I write of cross-cultural experiences because it is what I live. I was formed and framed by Western values but am now immersed in Filipino values. It is impossible to ignore the clashing when it occurs.
By way of perspective and history, I am an explorer, an accidental one, I suppose. During my lengthening life, I have endured numerous passages, from farm boy to jock to army dude to marijuana sucking war protestor to ambitious and successful business executive to Bible student to womanizer and world traveler and, today, to sedate retired man and responsible father and husband. The intellectual spice through all of this was books, for they allowed me to immerse myself in explorations of other lands and lives. Books teased me into going out into the world to find its many treats and, yes, travails.
One of my favorite books is Shogun, by James Clavell. I admire Japanese disciplines, the finding of beauty in rocks and bamboo and waterfalls, the elegance of simple living, the submission of the individual to the group, the sometimes opposing duality of public and private utterance, and the presentation and flavors of exotic foods. I worked for a Japanese owned bank for 13 years, engaging with the principal officers daily. From that I learned the danger of too much risk aversion and the power of hard work, as well as respectful behavior and blow-out drinking.
Having seen a lot, I am disinclined to follow in the footsteps of various peddlers and preachers of how to live. I consider what others do but aspire to define my own principles, choices and acts. Using religion as an example, I retain a spiritual frame of heart when visiting any church of any faith, and I pick up the Bible often to learn the lessons contained in that spiritually endowed but man-made expression of history and how to live. But I set aside as irrelevant or even destructive the banding together of people into organized churches, and I resist submission to the dictates of their restrictive doctrines. I view churches as overwhelmingly blind and flawed institutions, where leaders allow their rote beliefs to inhibit their creative wisdom. That is why the Catholic Church in the Philippines is unable to adapt its doctrine to the melting planet. It comes up with excuses to justify doctrine rather than adjust doctrine to facts . . . as if changing doctrine would somehow mean God does not exist. They think God is like cement. I think He is fluid.
But enough of that particular digression.
Like the Japanese, I enjoy rock gardens. I find them spiritual. So on the property where my family is building its home in the Philippines, I found a broad area of karabao grass that dips into a little furrow that carries rain runoff through the property. An imaginative real estate agent would describe it as a “seasonal stream”. When it is the season of rain, the water streams through the little grassy valley. I placed large rocks here and there in this valley and planted a few plants amongst the rocks. The plants would be considered weeds in any other setting. Here they make a garden.
Now the arranging of the rocks is itself spiritual. I looked at the garden from different directions and moved the rocks about until they formed a harmony. I can't explain how this harmony is found. It is in the balance of the rocks and the plants and the totality of their surroundings.
For sure, my wife and her family and friends don't find harmony there. They think I am nuts. They look at the rocks as rocks strewn about the yard. What kind of beauty is there in a bunch of big rocks in the grass, and why put weeds there? Lunatic American.
This blindness to spiritual harmony seems also to apply to those who worship in the Catholic faith. Members of the flock attend church not to profess anything positive, but as just one more way of appeasing some superstition bugaboo. The Catholic faithful take my wife and me to task for failing to slaughter a pig or chicken and drain the blood into the foundation of our new house. They ask us if we will do the blessing of the house when construction is done. I think, but don't say (in the best Japanese two-faced convention), “why?” It is just cement and iron, and the fates will do whatever they will do. No amount of water tossed on the cement with good intent will hold the devil at bay, for Satan is in the hearts of man, not the heart of God.
Good is also found in the hearts of man, but it is harder to find in Filipino society, where people take care of themselves first and others rarely. Charity is not a natural tendency of Filipinos.
I have no idea how a country so steeped in religion can be so lacking in gentle sensitivity toward the earth and others. Their country is among the most beautiful in the world, and the most trashed. Of the two main religions, one is defensive, not spiritually uplifting. The other is murderous. People steal thousands of pesos with one hand and put 20 pesos in the collection sack with the other. Gardens in the Philippines are obedient, practical lines of plants, not wholesome, spiritual, unfettered places where God relaxes. And God is just a tool, an amulet to wear about the neck to ward off evil spirits.
I rather think I will spend a lot of time on the banks of my seasonal stream, looking at the peaceful harmony of rocks and re-centering my soul when it gets abused by the less-than spiritual, less than gracious, practices hereabouts.