Monday, September 25, 2006

Life: Let’s Break it Down!

Life baffles even the greatest genius among us, not exempting Einstein. How on Earth could we simplify it for most of us mentally-challenged folk? As hip-hops say, “Let’s break it down! Bring it to its bare essentials and we see things in a new light. In short, do the following (literally, do it and follow it):

Things Only I Could Do for God

  1. Know and love God in my life
  2. Discover God’s special plan for my life
  3. Work out His plan for my life

Things Only I Could Do for Myself

  1. Know and love myself
  2. Learn as much as I can about my potentials
  3. Apply all that I am in my life

Things Only I Could Do for Others

  1. Know and love others
  2. Learn as much as I can about people’s potentials
  3. Work with others as effectively as I can

Well and good. But it’s still as daunting as flying an airplane, only, well, a bit na├»ve. Of course, we said simplify, not easify! The hard work is all up to each and every one of us.

Happy flying!

(Photo above: Computer-stylized Manila Bay scene.)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Is There Room for Error in God’s Design?

It seems people look at God’s creation as an overly strict or rigid system, one where error is not just frowned upon but summarily condemned. Reading the Old Testament tends to reinforce this thought. Do not eat or you die. Obey; otherwise, you perish.

Doesn’t God put too much confidence in humans or do we simply fail to live up to our God-given abilities? Shouldn’t we be living in Paradise or in Heaven if He expects us to behave like super-beings? Perhaps we should -- or should have been. Wasn’t that the original plan? The fact that we do not, does not excuse us from behaving like we were not God’s children. For we really are.

God’s love and justice do not remove whatever potentials we had before we failed Him in Eden. Alright, the Earth was cursed for our sake. We grow old because of our human frailty. And we die for our sins. Yet, we know that whatever errors humans inputted into God’s design, He is able to forgive them and then to reform and to renew us.

So why does God still expect us to behave like heavenly beings in a fallen world? In a Universe governed by gravity and carnality, the only way is down into the black-hole of sin. In a world ruled by the rich and the powerful, to be born poor and powerless often seems worse than death. In a society where materialism and depravity negate moral values, to live upright comes close to being a crime. God’s Son Himself became a victim of the world’s crooked standards.

Perhaps the answers do not exist here at all. Or in the present. The only possible answer we can think of now is the fact that God lives and continues to rule the Universe and that in spite of the “imperfections” of the world, His standards do not change and that they still apply. Why should God change for the errors of humans?

Better the stars and the planets which obey physical laws in precise galactic harmony. Inanimate or unthinking as they seem, they do not follow any moral standards. Better the animals and the plants which follow the laws of nature in its complex diversity. Neither do they worry about right or wrong. In the Physical Universe, there are no such things as imperfections or errors. Meteor showers, solar flares, earthquakes and storms are part of the natural celestial rhythm.

But humans have to deal with their rightful dominion over creation, with moral issues, with matters of honor and justice or with simple traffic rules. Did God not give only one command in the Garden? But later on, He gave humans 10, then more than 600 more afterward. The more sins, the more laws. The better for us to realize how much we need God to set us right. But that system didn’t seem to work either.

Jesus Christ is the final and perfect answer. He is the Way to total human freedom.

In Christ, we return to two commands which in reality are but the one commandment of Love. Think of this: Was the command not to eat of the forbidden fruit just another way for God to say, Love me and love your self? Meaning, if you obey (if you do not eat) you express your love for Me and for your self. Why choose death when you can easily choose to live with me here in Paradise? Why do something that is not for your own good?

Alas, the serpent who now rules the present world (whereas he was but a squatter in the Garden) makes the big difference! He holds the great power of deception. His magic works wonders to lead humans to defy or reject God. Evil seeks to bring creation to a standstill. Progress in the human being is a Divine Design. Death and decay are Satan’s handiwork. Although part of nature’s processes, death need not be the lot of humans. Yet, in Christ, even death results in salvation. Game, set, match! Victory for humans!

To be perfect is to seek to remain as a citizen of Heaven where the Living God reigns. To choose then to remain in a fallen state is, well, a total rejection of one’s ingenious humanity. For to know you are in error and not to seek correction is an abandonment of one’s divine heritage and destiny.

Tears were made to cleanse the soul. Knees were made to bend our pride. We were made to reflect God’s image. Surely, we can be perfect like Him. Of what use is His power to create?

For humans, therefore, God’s creative power targets two primary goals: To put newness into our lives and to mold us gradually into the Divine Image. Even if we make mistakes, He could never be wrong in dealing with us. And, God never fails.


(Photo above: A small vendor holds his own against the gigantic Mall of Asia along Manila Bay.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Eliminate Dead Ends

Good advice often comes in small surprises. I got this one from a tutorial on inventing in the Internet. It jumped out from the monitor and grabbed my brain in a hammer-lock, accompanied with a gentle tickle in my ribs. It assuaged, in a way, much of my anguish in some areas where I cruise along and never reach any destination or, as the metaphor evokes, I bump into a dead end. In short, nothing happens to my plans or my life in general. Dead on the spot and hope could not even save the day.

Take my music, for instance. I’ve played the guitar quite seriously since I was in high school. In the past decade and a half, I ventured into composing songs and even released a solo, original album. Having done that without much success, the idea of a second album did not seem to make any sense. The first one obviously crashed into the terminal station.

The question is: Does eliminating a dead end mean stopping altogether in one particular pursuit? Should I quit now? Or does that mean, I should remove the obstacles that prevent me from proceeding with a worthwhile pursuit? If something occupies your mind all day long and you can’t get enough of its appeal, then to give it up would mean giving part of your being, of your very soul and life. It would be suicide.

Yes, the advice seems valid and compelling but a difficult one to understand and even more difficult to follow. One dead end in life doesn’t make a total failure of a person just as one failed exam doesn’t mean a failing final grade. “Dead ends”, as they seem to connote, are those that you continually encounter and which have the irritable habit of making you feel stupid or incompetent. It is when you persevere in something that you know will not produce the desired result you want that leads to a dead end. Like smoking, which you feel you need to do; but you wished you could give up.

Hence, dead ends refer to those patterns of thinking and tendencies in our behavior that lead us to work against our own welfare. We know pornography corrupts the mind and the spirit and yet many of us fall prey to its venomous appeal. We know gossiping can destroy relationships but we become victims of its frivolous entertainment.

When we encounter a dead end, the only way out is to turn around and retrace our steps. Easy enough, but we waste precious time doing that. But that is how we learn. In Math, we call a dead end a wrong answer. In sports, we call it half-hearted playing. In marriage, we call it the absence of love and forgiveness. Going the other way always gives us a better view of where we came from. Wisdom and experience allow us to see with sharp eyes and even sharper minds to know where a certain road will eventually lead.

Eliminating dead ends then simply requires charting our course toward a certain future, one that may be novel, unfamiliar or untrodden, but if viewed with a clear vision of life will lead to success. For anything that enhances or multiplies the value of life is one path worth pursuing. Be it singing, planting, selling, nursing or teaching, if an abundant life is the end-product as well as the by-product, then we must have that.

Wonder why there is no such thing as a living end? It is because life never ends.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Always Looking

We’re always looking for a reason to be happy, to be proud, to be healthy, to be rich or to be important. Vanity is ingrained in our souls like a lullaby that keeps coming back to our mind. Good or bad? It really depends on how we channel this deep human need.

Peacocks and turkeys don’t really have a choice but to strut about with their feathers spread out at times. It’s their way of perhaps cooling down their bodies or attracting their mates. So humans have no more choice than to feel enough pride in their own God-given beauty or abilities. Not to do so would be unnatural. The defining word of course is “enough”. Vanity may refer to sick pride or too much focus on the self. Always looking at the self. Always asking for the self. Always wanting to see. Always wanting to be seen.

Vanity of vanities! That is the litany of those who have spent too much time pleasing the self only to realize they have wasted their lives. Good if we get to that point when we shed off the extra or unnecessary clothes or shoes. Or when we throw away (or sell) those things that are more of burdens than blessings in life. Like an old, sentimental car that costs more to maintain and even more to run.

Yes, oftentimes the initial happiness we feel merely comes from the simple need to be comfortable in life. But when that happiness sets in and does not progress into something that we truly feel we can share with others, it soon becomes a kind of master and not a servant. Obsessive wanting of things becomes loving things, loving the world. Happiness becomes the motive for living and not the by-product of it.

So what should be our motive or purpose for living? The vainest person who ever lived put it this way in Ecclesiastes 12:13: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Apparently, there is no joy in fulfilling our duty. Of course not! What we do will never bring us contentment. Why do we keep looking into the mirror? Because we are never satisfied with how we look. Or how we feel. Happiness or joy is what God does or gives to us. Knowing Him leads to that. And joy leads us to honor Him and to do His will. Imagine what God can do with joyful servants.

Somewhere in between knowing ourselves and knowing God is a kind of peaceful joy that ends our restless longings.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

How Things Serve the Creator

Psalm 119

89 Forever, O LORD,
Your word is settled in heaven.
90 Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations;
You established the earth, and it stands.
91 They stand this day according to Your ordinances,
For all things are Your servants.

Verse 91 in Psalm 119 is rendered in New International Version as “All things serve you.”

Isn’t this a mind-boggling thought? It is a real paradox, if you think about it. If all things indeed serve God who created all things, then how can the writer claim all things serve God when there are people who do not even recognize His existence?

Ah, but that is where we miss the whole point of God’s creation.

Consider light as a medium that preserves and enhances life – like air which sustains life. Ever since Einstein gave us a glimpse of its inscrutable nature, scientists have been able to harness even its many previously unappreciated properties to make life more advanced and convenient. We now have photovoltaic energy and laser technology applied in many of our modern tools and appliances.

Even as a medium of art, like in photography, light provides the essential or foundational material. And yet this art form owes its existence not merely to light as a physical reality but also to the entire structure – network or web, if you please – of the entire Universe. By that we mean the eyes that would have to be present to catch the light, the nerves that connect the eyes to the brain, the vessels that would have to carry blood to preserve the eye in its functional condition, the skull that would protect the brain…. Well, simply said, the whole body that contains and sustains the eyes.

And we have not even mentioned the exact mixture of air in the atmosphere that will not only allow the body to survive in a livable sphere but also the entire solar system that allows our planet to exist as it does and to have the right properties and ingredients to maintain a perfectly balanced and precisely interactive sets of cosmological, physical, chemical, geological and biological systems.

Were we not talking about photography -- perhaps, one of the most ordinary, if not the most taken-for-granted, of human activities? Ideally speaking, art serves to ennoble the human soul; although photography now bears the distinction of being a tool for propagating immorality and depravity. What we initially defined as a beneficiary of the beauty and purity of light as a created and creative tool now serves the dark motives of humans. Created, for we read somewhere and accept in our hearts the truth that a God once spoke the words, “Let there be light!” And there was….

Whoa, why is there is so much darkness today? Darkness, figuratively speaking, does not serve the purposes of God. It runs against His basic nature. God is light; in Him there is no darkness.” He created the Universe to obey His laws. And in all of His creation, only humans choose to disobey. Or disbelieve.

The tiny atoms that form a single pixel that helps to produce a high-resolution photo of your cat, your dog or your best friend, owe their existence to the powerful Being who called light into being. Those tiny atoms may also serve God’s purpose of bringing into His realm a lost person by the might of the written word.

And His Word will not return to Him void or without effect. For if God has the power to do such magnificent things, do we think He doesn’t have the right to delete anything that does not serve His purposes? Good if He chooses to merely delete. What if He decided to burn a piece of paper to light up the darkness?

(Photo above shows a sculpture entitled "The Photographer", done in kamagong by Carlitos Ortega of San Pablo, Laguna.)