the joke, or the insult.  I decline.  Then he pulls up his sleeve to show me a tatoo on his upper arm. “I am a gang member.  This is my area for the mafia.  I will keep you safe for 200 pesos  ($5).  I’ve already killed two people.”   I respond, Why do I need you to protect me when there are security guards outside all these restaurants and hotels?  He lowers his protection price, and I keep walking.  Then he says, “Please just give me 20 pesos so I can eat something.”  I decline.  Then I say, You were going to charge me money not to kill me and now you want me to help you out? 

As I wander, kids near me ask for money, and scrawny men lying near the sidewalk call over to me for help. It was hot and humid, and they were no doubt guarding their energy.  I was walking slowly, except when crossing a busy intersection.   I stopped in a large Pentecostal church on the street, which had crowds of people flowing  out of the worship hall into the front hall, which had open windows to the sidewalk.  Several women ushers shook my hand.  A young woman led a praise song (with band accompaniment)  in English and afterwards spoke and preached to the group as it settled in.  She cited a passage from a letter of Apostle Paul.   I’ve seen the Pentecostal worship style before and could recognize it.  I slipped out and saw tables with Bible study books and a young man giving out application forms for a praise band.   I ducked into a Starbucks, which felt like luxury compared to most places on the street, and which had its own security guard at the door.  My tuna melt was mediocre and overpriced, and a Grande cup of coffee was no cheaper than at home.  A few students were studying but it was not busy.  I enjoyed the A/C but wsa disappointed to find no wireless access for my phone.   After a half hour of more walking, I stuck my head in a store front bakery and picked up a package of thin, cinnamon-sugar covered pastries.  Before paying I asked the young woman what her favorite was, and she said empanadas–stuffed with potatoes, carrots, and chicken. Since they were warm out of the oven, I said I’d switch my order (26 pesos, about 60 cents).  A few blocks down a girl asked me for money, gesturing to her mouth.  I asked, are you hungry?  “Yes,” she said.  Would you like a empanada?  She said yes, and I handed her the bag.  “Thank you,” she said, smiling.  I realized that I didn’t need any more to eat, anyway.

Back at the hotel, we gathered at 3 PM to ride in two vans to Bicutan, a poor neighborhood a half hour away in the greater metro area.  We tumbled out of the van and crowded into a small outdoor space with concrete block walls that rose about 5 feet, and there was a 3′ open space to the overhanging roof.

[to be continued]

Day 2 in Manila: Musuems, Meals, No Tsunami

Saturday, morning #3 for me at the Pearl Manila, we had another breakfast feast, with a buffet of main-course items, salad, fruits, breads and a chef standing by to fry omelets and pancakes. He misunderstood Nadine’s request for a 2-egg omelet with veggies, and brought her two omelets. I took the second one off her hands, but that didn’t stop me from ordering a pancake. An iceberg lettuce salad , watermelon, cantaloupe and (best of all) mango were the healthful choices, so I had plenty of them too, plus cheese, bread, and chicken, fish and rice. We read the paper and exchanged updates we had heard about the earthquake and tsunami on cable TV. Apparently most of the Philippine archipelago was not harmed, and one pier in California was damaged; that’s not the outcome the cable news people had forecast the night before.


At 11 AM all of us gathered in the restaurant for an orientation for the trip, by the Rev. Nihal Attanayake, our UU Church of the Philippines host and my roommate. He gave us name tags (and now the elevator operators and other service people greet us by name) and friendship bracelets made of polished disks of cocoanut shells. Put these on one another, he told us, and bind ourselves in friendship. What that means primarily, is please don’t be late for our rendezvous times. He gave us a map of all the villages and cities on Negros Island, with all 27 UU congregations noted in colored marker, and he walked us through our whole journey to all the villages and churches we would visit. In our group are a minister from San Diego, one from Mont Clair, one from Sacramento, and an intern from Appleton, WI. All the rest are lay persons, mostly retired or those with flexible professions. Two men from Key West had arrived late because their plane had not been able to stop in Tokyo, as the earthquake was underway.


We rode in two hired vans to the Ayala Museum ( in Makati, the business, retail and political center of the city, with gleaming high-rise office towers, hotels and condo buildings. It’s a different world from the crowded side streets with stalls selling everything and the clogged avenues we had to wade through and watch from air-conditioned comfort. In front of the Ayala it was shaded and windy, and quite pleasant. On the granite plaza groups of kids and youth were using pastels and other media on poster board as part of an art competition. I took pictures of them working and some of their colorful work. We met Bob Guerrero, minister for the UU congregation in nearby Quezon City, and Janet, a member of his church who is a real estate broker. Both are young adult Filipinos. He’s been a sports announcer and a marketing/advertising professional, so ministry is an extra job. Soon he will broadcast a national soccer tournament. He proudly told our Wisconsin group that he had predicted the Packers’ win of the Super Bowl within two points of the outcome. One of them told me he’s preached on “the religion of sport”; several of his sermons are at the UUCP website: This morning Lee said that Bob had already posted a note about meeting us on his congregation’s facebook page.


The museum had a great exhibit on gold ornaments made in the pre-colonial period of the islands (as early as the 10th century). Just a few decades ago fabulous ornaments for people and homes were excavated, and many of them correspond with a codex of pre-western society, showing elites wearing various items. Early settlers of these islands came from China, Malaysia, Indonesia. Significant trade took place with China and India. Islam came early. The Spanish did not arrive until the 1520s, but Spain and the Catholic Church ruled until almost 1900.


One museum floor highlights three of the country’s major painters of the 19th-20th century. The most important floor featured historical dioramas depicting cultural and political events from prehistory to WWII and the subsequent turnover of the country by the US. (Unfortunately, by this time the landed elites were in power, so the Republic became a democracy in concept but without much fairness or justice.) After the dioramas we saw artifacts from the People Power movement of the 1980s: Cory Aquino’s yellow-ribbon 1986 presidential campaign materials and photos, and her yellow inauguration dress, and the broken bifocals of her husband, Ninoy Aquino, from his assassination in 1983 (as he stepped off the plane in Manila after exile in the US.) We saw videos of the Marcos era: elite friends living like royalty and the urban poor picking through garbage heaps, increasing protests and increasing police crackdowns and arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings. Marcos declared martial law in the late 1960s and held power for three decades before his friend the USA pressed him to step down (and rest in Hawaii), and the widow Cory Aquino won election. The Aquinos’ son is now president.


The ground floor exhibit was a retrospective of a 20th century woman painter who resisted the modernist/cubist/abstract trends and stuck to realistic and representational art. I darted in around a long line of youth who were there in a group, perhaps from a school, but it was Saturday. They filed in and filed past all the pictures, barely looking at them, and moving too fast even if one of the artistically inclined might want to peruse one or two paintings. At one point an adult even urged them to pick up the pace. Ah, the joys of a field trip. We posed for pictures in the patio area near the café and museum shop, enjoyed the koi pond and a lovely breeze. In the complex were Gucci, Burberry, and other shops.


We rode to Intramuros Park, which is a restored fort dating back to colonial days. During the Japanese occupation of Manila the fort was a prison for POWs and guerillas captured by the Japanese. There’s a picnic area near the Wall of Martyrs. I saw a hefty Jesuit priest in a black suit and long black cape, with short black hair and bifocal glasses strutting from the front of the park to the Jose Rizal shrine in the back, carrying a little prayer book and his black cane. Having heard how dominant and reactionary the Catholic Church continues to be, I was torn between disparagement and wanting to snap his picture. But on passing him later, I said, “Hello, father.” Shortly I found out he was the lead actor/narrator in a re-enactment theater troupe. He was in his 30s and all the rest were in their 20s and 30s. A crowd of youth followed the re-enactors from building to building, from a meeting of anti-Spanish revolutionaries to the cell from which Jose Rizal was taken to his execution by firing squad. He’s the national hero of the Philippines. I spoke to the young producer of this series of re-enactments and his wife; they encouraged all of us to come along and see the culmination of the presentation in a musical drama upstairs in a large hall. With guitar and snare drum backup, we witnessed Rizal’s mother and English fiancé, and a young, idealistic Rizal, sometimes acting, sometimes singing. After his death, the producer thanked all for coming. He said that heroes do not start out intending to become heroes, they only decide to act for an important goal in life, and in that sense all of us can be heroic. All us older and foreign visitors were inspired by them, even though half the dialogue was in Tagalog and a few of us nodded off—the warm room conspired with our jet lag.


I bought a few trinkets from a child salesperson who had tried to bargain with me two hours earlier, when we arrived. Our next stop was a large restaurant with a stage. A trio of singers and guitarists came around serenading us with popular songs of the late 20th century, mostly American and European. Nadine requested “Blue Hawaii,” and they enjoyed crooning that over us. The family-style spread was overwhelming, but Lee assured me that this was our welcome feast and every meal would not be so big. The mixed grill of seafood was great, the vegetable plates were fresh but bland, and the garlic rice and many kinds of noodles are all I can remember now.


The feature was a cultural dance performances, by a team of 8 young women and men, in a series of colorful costumes. Many of the dances were more like acrobatic acts, and in some the young performers were playful with one another. Impressive! Audience participation ensued by draft, when dancers came to our tables and dragged people on stage. Fortunately I resisted this. As I write a colleague is searching facebook to delete some embarrassing evidence of his own conscription.
Sunday afternoon we will attend Bob’s UU church in Quezon City and later visit a newer group, a UU discussion group.

Day 1 in Manila: Unexpected Turns after a full-night’s sleep and enormous long breakfast buffet at Pearl Manila Hotel

Had I not borrowed Ann’s Lonely Planet guide and scoped out this Central Manila neighborhood (called Ermita), I may not have headed out for a walk and lunch with a sense of direction or destination.  Had I not done this, I would not have had an incredible day with leaders of the country’s LGBT community.

Leaving the Pearl Manila Hotel,  I walked a few blocks, crossed busy Wm. Howard Taft Avenue (named after Unitarian, 1st Governor of US-held Philippines, and US President).  Had I not turned up Padre Fauro St. the young woman would not have said, “I saw you last night at Robinson’s Mall.”  I did not engage with her, as this was the area the night before where pimps had invited me into bars to see the girls, and where one had called out three of them in skimpy green dresses. She asked, “Where are you going?”  Just visiting, I said.  She asked again, and I said I’m meeting friends. In front of us were two men in tee shirts.  On the back of one it said Metropolitan Community Church Quezon City.  (MCC is a worldwide Christian denomination with a special ministry to LBGT and other marginalized people.  It was founded in 1968 in LA by a Pentecostal preacher after he was thrown out of his ministry.  Quezon City is a northern suburb which, I learned is more progressive politically and religiously than Central Manila.)

I tapped them on the shoulder and introduced myself as a former member of an MCC (1985-88) and explained why I was here.  “Oh, the UUs!  Yes, we know them.  There are two churches in Manila.  I know Bob (minister of one of them.)”  I said we are going to Negros Island, where we have 29 congregations.  “Yes, the UU’s send a delegation here to Manila’s Pride Parade in October!”  The one in the tee shirt, age 37, is pastor of the small MCC church, named Ceejay.  His lay leader, Mike, works in a call center for an American company.)

“Is this your friend?” they asked about the young woman, still standing by.  I said I never met her before; she just started talking to me. So they told me they were headed to an LGBT forum at University of Philippines-Manila, where the pastor would speak on a panel.  They invited me to go.   The name of the forum was “Vibrate,” and it was sponsored by Pi Sigma Delta, a social sorority made up of lesbians.  In the large lecture hall…


on the way to the Philippines

Just had a nap in Seoul’s Incheon airport. It’s now Thursday, but not where you are, if you are in the US!  Free shared laptops in one loungish area.  But the concessions are not cheap in the airport (but they were overpriced at LAX too).  You know how after a long long flight the plane’s bathrooms look like a wreck and you’d rather not have to use them, and how the flight attendants look like a wreck too?  Well, they kept the bathrooms clean, even folding the ends of the toilet paper rolls to have a point.  (Korean Air.) And the young, gracious attendants looked fresh as a daisy as well, still gracious and kind, not desperate to be rid of us.  I was crestfallen when I checked in at the Korean Air desk in LAX and was told that due to my “low” fare ($1,050?) for Manila, I was not eligible for frequent flier miles on a partner airline.  Is that why I got an aisle seat… in a row that had two empty seats?  Well, I’d like to think he did that because I wasn’t complaining about the miles.  I had ordered the western vegetarian dinner and breakfast, but found myself very curious and intrigued by the Korean fare.  They actually have a kimchi-like sauce in a little toothpaste tube, and you squeeze out the red stuff onto the rice and bibimbap (spelling?).   I finished Fred Muir’s book, Maglipay Universalist, about the history of UU Church of the Philippines (founded in the 1960s by a Pentecostal preacher on Negros Island, it’s been part of the UUA since 1988).  A quick read, as the last chunk of it are 3 appendices.  Three copies in the bookstore at church, with good discussion questions at the end of each.

Okay, time to get on the flight to Manila.

Spirit Play Is Feasting, Fun and Wondering: April 16 Volunteer Refresher PLUS Training for New Volunteers
Spirit Play takes place on Sundays during the 9:30 Religious Education hour for grades 1-5.  Using classic stories, the arts and shared rituals, it builds community and promotes spiritual reflection and play.   Regular story sessions include the roles of Story Teller (lead teacher) and Door Keeper (an adult assistant).  While on most Sundays a Story Teller is in charge and we have a story and a discussion based on “Wondering questions,” on Feast Days we have special guests, conversation and food.
April 16  we’ll have a Saturday morning  training for new and veteran Story Tellers and Door Keepers from UUSS and one or two churches.   If you have questions, please contact Lee Simpson at
If you have been helping out, please bring your feedback, ideas, and support.  If you are not yet connected to Spirit Play, we’d love to help you decide if this would be a good fit for you.  For more information see

… Pledge Campaign Ends… but it’s not over till we hear from every supporter of UUSS: For the Good of The Whole!

Dear Members and Friends,

Our congregation’s stewardship campaign ended (officially) on March 13.  ! The results of this fund raising pledge drive will sustain and enhance our programs, staff and outreach for the 2011-12 budget year.

We appreciate the generosity of our members and friends, as over 75% of UUSS revenue comes from your gifts.  Thank you!

There is momentum and vitality around here, with many highlights. Here are just a few:

  • On Sunday, Feb. 27, Eric Stetson was introduced as our new Music Director!
  • A big menu of Adult Enrichment programs now involve many new friends and longtime members.
  • Religious Education has grown to 84 children & youth, with enthusiastic volunteers, strong attendance in Spirit Play and junior and senior high programs, and hands-on artistic and community service projects.
  • We have a bright, lovely UUSS library and a spacious, upgraded kitchen.
  • We have new Friends in Deed program, several new activity groups, and lots of coffee-time conversation buzzing around “Connection Central” on Sundays.
  • We welcomed 20 members (+ kids) at the recent New Member Ingathering.
  • Even in times of economic challenge in this region, the generosity of this congregation has grown in recent years.Goals for 2011-12 include paying our UUA and District dues, meeting UUA Fair Compensation goals for our staff, and funding repairs and reserves at prudent levels.
      For this year’s campaign we had hoped to offer a personal visit by a volunteer Steward, but we have not recruited enough Stewards to visit everyone.

If you would like a visit, please let us know.

    If not, please review the chart and return your completed Pledge Card soon.
      If you can bring or mail your

Pledge Card

    back this week, we can conclude the stewardship campaign on schedule.Your generosity makes a difference!
      Ginger Enrico,

Stewardship Chair

      Tina Chiginksy,

UUSS President P.S.—

      If most of us (at all income levels) can find ourselves pledging at a spot on the

Fair Share giving chart

      , UUSS will have enough income to meet our goals with a balanced budget!Your pledge is your decision,

and we thank you for your support.

P.P.S.— you can read our Family Minister’s letter about ways to think bout pledging at this link.