Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Art of Life

Art imitates life. But, in reality, life is art itself.

Human experience feeds the minds of creative people to produce masterful representations of such experiences. Hence, the greatest masterpieces record the pain and the joy of living – La Pieta, Mona Lisa, Les Miserables, The 5th Symphony and many others.

Art is also in nature. Scramble nature and you get neu art. That is, what God had established in His creation – the first real and perfect art – causes humans to harness the divine ability and desire to also create, to produce or to express life in an external and autonomous medium. When Michelangelo formed David out of fine Carrara marble, he would have surely given it breath if he had the ability to do so. Like Geppetto getting his wish for Pinocchio to become a real boy.

Didn’t we all have that fervent desire to make our plastic toy soldiers attain life of their own so that they can fight real battles against one another? Or baby dolls to come alive so that girls would have real persons to talk to instead of invisible friends? Perhaps, we have finally given that power to children with virtual online-gaming where nothing is left to the imagination.

Today, art has come very close to attaining a life of its own. And our children, like the children of Hamelin, are mesmerized into following its call to perdition and oblivion in the name of business. Hence, instead of living the life they were meant to live, they now live for, with and in their art. The day might come when their virtual minds will have no place in this real world. Or worse, when they will have the power to turn reality into virtuality – that is, replacing eternal concepts and values with fleeting and artificial ones. Star Wars, with its sci-fi retrofitted religious undertones, may have signaled the march toward that ominous direction.

Creating art that breathes or inspires life is every artist’s goal. This is, for certain, what filmmakers do in their medium. And so do musicians, writers and even the ordinary person who wields a digital camera. To create something that we can all go back to and allow it to speak to us once more of life, of beauty and of endless joy. Anything else, we delete or store in our archives for mere reference.

Our own storage of the art we have individually created or collected grows and grows by the hour and by the day. Everyone has it; yes, even the housewife who keeps track of new recipes and the husband who has a pile of pirated CDs of Manny Pacquiao’s fights.

What we see reproduced through the various art media, we treasure because they – whether we know it or not – help us celebrate the victory of the human spirit over darkness and chaos. And, yes, over mediocrity. The Spirit of God did it in the very beginning when the pervading nothingness and absence of order were dispelled with the arrival of Light.

With Light, God revealed the essence of order and wisdom. Of beauty and truth. Of freedom and life. Everything else we do in the name of art is a tiny attempt of god-like creatures imitating the Giver of Light and Life. In the end, even our very own life is an artistic expression of the Light and Life we have been privileged to receive.

To imitate God then through all the possible means given to us – teaching, singing, selling, leading, sporting and healing – is the highest form of art there is. One doesn’t need to be like Da Vinci or Luna capturing the ultimate picture of order, beauty and life in static visual form, but rather through the real, space-time en-ACT-ment of life as a continuation of God’s creation. God working through our lives is not a stale theological principle or doctrine but a true, inescapable plan anyone may willingly accept based on one’s actual recognition of how He actually does it.

Many fail to do so. Why? Because of one basic fault that humans are so prone of doing in spite of its obvious inanity. It is this: We think that to live a successful (read: happy) life is to imitate those who (whether real or fictional characters) have attained what we perceive to be perfection or fulfillment in this world. In doing so, we end up reproducing someone else’s life which may often be a misdirected life? It is a case of life imitating art – the art (or lifestyle) of others.

Yes, to a certain degree, we can emulate and follow the examples of our heroes and idols. But, ultimately, we must live a life of our own. Not just simply to “have a life” as we often hear people say in the sense of living it up or having a good time. It means to discover for ourselves the secrets of our very being and to develop what we have in order to produce “Neu Art”. God designed it to be that way; we only need to learn as much as we can to come up with the best of what we can ever be. Christ performed great miracles; yet, He told His followers they would do greater works. New and great works, everyone can also do, for nothing is impossible with God.

Just as every artist seeks to find the core of his subject matter and distills it into a coherent movie or a composition, we must address all our issues in life and arrive at a simple theme that will drive us to the peak of our existence. Only then can we clearly see ourselves and the road we have chosen to travel. Only then can we leave behind the childish notions we once held in the darkness or ignorance of our past.

Recently, the sight of male UP professors, personnel and students baring their bodies in celebration of the University’s Centennial celebration exhibited the folly of life imitating art (literally at that), thus, reversing and defeating the essence of art. The Oblation already encapsulates the Christian idea of a “pure, living sacrifice”. UP and the media could have given that ultimate human ideal its proper place in the celebration by highlighting the Oblation both as a great work of art and as a noble work-in-progress in the lives of UP students, graduates and employees. (If they did, I must have missed it.)

In the annual Lantern Parade done on December 17, the ordinary UP workers who did not have the artistic skills to conceive of a fancy lantern (and, obviously, not even the budget for it) marched humbly and inconspicuously before the community, unheralded and unappreciated by the crowds who waited to see the eye-catching and festive display of the more endowed groups. Such hype often clouds our vision to what is truly essential in life. Hence, this celebration of a hundred years of so-called excellence may have succeeded only in perpetuating the supremacy of the few leaders of society and sidelining the majority of the people whom they have intended to serve.

One doesn’t have to have perfect physique or great intelligence to truly understand and embody the essence of a sacrificial life and contributing something worthwhile. One doesn’t even have to reach college or even run naked to show that you have attained enough learning. The foolishness of this world (running naked definitely falls under it) is so pathetic we cannot even help from laughing at it and with it. No, we see men wearing women’s underwear and parading as lewd angels and we clap and celebrate their “freedom of choice”. We have, therefore, violated both Divine Order and Natural Order and given that misdeed a respectable place in the so-called highest seat of learning. We have failed to distinguish between good and bad even in our art.

Art (a potent tool of the mass media), in the hands of the experts, can sway the masses and deceive them to fall into forgetfulness and corruption. But it can also inspire and lead people to genuine success in life.

“Neu Art” -- alright, let us call it Living Your Own Life as the Ultimate Art – is to put your own life on the altar of sacrifice based on your unique personality and circumstances. Whether poor or rich, young or old, educated or not, you can obtain enough wisdom to stand beside anyone else and accomplish the tasks given to you by heaven. But why sacrifice? Because life is sacred and art is that symbol of perfection which we hold close to our hearts. It is what makes us both, truly and essentially, human and divine.

The secret to life is to know Who created nature and order and what they were meant to achieve in our lives. Without that knowledge, we will end up living an artless life and creating lifeless art.

(Photo above: UP students enjoying the start of Christmas season during the annual Lantern Parade. Having a ball!)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Boredom and How Entertainment Changed our Lives

The onslaught of boredom upon society has drastically increased as a result of our changing lifestyles brought about by technology and other factors. In my early adolescent years, I don't think if we ever screamed, “I am bored!” There was so much to be done that the thought never even entered our minds. By then, we had read so many of the classic novels, played so many chess games, sang so many Beatle songs with the guitar and played so much basketball that studying become a mere respite to having fun. Or was that how we unconsciously avoided boredom?

TV was only entering the consciousness of people and its distractive power, especially upon young students like us, was not considered serious. Besides, we only watched TV at our neighbor’s house on Friday nights (Dan dan dan, dara da dan dan dan…. Combat!) and occasionally on Saturday afternoons (reruns of black-&-white FPJ and Erap movies). When we finally bought a TV set, only two or three channels competed for our attention. And our parents always had their way when it came to study time and TV time.

In short, we watched TV not to intentionally kill boredom (that is, to avoid study) but to experience the new thrill and recreation it offered beyond the other enjoyable things we had going on in school and in our neighborhood. In terms of time, TV was more of an exception than a rule. That pales in comparison, however, to the amount of time many kids today spend playing games in the computer or with the Game Boy. (Ironically, TV has become an exception to these kids!) They won’t even budge to eat meals, talk to their parents or play with the neighbors. In fact, their idea of going out with friends is to play PC games in small, stuffy Internet café where other cursing kids spend hours and money fighting virtual criminals or villains. Families spend a lot for expensive TV sets; but that expense is nothing compared to the cost of sustaining kids’ hunger for computer games. Boredom brings big business, mind you!

By the time these kids reach twelve or thirteen, they have become expert boredom/study-killers who spend more time avoiding “down-time” or doing nothing at all cost. Watching TV has become such a commonplace activity for many that we multi-task it with other things such as computing, eating, doing housework and, well, doing nothing. We can define boredom then like this: When you are forced to watch TV or do some other thing because you don’t want to be caught doing nothing.)

Some adolescents (who have no PCs at home) avoid staying at home altogether except to eat and to sleep. Their library and their playing field is the PC. That is where they do their research for homework, their readings and their recreation. As such, home has become a totally boring place to be in for many of these youth. If not at the mall, the cyber-cafe or some other hang-out, going out with friends is the ultimate daily escape. The general lack of direction or purpose for many of us has led to the explosion of varieties of eye-catching and time-consuming entertainment. The arcade is one an example which is also ear-piercing and cash-strapping. All because of boredom. Or maybe just the lack of someone sensible to talk to.

In my youth, friends were there to talk to and interact with face to face, not side-by-side in cafes or virtually on the monitor. (Alright, we also spent much time playing billiards and pinball in the arcade. But such games we never had to do at home or in school then. Today, you can play almost anything anywhere on the PC.) They were living bodies you could touch and even embrace as you walked, sang or ate with. The attention that TVs, cellphones, iPods and laptops nowadays require from many of us inside or outside the home did not exist then. Our close friendship or what our social science teacher labeled as our “clique” provided us with the natural hunger for companionship. It kept us sane through adolescence. (Pity then those kids or adults of today who have no real, constant friends except the PC or the TV. Now that is real boredom.)

Yes, to a certain extent, we felt down when we were away from each other or when we had to sit in class listening to lectures during sleepy hours. Studying was just a chore like cleaning our room or washing dishes at home. Perhaps, study can be more engaging by making subjects more attractive and entertaining through multi-media tools, like some schools are already doing. But that would bring tuition fees skyrocketing, if they haven’t already. Technology does have benefits if used properly.

And so, while technology has changed many aspects of life in our culture-crushing generation, we still have to deal with the natural tendency to enter the “devil's workshop” -- idleness, that is, which is a twin-brother of boredom. Unconsciously, we have developed the habit of whiling away our time, thinking we are really doing something. Hence, today, we watch too much TV and so many DVDs rather than tell stories to one another. Perhaps, because we don’t read books that much anymore, we have nothing more to talk about except what we read in the news or, for the sentimental middle-aged, our rehashed memories from our youth. (Such an exercise is the best thing that can happen at that age.) Or is it because we have read so many books that we assume everyone else had read them, too? Like watching movies or TV, has reading books become just another reason to avoid boredom?

Today, also, we listen more than we create music in our hearts. With so much music in the air and so many music-makers around, we have surrendered the former right of every individual to use the natural gift of singing and expressing our souls through it. Notice how many of the new artists merely revive old songs. A new style of singing or playing may bring some freshness; but, that may be just a temporary respite from the boredom that these artists and producers are experiencing. For lack of a fresh, original and consuming passion for new possibilities, music has become a mere moneymaking industry and not a culture-enhancing or soul-building activity.

Today, we eat selfishly rather than feed others in need. Our desire to satisfy our stomachs or our senses, in general, has resulted from the boredom that we are constantly avoiding. We want to eat exciting food as much as we want to feel exciting entertainment, relief or pampering for our eyes, our ears and even for our noses and skins. And so it goes for our deeper biological desires. Advertising a car, a deodorant, clothes and health must require a seductive approach. The old, wholesome and boring ways no longer bring in sales. As a result, we have become people-pleasers or self-pleasers – no, body-pleasers -- rather than people-carers or selfless persons. We want to get rather than give.

Finally, today, we have ended up choosing the bad or the evil rather than the good. We have more drugstores and hospital because we have acquired so many unhealthy habits and various diseases rather than gaining general health. We have polluted the environment in our efforts to satisfy our economic needs rather than in preserving the natural qualities of the land. We have pursued material wealth rather than enhancing our spiritual heritage.

Boredom or what we may generalize as “not knowing what good or better thing we can do now” has become one of society’s most pernicious diseases. We have slowly allowed the wonder-workers or false-prophets of this materialistic world to hypnotize us into a lifestyle that surrenders the essential needs of humans for artificial wants. We mentioned genuine friendship or real interaction. Virtual interaction may have its benefits and so do some computer games (solitaire for the lonely still and some mental games for the fading thinker); but nothing can take the place of face-to-face conversation and feet-on-the-ground sports to refresh the body and soul.

So many lonely souls who walk past us would have been touched by a sincere smile or an encouraging word if we spent more time thinking of others rather than how lonely or bored we felt. So many sick persons would have been healed or revived by our prayers or financial help if we did our part in the rewarding task of restoring the world to God. And so many poor people would have been fed or clothed by our small gifts if we pooled them all together.

Kill boredom? No, that is for stressed-out people who have not found inner peace. It is better to do the good and the right when you feel like you have nothing else to do. Or, find a better and more fruitful thing to do than what you want to do now. And if you really have nothing else to do at night, please, please, turn off the PC or the TV, go to sleep and save electricity. As we said, it is the right thing to do and also good for your health.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Faith: The Potential for Sight (or Foresight)

From a multi-lateral discussion on faith and, well, un-faith, came out rather interesting analogies worth looking at.

It all started with someone saying that a human, like a frog, lives in a dimension back-dropped by a pond-water horizon, floating and flying insects, underwater dwellers and flora on a river bank that makes up the hills or mountains of this lowly amphibian. He does not know what lies beyond this pond-world. If he knew, he would be more than a frog; I mean, human.

From this analogy, one argued that, as a consequence, if another frog, a lab-escapee, for example, would tell of a world of test tubes, flasks, glass cages and gigantic monsters dressed in white who tortured and killed frogs.

Now that would be like someone coming from a place like hell, telling earthlings that there is such a horrible place one must avoid at all cost. Or, that there is also such a place called heaven. It would take a lot of effort to convince a pond-frog of the “truth”.

The above analogy segued to one which illustrates the clash between the concepts of sight and faith. Someone who can see has learned the concept of color. A blind person, on the other hand, has no conception of what red or blue means. No amount of verbal description can help that blind person to “see the light or truth”. Faith in God, in short, develops only on the basis of seeing or understanding certain concepts that are beyond the purview of “normal” experience.

At that point, I had to raise the analogy much higher by saying that for God to be truly wise, then, He would have inputted in humans the idea of eternity itself for us to be able to grasp the infinite or the very nature of the Divine. Otherwise, we would all be hopeless frogs with no lovely princess to kiss us to a blissful metamorphosis.

Even someone who is born blind, I argued, had the potential for sight even as a fetus. We all started as normal, one-celled beings that rapidly multiplied and acquired the basic parts necessary to become humans – the developing limbs, torso, skeleton and organs. The specialized components needed to build the eyes and to achieve the capacity for sight would have been there in the first few months of every person. Somewhere along the development, the DNA might decide to make erroneous or abnormal encoding to produce incomplete or defective organs. And for those who had fully-formed and already functioning eyes in their final stages of gestation, say 7th or 8th month, and contacted a disease that made their eyes fail, the concept of sight, unconscious perhaps, would have at least left some pre-natal memories in the blind baby that came out into the world.

Yes, we can argue that in the womb, the idea of color would still be irrelevant. But that of sound is not. So, who can tell that a baby in a womb cannot see? Don’t we see darkness when we close our eyes? So, in that sense, the color black is what a blind person can fully understand. His lack of sight does not mean he or she does not have the capacity to imagine what colors may be in reality by using other tools available, like the sense of touch, sounds and tastes. In fact, there is this syndrome called photo-audio-synthesis which allows a person to actually see colors through particular sound stimuli.

Or who can argue that the potential for sight in an unborn infant couldn’t be as real or actual as that of a baby already born but still with eyes closed? At that stage, the baby may already be accustomed to the color red as it sees the glimmer of light behind its unmoving eyelids. Perhaps, we are all born with eyes closed to prevent us from being blinded by the light. That the idea of learning involves familiarizing ourselves with the light just as the dawn gradually accustoms our eyes to the glowing sunlight when we awaken? (Today, we are almost always awake with all the lights at night that surround us – the lamppost, the gate light, the digital wall-clock and the cell-phone beside us. So much light, but not enough enlightenment.)

Why do we sleep in the darkness? Why do we dream with our eyes closed? Perhaps, that is when we really see what we wish for and what we need to see. For scientists and artists, that is where they unravel mysteries of nature and create masterpieces. The “unconscious” (what we do not see) may actually be the realm where we can encounter the truth and that the “conscious” (what we see or, at least, think we see) is merely the surface of the ocean.

We may have no recollections of our stay in the womb as our senses were not meant to function as they should in that stage. But that does not mean we were not alive and prepared to live the life we now have. That does not mean we have zero memory of that stage or that we were totally unaware of our own future.

Perhaps, we kicked in the womb to signal our desire to walk or see who is talking. Like John the Baptizer acknowledging the presence of the Lord, while they were still both in the womb. Our infancy then simply reminds us of our present journey toward what life is and can be all about.

Finally, an unborn child has no doubt that it has a mother, just as we are sure that we live in this physical world. Somehow, it must have inkling that it also has a father whose voice it can hear and whose presence is irrefutably real. So it is with faith in God.

Hence, an infant pictures the simple process of developing the foresight in faith. For such is the search for truth: We all have the potential for sight or faith which is nothing but the ability to see beyond what we see or beyond what is. Even beyond what we do not see. Those of us who remain in the pond will remain as frogs. But those who know – for humans are prescient beings – that they are potential princes and princesses will travel far to meet their savior; ah, should I say, lover? They are one and the same.

In the womb, we were all potential human beings, just as we are now potential divine beings.

Hence, God will not send His Son to do the impossible – die – without having a noble purpose for doing so. No, He would not have even dreamed of taking the form of a human being if the humans He was meant to save did not have the potential or the latent ability to desire to become like Him and to know like He knows. That is, to achieve everlasting life and to be with God.

To Adam and Eve, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of the Good and Evil carried both the experience and the realization that Good meant that humans have the Divine Nature and that Evil meant they will die in that state. God-like and yet mortal. To have physical immortality at first and then to die. To be made in the image of the Creator but condemned to carnal decay. A complete reversal of God’s original plan.

Yet, all that misfortune is undone through faith in Christ, the God Incarnate.

Yes, Satan laughed at the idea of the Incarnation saying that humans will curse God instead. But, amazingly, the curse that Christ went through – the crucifixion – became the source of our salvation. Checkmate, Satan! Game over! Faith won the day.

But today Satan continues to muddle the light. He continues to create so much unbelief. He continues to make it hard for people to see in spite of all the evidences available. So much proof that if the ancient Greeks had access to it and they were to appear before us now, they would berate us for our foolishness. “Logos” would have been Christ in every nation by now if they had a way of reaching us. But the ancient Greeks do live in the pages of Scriptures. By faith, their testimony lives forever. So will we if we believe. Such is the power of the Word. Anyone who does not appreciate such power is as blind as an astronomer who has seen the far reaches of the Universe and still denies the existence of an Intelligent Creator.

For faith is merely confirming what God has done in creating the Universe and giving humans life, pleasure and abundance. The reverse of faith – unbelief – denies the truth and all that God has done. We waste our potential. We remain blind because we will not see.

Many say, “To see is to believe.” I say, “To believe is to truly see.”

So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. (Isa 52:15)

(Photo above: The world is a big pond and we are but frogs leaping on its fringes. But then, even frogs can see the sun and not deny a bigger world out there.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nothing New in this World?

Solomon said that there is nothing new in this world – a cynical view from an old, spent man-of-the-world. On one hand, he was right. Our memory makes us “think” we have seen this or that before. But even that is a paradox. A song, particularly, may lose its newness and may seem so “oldie” that we hate listening to such songs. But even with the spate of constant revivals and reissues of old songs, why do people still want to listen to the original version? It would seem that they want to refresh the memory or the old feelings and thoughts once again. In that sense, the oldness brings about certain newness in experience. Hence, nothing really becomes old or, at least, the memory and the mind make things “look new every morning”, as the gospel song goes.

A flower that blooms in the morning may not be a “new” phenomenon as it occurs billions of times around the world daily. But again, the memory tricks us only to think that it is old. Our lack of total awareness of what creation truly means makes us jaded and cynical. We think the red rose we see as we pass by a public park is the same plain rose we saw in a vase at home. They all look and smell the same.

But the newly-bloomed rose is a new creation – or, if you please, reproduction – of the original rose – the first ever rose in the world. We remember because of our “old” memory, but a rose or a sunset does not have that memory. God designed the Universe to obey certain rules, patterns and aesthetic variabilities. What He inputted in nature may repeat or reconstruct itself by some kind of divine magic but every new day brings fresh beginnings.

Hence, creation recreates itself daily. The rose comes into being by virtue of its own new discovery of its own essence. It is not a reincarnation or a reformed creation of something in the past; no, such a thing does not and cannot exist in a Universe that progresses as it leaves behind in its path what is decayed. A nova or new star forms from the existing elements left by other stars that had died in the past. What may seem like a reborn and similar star possesses unique qualities and potentials.

And so, a puppy or a baby comes into the world laden with its own new purpose – not to burden humans who have unrenewed or unborn sensibilities with a mere repetition of “what has been done before” but precisely to refresh the world with new and unending possibilities. Thus, for us to awaken fully and wondrously and not merely with the incidental opening of the eyes at sunrise is our daily goal in life. Robots and many humans are usually known for automatic response to regular stimulus. Unless and until we see God working daily in Creation or nature and in the new day’s re-creation, we will have missed the real essence of life

It is understandable for an old and dying king like Solomon who spent his life in dissipation and wanton search for physical pleasures to become cynical and jaded. To such a person, nothing would seem capable of reviving the senses, much less renewing one’s capacity for new adventures in living and learning. But for the truly creative and spiritually reproductive, the challenge to bring out the new and un-created will remain forever. To them, nothing becomes old in this world.

Morning has broken like the first morning; blackbird has spoken like the first bird. . . Praise every morning, God’s recreation of the new day.”

To wake up every morning with the vividness of this vision intact is one of the greatest blessings in life.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Search for The Truth

While discussing philosophy and religion with some friends, someone floated the seemingly iron-clad argument that “truth is relative; your truth may not be my truth and my truth may not be his truth”. In short, this puts truth (what we may define as the reality of life or, at least, our recognition of what the elusive ultimate reality is) as a subjective matter that can never be reduced to an absolute statement which we can apply to all people and all things at all times.

For instance, the “truth” or “reality” of gravity and how it works may illustrate this common argument. In outer space, things seem to float and behave as if gravity does not exist. Hence, since there is no gravity apparently acting on a satellite circling the Earth, we may say that it does not exist as far as that satellite is concerned. It does not apply and is therefore non-existent. Concluding then: Gravity is not a universal truth (that is, it is relative) for it only applies on the Earth’s surface.

Right? Wrong!

In reality, any object beyond Earth’s atmosphere (even planets and stars) remains in equilibrium amidst a set of various gravitational forces acting upon it, primary among which are the stars, the Sun, the Earth and the Moon. Moreover, its velocity prevents it from falling headlong into the Earth or into the Moon or out into space. The moment a force causes it to alter its path, it will be just a matter of time when the greatest gravitational attraction will capture it into its direction.

So it is with truth: What a person conceives as the truth exists as a tiny reflection (whether valid or not, like the Earth being flat or Newton’s Laws) of the total or absolute Truth that exists, whether we recognize it or not. Another person may therefore deem that person’s “truth” as false and thereby negate the validity of such a belief. It does not exist as far as the unbelieving person is concerned. His own “truth” or understanding of the world is what exists and what constitutes truth for him. He will live with it and may even die for it. Indeed, a person might kill someone whose beliefs might “endanger” his sacred truth. With a few exceptions, all wars have been waged due to our uncontrolled passion to defend our individual or collectives “truths”.

But The Truth – that absolute and irreducible principle – exists outside of every individual. Whether we accept a part of it or not, that Truth will remain as it is. Hence, what a person knows or believes is merely an accumulation of everything he learned from childhood, those things passed on to him and those he learned himself, whether right or wrong. Any view then is but a sum of all “truths” that have ever been accepted at any point in a person’s life. The totality of that “truth” may not remain static but may actually be in a constant state of growth or transformation. The truly imaginative or creative may find things that will refine or even alter one’s conception of truth.

Relative to the absolute Truth then, we are always moving until we approach it finally and surrender to its overpowering reality. Like the satellite that is finally captured by an overwhelming gravitational force somewhere in the galaxy. If indeed the Universe began as matter of infinite mass in an infinitely small space and expanded rapidly (the Big Bang), then the time will come when all matter will collapse and return to its original state in the beginning.

The Universe remains in perfect balance because the galaxies are in constant motion relative to one another as every matter or atom pulsates relative to other atoms. The moment the energy that propels the Universe ceases (when light is recalled – “Let there be no light!”), nothing will remain except the Truth that does not owe its existence to this physical dimension.

In the “beginning”, time, matter and space did not exist. Science recognizes that truth (with a slight variation) as a valid possibility of reality. The Bible speaks of that hypothesis as Truth itself. Or at least, part of The Truth that gives a cause or a reason for reality. That is, God created everything from nothing. This was our introduction to Truth – the one that remains infallible even if we do not believe it. The one that is independent of us, whether we have heard of it or not and whether we have experienced (or measured) it or not.

If so, a person who denies the testimony of God and His prophets does not hold a valid truth at all but a falsity. If a person prays in the name of Jesus, he acknowledges the Truth that Jesus Himself gave witness to. (That He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”) Hence, when another person rejects that Truth, that person is deluded and dwells in un-Truth, in darkness because the Truth has not penetrated his or her life.

How then can we say that a person’s truth is as valid as any other person’s truth?

Socrates came up with a simple method to derive ultimate truth: by asking the question “why” for every underlying principle given for a proposition. For instance: An apple is a fruit. Why? Because it comes from a tree. But an avocado comes from a tree yet it is a vegetable to Americans. Why? Because they use it only for vegetable recipes whereas Fiipinos use it as a fruit dessert. Why? Because cultures have different ways of cooking. Why? Because they have different experiences? Why? And so on and so forth until the Socrates in us reaches the ultimate why?

In his life, Socrates came close to finding the Truth. Before his death by execution he said that “if there is such a thing as immortality then it is better to die than to remain here”. That kept him from weeping with his disciples who tried to console him.

Here was a man who, using his conscience and natural intelligence (and a lot of common sense), attained the stature of a wise prophet without a revealed Scripture to bank on. Yet, revelation of our beginning as humans and that of the Universe is clearly written for every person to feast on in various languages in the Bible. Science tries to muddle the issue with so much technical savvy while philosophy does it with a lot of opinionated baggage. Why? Because we have different values and tastes for truth? Because our education does not validate the obvious evidences found all around us? No, because we have allowed science and philosophy to delude us to believe that what we see with our eyes (the physical) and our minds (the philosophical or mystical) determines what is true. Many say that “to see is to believe” when in reality “to believe is to see”. Believe the Source of Truth and He will guide you into it.

Socrates thus proved that it is possible for humans to derive truth through logic or reasoning (alright, also through science), but such a method takes time and requires the abilities of a Socrates or an Einstein. The easier way to trace the Truth all the way to its beginning is to go back to it through the witness of the one Who was there working and bringing everything into existence. Who? No one else but Jesus Christ. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . . All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1,3)

Moses wrote the testimony of Jesus when He revealed it to him on Mount Sinai. No, it was not Adam who first witnessed or experienced creation. The animals and the celestial bodies came ahead of him. Yes, after Adam was formed, his life served as witness to the reality of God’s creation. (To a certain degree, our own life does the same thing.) His aloneness gave rise to Eve’s creation. His marriage to Eve propelled the birth of human life through reproduction. Their sin led to the downfall of humans. But it also brought the salvation that the Maker Himself brought into completion at Calvary.

The ongoing human process or struggle is a continuation of our search for enlightenment and perfection. Freedom allows us to discover so many possibilities and means. Yet, history will one day vindicate the originator of all Truth, for ample evidence has been given in nature, in history and in revelation to the simple Truth that governs life. A simple “yes” to that Truth by the child or the aged begins the road to real wisdom. What a liberating feeling to know one doesn’t need to be a genius or a college graduate to understand this Truth. It is simple, valuable and available. Now, if we can only divine its essence from the complications of formal religion, more people will see it as it really is.

In essence, Christ was there at the beginning and at the end of an age deluged by sin. He was there at the beginning bringing light into existence and giving life and He was there at the resurrection granting the light of salvation and bringing back life to condemned sinners. And He will be there also at the end of all things. That is the Truth.

This Truth could not be rejected without disrupting the whole essence of the Universe and of our own existence. Why? Because un-Truth destroys relationships; it alienates and divides us from others and from ourselves. The very rejection of Truth ruptures the purity and goodness of the original design of creation – hence, The Fall. And so, the judgment of God is righteous because He has given us everything that should lead us to the acknowledgment of His very being and nature. We share His divine nature and His image – the greatest gift we have – for His children we are and were created in His likeness. How could a child disobey or not believe its father? We all know the answer for we were all children once.

A father has all the right to discipline his erring children. A teacher has the duty to lead the unaware into the Truth as well. Of course, a child or a student may debate with a father or a teacher about certain principles. Such is the process of learning. We may even, as so many do, try to argue against or refute the Truth but we would simply end up walking around the Earth and still not prove it is round. Until someone shows us the shadow of the Earth on the Moon (that is, the Truth) and free us from our ignorance.

(Photo above: The newly opened SCTEx (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway) from Tarlac to Subic offers a refreshing view of Philippine countryside. Almost like being lost in a pristine place you never imagined existed. The splendid rivers, hills and mountains stretched out before you remind you of the vast Cagayan Valley. Natural wealth that sadly doesn't seem to flow into economic wealth for a country so blessed by heaven. Something just doesn't compute.)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Handy Power of Images

The ancient cave drawings gave us the beginnings of the human practice of replicating nature and life in still images. What for? Art, perhaps? But what we call artistic expression may have been a primal or natural leaning toward helping the mind “concretize” a memory or an imagination. That is, what humans saw with their eyes or mind, their memory or imagination expressed through a novel visual record.

Perhaps, it was for a practical use. The sketcher may have been telling another person what he actually saw and wanted to make that experience more real to the other person. Drawing something a person saw for his own use only would have been an improbable thing. More likely, the drawing produced social interaction, or vice versa. But then again, it may have been just for fun – the initial motivation of art? Nevertheless, not many artists – ancient or modern -- produced art merely to keep it to themselves after all the fun.

Obviously, there was always a story behind a drawing, whether a simple one or a series of events that may have required more complex drawings, as the Egyptians eventually learned to do. Today, we have the modern art of photography and cinematography – sleek documentations of not merely what we see but what we want to see. The mind, with its limitless imaginative power, has spread this art form throughout all cultures and lands, causing an explosion of images in such online providers such as and Visit these sites and one morning would not be enough to browse the thousands upon thousands of very interesting products of ordinary people around the world.

We must admit that we get as much junk as sensible material online; but it only goes to show many of us still live within the confines of our own individual caves. The darkness within our souls still causes many of us to promote the unenlightened motives of our human character. Too much adherence to carnal display and senseless acts these media serve the baser instincts and would therefore lead to further corruption of our societies – or the global society that such media have unwittingly spawned.

What then began as an innocent pastime for cave-dwellers who may have been confined indoors due to inclement weather has developed into a sophisticated and profitable enterprise for many. But if we really try to divine the statistics, majority of those who subscribe to these popular Internet media are not making money at all. The pursuit of art merely for the sake of art is making such a great headway into our consciousness. As more and more people gain access to phones with digital cameras and video-cams, the ancient urge to dramatize real and reel life – a few moments after it happens or as it happens – overwhelms our minds and our lives like a rushing flood.

People constantly upload short video clips and old and new MTVs (many of them home-made) simply to share the fun and not to make money. The development of talent in such unified craft as music-video or music-photo has such immeasurable influence and power that will either aid us in enhancing our values or corrupting them. Everyone is into it; everyone is tuning into it as well. And as expected, everyone wants to cash in on it.

The legal and social structures of societies are certainly not sensitive and dynamic enough to keep up with these techno advancements. The recent expose of doctors and nurses in Cebu who were caught on video laughing while operating on a gay patient could only lead authorities to enforce existing laws that have to do with hospital rules and professional ethics. But nothing much was made to amend or even address the repercussions of this handy power of any individual to intrude into the privacy or sanctity of our homes and institutions. (Some even flaunt or sell their own nakedness online and thereby invite people to invade their privacy. If that is not foolishness, we don’t know right from wrong.)

Yes, any agency or group may restrict the use of cameras in certain areas but even TV networks don’t think twice about using spy cameras to entrap criminals. But isn’t “Trial by Publicity” (call this Entrapment or, simply, Gotcha on Camera!) a form of offense in itself when it seeks to convict a person rather than to reform and save him? That is, as a supposedly Christian nation, shouldn’t we go to a brother to tell him his sin instead of leading him to commit it? And worse than that, let the public feast upon his bad fortune of being caught by a posse of cops and media-people? Is this how we should teach our children? But as we said, there are big bucks in them TV formats. Reality sucks; but it sure brings in much money – and entertainment.

And so, we showcase the good and the bad (mostly the bad) for whatever purpose they may serve. Showcasing is often all that matters. The stage is ready; the cameras are available. So, let them roll! Action, camera and lights! (Photoshop or Ulead can enhance the colors later.)

With so much power in our hands to reduce humanity into banal images (the cave-people did not worship animals but hunted them for food and clothing), we have remained like hunters trying to gain the upper-hand over our presumed enemies. With enough laws at hand and much more in the making, we have not learned to look at each other as essential spirits within and bearing the divine goodness planted in us from the beginning. We look upon one another not as brothers and sisters but more often as competitors and rivals. We do not want to know the goodness or the potentials of others but how we can use them for our purposes.

Perhaps, we should look forward to that day when we will invent a camera that will record the inner workings of our souls and spirits. Photographs and movies are great for documenting human drama, whether real of fictional. Some of the greatest films have captured the best expressions and illustrations of human qualities such as courage, nobility, sacrifice and love. But if we were allowed to take images of the spirit in every person we met, then perhaps we could see our own real spiritual or moral condition. It would show us how dark the souls are of those who, clad in the best and most expensive apparel and glittering under the spotlights, parade before us onscreen. It would show us how corrupt the spirits are of those who preach holiness and flatter with words borrowed from God Himself. And it would expose the wickedness of some of those who sit high and mighty in the halls of government and deliver speeches espousing their self-serving programs.

On the other hand, it could also bring out the best that is in each of us.

But that sounds like sci-fi or idealistic junk. Yet, that very idea has always been the objective of art, whether we talk of visual art or music: To highlight the worst and best of the human condition and to convict or inspire us. Art seeks to gratify our senses and to enhance our character, all in one simple act of reading a book or watching an opera, a concert or a movie. This will remain as the great challenge for artists. Perhaps, we can keep up with the boom in information by strengthening this ancient and noble goal in every project we produce – whether by a major movie company or a YouTube-subscriber.

(Photo above: What was a shot taken by my photography student has been enhanced to make the historic Spanish-style road in Vigan look deserted. Once in a while, the author peeks into the camera. Just for fun!)

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Riddle for Our Times

To find out the answer, highlight the space between the arrowheads below.

Answer: <Nobody is using the water. >

You see it often because people do it often.

Every drop counts. Conserve water and have a. . .

Happy Earth Day!

(Photo courtesy of my best-friend, Andy Bernal.)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Mild Creature that Gives us the Rice we Eat

(Pencil sketch of a carabao, one of nature's mildest creatures. The farmer's friend and fellow land-tiller. Together , man and beast provide society with food. The simplicity of life in the barrio is a far cry from the complexity of city life.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reviving the Unwritten Moral Laws for Producers, Directors and Actors

It has happened a lot of times before and even after Aga Mulach and Janice de Belen did it in the ‘80’s. However, teenage pregnancies, whether among celebrities or not, occur more often now than before. Why and how this has come to pass is a dilemma which parents, sociologists and psychologists will tackle for many more years.

Let us take a brief look at this problem and try to show how and why this social malady has been aggravated by many sectors of society. From there we might find ways to solve it.

Firstly, media – particularly TV and the movies – have provided an easy access for teenagers to derive unsupervised or ill-advised exposure to normal and abnormal sexual practices. Normal sex-display, in the sense of married couples performing the act on-screen whether done with or without artistic finesse, will ultimately lead curious teeners to experience arousal and provide them the early motivation to indulge in sexual activities. Abnormal sexual acts, in the case of unmarried, homosexual or bestial partners exhibiting their passions in wild and shameless abandon, will go several steps toward distorting, if not totally destroying young people’s perceptions about sex, love and marital relationships.

With this unprecedented unbridled accessibility to adult information and entertainment formerly confined to certain individuals with perverted values, we have let loose the gates of promiscuity and immorality. The former normal social controls no longer apply and new ones implemented, if any at all, have no power to prevent our kids from being exploited economically by greedy business-people and purveyors of sleaze.

Secondly, parental guidance has all but given itself to parental “allowance”. Yes, parents still mouth the same old taboos or warnings to their children but nevertheless watch such seemingly harmless noontime shows that parade women in sexy clothes dancing seductively right in the privacy of their homes. This gradual neglect of the former strict adherence to modesty and propriety in appearance and behavior has led to the abandonment of our traditional respect for women and for the value and sanctity of the human body in our national psyche. We have unconsciously taught our children that certain things (like pumping your butt while dancing or uttering sexual innuendos) are as acceptable as overeating or staying late to watch TV. Devitalized spiritual and social values go hand in hand with our devitalized dietary and diurnal habits. Unhealthful values lead to sickly lives.

Thirdly, our civil laws have not been implemented strictly upon violators of our laws on marriage and moral behaviors. A lad who gets a girl pregnant is certainly not a criminal who deserves to be punished especially if there is no foul-play involved. However, in most cases, the parents or guardians should be held responsible for their children’s behavior. Often, such “accidents” are swept under the rug and lead to so many single mothers nowadays. If there were a commensurate sanction against parents who allow these things to happen, then there would be less of such things happening.

In older times, pregnancies led to marriages. It legitimized the relationship and oftentimes caused couples to live and grow together to become mature parents. The social controls were much stronger and more effective because the degree of responsibility and accountability expected of every individual was much higher then. Today, we have lost that sense of integrity toward oneself and toward others.

Finally, our spiritual awareness – particularly our fear of God and His punishment – has diminished to such an extent that we do not even pay heed to our laws. Corruption in every level of society is but a symptom of the ongoing social and moral decay. We have not established our children’s lives upon a strong moral foundation of solid divine teachings, thereby leaving them ill-prepared to face the threats and challenges of mature living. (Church-going, in general, no longer provides the social and spiritual deterrent to immoral behavior. Something more essential is needed to reverse the trend.) Without such moorings, they find themselves being carried by their passions and the prodding of their peers like spineless slugs.

Young actors and actresses who parade on-screen or on-stage, blinded by the glare of stardom and glamour are some of the people who become most-prone victims to immoral behavior. Their exposure to such utter lack of social control (and self-control as well) makes them easy pickings for wicked exploiters. And we know these shady characters are there operating in some dark, filthy corners of showbiz corridors.

Should not talent managers, producers, directors and movie and TV networks be held responsible and accountable – in the same way that parents should be – for the failure of some of their wards to abide by strict moral and social standards? Is a pregnant actress simply a victim of her own frailty or a product of a well-orchestrated albeit unadvertised program to orient our children to a way of life and a way of thinking which makes them moral weaklings?

Notice how liquor companies now bankroll young and innocent-looking stars to endorse their products? Or how seductive, porn-oriented magazines convince teenage stars to bare themselves before the cameras? While parents and social groups find ways to prevent such blatant exploitation, the business-people continue stashing away their booty. Decent and moral people who are helpless in protecting their children from so much trash raise their hands in desperation. Some simply smile and dance to the tune of the times.

In spite of the obvious desire of producers to instill moral values in local movie and TV scripts, we see in the actual lives of some celebrities the propensity to live “abnormal” lives without fear of being held legally or even socially liable. Their lifestyles of popularity and wealth (an almost a foregone choice as opposed to obscure poverty) have made them role-models for many innocent kids who put their hopes and dreams on becoming like their idols. Not even their idols’ worst mistakes or sins can topple them from their pedestals.

Remember Mel Gibson? After raking in his millions with his landmark movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, he got caught driving under the influence of alcohol and even cursing Jews when he was arrested. 80% of those interviewed said the offense did not affect their decision to watch Gibson’s movies. Shows you how many people thought how innocuous the deed was to them. Yes, Gibson apologized and eventually submitted himself to a rehabilitation program. Here, we know of so many drunken drivers every night who are never even accosted by policemen. (I don’t think we even have the structure to prevent speeding along EDSA. We used to have highway patrolmen decades ago.) And so, we hear often of celebrities involved in muggings and altercations but rarely hear of any of them ever convicted or punished. That fact alone convinces our youth that popularity “does pay”. In Hollywood as in Manila, they do so in more ways than one.

What do we do with these people who disregard our written and unwritten laws?

We cannot expect our political leaders to hail parents and all these media practitioners to court (or to a senate hearing – heaven forbid) to answer for their failures to raise up or train their wards according to the timeless rules of decency and propriety. That would be like the tree-and-fruit syndrome: Which is rotten, the tree or the fruit? Perhaps, we all deserve to suffer the fate of what society is going through – broken marriages, corruption, immorality, criminality and impending social chaos.

We do not wish to paint a negative picture of our society but we cannot find the reason to paint a rosy picture of it either. We seem to simply follow what happens in Hollywood where the rich, young and famous celebrities live lives of wild abandon. Unfortunately, we see and know where we are headed for but fly at such a speed that we can no longer stop. Before we get there, let us decide to slam on the brakes and get off the road to oblivion. For our children’s sake and for our children’s children’s sake.

(Photo above: The family is the living cell of the human society. Break it and you destroy a living body.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Oprah: Live Your Own Truth (The Gay Issue)

The die has been cast. Or was it cast a long time ago? Its rolling noise only echoes more loudly now with every renewed assault on our values.

It sounded so convincing and so contemporary, anyone hearing would have nodded smugly to the tune of it. But it was an invitation to greater suffering and pain. No, a free ticket direct to hell! As if Sodom and Gomorrah never happened. As if violating your own physical gifts and those of others (it takes two to “gay out”) were as natural as buying new clothes.

But talk of hell is not chic. It is of the old school -- the one that established strong, ancient societies and upon which the one we now have dangerously totters, ready to fall from the weakened, porous timbers of moral behavior.

Nobody cares about replacing those termite-infested supports with massive steel and reinforced concrete to preserve and to protect the tested ways of decent and upright living. People have grown tired of those old, unexciting ways. We have let loose the monsters of permissiveness and there is no turning back. Never!

The idols of popular media today dictate their opinions on the masses who somehow comply, willingly or unwillingly. Or, perhaps, these wealth-and-fame-powered proclaimers simply see what the masses are already doing and only make official pronouncements that affirm those behaviors. Their honeyed word gives deviant ways a stamp of legitimacy.

Here is how they do it:

Pick out several gay couples, exhibit them as being normal, happy and fulfilled persons and let the audience cheer them for their courageous decision. Show how emotionally sincere and patently innocent they are to prove to one and all that they are no different from the rest of us. Yes, like those news reports on newly-born, pitiable conjoined twins who had no choice at birth but to suffer a fate that could have only come from God. That’s right: show how these couples have become victims of society’s rules and that their choice (their “truth”) is as equally allowable and even admirable.

Gays have long been victims. Let them have their day of triumph. Let them have their freedom. And everyone is welcome to join.

Hence, people agree to do something that a once-despised or once-ostracized minority has succeeded in making acceptable and a normal function of society through a gradual process of assimilation. And the fact that such people suffer deep psychological imbalance and spiritual turmoil that have led to callousness is swept under the rug. Why? Because they realize that they can never reproduce as normal individuals can. (And if they had the choice, they would want to raise normal kids.) And so, whether they reconstruct their biological make-up to deceive themselves or retain their functions, they remain unsatisfied or unfulfilled because they go directly against nature’s order. If that is truth then it is so unscientific and illogical.

The Romans were perhaps some of the first people to make sexual promiscuity, among other immoral behavior, as being acceptable, if not by the whole society, at least by the aristocracy. The writer who first referred to the Americans as the New Romans may have not been that far from the truth. We wonder if the extreme reactions of terrorists (obviously defenders of moral conservatism) who wish to bring down the “wicked empire” simply express their frustration against disrespect for those moral laws embedded in ancient civilizations as well as in societies that still practice them.

In truth, God executes His judgments in many forms: by violent catastrophes or through violent invaders. This was so in the past; it is so today. As the sins go; the sinners will likewise follow. We may deceive ourselves as modern and sophisticated; but we all ultimately remain as potential food for worms.

We mock God with our disrespect for His laws. What particular law, in this case? That He “made them male and female”. No in-betweens. No mistakes in design. No crossing of roles or confusion of biological functions. This is the truth. There is no other.

When God sent fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah, it was to condemn homosexuality, specifically, and immorality, in general. Those people did not need the Law of Moses to know what was right. Their conscience was enough to guide them. No excuses allowed. Not even one for Lot’s wife who dared look back to her dreadful life in Sodom.

How abominable is homosexuality? Nobody who ever had some respect for God would make bones about the issue. Or perhaps, we can wait for the forthcoming movie “Pompeii” to give us a glimpse of how it was in those two sin cities. But why wait? Reading the Bible already allows us a view of such harsh judgment, if we had any fear at all.

But people no longer fear death or judgment. They want to live their lives as freely as they want. They want to live their “own truth”. This is the new gospel according to Oprah.

(Photo above: A dragonfly, unlike a person who knows to use a door to go out, remains trapped inside a glass room, a victim of ignorance.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Doris Day and Beyoncé: How the Song Died

Whoever said we cannot compare apples and oranges must have lived in the Dark Ages. Or, he must have been a fruit seller arguing with a buyer who wanted to buy them at the same price. Fresh oranges are definitely more expensive than fresh apples in Manila. And I don’t know why. But as juices in tetra packs, they cost exactly the same. So, who said we can’t compare them? I just did. They are the same, both being fruits. They are different, having different tastes and nutritional values.

So then, let us compare Doris Day and Beyonce. Both are female singers. They have totally different styles and have their own separate bunch of starry-eyed fans. But why compare them at all?

We know that Doris Day sings (or sang) candy-flavored ditties that our parents and baby-boomers slurped on. On the other hand, the young ones today wriggle and pump their hips to the tune of Beyonce. But let’s forget about the beat or the itch to dance to the music. Let’s just talk about the message, the words of the song. No, let’s talk about whether we can hear or pick up the words at all.

Yes, we can see Beyonce’s lips move. We can certainly see that she is saying words and phrases (To the left, to the left….). After that the words are lost in all the wailing and scatting. So what is she saying? Phrases do not make sentences and therefore do not complete a thought or a picture in our minds. And without a complete picture, we have no story.

Without a story to connect us with others, society dies. We see images, we hear sounds, we feel the beat but we think of nothing that endures and keeps us company when we get old. And we wonder why the youth today are more confused than ever.

Doris Day sang out clear words and told simple stories. Each word came out and each thought stood out. Que sera sera, whatever will be will be…. From childhood, I heard that line and understood that there were principles at work in life. No it didn’t teach me fatalism; it taught me to be realistic. It helped me attain balance between fatalism and faith. All because a singer could not only sing well, and clearly at that, but could also live and live up to her words.

Beyonce, from what I’ve read, is a believer of Christ. Her family supports her career actively. But I still have to hear her sing of her struggles as a child of God or as a struggling Christian artist in a world of glitter and glamour. (If she has, I certainly have not heard it or must not have heard the words at all.)

Honestly speaking, I see inconsistency in believer-celebs who behave as if there was no such words as modesty and purity. This may sound harsh but I merely wish to express my disappointment at talented people who cannot stand up for their beliefs or even make the spoken word clear – if not the good word – at least the words of their songs. Or are they hiding the fact that they (or their writers) really have nothing interesting to say at all?

Too many notes and too much beat and rhythm can kill a song and its message. Or is it a given today among music producers that the message is secondary or unnecessary just as long as they get the public to plug in and pump to the music? Too much waste of talent and opportunity to do good.

Hence, the story or the message of the song has been lost in the noise of vocal and instrumental sounds. The contest has gone beyond the musical virtuosity among rival bands and singers to that of competition between the instruments and the voices themselves. The more agilely you can outplay the instrument, the better for the song. Never mind the listener. They have successfully killed the song and its story and people still buy; so why bother with the song? Just keep the music playing.

Yet, composers have the responsibility of making both words and melody merge into one functional and aesthetic composition. There are thousands of ways to do this, obviously. The Beatles did it with painful poignancy through Paul’s “Eleanor Rigby”. The first time I heard it (Note: I heard and got the story the first time without checking the song book), I felt the impact of loneliness right through the core of my being. And it still does every time I hear it. The Rolling Stones brought a similar heartfelt jolt with their “As Tears Go By”, the Zombies with “Summertime” and Harry Chapin with “Cat’s in the Cradle”. Yes, songs you don’t dance to but listen to, learn from and embrace life thereby.

When Elvis came along, he crooned ballads that spoke of tender and sweet love and belted out rough songs with gyrating music that let loose the prisoners of inhibition. Yeah, at first he spoke clearly and straight to the heart of many a young pimply idealistic lad. But when he picked up speed and shifted from his baritone to that falsetto, he had many people either confused or taken for a ride in wild abandon. The words got lost in the process. Anger and rebellion became the theme. Music became a vessel to induce a trance, a hypnotic spell that could take you to heights of passion only drugs and alcohol could match. Many more followed his steps. Once that happened, the song eventually died. Yes, the music lived on somehow (notice how they use old songs in rap songs?) but the song would take a long time to come back since the 70’s. It barely survived through the 90’s. Thanks to Josh Groban and others who have kept the sanity.

I was born and raised in an era when stories not only entertained but built society. My family would gather after supper in a half circle around the radio to listen to a comedy program. We listened, we laughed and we learned as a family. Hence, the first and foremost consideration in the ritual was a clear broadcast reception. Our radio, a wooden-framed console with a phonograph did the job well. Music and drama told stories of love and adventure. Our radio was a virtual school that relayed information and recreation.

And, of course, there were the movies back then that relived the books I loved to read: The Count of Monte Cristo, Time Machine and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The music used to be a non-distractive tool for telling the story, whether in a song or in drama. But MTV married sloppy story-telling with equally sloppy music and caused a destructive explosion. When the smoke cleared, the movie survived but not the song.

Today, through high-tech gadgets, information and entertainment come on the go. Inside the elevator and while you ride the train, hip-hop and rock fill your brain. Other mindless beats and yappity raps assault us without let-up. A few are worth listening to, to be honest, especially the ones that slow down the beat and relapse to that dying practice of telling a story with clear and well-paced words. Never mind the melody if they can’t carry one, as long as the conscious mind is involved through the story, we can ride along. A good laugh from an amusing story is good enough. But noise disguised as music – now, that, is a rip-off!

Apples and oranges. Doris and Beyonce. After all is heard and done, we all want to be filled with good nutrition or good emotional release. The thing we should be thankful for is that we still have the choice not to eat rotten apples or oranges.

(Photo above: A high school buddy listens intently to '60's music on a radio, the size of which could contain about 20 iPods.)