Saturday, October 07, 2017

How Do You End Violence?


Posed with this question while watching a docu film, I had to pause and think if I had an answer worth sharing online. I had none – so, I kept thinking some more. But then, I had to pause again because ants were coming in and out of my PC keyboard. My fault! I should never have moved from the computer table to the dining table to write.

The ants! Yes, they reminded me of King Solomon, who – as the legend goes – was marching his army one day and saw that on the road ahead was a colony of ants crossing their path. Now, we all know that Solomon was unlike his warrior-father, King David, for he was a man of peace. So, why was he leading an army? As a king, he had the obligation to keep an army for national and personal security purposes. Besides, as an artist/writer/scientist/tycoon/harem-keeper/leader all rolled into one, he had to travel to foreign lands and “explore” the world.

Well then, to prove our point that he was unlike his father, Solomon ordered his army to change direction, to find another way and avoid trampling on the tiny army of ants. He was simply avoiding committing a massacre without even shooting an arrow!

Perhaps, Solomon’s way – whether you believe the story was real or not -- can help us find creative ways we have never tried before to end violence once and for all. Well, the docu eventually provided one possible answer to its own question by suggesting that we end the cycle of revenge and violence by allowing people to talk. Meaning, people need to listen to one another and discover that their own needs and issues are no different from those of their enemies. Perhaps then, we can learn to truly empathize and learn to live harmoniously with one another.

And so, like Solomon who talked to God and listened to His Creation, we can also realize that ants, no matter how despicable they may be to us, are some of the least of God’s creatures also collecting scraps of food and merely trying to survive in this world. And if we can learn to value these almost negligible insects the way Solomon did, we may also find in our hearts to value other people – no matter how despicable or hateful they may seem at times.

The violence begins in our hearts and minds. My own instincts are telling me to squish these typical ants with my fingers (while I type!); but I could not because the keys are in the way. I use my rubber-ball air-blower instead and send the ants flying off the keyboard. One can almost wish we can blow violence away that easily. Much like changing our path so we will not have to disturb an ant colony which, in reality, may have the capacity to send horses or humans go berserk. And you think Solomon’s wisdom only applied to splitting babies? In fact, he was only applying his simple rule to solve violence: Choose between violence and love. He gambled with a baby’s life and was vindicated by a loving mother!

This same vital question elicits various answers from people on the issue of the proliferation of guns v.v. the rise in mass killings all over the world. Many say controlling guns will solve the mass killings. Others respond by saying that mass killings have been committed using things other than guns.

Question: Have insecticides ever stopped ants and other pests from proliferating? That is, we might think of anti-gun laws like they were pesticides and that they are the most efficient or logical means of stopping people from using guns to kill people. But guns were precisely invented to kill people – good or bad! It is quite too late to stop people – governments and gun manufacturers – from producing guns. If we have heard of the arms race, we probably realize we cannot put a stop to arms being made en masse. We have tried doing that with drugs and they still proliferate. Where there is money; there is anarchy – and vice versa as well. Change direction and find other solutions.

Another question: If we allow guns to be produced and enacted stricter rules, how do we deal with other means of killing, such as using bombs or nerve gas, ramming into crowds with trucks, flying a plane into a tower or even slowly poisoning populations with commercial food laced with cancerous or unhealthful substances? Violence does not always come with a big or small bang or the sudden issue of blood from ruptured human veins. It can come from all the mean and evil ways we say and do to one another in our personal or collective pursuits. Do you know what Cain used to kill Abel? Who cares now? Not even Moses cared to tell us, aside from the fact that sin did it. Today, we say, “Guns kill – sin is not an issue.” If we only truly realize that we will all die because of sin!

I heard a respectable parent once say quite seriously that his child had a sort of imp or devilish spirit driving it to exhibit nearly crazy or violent behavior that is not uncommon among kids. He wondered where that “spirit” came from and how it came to be controlling his child’s actions, to his consternation. We can be sure the parent had tried “jailing” the child inside a room or “disciplining” it with a rod. But what other law or means of control can a parent impose – or a national leader, for that matter – in order to stop violent behavior once and for all?

Remember, Solomon did engage in war more than once during his reign. An army does not exist for no reason at all. Guns or bombs are modern permissible means of fighting those who use them as well for unlawful reasons. Violence – and its monstrous clone, terrorism – is here to stay. Not that we are giving up on the issue. If we must be practical, sensible and, yes, biblical, we would listen to the Lord of David and Solomon speak: “He who is filthy, let him be filthy still. . . ; he who is holy, let him be holy still. . . ; and behold, I Am coming quickly and My reward is with Me to give to everyone according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.

Only God can stop violence once and for all. The best we can do is to stop it within our hearts and minds NOW. Not by throwing away our pesticides or guns but by throwing away our sinful anger. Not by looking to see if there are ants on our path but to see if there are people who might need whatever little attention and help we can give. Not by posting hurtful or unpolished words in response to photos, videos, sayings and actions of people but with corresponding words and actions made tasteful by a grain of salt. Taste first what we feed others to make sure we are not dispensing poison to an already toxic world.

Yes, I think that should work in a fast-paced world where we multi-task walking with texting, watching with working, eating with talking, socializing with bashing and, the most oxymoronic human activities ever, studying with gaming.

Living the kind of life we have inherited today can become a most tiresome task. That is why there is a need for us to study how to live life to the full. Many people fill their hearts and minds with hatred and violence because they never learned how to live a full life. Terrorists aim to kill because they themselves find no reason to live the empty life they have. They have a death wish for others – as well as for themselves. The new joke is that the only way to stop the mass killings is to sell more guns because those who kill with guns end up killing themselves!

The reason there is a judgment in the end is because the life we have is not in any way full. God rewards those who strive to live life fully with even more life, no, with endless life! But that does not mean we cannot live fully even now. There is a Way – if you know what I mean. If only we can talk one another into accepting this principle instead of fighting one another, we could make this world much better for more people. For even among believers, there is so much anger and violence hidden within us. Or as the song goes: What the world needs now is love, sweet love! And as the Golden Rule states: Love one another.

For only love can fill an empty heart. And the love of God is so great that He made this world and gave us life though it may seem un-full or unfulfilling to us. But if we truly believe, the perfect love and perfect peace of God will overflow from our hearts.

(Painting above: Courtesy of www.bibleencyclopedia.com.)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Holy Week Blues (Part 1)

(This article was published in 2004)

I like writing songs more than essays. In fact, the moment I wrote the title above (a technique of using the title as the guiding summary in writing the lyric or the text), I thought this would make a very interesting song. (One of these days, I might make one.) Still, an article allows one to expose more clearly a thought than a song could, although a song can express more emotions in a word or two than an essay could in a thousand.

A word or two sung requires one to give off a part of one’s soul, if breathing were to be taken as a function of the soul more than the body, as the ancient Chinese believed. But writing, if we are to glean from some of the best writers, requires no less participation by the soul. I think the soul reacts to both impulses – a song and an essay – in much the same way, except that it receives them through different mediums. One comes through the ears while the other comes through the eyes. Our society, having been dominated by high-tech audio-visual media and no longer by the plain spoken or written word, has led many of us to forget the use of those muscles designed for the latter.

All this leads us to the irony of this week‘s significance in our individual and national life. From my own experience, Holy Week served to bring the faithful alternately from the lowest to the highest point in the annual cycle where we can all face the meaning of life and death in the glorious context of the resurrection. But the simplicity of the original story and the directness of the healing process it carries have all but disappeared from the complexities of human enterprise.

After having just read two articles reviewing Mel Gibson’s “The Passion”, what else can one do but join the plaintive chorus and provide, at least, a solemn counterpoint. For in a few days (from Maundy Wednesday to Easter Sunday), we literally fall down to our knees as we recall the greatest sacrifice of all. The thoughts and emotions that arise from all Christians worldwide put together at this time of the year could not be matched by the intensity of all the feelings aroused by all the best singers or athletes inside auditoriums and arenas. The latter may surpass the former with its avidity and loudness, but will never equal it in sincerity and faithfulness. One is the triumph of human achievement, the other the triumph of divine excellence. One the life of victory, the other the victory of life.

That many spend this time also to go to the beaches or to engage in various mindless revelries may not be really ironic or appalling, for such is the variety of human experiences and perceptions. After centuries of having gone through the external requirements of this religious habit, perhaps, without having imbibed the true meaning of the original events, many have simply taken off the ceremonial clothes and have decided to bask in the sunlight of individual freedom. One person’s holy day is another person’s holiday. It is as simple as that, if you come to think of it. For Holy Week itself represents the very reversal of human fortunes in the face of adversity and despair. Rejection and vindication. Death and resurrection. Grief and joy. Mortality and immortality. Some choose to live the moment and forget the past or the future without fear of the consequences. Some choose to live the moment for all eternity in spite of circumstances. How we live is, after all, all up to us individually. Not the most stringent and cruel laws that may prohibit either license or worship will prevent anyone from doing it just the same. Rogues and martyrs prove this.

Freedom and happiness are two of the basic rights guaranteed by modern societies, in general. But this does not mean that we, as humans, have finally arrived. Far from it. That Mel Gibson’s movie should be attacked by Jews for being anti-Semitic and rejected by others for being fascistic should convince us. Why? Well, for one thing, whether the Jews actually acknowledge the historicity of the story or not, their reaction speaks of their continuing unbelief in the fact that the Messiah has indeed come . . . and gone. And so, they do not know or experience the real meaning of freedom and joy in earthly life. They criticize that which should have given them reason to be proud of and thankful for, for having been chosen as the bearers of the original good news.

And why do so many of us defer so much to the Jews when they feel offended? For fear that we offend God for taking a stand against His chosen people? Or is it because they wield so much power in global economy and fear any repercussions? Then let the Lord speak once more in His anger.

Christ cursed the Jewish leaders for their murderous attitude against prophets. (One of the reasons why they eliminated Him.) Notice this passage in Matthew 23:30-39:

"And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "

(Try reading the last paragraph not with pretended divine wrath but with tearful compassion and assured victory and you will somehow know what divine love and power are all about. It does not take an actor to be able to internalize these words. It only needs an open mind.)

“The Passion” is but half of the story. There is a reckoning as well as a reconciliation. I hope Mel Gibson will do the most natural thing in Hollywood and do a sequel (or two) by portraying the resurrection and the eventual return of Christ. (I am sure the skeptics, mockers and the atheists will give him free media exposure this time.) Then maybe, just maybe, the modern Jews will have reason to truly rejoice with the rest of the believing world. That all of them may realize that their privilege as chosen ones has never been lost but only reserved for the common glorification for all the saved.

Yes, the Jews and unbelievers, in general, act this way today only because they do not believe Christ rose from the dead. Imagine what songs they could be singing with all Christians if they did. Then, we could forget about all these Holy Week Blues and sing Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" instead!

(Photo above of Jim Caviezel as Christ courtesy of Google.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How Cutting Trees Affects Us Eventually


Let us briefly sidestep the present burning issue of the trees cut or mothballed by SM Baguio City and look at the life of a tree or a plant.

In one growing season, one corn plant is said to transpire (absorb water through the roots and return it to the atmosphere through the leaves) more than 200 liters of water. In the 3 months that it grows, the average amount of water that passes through a corn plant daily is about 2 liters. That is, in any given day, 2 liters of water flow through a single plant, not to mention the rest of the water that remains absorbed in the ground or that is retained in the water-table underneath the soil. In a hectare of corn with as many as 20,000 plants or so, 40,000 liters of water is retained each day. That is about 40 cubic meters of water deposited in a hectare of corn alone and, perhaps, the same amount or even much more held by the soil. (A plant cannot continue to live and transpire if there is not enough water available. Clue: Look at the branches and leaves of a tree and you see a reflection of its roots in structure, in symmetry and in dimension, more or less. A tree virtually functions as a living river which conveys water.)

One large tree is also said to transpire about 400 liters of water daily. A mature Baguio pine tree can be assumed to convey the same amount on an average day. Based on that, 60 trees will then convey 24,000 liters or 24 cubic meters of water. Since each person is estimated to use an average of 200 liters of water (about a drum of water) each day for various purposes, depriving a city of 24 cubic meters of water is practically depriving 120 persons (two persons per tree) of their daily water requirement which will have to be sourced out somewhere somehow. This is not considering the effect that removing those many trees have on lowering the water-table and lessening the capacity of the land around it to retain water, leading to eventual lowering of the water-table and depriving existing plants of enough water.

Considering that Baguio is getting overpopulated and overburdened, especially during peak visiting periods, that water deficit becomes multiplied as more and more people will have to fight over the remaining water that is available. We also have to consider the effect of lowering the water-table on the structural integrity of the city’s foundation, as well as aggravating the soil’s capacity to retain water as consolidation of soil particles reduces the air-spaces within the soil.

Can we see what cutting trees does to us? But it may be too late, as we practically have no trees in our cities. Our only hope is to maintain our forests and arable lands. But are we doing that? If we cannot protect our cities in which we reside almost every single day, how can we protect the forests which lie beyond our scope of concern or constant awareness?

For whether you cut 1,000 trees or 100, the effect is the same. Those 1,000 trees may be far from the city and towns; but the water they transpire will join the water transpired by the 100 trees in the atmosphere and fall as one rainfall on the land in torrents to scour and flood the mountains and rivers. Somewhere in that process are humans who will suffer the consequences of 1,100 trees cut or 440,000 liters or 440 cubic meters of water daily possibly rushing down a hill or through a river and causing landslides and ravaging homes along the way. We know how that happens often enough nowadays. And if almost all the typhoons that visit our country originate from the middle of the Pacific Ocean, that may mean that half of the source of the water that falls on our land comes from America, Australia and Pacific nations. The rest may come from Asia. It is quite reasonable to say that what we do to our land we do to ourselves as well as to other nations.

Cutting trees senselessly amounts to cutting our link to the past and to the future. A tree is, in essence, the only water we have in the present; cut it down and you cut off the water that it drank from the past through its roots as well as the water that it will breathe off in the future through its leaves. It is a vital link between Heaven and Earth. It is a crucial source for human life and survival. A desert has neither water nor trees.

Going back to the issue, malls may be nice to have in our towns and cities; but trees are much more preferable and useful for the vast majority. However, our democracy is one that does not totally respect Nature’s or God’s ways.

Finally, at Luneta Park, heroes were martyred for our country; at Luneta Hill, trees were martyred for a city. This desecration is a symbol of the same unbridled power that beset the past. We cannot let it pass by without us crying out in pain.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reaction to Mr. Rodel Rodis' Article "Pope Francis' Views of God"

Hi Rod,

Thanks for your article.


I read it with great interest the first time. I had to read it again to appreciate the logic, the essence and the purpose for your writing it.

From what I glean, your logic is basically founded on the classification of the Pope’s views vis-à-vis the Filipinos’ general view, after which you then submitted your own cunning opinion that we, as confused as we are as a people and as predominantly Catholics, “pray to a dysfunctional Holy Trinity, believing in an Authoritarian God the Father, in a Benevolent God the Son, and in a somewhat Critical or Distant God the Holy Spirit.”

Your conclusion seems to hark back to and find validation in our history as an oppressed colony for four centuries during which time we felt God, just as He allowed the Hebrews to suffer under the pharaohs, left us in chains under the “authoritarian” Catholic Spanish rulers. We then came under the more “benevolent” and Protestant American rulers who allowed us to somehow progress as a nation and after which we again came under a “critical” or overbearing non-Christian Japanese rulers whose only purpose was to extract our natural resources. Under such paradoxically real but artificial conditions, we totally lost our freedom three times over. Today, we remain unsure whether we truly are independent or merely ruled by our own or borrowed or inherited dysfunctional social, political, religious and cultural values.

Hence, considering where we stand as a people, a conglomeration of Christians with diverse religious or spiritual beliefs, you seem to be calling each one, Catholic or not, to see the Pope and his coming visit as a chance for us to assess how we stand as believers in relation to him, to the Catholic Church (or your particular church) and to God. We know most people assume the three are one and the same; but that is not the general reality. The Pope, in fact, has made it clear that he has his own opinions not quiet in keeping with the conservative or popular views of his own church, as you pointed out.

This multiplicity in religious opinions has, for centuries, bedeviled Christianity and has occupied my own mind and some of my close Christian friends’ minds, such that we have spent a good couple of years meeting just to tackle some of the thorniest issues at hand: the Deity of Christ, the Communion, the priesthood, traditions, worship, etc.

I see then the Pope’s coming visit as another reason for majority of Filipinos to rally upon a faith-system that has dominated our country for five centuries now since the exact time Luther arose in protest against it – in 1521, when he nailed his theses on the church door and when Magellan stepped upon these islands. The ironic historical coincidence is too obvious to miss – while history (with God’s inscrutable approval) was trying to correct some errors in Europe, it wanted a small distant nation to start learning what was losing credibility. Some see the latter event as nothing more than a military-backed business venture – after all, the sword is in the shape of a cross, and just as blood-stained.

And so, we remain fixed within a 16th-century form of Christianity along with other countries in South America, a condition which is conducive to continued political and economic exploitation. And the US does not seem to care much as long as the aristocracy remains compliant to imposed western economic, military and political programs, as it has invariably done so from the start.

Fast forward to the 1970’s when people started reading the Bible in throngs. We cannot avoid the fact that so many have turned to a more evangelical (that is, biblical or what we used to call Protestant) and less Catholic-based interpretation of the Gospel. I have to admit I was one of them, although it feels awkward to be bringing this up at this time when political and cultural divisions have complicated our lives even more.

But your article is, secondly, essentially trying to point out the stark and sad reality of our nation’s partitioned nature on so many levels, not just in religion. And, like it or not, practicing one’s religion nowadays is tantamount to being political as well. Just look at Manny Pacquiao: a congressman who has turned into an evangelical preacher (among other things, aside from being an actor, singer and basketball player). A friend and I cannot talk about Pacquiao’s religious beliefs without arguing about his business and political ambitions. Is the Pope or Pacquiao a preacher or a politician? Or are they both both? And are they not also, in fact, businessmen/capitalists with huge financial interests to protect or pursue?

Life, even for believers, is no longer that simple. That is why I also see your intention, thirdly, as that of challenging each one of us to judge the spirits, actuations or the opinions of people, especially those who parade themselves as apostles or disciples of Christ and to really take to heart the lessons that the Lord Jesus Christ left to His 12 apostles, the true cornerstone and foundation of the living body of Christ on Earth. Yes, the foundation has already been established during Christ's ministry; no need to rebuild or to reform. Anything beyond that is dangerous ground.

In addition, even the issue on evolution, which is not really given much media or popular coverage here, you have brought up, thus, adding another intellectual or scientific dimension into the otherwise straightforward religious issues involved. Nevertheless, politics will always be the white elephant in the room.

For if evolution is the way God created us (that is, we did evolve from primates and humanoids) how come humans, who have not truly evolved in spiritual maturity, can now go to Heaven? For if Mary has indeed ascended to Heaven, then, our state as Homo Sapiens is the end-of-the-road for evolution. But who are we to say that 1st-century up to 21st-century humans are the ultimate evolutionary creation of God? How are we more evolved than the Hebrews, in that sense? If the first humans, Adam and Eve, who were created in the image of the perfect God, were in fact the first sinners (or evolutionary misfits, in short), what chances do the rest of us have? And what kind of God would spend many millions of years to develop humans only to see or allow them to fail at the first simple test of appetite? We deserve to be treated like animals which cannot control their desires, whereas we do have the spiritual and intellectual capacity to harness Nature and to create so much goodness and progress, if we only followed the ways of our Creator and His universal designs. We have 7 other planets we can colonize and yet we cannot even keep this one a real Paradise!

Why? Because there is a Deceiver (Did you intentionally forget to mention him?) who causes people to rebel against God and who causes confusion and division among God’s children. Truth is: God declared how He made the Universe and humans. The fact that we do not believe as Moses testified has caused us to doubt, no, to make God and His messengers as liars. We know who the Father of Lies is.

More than looking forward to the Pope’s visit, let us look forward to the return of Christ (which I hope happens soon, maybe next year -- after our class reunion, preferably). By that I mean, let us consider all the present issues as Christ sees them and as He taught them. What were His and His apostles’ views on the Creation, on the Final Judgment, on homosexuality, on women, on adultery, on worship, on faith and many more? He alone is the anchor of our faith, not any human individual, living or dead, or any system of faith we have invented other than the one founded on His revealed and unchangeable truth.

The assurance of our salvation lies upon our understanding of God’s truth as declared by His Son, Jesus. Anyone else and anything else is subject to suspicion.


vince

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Begin Again: A Movie Review

At several levels, I can totally relate with the movie Begin Again. First off, it turned out to be a surprisingly better choice for me over the latest Transformers sequel as it saved me from the deafening noise of machines talking, whirring, clanging, crashing and exploding. Instead, I was treated to excellent music superbly mixed and delivered by the finest theater sound-system you cannot carry around in an iPod or even install in your house, while spun around an optimistic but realistic story (a multi-faceted love story thankfully unlike what many would expect as it relates to the idea of music production or, as I see it, the innocent artistic side of being a composer). No, I was actually thinking I was watching a retelling of my own life as a songwriter/producer. Or, if not my actual experiences, at least my views about music as a craft and as a business, about relationships and about life as a whole.

I wish I could have watched the movie again just to get a better grasp of the dialogue and the nuances of some characters’ evolution into what they could be the epitome of people who rule our music industry. But as an out-of-the-way film about out-of-the-way music, I doubt if it will ever ring bells among the profit-oriented composers and producers among us. Nevertheless, this painfully raw but brutally powerful film deserves five stars for even making a gallant stand against the music industry powers-that-be.

How many watched or preferred it over other films is the big question. But, hey, I am overjoyed that even in the character of Keira Knightley, Greta, an idealistic music writer exists who simply finds joy and fulfillment in hearing her songs (or singing it to her cat) and not to hear it played on the radio -- decorated or enhanced to please the music executives. Her initial disgust at the idea of recording her song set the theme all throughout the movie with a mellowing at the end when she realizes every artist must work the machine to some degree so that what her cat hears can be heard by humans as well.

At those initial levels, the movie succeeds for me. Nothing else would matter; but there is more.

Aside from the fact that Greta rides a bike around New York City, she also is the kind of person who does not think twice of humbly serving people she cares for. From her boy friend, Dave Kohl, played by Adam Levine whom she practically follows around as a supportive “coffee-server/waiter” and “inspiration”, she also serves her partner-producer Dan’s (played by Mark Ruffalo) daughter like a “social worker” on-duty – teaching her how to dress, how to attract the right kind of boy-friend and how to play with a band. On top of that, she bravely counsels the father how to treat a daughter as a father should and not as an absentee-father that he is.

Here is an artist who truly knows life and knows that life is not merely escaping into a dream world of musical ideas to describe her view of the perfect world; she actually ends up making songs that explode with the angst that life deals her (like the Dear John song – Like a Fool -- composed and recorded on an iPhone for her boy-friend) and frees herself of the things that burden rather than bless her.

But one of the most fatal stabs the film succeeds in punching a hole on the fabric of the giant music industry is not even shown in the main body of the movie but in the end-credits. Those who leave before then or do not listen carefully would easily miss the frontal attack against profiteers out there. She decides to reject the offer of a big music label in favor of producing her album herself and selling it online for -- what? just $2 per album! Again, here is an artist who compromises a bit to make some profit off her work but does so by allowing more people to access her creative work. Not that talent is cheap, as the film may appear to be saying; real talent must be made available to as many people as possible. That is, in spite of the potential her work has to rake in much money if pushed through the usual music production process, she opts for using the Internet and its alternative music stores to reach as many people as possible. Which, in the business sense, actually makes a lot of sense! That is how you defeat the giants. Remain small but accessible. With so many artists doing that, who needs giants? The film is either describing or starting a revolution.

The movie (as the title seems to suggest) must be giving everyone of us a chance to look at music, together with the artistic and business sides of it as well, with a fresh look, showing us how to begin again with the basics of why we make or listen to music in the first place. The song is the product of a person whose heart and soul give birth to emotions worth writing about. Whoever is or are involved in the song or the story of the song is all that matters for the true artist. We write to set free what is burning within us. The catharsis is the fulfillment itself. Whether others listen (or listen in) or not is less of a concern.

The song is finished the moment it is written and sung by the writer. But the producer, oftentimes, hears arrangements and applause and money jingling as the song plays. The two sounds are entirely two different things altogether. Much of what we hear then (even the many best hits we love), may not be what the writer meant it to be. Yes, we must admit, many hits would not have been released without the music machinery that exists. But imagine how many more beautiful and honest songs we would have had if things were done differently -- as they are now, slowly through alternative ways suggested by the film.

The essential songwriter hears only the words and melody of the song and nothing else. Others may hear something else; and therein lies the danger of losing the essence of the song. And often, that is what happens.

Next time you listen to a song, listen to the silent voice of the writer and, if possible, just a guitar or a keyboard behind it, and not just the singer (unless, of course, if it is Randy Newman!). Oftentimes, you will hear what the song is originally all about and not what we want it to mean. Even Dave Kohl or Adam Levine, the epitome of the rock star in and out of the movie, realizes this as he sings the song Keira’s character had written for him (or, more precisely, for the two of them), albeit too late.

It may not be too late for many of us to begin again, not just in the artistic or professional sense but in the moral or spiritual sense. That at those moments when we are at the end of our rope, we can still find the hope to begin a fresh start in life. But sometimes, it takes a real life-artist (meaning, a genuine observer of life and the undying principles that govern it) to find out how to begin again.

Manariwa!

(Photo above: Still Life Special FX photography by Sean & Misha Raymer, Jordan Flores and Jhanine Familara of Baguio City.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

LSS and Mental Discipline

I found the cure for LSS!

You know, that Last Song Syndrome that keeps a song playing in your mind whatever you are doing. Here it is: Keep saying LSS silently as many times as you can. At times, say Last Song, Silent! as if commanding your mind to click that song off your mental iPod. Or say, Love Stillness, Silence like a yogi hypnotizing yourself into a mental reboot, or, if an unwelcome song really persists, un-mute the volume and shout: Leave, Stupid Song!

It works for me. Try it; it could also work for you.

Obviously, music should be sung or listened to, not just serve as literal or virtual (mental) background audio-scape to remind us we are not alone. It’s so quiet and lonely here; let’s have some sounds! Or we leave the TV on while we do something else. We are now so inured to sound or noise that silence scares us into thinking or feeling we are detached from others or ourselves.

Or we think listening to someone or something makes us look smart, feel productive or reasonably happy. The business-people want you to think so and you know why. The IT industry has cashed in on our supposed appetite or desire for information. But how much information is enough? And what kind of information really matters?

Worse of all, we have let others think for us, feel for us and even sing for us. We have become nothing but absorbents of others’ lives. We let others live for us and in us. And we gladly let them and, sometimes, we live our lives around their lives as well. That is what we do with our idols -- celebrities or deities.

Music is a product of a living mind. But not all music is meant to lead you to life. Some can destroy your mind and life. What music ends up doing to you then is part of your conscious or unconscious effort to become a better or less person than you are now.

Yes, in some instances, music also helps us to think clearly and more effectively; but have we ever really done quiet thinking? I mean thinking and listening only to our mind and not to others’ opinions or commentaries or to music playing out loud or inside our brain?

This is how the brain generally works: It focuses at one thing at a time; but we often allow it to wander or get off track with or without our conscious control. Imagine a highway with many streets branching out of it, left and right, diagonally and roundabout. The brain can only allow us to think willfully on one single thing at any moment and yet we do not realize that it switches from that thing (say a TV show) to one or more things at various times, sometimes within a split second (the cat leaping onto your lap which you pat as you go back to the show) or a longer time (your son calling you to ask if he can go out with his friends and you say, OK, have a great time!) and back to the thing (the show!).

Like Walter Mitty, you drive down a highway, take a turn right for a few meters to get a cat up on a tree into your car, then drive back to the highway and then turning left for a mile to watch and cheer your son as he flips over and kicks the football into the goal and, then finally, back to the highway on your way now to the planet Naboo aboard a spaceship, if you happen to be watching Star Wars.

LSS, or any mental diversion, is essentially a turn from the main highway that keeps our mind distracted, daydreaming or scatterbrained -- and whatever else we have come to name it. Oftentimes, the very thing we are doing might be the distraction we should be avoiding: playing video games or partying till dawn. Yes, many of us have made a career or life of distractions! We fondly call them hobbies – or, sometimes, obsessions.

It takes discipline to keep focused. Athletes are good at it. Their passion for concentration and total body engagement to the matter at hand are limitless. A single distraction as the opponent lobs a ball over the net could make you lose your timing and miss the backhand return for a lost point. Or a split second glance to your side could lead you to run over a rock and cause a nasty bike spill.

We are the pilots of our minds and have complete control over what we will think and, consequently, what we will say and do. If the mind, therefore, appears as if it is trying to wrest control from us, it can only mean we lack the tools to discipline ourselves, our bodies and our abilities. Accidents do and will happen; but that is mainly because we and others get out-of-focus or mindless now and then.

We should learn to control our minds or we will always find ourselves being undisciplined or unmindful (that is, half-a-mind away from the where we are). As the Jedi master often said: Be mindful, padawan! The world has become so complicated and at times chaotic that the mind is constantly bombarded by stimuli from all sides. And we are partly to blame. We buy cell-phones we can use as a phone, an iPod, a camera, a TV, a book, a browser, a play station, a piano, a recorder and even as a mirror. And then, there is the elevator, the bus, the mall or just about everything which drowns our ears with music of various kinds and rhythm, soft and loud, fast and slow. And the billboards that do not cease to seduce even at night. The neighbors who sing karaoke till dawn. Or the dogs that steal your sleep as they bark at a cat over the fence.

Yes, even when you need sleep to still your mind, things still manage to bring you off the highway of your dreams to restart you back to consciousness and into the battle for mental serenity and even sanity.

Imagine what we can do is we could totally focus on what needs to be done at all times. Facebook would lose more than half of its users. YouTube would cease to be an alternative for TV and viral videos would die of colds and flu.

Yes, more people would start becoming more efficient users of all their resources: time, money, effort and food. What? Food?!

It takes energy for our nerves to function and each mental process requires axons giving way to impulses that the brain will process accordingly. Hence, LSS can be an emotionally and literally tiring thing for it uses up energy without us achieving some good out of it except irritation, wasted time and lack of concentration. So, solving LSS and all other distractions to the mind can help us become healthier as we use up only our energy for things that really matter for our well-being.

We can take necessary detours now and then, as long as we focus on our final destination. Let LSS, movies and Candy Crush divert your mind if you need to. But remember the consequences of missing out on the real joys of your journey and the big opportunities you could lose because you dilly-dallied or wasted your energy tramping on the side-streets instead.

The mind never stops and neither does our journey to our destination. Where we find ourselves at the end will depend greatly on how we mapped out our course.

LSS? Love Stillness, Silence. Keep your mind open but not to everything you hear. You have a mind for a good reason. It is not your own. There is a greater Mind trying to get your attention amidst the noise and clutter. And IT wants to think for you and with you.

Listen, Search, Submit.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Reproductive Health Bill and the Individual: Marriage and Life as Conceived by God


The potential for reproducing life is in each and every one of us. When two become one in marriage, that potential becomes a reality. The underlying problem with judicial processes, as applied in this issue, is their rejection of the ultimate origin and the basic motivation that allow each couple to fulfill a God-given relationship or institution which in the beginning was absolutely free of any other institution other than itself. Marriage, as conceived, is solely between God and two persons united. No other individual, human government or religion can curtail it or impose sanctions or limitations upon it. By extension, only the families involved, and to a certain extent, the community, should have any viable stake upon that union.

God, in fact, tried to “abort” marriage and reproduction when He delayed Eve’s creation. It is not good for a person to be alone. Of course, it was to highlight the principle and the process of individual and solitary will to accept and to enter into an unbounded, Heaven-designed, Earth-based and Nature-protected married life. This is the ideal state of marriage and reproduction so essential in understanding this whole issue.

Having missed or sidelined this vital dimension of marriage, our justices have conveniently skirted the moral issue or delayed it for a future decision. They may have succeeded in limiting the coercive power of our lawmakers to control reproduction; but they have not totally protected the individual's basic rights. Religious groups, on the other hand, which have taken upon themselves to become the vanguards or protectors of their unique perception of the fundamental nature of this issue, now want to impose upon couples such peculiar ways of seeing the issue. Government, armed with science and medical technology, remains adamant in promoting a way to achieve its political and economic goals. Hence, from many sides, the freedom of each individual or couple (Are they not one individual?) has been compromised, if not already violated.

The issue, if it has to be begged, is not whether we should have an RH Bill or not. It is not whether population should be controlled or not. It is whether we, as an individual, as a group, as a society, or as a government, have any right to interfere with a solemn covenant entered into by two persons (with their families) and impose any control or sanction. If the government means only to inform or provide assistance, there is nothing wrong with that. The couple is free to accept any information or medical aid. But knowing government and its ultimate or hidden agenda, the couple needs some protection. On the other hand, religion also has its own agenda. Beware of wolves and lions that lurk around us!

The multiplication of Adam and Eve’s children (or the so-called overpopulation, as seen from a political and economic viewpoint) has become the scourge rather than the blessing that it was intended to be. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court deserves to be commended for recognizing the negative effects of population control in other countries and for pointing out that the real problem is not overpopulation but the failure to distribute wealth. However, while it deserves some praise for upholding the RH Bill as being “not unconstitutional”, its decision, in totality, is politically aimed at balancing all the many forces that are equally at a loss as to the nuances of this controversial bill.

Unwittingly, the SC has come upon this decision by pure accident. That is, not by clear and voluntary will to uphold a divine principle established in the beginning when life itself began. In fact, it avoids its role as God’s potential voice by explicitly refusing to make the moral decision and seeing the RH Bill merely as a medical and scientific issue. It acts like King Solomon telling the false mother, “Let the doctors and scientists decide if the child is truly your own through a DNA test!” A case of legal wisdom escaping moral responsibility. A toothless, heartless ruler!

And so, the controversy will continue to rage for as long as we fail to accept and uphold the word of the Final Judge (and the True Solemnizer of Marriage and Giver of Life) Who rules above all authority and power. As always, when God is taken away from the equation (and religion, legalism, politics and economics take over), confusion and corruption arise.

The conditions that seem to justify the RH Bill are, at best, artificial and, at worst, intentional. A genuinely free, self-reliant, educated and morally-upright individual forms the basic unit of a productive and progressive nation. The replication of many such citizens, not the prevention of birth or the corruption of minds, is the most viable goal every nation must focus and invest on.

In the end, the individual is much better off thinking for himself or herself. For the final protector and arbiter, God Himself, resides in each person’s heart and conscience. As true children of Adam and Eve and, therefore of God, we have a legacy greater than what modern leaders promise us.