Sunday, November 15, 2015

Jesus as Babaylan

(This talk was delivered at Asbury Methodist Church in Livermore, CA on Nov. 14 during the Filipino American Methodist Churches' celebration of their annual Pasasalamat/Thanksgiving. The day before I was asked to lead a leadership development workshop on decolonization and indigenization for clergy and lay leaders. The theme of the weekend is "Unos"/Storm in reference to the typhoons that have battered the Philippines; it is also a reference to the storms of life).
Mark, Chapter 4:

Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat. Mayap a abak pu.

I give thanks to the Creator for bringing us together today on Ohlone land before it was Livermore. Thank you for choosing this place to worship, together.

Please allow me to share some personal background before we talk about the gospel of Mark, Chapter 4.

My name is Elenita Fe Luna Mendoza Strobel. I am Kapampangan. My paternal grandfather was one of the early converts of the first American Methodist missionaries at the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century. The story is that he really wanted to be a priest but when he heard the Methodist missionary on his soapbox at the town square, he converted on the spot.  Alas, my grandfather died when my father was just a young boy. My grandmother, Apu Sinang, raised seven children by herself. I call her a magical woman because any woman who can raise 7 children by herself must possess some magic, don’t you think?

My father, Horacio, was very handsome; people called him Rock Hudson. The story goes that he almost became a movie actor along with Rogelio de la Rosa but instead like his father, he chose to serve God by selling bibles for the American Bible Society that later became the Philippine Bible Society. My Dad and Mom raised all six of us in the Methodist church. After my dad retired from the PBS, he came to the US to get his green card but he didn’t last long here. He went home, went to Union Theological Seminary and then at 65 was ordained as a Methodist pastor.

As good Methodists and being tutored in the American colonial education system at that time, my parents raised us to become individualistic, independent, strong willed, competitive, ambitious. I would later recognize these as White Anglo Saxon Protestant values, as American values. This explained to me why our family was disconnected from our large Catholic clan on my mother’s side and father’s side. After I married a white man and came to live in the US, I slowly came to realize that all of my life was some sort of a rehearsal for a future life in the US – a life that I thought I was prepared for but realized later on that I was mistaken.

When I left the Phil in 1983, my evangelical friends asked: why are you going to the US? What will you do there? My answer was: “I’m going to heaven and I will take as many with me as I can!” I thought that this is God’s purpose for bringing me to the US.

Little did I know that what God would do instead was to bring me back to my Filipino indigenous roots as a way to heal all the feelings that I had as a newly arrived immigrant in the US at that time – feelings of inadequacy, of non-belonging, of guilt, shame, of inferiority as a brown skinned woman. Even when I was on the receiving end of racist remarks, I still blamed myself.

Thank you for allowing me to share this personal story with you. It is connected to our theme this morning on weathering the storms of life.

So for the last three decades I have weathered many storms – anger, despair, homesickness, worry, unfulfilled longings. During these storms, God gave me an anchor – my Filipino indigenous spirituality as I came to know and learn and embody this sacred knowing thru my encounters with babaylans, culture-bearers, and indigenous theologians who were able to articulate our Filipino concept of Wholeness thru the lens of our own historical experience, and specially thru the lens of the indigenous peoples who were never colonized.

Datu Victorino Saway of the Talaandig tribe in Bukidnon said:  they say that we do not have a sacred text like the Bible or the Koran but we have, in fact, the biggest sacred book of all, We have Nature. We know how to read the mountains, the wind, the birds, the land. We know how to listen, We know how to talk to all beings in Nature. Everything is sacred to us. Another indigenous community in Tuguegarao led by the babaylan Reyna Yolanda believe that we would have been better off if our indigenous religions were not taken away from us or denigrated, devalued.  Brother Karl Gaspar, a Catholic brother, wrote a book on Filipinos as mystic wanderers in the world and he writes that if we return to our indigenous Filipino values, the work of social and moral transformation would make a lot of difference in transforming society. Virgilio Enriquez, the father of Sikolohiyang Pilipino, says that the perceived dysfunction of Filipino society lies in the conflict between western-imposed structural systems that do not fit the people’s underlying cultural values.

As you have probably seen lately on social media, these indigenous communities in the Philippines and around the world are also being threatened by the attitude of the rest of the civilized world who do not respect Nature and who do not believe that God is also present in the forest, in the trees, in the rivers, oceans.

In Mark, Chapter 4, Jesus commanded the storm to calm down and the winds obeyed him. This is not a metaphor. This is literal. Jesus did have the power to talk to the Wind and the Wind listened to him. This kind of power is called shamanic power.

Recently, a Jesuit theologian, Fr. Jojo Fung, sent me his book on shamanic theology. Fr. Fung studied with several shamans in Southeast Asia in an attempt to understand how God is also present in the work of the shamans in their indigenous communities. Fr. Fung had first to set aside his own theological orientation in order to understand the shaman’s powers to commune with spirits in nature and spirits in the other world. He surrendered himself to initiation rituals and realized and experienced that indeed God is present in those experiences, too.

In reading of shamanic theology, I recalled that as a young Methodist child, we also knew a Methodist Pastor Antonio who also had shamanic powers. He was a healer and a medium who connects with the spirit world.  My father, too, knew of the healing powers of oils and herbs, and the healing power of hilot. 

These are all the powers that the precolonial babaylans possessed. Vine de Loria, the most well known Native American anthropologist in his book, The Way we Used to Live, chronicled the eye witness accounts of missionaries and anthropologists of the powers of medicine men and women – that indeed these powers were beyond the rational mind’s ability to comprehend or believe in so instead these powers  were declared as evil, heathen, pagan, demonic. 

In the Philippines, the babaylans were systematically exterminated in the first 100 years of conquest.  But their power never went away. It went underground where it remained subversive. You can kill indigenous people but you cannot kill the Indigenous Soul.

Our Filipino indigenous soul resides in our sense of Kapwa, Pakikiramdam, in our kagandahang Loob. There we find our sacred wholeness and beauty.

As I read the gospel of Mark, I am awe struck by the realization that Jesus is my Babaylan…that all these years that I have worked as an academic to articulate a process of decolonization – is the gift from the Methodist faith of my parents and the gift of the gospel of Jesus that I now reclaim through this new indigenous lens.

The typhoons that have battered our homeland – Yolanda, Ondoy, Koppa – will continue as global warming and climate change impacts are felt most specially in the global south – in poorest countries. Islands in the Pacific are already negotiating with Australia and New Zealand on when to accommodate the climate refugees that are being impacted by rising ocean levels.

As Filipinos, it is not enough that we pray for typhoons to change their trajectories. It is important to understand how our alienation from Nature has resulted in the crisis of our modern times. This has resulted in large-scale disappearance of species, pollution of the oceans and contamination of seafood, salination of soil and erosion of top soil. As we speak, forests are burning in Indonesia to make way for the mono crop of palm oil plantations.

So many species have left us. They have given up on us. Perhaps they will return again when humans destroy themselves. No wonder the Kogi of Colombia’s Sierra Madre who think of themselves as the Elder Brother and caretaker of Mother Earth are asking us, the younger brothers, to become aware of how we are destroying the earth.

The Kogis understood that it is their prayers and ritual offerings to the Holy that keep things in balance; this is what enables them to survive to the present.

Among our own people, the Teduray who up until the late 1970s lived in the isolated forest of Faigel in between Bukidnon and Cotabato also believed in the sacredness of everything. Stu Schlegel, an anthropologist and Episcopal missionary who wrote about the Teduray in Wisdom from the Rainforest, writes that the Teduray didn’t have hierarchies, competitions, or rivalries. They all lived by the tenet of “do not give anyone a bad gall bladder”…Stu Schlegel came to realize that the world he comes from as a white, male, western, civilized, rich, educated person – is really a dysfunctional world when seen thru the eyes of Teduray world view.  In one account where Stu was trying to tell the story of racial and gender discrimination in the US to his Teduray friend, the friend responded: But, Brother Stu, why are your people so cruel?

Indeed, what would the world be like if we all lived by the wisdom of the Teduray, if we all try everyday not to give anyone a bad gallbladder?

After Jesus calmed the storm and the wind, the disciples wondered who he is. Perhaps they, too, haven’t witnessed such a miracle before. They, too, were already severed from their indigenous consciousness. (As historically speaking, by this time people in that part of the world we call Near East, have already shifted from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture).

What does Jesus mean then when he said, let’s go to the other side? What is the “other side” for us today? In my heart, I believe that this gospel message is inviting us to return to the other side that we’ve left behind in our quest to become modern – the homeland, our indigenous roots, the indigenous spirituality of our people.

In Ohio, a mombaki/shaman from Ifugao, Mamerto Tindongan, is building a traditional Ifugao Hut. He had a dream, you see, and in his dream he saw that the Ifugao Hut can be the way to heal the descendants of the 1904 St Louis Worlds Fair where his people and thousands of other indigenous Filipinos were taken by the Americans to be displayed as savages in the human zoos at the fair. Mamerto gave up his two MA degrees and career in order to bid the calling of his ancestors. He belongs to a lineage of mombakis.  And yet other Christianized Cordillerans in the US said “why should we donate to the building of this traditional hut when we have left the pagan world of our ancestors already?”

The “other side” that Jesus, as Babaylan, would want to take his Filipino disciples today is to that place where we were severed from our own ancestral roots and we were taught instead that we come from a demonic and evil, pagan world. I doubt that Jesus would have said that of us. For if we look at his life, the reason why he was put to death is because he was from the “other side” – everything that the dominant culture set up as norm, he revolted against.

The storms – both literal and symbolic – of our lives are perhaps God’s way of reminding us of how Jesus could perform miracles because of his fully developed Christ consciousness. He has transcended his ego and his GodSelf manifests itself in the miracles he performed; we experience the same miracles in our lives when we put our trust and faith in him.

This weekend, I feel honored and humbled to have been asked to talk about the power and beauty of the process of decolonizing ourselves. Perhaps I’d close this talk with a story told by my favorite priest, Fr. Albert Alejo. Once, while visiting an indigenous community in Mindanao and lunch was being served, the datu said, “perhaps because we have a priest with us, we should pray before eating.” Fr. Alejo then asked, “bakit po, if am not here will you be praying before eating?” And the answer was, “No, Father, because you see, when we prepared the ground, we thanked God, when we planted the seed, we thanked God, when we harvested the seed, we thanked God, when we cooked the harvest, we thank God. So you see Father, by the time the food is served, it is already sacred.”

Fr. Alejo has many stories like these about the wisdom of our indigenous kapwa. Stu Schlegel also inspires me to remember the wisdom of the Teduray because, he says, by remembering their worldview, we, too, can build “islands of sanity” in a world gone mad.

So I would like to invite you and I hope you will find inspiration to remember who we are as a people before we were colonized. To decolonize ourselves means to do the beautiful work of reclaiming our indigenous Beauty. Just like the elderly Manobo woman I met in Davao in 2006, who in a dialogue with a group of teachers from California, exhorted us: Please allow us to express our Beauty!

Let us imagine ourselves on that boat with Jesus. We have just witnessed him speaking to the Wind, we have just witnessed him speaking to the crowd on the shore before the boat pulled away. He invites us to go to the “other side” with him.

What do we find on the other side, I wonder? While preparing for this talk, I asked myself the same question and I remember that my “other side” is the Catholic faith that my mother left behind when she converted to Methodist when my father died.  Lately, I have been honoring my mother as a Catholic; I have a rosary now. My other side also refers to the calling I feel to be in solidarity with indigenous peoples in the homeland. Perhaps for some us, the “other side” is simply the person that we deem as our rival or competitor; or the person we envy; or the groups of people we look down on or are afraid of.  To go with Jesus to the other side reminds us that in our Filipino concept of Kapwa, there really is no other. Kapwa means You and I are One; or the self is in the other.

Please ask Jesus to give you the same power to listen to the Wind. And let us go with him to the other side.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I am seeing the word 'trans' a lot these days. Transindigenous. Transgender. Transnational. Transterritorial. Translineage. Transcendent. Transitory.

Transitions: this  one is for me.

Having recently filed for the faculty early retirement program, I am sensing the slow dissolution of attachment to a long stint in an academic institution. Although I feel that a part of me will always be doing academic work (based on my own definition of the term and on my own terms of engagement), still the feeling of transition is there. I suppose some of this is grief over the end of a stage of life. And on the other side of grief is the sense of gratitude for having had this grand adventure for three decades of my life on Turtle Island.

I remarked to someone the other day that all of this happened because I just wanted to feel good about myself. I wanted to be happy and I wasn't going to stop looking until I found a story that made me feel whole and worthy as a Filipina in the diaspora. This is how my work on decolonization began: as a journey of self-inquiry and discovery. It is a journey of descent into the underworld as the Jungians would say. It is a journey of going into the shadow world in order to retrieve its hidden jewels. I am grateful for the community of co-sojourners who have accompanied me, including my ancestors, who guided me thru dreams and visions.

I have shared those jewels through research and publications which, in turn, led to listserves and blogs discussing decolonization and indigenization, to conference organizing via the Center for Babaylan Studies.  There is a growing decolonization and indigenization movement in the diaspora.  Now I look around me and see so many seeds sprouting.  Communities are dreaming again and we are making our way thru this difficult time of Transition as a civilization, as a planet.

Self-inquiry and exploration has been a great gift for this part of the journey.  But this time I am becoming aware of a lesson that comes from the teachings of Vedanta: You are not your Mind; You are not your Body. You are not your Personality. All of the conditioning from our personal history that make up our egoic identity is not really who we are. To know your True Self, you must be willing to let these go.

As I try to learn this new way of Being I am constantly translating between different ways of knowing and I find resonances between various spiritual traditions that I've touched upon along my journey.  How beautiful it is to see these connections and to actually experience in one's consciousness how they all make sense.

But "making sense" takes time. And the time has come for me to retreat again into the cave of silence and solitude. I am finding it difficult to retreat from the external world of Doing but it is what my spirit is asking me to do. I am struggling to say 'No' but I know if I don't I will not be honoring the persistent call to Silence at this time. The ego is gratified by the external demands from others who seek me out for guidance, leadership, and advice. But until that moment that the ego no longer interferes and is released from external expectations, I will not be free. Free to be a mentor and elder.


The Power of Living Small

At a recent women's retreat I attended I proudly declared myself as a Big Dreamer. I want to Dream Big! I told the women.

But the more I sat with that thought the more unconvinced I became that this is indeed the path for me now.

In this modern culture of hype, spectacle, social media, and super-everything, I've realized that I am not called to ride this wave.

I am called to Live Small.

Morning Has Broken

I sat in my altar this morning where I have pictures of my parents and my Apu beside the vase of locally grown flowers from the farmers' market, candle, and sage. I haven't done this in a long time. But the house was quiet and I was alone downstairs.

For the past week, I have been nursing a painful stiff neck. Yesterday, I tried to cheer myself up by working in the garden sweeping autumn leaves and then I sat under the apricot tree to delight in the sweetness of my surroundings. But I was also thinking that my neck is my throat chakra and maybe there is something to that.

I texted Mamerto and asked for long distance healing. I was surprised when he said "maybe retiring in using your voice to impart knowledge may have created imbalance". He also wrote about the need to access a higher level of energy...maybe through sound healing. true! I've been chanting the gayatri mantra every morning for about 10min and sometimes I can still sing in the shower. I am listening to Uyayi and trying to learn to sing our beautiful lullabies.

At the altar, as soon as I lit the candle and sat and looked at the pictures of my Ma and Tang I started to cry; heaving on my chest with dry tears, I let myself go. Surrendering to the mixed feelings of sadness and joy, longing and belonging. It all felt good.

And then as the emotions settled, Quiet set in and I began to Listen.
Listen to the one you call God
Listen to the one you call Great Spirit
Listen to the one you call Oneness
Listen to the one you call Emptiness

One by one, they spoke.

I am the Sky.
I am the Moon.
I am the Sun.
I am the Ocean.
I am the Mountain.
I am the Wind.
I am the Lake.
I am the Rain.

We are your ancestors. We cradle You.

You is your body.
You is your mind.
You is your emotion.
You is your spirit.


You are beyond Time.

Then I opened my eyes.

I am Whole. I am Here. And Not Here.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Tatang the Healer

In elementary school I told everyone that my Tatang is a pharmacist. He was the one who attended to us when we were sick. He knew exactly what to do: what oils to use - camphor or aciete de manzanilla or coconut oil - to massage our aches and pains away. He knew what leaves or roots to boil to make poultices or to mix with our bath water. Culantro for chicken pox, guava leaves for wounds, etc. We ever rarely went to see Dr. Tioleco or Dr. Munoz. Our Tatang was our healer.

In high school, I was told that my Dad was not a pharmacist; not a college graduate. In fact, he only had a fourth grade education. But how could he have known so many things? In my young mind, I couldn't yet apprehend his passion and will to learn; he read voraciously! I couldn't yet apprehend his passion to serve God and serve community, his adherence to John Wesley's teachings, his obedience and faith in the Methodist God.

As a teenager, I preferred hearing the story of how he almost became a movie star alongside Rogelio de la Rosa. He was after all a very good looking man. Street children used to call him Rock Hudson! I thought that if he had chosen to become a movie star, we'll be rich and I'll be happier. I would have preferred telling my friends that my Dad is a pharmacist or that my Dad is a movie star rather than saying "My Dad sells Bibles."

Notice the shift from Tatang to Dad? That's how I was in my teens. I wanted to be hip like the other kids who spoke English and called their father "Dad" instead of "Tatang".

In hindsight, I realize that my Tatang is a Healer. No wonder we had a constant stream of visitors at home. People were always wanting to talk to him about their problems: from how to raise pigs and chickens or how to solve church politics or how to mediate between parties in disagreement. He prayed for them or quoted Bible passages, or offered a mini-sermon.  Later on he also became a lover of birds and orchids, fruit trees and whatever plants he could grow in his small piece of land.

Tang already knew about sustainability even before it became a buzzword. He was into recycling and composting before everyone else was. He hated wasting water or wasting anything for that matter. Ever the disciplinarian and prudent one, I learned my habits of thrift and neatness from him.

His busy-ness in helping other people became a source of tension later on between him and my Mom. As each of the kids flew the coop, he became busier in tending to the people that came to our house for his counsel while my Mom felt lonelier without us kids. She longed for his attention and affection.

As I think of my Tang today, I see a Wounded Healer. His father died when he was only seven years old. Thanks to my courageous and strong Apu Sinang, her sons learned how to fend for themselves at an early age. The boys learned how to shine shoes and sell cigarettes on the street.

I am grateful now that he became a serious Methodist later on and lived a life of faith and service to the God he came to know through the lens of his American-patterned education. I am grateful that he chose this life rather than the movie star life. It is the straight and narrow life that served his family well. It is what he knew best.

Even though I came to eventually decolonize this history and how it came to shape my own life, I am coming full circle yet again. This time with Grief and Praise, I honor my Dad's life and legacy.

In his woundedness, I saw mine. And I can see how important it is now to share these stories about him from the place of Praise and Love because Grief has brought us healing.

May all that we Remember and Re-member bless us.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ahhh, it's been a long time since I've visited my own blog.
I'm glad that this is still a place for keeping Memories of:

-- the recently concluded CfBS symposium in Ohio
-- meeting Stuart Schlegel, author of Wisdom from the Rainforest.  About twenty years ago when I was just starting out in my grad studies, I refused to read anything written by white male anthropologists about my people. I mentioned this to Stu recently and he said he understands perfectly. So I am quite a belated reader/admirer of his book...which also took him almost 40years to write after his stay with the Teduray. This is good because he writes it from the longer perspective of a wisened, deepened, and transformed man. As an ally, I embrace him now.
-- SIPA one-day retreat to strengthen the organization's orientation towards KAPWA values
-- Grief retreat at Westminster Woods with Francis Weller. Grieving for Gaia retreat.
-- Retirement date: May 22, 2015. FERP program in the Fall.
-- Workshop with Jurgen at Birthkeeper Summit.

Monday, April 6, 2015


In Local Nomad this week.

The erosion of desire flows towards the ocean of Nothing. From hereon she can feel the grief–no, not really–of release from the encumbrances of ego that fed a good life and carved out a niche sprinkled with perks and privilege. It all seemed so important and impressive for someone like her―-once a ‘fresh off the boat’ immigrant. But now having been hulled out of all things of the mind, she longs only for the quietude and the solidity of Unchanging Being. Nothingness, all of a sudden, is an angle of repose one could trust and lie down with.