Tag Archives: church

The Trip Part 3: De La Salle University and the Bamboo Organ

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Our trip wasn’t all lounging by the pool and enjoying fine home cooking. Sara and I are more of the museum type of tourists, and Judy was happy to oblige us. Our first outing took us to the Museo De La Salle. The first floor contained artifacts from the Spanish Colonial period, like furniture, Catholic shrines, and dresses (including one worn by the infamous Imelda Marcos). There was also a statue of the University’s patron Saint, John Baptist De La Salle. The second floor was a sight to behold. Our tour guide led us through the servant passages of an immaculate reproduction of 19th Century Spanish Patrician’s house. There are a few heritage houses in BC, but they are nothing like this. Every room was decorated from floor to ceiling with ornate paintings and intricately carved furniture. There was an entire Catholic chapel adjacent to the living room where services, weddings and funerals were all held for the Patrician’s family. There were segregated drawing rooms for both the men and the women (Simon opined that the boys must have sneaked in to see the girls room at some point, and vice versa). The dining room contained these massive fans that were waved by servants in an adjacent room via strings. The kitchen itself was large enough to employ a small army. The most interesting part of the house was the servant passages we were taking the tour through. Unlike the inner chambers, they seemed to get the most natural light of all the rooms. There were sliding doors going to all the rooms in the house so that the Patrician’s family would never see the servants. We were told that if a servant made eye contact with a member of the Patrician’s family or their guests, they would be sacked immediately.

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After lunch we were driven to Las Piñas City and the Church of St. Joseph, which contained the world’s only Bamboo Organ. The cool stone church was a welcome refuge from the tropical sun. One of the organ players was on hand to give us a demonstration. The sound was a lot warmer than a metal organ, and there was this interesting mechanism where air was pumped through a pool of water which made a sound like a flock of calling birds. In the basement of the church there was a small exhibit detailing the history of the organ and the church. The construction of the organ was a laborious process, involving burying large bamboo stalks in sand for long periods of time so they would not get eaten by insects before the organ was finished. The tour guide told us that the organ was only around 200 years old, but we said that was okay because it was still older than our own country. There was also a chronology of the Church’s history, depicting its trials through earthquakes, plagues, and war. It was apparent that the Philippines’ recent history had been quite tumultuous, as we would soon see in our tour of the old city of Intramuros.

The Trip Part 2: Ayala Alabang

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Once Sara and I had adjusted to the time zone a bit, Sara’s Uncle Don took us out for lunch at the Asian Development Bank where he works as a lawyer. The ADB makes their business by helping Asian governments finance public works projects, like dams and bridges. The head office seemed more like a self-sufficient compound than anything else. There was a full-service garage with a gas pump, and the company store shipped in groceries from anywhere in the world for their international team of economic hotshots. The restaurant had a piano player and made quite the fine steak. From there we drove to Don and Judy’s house in the suburb of Ayala Alabang.

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Aside from the Spanish colonial architecture and security checkpoint, Ayala Alabang looked like a pretty normal gated community. There was a church, a community field, a country club, and even a small convenience store. The neighborhood is home to quite a few expatriates, as well as the staff that maintains all the houses. The wages in the Philippines are as such that houses like these will employ cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, or combinations of all three. Don and Judy’s house was no exception. They had a gardener named Nestor, a cook named Natty, and a housekeeper named Anning.

Judy and Sara with Simon, Jonah and Noah respectively.

Judy and Sara with Simon, Jonah and Noah respectively.

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Don and Judy's House

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Guest House

Guest Room

Guest Room

Now, if you know Don and Judy, you may have heard of their three boys, Simon, Noah, and Jonah. They are fraternal triplets and are 10-years-old as of this writing. They are very intelligent and inquisitive. They go through books like nobody’s business, and I think they came up with a plan to buy an iPhone through buying and selling beanie babies after I showed them my own device. Since Judy is trained as a teacher, she home-schools the boys in a small classroom in the second level of their guest house where Sara and I got to stay.

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Channeling my 10-year-old self, I thought it was very cool. Everything was very hands-on. They had charts to count in English, French, Roman and Mayan. For projects they completed relief maps of Africa and clay models of human skin layers. The construction of their tree-house was used to teach geometry. My personal favorite was their comparative novel studies. Simon, Noah and Jonah go through so many books that they were able to follow authors like Gary Paulsen, and made charts of all the similarities and differences between their novels.

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Natty, Sara and Anning

I must say Sara and I never ate as well during the whole trip as we had when Natty was cooking. For dinner there was food like stuffed peppers, chicken stir-fry wrapped in banana leaves, and curried beef. Breakfast included waffles, french toast, bacon and eggs. Sara and I should e-mail them for some recipes. However, I doubt we’ll ever get the presentation right!

Movie Night at Trinity Memorial United Church

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Sara and I attended a movie night at our church last week. We had seen the feature before, but we were told there would be discussion afterwards and pizza by donation to boot. The movie in question was 2004’s “Saved!”. It’s the story of Jena Malone as Mary, a Born-Again teenage girl attending a Christian high school. One summer, her boyfriend admits to her that he’s gay and she sleeps with him in order to “help” him. The boyfriend ends up being sent to a Christian re-education home and she ends up pregnant. The rest of the movie revolves around her defending the dignity of herself and her friends from Christian Teen Queen Hilary Faye, played by Mandy Moore.

“Saved!”, in my opinion, really captures the dramatic relationship Abbotsford has with religion. We have churches on every other corner, and most people have some story about an uncomfortable encounter with a true believer. The nice thing about the movie is that it’s not a polemic against Christianity or religion in general. The characters all want to have some kind of salvation, whether it’s the approval of the church, God, or their peers. When we circled the chairs for the discussion, we started to talk about the difference between the mega-church sensibility of the high school in Saved! versus smaller congregations like Trinity Memorial. We decided that it came down to a difference between faith and belief. There is a lot of belief in larger churches. Moral ambiguity often gets sidetracked in favor of passion and conviction. Faith is a harder concept to put down in words. It is not simply believing in something despite evidence to the contrary. That would be called denial. It’s more of a mix of a sense of being loved and a sense of thankfulness. It’s hard to attain something that personal in a large church, but many people attend them because it’s so easy to ride the wave of enthusiasm.

Some members of the youth group were on hand to offer their thoughts. We learned that the mega-church youth groups were grand affairs involving youth ministers for every age group. They said they preferred Trinity Memorial’s youth group because they could spend more time getting to know people rather than just playing games or doing activities like at the mega-churches.

The amount of personnel at the mega-churches is mostly supported by the large amount of funds donated to them by the congregation. I asked everyone there what Trinity Memorial would do with that kind of money. The short answer was that it would paralyze us. Long drawn out arguments over what to do with a large inheritance have plagued many church boards. If Trinity Memorial put more energy into raising money than providing a friendly place to worship, we would lose that which makes Trinity Memorial what it is today.

It’s hard to tell what makes a place of worship the right place for anyone. A church is more than just having a relationship with a higher power. They are called communities of faith for reason. You can have deep discussions, find spiritual guidance, or just put yourself in a position to help others. At the end of the day, a church must more be a part of you than you are a part of a church.

Christmas Crush


I think I identify more with the Grinch now than I ever did as a kid. The live-action movie’s mushy backstory had nothing to do with it. The Grinch, I found, is a gestalt of our love/hate relationship with the Holiday season. Sure we sing along when the voice of Tony the Tiger belts out “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch”, but on some level we all root for him. While he does take all of the Whos’ stuff, he also steals all of the fire-hazard Christmas trees, all of the fruit-cakes, and all of the “Jingle-cats” CDs. In the same way that Godzilla found legions of fans by destroying crowded transit systems and soul-destroying sales offices, the Grinch entertains us by battling the Christmas monster every year.

Most Christmas stories deal with that conflict between crass commercialism and the true meaning of Christmas. If that meaning is “peace on earth and good will to men”, why haven’t we dispensed with the whole rowdiness aspect of Christmas? We’ve tried several times over the centuries, but it just hasn’t stuck. How can we progress as a species if we spend our money on inflatable snowman displays? Then again, why are we defining progress as a lack of inflatable snowman displays?

This year, Sara and I have been involved in no less than 5 Christmas related live shows either through our church or Sara’s school. On December 20th, we braved bad sushi and stifling crowds to go shopping in Metrotown mall. Why would two seemingly sane people go through with all of this? Is it because we owe some money to a perversely festive loan shark? Not a chance. There is a high that comes from all this Christmas rigmarole. “Peace on earth and good will to men” may seem like a simple concept, but it’s meaningless if it is not expressed. We all have a primal need to express ourselves at some point in our lives. Christmas allows us to do that by putting our best foot forward. People attempt things with decorations, cooking, and singing that they would never do at any other time of the year. We need the hustle and bustle to communicate with our fellow humans in the strongest terms possible: “Peace on earth and good will to men”

Bonus:
Every year Sara’s school has a contest to rewrite Christmas carols. Sara’s class won this year, so without further ado, here’s “I Want An A+ On My Report Card”

And also, we have last year’s Holiday hit featuring Sara’s maiden name, “Miss Antak the Tiny Teacher”

Abbotsford and Social Justice 12

It wasn’t the only bastion of intolerance in the city, but it was a good place to draw the line. Everywhere else in BC, Social Justice 12 was just another elective class for high school seniors. Students would learn how to analyze issues of intolerance in their world, as well as some strategies to combat that intolerance. The Abbotsford school board, however, voted to postpone the course and censor certain sections that dealt with homosexual rights. The irony was not lost on the 96 students who had already signed up for the course.

Over 300 people gathered in the rain at the University of the Fraser Valley last Saturday in response to the School Board’s decision. Some were indeed homosexuals, some of them were families, some of them were fellow students, and others were just tired of seeing this kind of thing happen in their town. Religion is kind of a big deal in Abbotsford. There’s practically a church on every corner, and the local editorial page usually has a letter every week advertising the book of Leviticus. There are people with the same approach to faith who make no qualms about injecting themselves into the local political process, hoping to turn this town into an idyllic version of something it was when there were 75,000 less people and it didn’t take up 5 highway exits. Intelligent people see something like this and they get scared. Nothing can wash away scruples like the belief that God is on your side, never mind that the same God has been known to have it out for those who practice religion without scruples, and never mind that the United Church flew a banner at the rally saying “We are all God’s Children”. Indeed, the people who supported the school board’s decision would see a rally like this as a form of persecution, further evidence they need to keep “people like that” out of the public sphere. That’s okay. This rally wasn’t for them, anyway. It’s for those who value tolerance and freedom of speech, yet are afraid to speak out themselves. It’s for the thousands who make their home in this town, yet feel shut out by the rhetoric they hear. This rally stands to prove that it’s not religious fervor that drives this town, it’s passion for our beliefs. Anywhere else in Canada, having passion is only a human right. Around here, it’s your duty as a citizen.