Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What I Remember about My Childhood Christmas (The Simple Art and Science of Bamboo-Cannon-Making)

The chill of the air, the sound of children’s carols and chimes, the smell of native food and the blast of firecrackers bring me back to my childhood days. Well, almost, I don’t hear bamboo cannons anymore. No -- sadly, I don’t get to fire them anymore!

It was a rather tedious process. You first had to warm up the bamboo – oh, sorry, you first had to get a piece of bamboo about twice your height (which means about 5 to 6 feet since I was only 10 years old then) and smoothen its surface with a sharp knife or a bolo. You sawed off one side so that you had one closed node left and the rest of the nodes you punched out with a long steel bar to come up with, well, a hollowed cannon.

Near the closed end, you chopped off enough bamboo skin to form an oval depression (this was where you pressed your lips while blowing air into the cannon) and, at the center of it, you carved out a small hole using a bar of steel heated over a fire (we didn’t have a drill then, I guess). Once the hole was finished, it was best to reinforce the same end by tying around two pieces of wire on each side of the firing hole. Much of the pressure during the explosion would be at this end and the wire support assured you of a durable cannon.

Any straight bamboo type -- at least three inches in diameter -- will do for this project. Oftentimes, we made do with what our father brought home or what my older brothers were able to get in the neighbourhood. The strong and loud cannons were those of mature bamboo and of such species that were thicker and wider, the ones available in the provinces. (Today, the shorter, seemingly harmless ones made of welded aluminium cans or PVC pipes can rock a whole house. I heard they have been banned.) For our purposes, we just needed any bamboo that could create enough noise and fire tin cans twenty to thirty paces away. As kids, anything more powerful would have been dangerous. If we had two cannons, we fought against each other, firing cans back and forth until they became deformed. (Nobody got hurt as cans were so easy to dodge or catch.) With one cannon, we contented ourselves with making as loud an explosion as possible, with or without cans. The loudest it could go was less than that of a one-inch wide triangulo (triangle firecracker). But for us, the noise was merely the clapping after the whole performance. Seeing a can fly through the white ring-shaped smoke emitting from the cannon’s mouth and land across the vegetable patch was sheer triumphant joy. Projectile motion was a child’s delightful experience before it became a formidable Physics exam-problem in high school.

Oh, I almost forgot -- how did we fire the cannon?

After pouring a handful of kerosene (rubbing alcohol and gasoline were expensive; of course, the ancient Chinese, who must have taught us the use of cannons, used gunpowder) through the hole, you had to prop up the firing-end over a lighted candle or kerosene lamp to warm it up. A cold cannon will not fire since the kerosene needed to reach a certain temperature to produce enough heated vapor inside the cannon. To keep the cannon warm, it was best to keep glowing charcoal beneath the firing-end where the kerosene pooled. We made sure fire did not rise up from the coals and scorch the cannon. We lost a cannon once that way. (Wrapping the bamboo’s bottom with tin sheet prevented that.) Once it heated up, you positioned the cannon with its open-end raised and supported a bit higher than the firing- end. You fired the charge with a wicker made of a thin bamboo stick dipped in kerosene before being lighted.

At first, you heard a sudden rush of air coming from the closed end to the open end – like the sound of a car’s exhaust pipe when it back-fires but a much softer and soothing sound. I know what it is -- it’s like the bamboo singing a bass tone lower than any tuba player can make and more full in timbre. Whooofff! -- it went. And together with that sound was smoke spouting through the firing hole and the mouth. At night, you could even see the red flame from the blast. The explosion -- well, it was not yet a real explosion -- was a mere preview of the cannon’s power. One needed to prime up the cannon before it could really fire.

Priming required blowing rapidly several times through the small hole. (We often coughed and shed tears as we inhaled smoke and as our eyes smarted from the heated gas and from smoke.) I didn’t really know why then; but thinking about it now, I suppose it added oxygen and helped hasten the evaporation of the kerosene by spreading the heat and the gas all throughout the cannon’s length. The mixture of air and heated gas only needed to be ignited with fire to produce the explosion. Only after a few sets of blowing and firing did we get a sudden combustion loud enough to startle our mother and sisters who were cooking dinner. (Beware of overheated gas, it can ignite spontaneously. It might be best to wear goggles to protect your eyes.) By that time though, the sound would have been a bit muffled, as a tin can was often loaded just inside the tip of the mouth. A really deafening blast could split the whole cannon and that would be the end of the fun. Well, not really for we made a bonfire and barbecued with the silenced cannon.

It was a crude child’s toy but one that needed a whole brotherhood (four of us boys) working on it to become a success. Of course, our father taught us how to do it at first but after a while, it was us alone playing. Sometimes, it was just me and one or two of my sisters making and firing the cannon. Big boys move on to bigger toys.

Today, most kids will not have that rare satisfaction (and education) of making their own toys. Toys are bought mostly these days. Back then, we made our toys from all kinds of scraps or plants. Papaya-leaf flutes, bamboo swords and bow-and-arrow, banana-leaf airplanes, carton boats, tin-can trolleys and old-newspaper-and-coconut-stick kites.

Recounting this crude technology of kids wanting to have fun is a memory come-alive. It is childhood living in the heart and the mind. It is an undying memory that can only come at that time when the conditions are right – the cold month, the festive season, the familiar faces and places, the magical ambience and the refreshed feeling of being fully alive and of knowing God meant to bless us with life and joy at any age.

(Warning: Do not do this inside the house. And kids should not play with this toy without adult supervision. Suggested age of kids who could play: 10 to 92. Price: Inexpensive (or the price of a taxi ride to the nearest mall). Benefits: A Merry Christmas!)

[Photo above: Taken from (, photo shows a Samoan firing a bamboo cannon. It seems this toy is an Asia-Pacific phenomenon. Watch boys in Fiji Island cheering each big blast by clicking the link below.]

(Bamboo Cannons on YouTube)

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Law: Its Origin and Essential Meaning (How We Can Build a Strong Christian Nation)

The first time humans encountered the concept of law, as the Bible reveals, was in Eden. “Thou shall not eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.” This command, for that was what it was, had the effect of establishing in human consciousness five basic things: (a) there is a lawgiver, (b) there is a law handed down, (c) there is a law-recipient, (d) there is a corresponding response to the law (i.e., there is a law-keeper or a law-breaker) and (e) based on the previous, there is a corresponding response from the lawgiver (there is a reward or punishment).

God is the source of law and order. He set all the laws of Nature and the whole Universe even before He taught humans how to deal with Him and with one another. The Law of Reproduction (although an optional choice for capable persons, unlike the Law of Gravity which applies to all things) is an example of natural law that humans likewise learned to comprehend as they practiced and celebrated their sexuality in the beginning. Today, with birth control and homosexuality issues, we have come a long way from that time when humans clearly understood and simply followed this natural law. But it did not take long for humans to find clever ways to violate or go around this law. Case in point: Sodom and Gomorrah -- homosexuality supplants this natural law to the detriment of the parties involved as well as society itself. Today, however, we may not see the brimstone fire; but it burns with fervent heat, ready to claim its prize. (Please don’t shoot the messenger; the law is there and that is why we are here.)

After the Fall, the first humans had to deal with contingent laws or, or more precisely, forced conditions as a result of disobedience to the first command. Whereas initially Adam and Eve simply had to pick fruits from trees and derive all they needed to maintain perpetual health, they ended up working the land and toiling day-in and day-out just to remain alive, only to die eventually. The Law of Death (“On the day you eat of the fruit, you will die”) contained in the first law and which arose from the first sin was indeed a most grievous result from human failure to keep the Law.

Keeping the law, it seems, is a herculean task every person is bound to undertake as long as he or she lives. As children, we got rudimentary training in recognizing law and order in what we considered an uncomplicated life. We knew the effects of being good (Santa smiling with a gift) and being bad (Mama frowning with a belt). How we were taught to appreciate parental authority helped us to appreciate the authority of society and the State. How we valued our training and how we kept fidelity in our duties as law-abiding citizens determined likewise our value as a person and as a member of a community. Hence, we were or are either a burden or a blessing to this world depending on how we behaved or behave in relation to human laws.

As a result also of sin (violation of Divine Law), humans became subject to complete corruption. Why? When our first parents were driven from Paradise, they lost their intimate relationship with their Creator and Lawgiver. Spiritually and physically, humans had become slaves (to sin) and violators (sentenced to die). Whereas they walked and talked to God face-to-face in the Garden, outside, they no longer had that privilege other than through the indirect process of prayer or, eventually under Mosaic Law, through the intercession of God’s anointed ministers. Whereas they ate labor-free and life-renewing fruits, they now had to eat herbs and crops they had to plant, care for and even process (cook, grind, bake or ferment – culinary arts is such a fine but expensive spice in our otherwise somber life of earthly suffering) in order to eat. From then on, sin abounded and has not let up. And as a result, the law’s coverage also increased geometrically with every person born, family set up, city established and nation established.

From only one law in the Garden to more than six hundred in the Mosaic Law to thousands that we now have (and still growing), humans have to deal with laws, laws and more laws. (And we pride ourselves of having progressed in time!) And not only that, each law has its peculiar interpretations, nuances or applications, depending on the circumstances that prevail. For instance, complex marital laws are applied (both by civil government and the Big Church) to settle domestic differences. Sometimes, it takes years before these cases are resolved -- proving how we have avoided or missed the simple spiritual law Christ came to establish: Love One Another. And we are not even talking about criminal laws which likewise fall (or so they should) under the same encompassing influence of the Golden Rule. We have somehow forgotten the original Lawgiver, the essence of Law, our duty toward the Lawgiver and have taken for granted the consequences of our response to authority. Hence, we no longer recognize even those supposedly appointed to maintain law and order in society.

And so today, when the State comes out with a directive for squatters to vacate a place or to stop using pedicabs in major city streets, we end up with policemen quelling a riot, if not a virtual rebellion. Obviously, there are valid reasons for people to resist and their lawyers naturally would defend the people’s rights to justice or due process. But in many cases, city ordinances (which have the force of Law, or so they should) are not implemented without prior notice to those concerned. The hard-headed citizens (like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, perhaps) defied law and authority and, therefore, suffered the consequences. We are not happy that people are hurt on either side. In fact, we are not happy that such incidents should occur at all. (These issues, of course, are more than just cases of civil disobedience but mere symptoms of the bigger problem of a society that has abandoned its adherence to law – from the lowliest citizens to the highest officials.)

One wonders then whether we should call our society modern if such issues, whether great or small, could not be settled in a peaceful manner among mature and cool-headed individuals. After millennia of having had experience in law-making and law-keeping (did we not have laws in our ancient Barangay systems?), are we not still open-minded enough to consider the wisdom and the practicality of settling issues in brotherly ways? Or is it because many of us do not have the fundamental education in understanding Divine Laws and are, therefore, not disciplined enough to fear the consequences of unlawful acts and behavior?

The Devil is said to be the father of murderers. This is what Jesus said when He upbraided the Jews who wanted to slay Him for teaching the poor. A soldier or a policeman has the duty to enforce the law of the land. What the law demands then is for the law-abiding law-enforcer to uphold. Before the barbarians came, the Roman Empire (“united by laws and adorned by the arts,” as Gibbon wrote) kept the peace throughout its boundaries for centuries by applying strict discipline among its subjects through the presence of the imperial armies. Yes, there were abuses but the stability and glory of Rome was unshakable as a result of the application of the laws set by the Roman Senate. Even Jesus Himself became a “victim” of Roman justice as a result of the Jewish leaders’ manipulation. It was the one and only case in the history of humankind when the law of humans was applied to serve the Law and Plan of God and, thereby, save all lawbreakers – Good News, this is! For no matter how hard Pilate tried to navigate around the Roman and Jewish laws to save Jesus from the cross, he could not because the justice of God required that the Son of God must die in order to establish His Law of Liberty. That new law replaced the old one and taught us to live through faith in the resurrected Christ and be free from sin and death – that is, to reverse the effect of our violation of God’s laws. Some call it justification; but it is simply a redeeming process that begins with forgiveness and continues with an inward transformation of a person being led by a law “written in the heart” which is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is what is meant by the verse: Love is the fulfilment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

The Philippines is said to be Christian nation. By that, we could mean Christ is the virtual ruler of all the nation’s affairs or, simply, that many people practice a religion related or similar to the teachings of Christ. In essence, if Christ is the unseen ruler in this country, then His law (of liberty) must apply in most of our dealings, for so many people claim to be believers of Christ. Of course, it only means that we are a nation where many people individually believe Christ and practice His teachings ceremonially and/or in reality, whether consistently, sincerely or passionately or not. In a democracy, however, Christianity often takes on the form of, well, a loosely-fitting costume one puts on only when needed or convenient. As a nation among so many, we do not have much to show for our vaunted title as a “Christian” nation. But in reality, Christ reigns over the whole nation, although not all adhere to or accept His rule. That is why there will be judgment.

The most damaging effect that the idea of law placed in the minds and hearts of people throughout history is that of legalism or, more precisely, legalistic mentality. This occurs when people once more return to law-keeping (animal sacrifices, temple-worship, empty rites, etc.) and not progress to love-keeping. That is, they replace the law that gives life within them with the law that kills. Whereas they have freedom to do what is essentially required of the law (to love and serve God and others), they bind themselves again to laws that enslave their lives (by loving this world and its ways). This is the nature of the legal beast, the one that the Gospel teachers fought against in the past and which present teachers still wrestle with.

Many believers today are guilty of legalistic attitude. Either because of the laws or ordinances they have invented or because they see the teachings of Christ as another set of laws they must impose upon themselves and upon others (turning the Law of Liberty into a “new” Law of Moses, it seems), people become blind and cruel judges of those who live freely in Christ. This is why the Inquisition happened. On the other hand, this is why persecutions by civil authority also occurred. And this is why (and how) religious leaders today work hard to maintain their hold upon their followers. The externalities (rites, pomp, physical and religious structures) awe and daze people away from the simplicity that is in Christ.

A simple illustration will show us how people are so confused with the fundamental concept of law. A recent case of an American football player kneeling and raising a finger to heaven after a touchdown being penalized by the referee has raised many protests as well as counter-protests, both from believers and atheists on either side of the fence (confusing, as we said). A game has its rules and the referee, true to his role, applied it without regard to a person’s religious colors. The act or offense, for him, constituted a violation of a “law” and punished the violation. He could be as fervent in his faith to God as the player is; but he is now called a servant of Satan by many protesters. Neither is the player a recalcitrant violator for out of his personal celebration he expressed joy and exaltation that lasted but a couple of seconds or so. The question then for all of us is this: Are we free to violate laws or rules just so we can supposedly serve or worship God in a manner or at a time we deem right for ourselves but may be not so for others? Would Apostle Paul have been a “barbarian” in this case and disregarded the laws or a “Roman” and kept the laws of the game? As viewers, would we favor the player or the referee? Who is the legalistic one in this issue, if there is one? Who violated the law? Take a moment to think what kind of person you are with respect to the law or any particular regulation, like littering or texting while driving. (This could not have happened in the Philippines for we have a different approach to law and order and are more tolerant to religious differences. I use it to highlight, perhaps, how we have put hard lines when we could just as well play or work without boundaries at all. Fines have replaced fun even in our games.)

So you see, based on the passions burning or flickering within us, there are levels to our adherence to law and to faith. A stable society requires devotion to both aspects of our individual and collective lives. God gave us law (it did not evolve nor was it invented, mind you) and the government (as far as it is able to comprehend and apply them) upholds divine rule and justice. We cannot escape both aspects (law and faith) of our humanity and expect to live happy and fruitful lives.

A strong Christian nation, therefore, requires comprehension and obedience to the call of our Master Jesus Christ: living our submitted lives as a continuous living service to our Lord and Savior. The King of Kings indeed has loyal subjects who truly understand why He holds that title. But this army is obviously still very small and ineffective as to capture the whole nation for Jesus. This nation remains a battlefield where God’s warriors fight innumerable forces of darkness. Ultimately, even the governance of our nation will be put before the bar of justice in Heaven. For there is no escape from God and His judgment, now or hereafter.

Do we have a nation already and completely established upon God’s Law of Liberty? Or does it only endeavor to establish law and order based on human or man-made precepts? Do we have a strong Christian nation today or is it something we still need badly to establish?

Our answers to these questions determine our reaction to the events that occur in our daily lives. Consequently, our answers will determine whether we have abundant life now or not. They also determine whether ours is a nation that others (including our compatriots) would love to visit or shun.

(Painting above: "Adam and Eve After the Fall" by Edward Jakob von Steinle, Austrian, 1810-1886)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why Manny Pacquiao Should Retire from Boxing

1. As a husband and father, he should preserve his health and use his energy raising his family as a non-boxer, something he is well-equipped to do.

2. As a congressman, he must devote more time (the time he spends in training and fighting which is about three to four months a year) to his constituents in Saranggani. Congress should file a bill (I’m sure Coach Roach would file it if he could) requiring him to quit, for his own good, for his family’s good and for the country’s good. That is, if the Speaker is brave and wise enough to do so.

3. He has nothing else to prove – he already has 8 belts. 8 is a well-rounded and double-rounded figure connoting infinity or completeness. There might be better boxers than him; but he has proven he is the best in all 8 divisions. 9 could be unlucky for him. As they say, stop while you’re ahead.

4. He should stop punishing himself and others, in that order. “Galing ko, aray ko!” (My secret to my greatness is my ouch, to paraphrase the ad) Pacquiao claims, commercially. In reality, genuine “galing” or talent (or literally, wellness) involves keeping yourself “unstained” in this world. So, one might do well in one area but miserably fail in another. Or, more graphically, your face might be stainless (pun intended) but if your body or hands are blood-stained or spotty, you cannot attend the Great Banquet in Heaven. So what’s stain-ful about boxing? Next item please. . . .

5. Manny should stop making himself a tool of those who run gambling shows and joints. Or of those who simply want to gamble. For boxing is one big gambling event. Having the fights in Houston and not in Las Vegas does not make it any less a gambling extravaganza. As they say, in Texas, they do things in big or bigger ways. Back home, I saw one of his constituents in Saranggani say that he was looking for someone to lend him his whole month’s salary which he wanted to bet on Pacquiao. Retiring and teaching his people to make more decent and lasting means of livelihood would make the Champ a real social change-agent and values-reformer.

6. Proof of this exploitation that Manny allows himself to be a tool of is the fact that Margarito was chosen precisely to make the fight more exciting and to sustain the interest of people (and gamblers): a much taller opponent with a longer reach. Before the fight, I had to doubt Manny was going to stop Margarito, not because I knew Pacquiao was better but because I knew what promoters were thinking. (That Manny was up for the challenge made the whole thing more thrilling. And so many bought into it.) You can be sure that they will do the same thing the next time around, whether it is Mayweather or not. It seems now nobody will fit the tab or even dare take up the challenge. I hope that is enough reason for Manny to quit now. Unless the promoters come up with another wild idea, like resurrecting Pancho Villa – now that would be one show indeed. Maybe Manny should just make that dream-movie and make as much money. We can still see him fight and win. The gamblers can still bet if the movie will make money or not. Besides, there are many ways to reinvent boxers. For Manny -- the lawmaker, the singer, the actor and the product-endorser -- the list is endless.

7. Boxing is a cruel sport not so far removed from the bloody gladiatorial bouts in ancient Rome. Everybody loves a winner but not everyone loves a winner who punches peoples’ faces to a pulp. We all love a hero but not all would want to honor someone who makes a living by hurting others. Yes, it is only sports but one that has sent many to death or a coma or dealt them with broken bones, Parkinson’s disease or damaged organs. People who have fun watching boxing, whether they admit it or not, have a degree of sadism in them that allows them to feast upon such a melee. (Manny himself wanted the fight stopped but the referee, who must have been instructed by the promoters to keep the fight on, had no other choice. "Kill or be killed" was the gladiator's motto.) It is among the original reality shows and one that has survived because people feed upon the boxer’s cruelty and vice versa. Without equally bloodthirsty fans, the gladiators in Rome would not have made good money for their promoters. Why would the Romans spend so much for a huge coliseum if there was no money in it? (I like to believe the early Christians kept away from those fight-to-the-death games; but today this Christian nation literally stops to watch Manny’s fights without losing much sleep over it. Nah, it even holds feasts to honor St. Pacman!) If only for this reason, Pacquiao should retire right now.

8. And finally, in the eighth round, Manny has built so much goodwill among his country-folk and throughout the world that he has enough to make him an effective leader and an ambassador of goodwill. Starting from his hometown, he can show what anyone with the guts and talents can accomplish and thereby lead others to make their lives and their communities better. Fighting is all about perseverance and dedicating yourself to your goals in life, one that Manny has shown excellently as an athlete. Manny Pacquiao has attained his goals, he has reached the peak and he has garnered the wreath of honor. All that he needs to do now is to lead others to be where he is now, unparalleled and unchallenged – at the pinnacle of triumph. The Philippines remains in shambles today. We desperately need more people like Manny who can develop the courage and determination among the people to make their country a Victor and not a Loser. How much happier we would all be if the country earned the billions and benefited from them through a productive and equitable national economy and not just one person who regularly wins a boxing fight?

Take the challenge, Congressman Manny Pacquiao! Be the true leader God wants you to be.

(Painting above: Pacman in action against Diaz, an oil painting by John Murawski.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Time is Life: When it Begins and How We Must Spend It

If God stopped time, all of Creation will collapse. Time is the seed of the entire Universe. Without time there would be no matter.

Thus, Moses wrote "In the beginning..." and the gospel writers referred to Jesus Christ as the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end (giving reference to His participation in Creation and in the Final Judgment). He is eternal - not subject to time, not material. He dwells in the realm of timelessness or “matterlessness”. This is as much as we can say about God being Spirit.

Time is not what we see on a watch for time is immeasurable. It is merely the passing of life – for instance, the aging of the body or the movement of things or events – as we experience it. It is the very flow or continuum of what God has shared with us through giving us a taste of His glory and His own being. Simply said, this is how we experience or share in His divine character. Anyone who does not recognize this is a self-deluded or self-unknowing person. King David called such a person a “fool” for not seeing God in all of Nature’s essence and beauty. In other words, such a person walks and lives in time but does not realize he does so on borrowed time, literally. He is like a slave who has been freed but does not know how to live as a free person.

Just as a song has a time signature, life has a time foundation. Time defines our very being. Time establishes our material existence and reality. It is not an illusion as some thinkers like to believe but the very image or copy of Divine Reality. How can God create something that is part of Himself and not have real reality as well? He would have to be so deceptive to do so. The fact that humans are sentient or aware of their own existence proves the divinity in us and the very existence of God. What we may call illusion of material reality then is an inkling of and a link to spiritual reality. We exist at a lower level of reality but we do exist. Until we graduate and see the Schoolmaster face to face, we can only think and act like “students” and not as “masters” of Time and Life.

Also, just as a song exists in time, we are because of time. On paper, a lyric is not a song. We cannot hear the melody nor feel its rhythm. Outside of physical reality – that is, in this world of time - we are nothing, we have nothing. We would have no senses, no awareness, no life, no fancy cars, no physical beauty.

Our own seed in us has potential to create time and being, i.e., another human being. This is the Law of Reproduction established by God during Creation. Alone, a sperm cell is like the lonely Adam. Unfertilized, an egg cell likewise wastes away and dies a natural death. The union of the two through sexual intercourse replicates existing life. It does not produce a separate being but a being that is a branch of the proverbial family tree planted by God in the Garden – very near the beginning of time. And the root of that tree is Adam and Eve.

Every one of us then is a carrier or vessel of Time and Life once granted to our very first parents. We share in their divinity and their legacy as heirs of God’s heavenly blessings. If this is not a gift worth keeping and nurturing, then nothing else in life is worth doing.

If people stopped reproducing today, time would still exist. So would matter. Hence, families grow and decay. They may prosper and exist for centuries or so but they may also disappear like nations do. But it would have to take God to say “Time’s up!” for the Universe to fold up.

Controlling birth is a normal and natural function. Just as people die, babies are conceived and may even die from miscarriage. Oftentimes, a tiny twig is broken or pruned to benefit the tree. Hence, some abortions are allowed medically.

Artificial birth control, in general, simply prevents conception. It does not curtail or destroy life. Just as menstruation and wet dreams wash away potential life in a normal process, birth control is a novel (albeit ancient) human option availed of to prevent reproduction.

If babies are pure and sinless, when they die they go to God. If at conception fertilized eggs are destroyed, is that murder? ls it preventing a branch of Time and Life to exist? Maybe it is. Some may passionately defend their belief that a zygote is a complete human being with full human life. Destroying it, therefore, becomes to them an act of abortion and considered a grievous or capital offense. We might then picture a nitpicking God lining up all those who murdered zygotes through contraceptives and taking them to task. Or, perhaps, those infants themselves pointing tiny, angry fingers at their miscreant parents. Is the denial of life or earthly experience enough justification for God to take revenge upon the cursed parents? Is the guilt (and the punishment supposedly imposed) then commensurate to the offense? Or have we been given the freedom and leniency by God to determine for ourselves what is proper in what is primarily a physiological matter? (Hence, Hebrew religious laws regarded a woman pregnant only 40 days after her conception.* Such a law today would make contraception issues irrelevant.)

And what about in cases where there is no conception at all – as in the use of condoms and other means that prevent the union of the female and male cells? Where is murder or abortion there? Where is the wasted life and the unlived time there? Are we, perhaps, taking the argument far beyond the realm of logic and common sense?

Declaring artificial contraception as contrary to the divine plan is stating that all things man-made or artificial are wrong or sinful. When a couple do the sexual act at “safe” times, they do it for the simple reason of wanting to have sexual pleasure without the “fear” or concern of producing a baby. Or was it, perhaps, God’s plan to give pleasure to couples during the nine months that a woman is pregnant and after that continence is the sole “birth control” method approved by God? That is, the couple must eventually decide and accept the fact that making babies has ended and that they must not have any contact again? (“...some indigenous Australian communities forbade men to have sex with their wives for several months after the birth of a child.**) If we look at the Old Testament people who lived for centuries, this seems to be the case. Most if not all of the patriarchs married (or began to bear children) at the age of about 65 to 180 (most people today would be dead by then), and had only a few children on record. Noah, for instance, had his three children when he was about 600.

Did people, perhaps, have such complete control of their passions then? Or did they have a very efficient birth control technique that we know not of? How can, for instance, Noah have only three children if he lived to be 950? (We know of actors who are less than 90 but have almost as many children as their age.) Many plants and substances have been used by the ancients as abortifacients or contraceptives – acacia seeds, gum resin, carrot seed and silphion or silphium (an extinct herb which the Greeks and Romans swore to for its efficacy). Ancient midwives held the secrets of this medicinal knowledge for four thousand years but lost them when modern medicine came with its haughty “scientific” ways. Diaphragms, vaginal suppositories, spermicides and condoms were already freely used a long time ago. Indeed we are new at this game and yet we are making so much fuss of its religious or spiritual significance for certain selfish motives other than to please God or to fulfil His commandments.

The command is to “go and multiply”. Today, it is more sophisticated: marry and have as many or few children as necessary. In China, the command is to have only two children. Practicality and wisdom, of course, forces us to be wise in “multiplying”. Having dominion over Nature and over ourselves requires self-control of many forms and in many dimensions. Sexual drive is just one of the things we need to control. Birth control, essentially, is not self-control nor sex-control but, well, birth control. For many, it is simply having pleasure plain and simple, moral or immoral. We have not learned to have real self-control (and may never do) that is why we have this issue at hand.

There are those who preach against the use of birth control without giving enough emphasis on how to gain genuine self-control – within and outside of marriage. And there are also those who practice birth control and yet have no self-control at all – within and outside of marriage. The issue encroaches upon the issues of authority, credibility and personal responsibility. Who are we hearing, humans or God? What do we hear, human doctrine or God’s word? Is God in all this talk at all? Is He the one preventing us or allowing us to do the things we want to do with our time, our bodies and our lives? Is the God Who gave us Time and Life also the one telling us to have pleasure? Is He also the one telling us to have self-control? Or are we the only ones telling ourselves what we want to do? How then are we giving back the glory to Him? By mouthing senseless or baseless doctrines or practicing immoral or indecent acts?

The price of enjoying fully and abundantly Time and Life as a gift from our Creator is that of believing Him and following His ways. How that is done or neglected is the very source of all human progress and problems thus far. Yet, it is or should be the ultimate objective of every human being. It is the most “primary education” we must have from childhood to adulthood. Spiritual education begins at home where parents must picture godly living to their children. Faith, in its essential form, once proceeded out of the homes of faithful believers, not in the formal assemblies of religious sects controlled by the priesthood. Hence, with Christ’s death, the temple, the temple worship and the priesthood became obsolete. Worship, the true kind, emanates from the heart of every believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Worship, the very application of having faith in God, therefore, must lead a person to spend his/her Time and live his/her Life for God. The final determinant is that person’s conscience as educated by God’s Word through the Holy Spirit and as aided by one’s education in a decent and mature society. Ours today is far from being one. Radio, TV and news commentators, many obviously unqualified, blurt out inane and even insane advice to the youth (often about dating and sex) in general. The dissipation of values is not just wholesale; it is FOR SALE AT ANY COST. Money dictates that anyone can give any advice as long as one has a glib mouth, and plenty of jokes to tell. If the youth of today seem to lack self-control, we have their parents, first, and these media people, second, to be blamed. The latter’s power to influence, in fact, goes beyond that of the parents. (MTRCB must be sleeping because the lewdness stink and toilet smell suffocate daily commuters in buses and jeepneys.) Our dumpsites have nothing compared to the maggots dripping from the mouths of these deejays who are polluting our ears and sensibilities.

But we are only talking about the garbage in media, particularly on radio. Today, as Apostle Paul hinted, we now have many false prophets and teachers. Our individual task is to search out Scriptures and test every spirit whether it is from God. We must even test our very own spirit whether we act and speak from and for God. Reading and discussing these matters openly and freely, benefits us in no small way. Only then can we see what CLEARLY IS, what SEEMS TO BE SO BUT IS NOT and what CLEARLY IS NOT.

Any spirit then that does not come from God must be resisted and contended against. Silence is defeat.


(Painting above: Peter Paul Rubens' oil painting -- The Birth of the Milky Way.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

“He Made Them Male and Female”

Having been one myself ages ago, dealing with teenagers gives one an advantage of hindsight, experience and the ability to appreciate what and where they are and to somehow foresee (or prevent) what and where they will be in their future. One particular encounter was with an intelligent conversationalist named (“unfortunately” according to her) Andrea (not her real name), a cousin of my guitar student. In spite of having such a beautiful name, she calls herself Andy because, she says, “I look like a boy.” Whether she chose that name for herself or others did so for that inappropriate reason, she seemed on the road to accepting that she had a face that was not “saleable” or that she did have traits of being a boy and that accepting that “tendency” might be a good option.

The young do tend to reflect the thoughts of others as a result of peer pressure or, perhaps, in trying to seek overall social acceptance, especially among the older set who may gloss over such “petty” or “childish” stuff. I told her that she had other “assets” that should have convinced her she was a girl (and a pretty one at that) and that she had no reason to treat herself or let others treat her as a boy. Embarrassed at the mention of the word “asset”, she blushed and tried to cover her semi-plunging t-shirt with her jacket. I had to explain that what I meant was that the face does not define who or what you are in terms of gender. The figure or form of a female (small waist, wide pelvis, etc.) is different from that of a male, no matter how “masculine” a girl might look or might want to appear. Moreover, I said that having the figure itself is not enough; it is the way a girl moves or, in general, the way she behaves that makes her female.

In the original divine design, the female figure was meant to provide her not just with the structure that would allow her to bear and deliver children but also to exude the feminine aura – what Neil Sedaka wrote in a song: “poetry in motion”. God made Her female. All that she is is the totality of what God had conceived from the very beginning: a unique female individual, a properly or appropriately designed mate for man, a corresponding partner in marriage and a bearer and deliverer of children.

Conversely, God made Him male. In truth, man was made in the image of God. How he appears and moves, ideally, pictures divine nature and character. How can a man then be double-minded or doubles-sexed? How can he behave as if God did not make him male? Did God make a mistake in creating us? Of course not!

All that man is, therefore, is the totality of what God had conceived from the start: a unique male individual, a proper mate for woman, a corresponding partner in marriage and a provider and protector of the family. Moreover, God declared that he would have authority over woman. Well, it is some divine-legal provision that arose from that sin the first woman and man committed (in that order).

Many of us understand the foundational meaning of this text and principle in the Bible. And yet, not so many try to act upon it for their own sake or for their children or relatives. When God made the Sun and the Moon, He had specific purposes for them. We know what they are and what they are for. At least, today we do. But in the past, people made those celestial bodies as real gods whom they worshiped and gave human sacrifices to. Perhaps, humans do have a spiritual blind-spot that causes them to misread what is clearly visible and logical. They see and know but their hearts and their minds tell them something else. Is it any wonder then that He would tell Moses to write: God made the Sun and the Moon. God made them Male and Female. As clear as Night and Day and, yet, we stay in the Twilight Zone. And THAT is a really frightening reality.

We allow things to happen because of our so-called democratic rights, our freedom of choice. What we fail to realize is that God has given us vast freedom wherein we can be as happy and as abundant as we can be within His immeasurable limits. But we want something that will enslave us instead. For any form of deception is slavery. Instead of accepting His plan as to how we can glory and bask in His grace, we disgrace Him and His Creation. In short, we desecrate our very own bodies and even those of others.

(Photo above: Statue of the two-faced Roman god, Janus.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Priest and the Publican (Confusion of Mission in the RH Bill Controversy)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells of two duty-shirkers who “passed by the other side” when they saw a wounded man, who had been waylaid by bandits, lying on the roadside. One was a Levite priest and the other was a Publican. Today, they would be a priest or pastor (archbishop, perhaps) and a public servant or politician (senator, perhaps). Both personages bear important roles in society. One ministers to the religious needs of people while the other performs tasks pertaining to vital social or material needs of citizens.

Whatever led the priest to leave the poor man alone to the harsh elements must have been a good reason “for him”. Perhaps, the high priest was waiting for him at the temple and he had no time for the dirty work best left to deacons or menial servants in the temple. In most priestly minds, serving God does not always mean serving every person’s particular need at any given time. Otherwise, his energies will not suffice to allow him to do his duties within a day. True, the priest missed serving the immediate needs of a person he was duty-bound by God to aid at that moment. One need not be an “important” person in society to fulfil the divine duty to “love your neighbor”. One could even be a “second-class” citizen – like a Samaritan. This was the lesson of Jesus.

The same case applies to the publican. Whatever caused him to hurry on must have been so compelling as to allow his conscience to bear the guilt of leaving a dying man without him lifting a finger. In both cases, the humanly-expected or “socially-contracted” duties of the two persons ran counter to the divinely-expected or “spiritually-contracted” duties of all humans. Loving requires everyone to feel for others in need. Whether it is within one’s defined role as a private or a public worker or not, the Lord expects us all to “drop our schedules” for those who are placed before us to show our love to in order to lessen their burden in life. Apart from our perceived big roles as workers in churches, companies and government agencies are genuinely bigger roles of serving God through our unscheduled “good deeds”. (Certainly, there are overlaps somewhere and some would even say that what they do as paid workers is their “good deed” for God.) It is doing such deeds that spells the difference between a society that has heart and one that is merely efficient.

Today, the duties of priests and politicians cover a wide array of concerns that at any given day they are called upon to face issues that make them appear either as heroes or villains to the people. The present controversy regarding the Reproductive Health Bill has pitted the Catholic Church against the politicians who have proposed or defended the bill. As the heated debate rages, the people are also being divided into pros and cons in the use of contraceptives using public funds. Even Catholics openly criticize their priests for their sexual escapades – a non sequitur, obviously, but one that is good for the moral weight it bears upon those who may be guilty of such a hypocritical offense. Just as we have scalawag priests (those who violate their vows of celibacy), we also have immoral public servants or politicians (those who violate their marital vows). So, that is neither here nor there.

The main issue we must settle is which side is right, if it were possible to make that judgment. If not, then we must raise the issue to a higher level than where many perceive it to be. Are they, perhaps, both right in their own perception of their duties and have, therefore, taken the stance they need to pursue? That in doing so, they may have ended in “passing by the other side” and avoided the real duty or duties they were meant to achieve in their work? If so, what would that duty be?

What is the real problem here: overpopulation or poverty? Contraceptives or morality? Or is it a combination of two or more of these things? It appears that a confusion of our true mission in life has occurred in that we have all kept to each of our own “important” duties, in good conscience perhaps, but have failed to accomplish the Lord's demand to “love our neighbor”. So, let me beg the issue.

Who brought about poverty? Is it worth answering this question? If that were the main problem, we must seek to alleviate or erase it if we can. Perhaps, the better question is: Why is there poverty? Or, why is a land so rich in resources not able to feed its people? Hence, we cannot avoid asking the question: Who owns the biggest portion of prime properties throughout our land? It must be a toss-up between the Church and the State. But it doesn’t matter who does; the point is, the neglect and failure falls in the hands of the stewards of the national wealth. Who then holds the power to produce wealth and distribute it accordingly? Historically and technically, that role is in the hands of the Priest and the Publican. In truth, the burden of supporting the material needs of the two biggest organizations today in this country – the Big Church and the State, has always fallen upon the backs of the poor and suffering workers. The people give and the recipients receive and horde instead of spreading the wealth to all. This is the source and the very cause of poverty. The Communists, copying the early Christians, aimed to level the use and enjoyment of resources by “having all things in common”. Today, the rich and the poor are like the molave and the kamote: the mighty and strong and the lowly and sapless living together.

Is the Catholic Church poor? Of course not! Is the government poor. Hardly! But why are there so many poor Filipinos?

Population control is one of the prescriptions we have come up with. Anti-RH proponents claim it is a pharmaceuticals-lobbied move to favor, as usual, the drug companies’ worldwide dominion in the health industry. (Private companies are as equally responsible for the welfare of the people. In our story, the innkeeper made money out of the kindness of the Good Samaritan by providing lodging, food and medicine. With or without love for his client, it was business as usual!) Is it at all moral for one sector to enrich itself over the sufferings of others? Like the Good Samaritan, we are sometimes forced to part with our wealth in order to stop suffering. The best we could expect from the innkeeper is to give free service or some discount. But that is making fantasy of a parable.

If we must face our problems as one nation, we must do so by thinking right and thinking the way God wants us to think. The Catholic hierarchy claims it speaks for God; but does it? The opportunity the Church had to spread the wealth to all Filipinos died a long time ago with their greed in amassing lands and wealth as early as in the Spanish era. Today, the highest earning schools are mostly run or owned by Catholics. Is that spreading wealth or amassing it? Is teaching the Gospel the real mission of the priests or educating the people for the national workforce and maintaining their reputation as a social and political force in our country? Sorry, Mr. Carlos Celdran: It is too late for priests not to meddle in politics. They have made politics what it is. Money fuels and controls politics. The very moment you make attending masses and worship services totally “free-of-charge” (no alms and tithes) is the very time you kill these religious organizations. That old folk ditty we sang in the ‘70s still rings true: “If religion were a thing that money could buy, the rich would live and the poor would die . . . .” Our troubles are not over yet! As ever, religion is good business.

And yet, the Lord talked about true worship and of worshipping neither in Jerusalem nor in Samaria. And, it follows, neither in Vatican, Manila Cathedral or Crystal Cathedral. Neither in a chapel nor on the prayer mountain, it follows. Worship is where God needs to be served – like a roadside where a wounded man lies, perhaps? Or a home where the father is often absent because he is too busy with work as a congressman? Or in a one-room shack where the mother huddles with her six children feeding on one pack of Lucky Me noodles? What happens in those places shows how we love God, our families and our neighbor. There are no sacred places, only people with sacred hearts. Anyone who feels insulted inside a so-called sanctuary has a conscience that will not and will never tolerate self-examination. King David fell down on his face when a citizen (through a parable, not unlike Noli Me Tangere) accused him of adultery.

Worship is everywhere. So is love (the real meaning of worship) where a “neighbor” waits for God’s blessing through a kind heart. All the artificial rites we do in grand buildings do not count as worship “in spirit and in truth”. Christ already defined and clarified that (incidentally, to a Samaritan woman), yet we still blindly neglect it. How then can we expect people to understand when their spiritual and political leaders (who are mostly Catholics) do not know the right from wrong?

For in truth, the government has also had all the opportunities to alleviate poverty and to accomplish the noble task of distributing wealth to the people. It has failed up to now. Agrarian Reform is a mere political wish and not a reality. So many Filipinos now reside in Vancouver, California and Sydney where they feel wealthy – really wealthy, or, at least, wealthier than the Filipinos they were in the Philippines. Their host countries have succeeded in their duties to distribute wealth (and, thus, to prevent poverty). While here we are fighting it out against one another trying to prove who is on God’s side and who is on the people’s side. Pity the poor – they are still pawns in the dirty game of politics. The government continues to avoid its duty to manage the country well to allow people to enjoy freely the fruits of their material as well as their maternal labors. If other countries can do it, why can’t we? If it is true that Mindanao can feed the whole of China if properly developed, why go through all that trouble when we have enough islands and teeming seas to feed as many as we can? Give us neither condoms nor menstrual calendars. Give us good and sensible leadership.

Passing the bill will only increase promiscuity even among the youth. Not passing it will just merely maintain its present normal course -- that of people engaging in “safe” or “unsafe” sex within or outside of marriage (in spite of people attending masses or services). Hence, both sides of the issue do not truly serve or have in mind God's basic purpose of strengthening and protecting marriage. What they really espouse is their own brand of morality devoid of genuine spiritual anchorage or their misdirected economic programs meant to provide palliatives. We are barking at the wrong rubber tree. Our Master wants us to quietly stand guard over His house of which our nation is but a small part.

In simple terms, while we debate whether we should promote the use of artificial birth control methods or not, the people are not made truly aware of their responsibilities to uphold the sanctity of marriage and to attain self-control. If our citizenry became more aware of their responsibility (or love and respect) to God and His laws, then they would also be more aware of their responsibility (or love and respect) to their neighbors. If a big portion of the population boom is caused by promiscuity of the married and the unmarried and the rest is due to lack of self-control, why should we provide legal support, in effect, for that sin and the lack of continence? What the Church failed to prevent through effective and exemplary teaching, the State wants to curtail but not correct judiciously. Perhaps, education has totally failed as a foundational moral tool in both secular and non-secular worlds. We are all confusing our true mission in life.

This complex issue has arisen because people have made marriage a mere playground. And sex is the hot toy everyone wants to get hold of. Hence, even the unwed partners, who think they are not “married” -- do not consider themselves as being under the laws of God on marriage. Eeeech! Wrong answer. Statistically, as we said, we can presume that a big percentage of pregnancies are considered “illegal” (thus, prone to abortion) but are as binding in Heaven as any other. Why? Because God defined marriage as the union of male and female. Remember, Eve came from Adam and God gave her to Adam to join them as essentially one in body – again -- in the sexual act. When two become one flesh, THAT is the MARRIAGE. (Those who think this is myth dishonor not just the Giver of Life but also the Sole Solemnizer of Marriage. This also explains why adultery was a capital offense then.) The wedding administered either by the priest or the publican does not consummate the marriage; no, the man and the woman do so through their union. There is no other divinely prescribed meaning and purpose of marriage. Both the Church and the State have usurped the role that God exclusively owns. In short, with or without the priest or the publican joining two persons “in marriage”, the sexual act effectively accomplishes the divine covenant. The rubber between them will not stop God from looking at them as married – no matter what church or civil laws may say about the union afterward. And, the fetus or infant that will arise from the union is a product of divine design no one can easily take out of the equation (1 + 1 = 3) without judgment falling upon the two “united” persons. Those who do are “passing by the other side” and leaving the helpless infant to die by the roadside. (In fact, some mothers dump their babies in trash cans.) Hence, we have this controversy today because so many have failed to see the real divine formula of marriage: Sex is a function of marriage. No marriage, no sex. No sex, no marriage.

So you see, the RH Bill is a mere escape clause for politicians to prevent so-called population explosion and the poverty it supposedly produced without considering what it will do to the moral fabric of our society. But is this what the Catholics truly stand for? Partly, it is. Admirable as their adherence to natural methods is, their failure to give first-hand concrete application of what they preach makes them unqualified teachers. Self-control is so much easier when you are alone; but when you have a warm body beside you, you need all the help you can get from the arsenal of divine power, if not, that of medical know-how. That choice is right there before the married to accept or make use of or not. It is a freedom and a privilege as sacred and as inalienable as the freedom and privilege to vote. To make an issue of it based on a group’s passionate defense of its unique teachings is to impose one’s will upon free-thinking and independent people. Practice celibacy if you must; but do not let others suffer through your own particular choice. Marriage -- including all its many issues -- is for all who want it. Purity in Christ, within or outside of marriage, is our common concern. Everyone must answer to God in the end.

Poverty (in body and in spirit) is THE reality in our times. The priest and the publican, instead of arguing, must own up to their failures. We must all accept the fact that somehow we have all failed in some respect. So, let us all shut up and listen to the Lord: Love your neighbor. Let us not “pass by the other side”. Let us face our duty to spread the bounties of the land. That is, let us not grab or hoard vast lands that are left idle and unproductive. Let us not covet other people’s money (not even gambling money). The poverty of the people will fall upon us all, upon all those who have enriched themselves over the sufferings of others.

Here is what James wrote a long time ago:

Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:5-7)

Do not then presume to speak for the sake of the poor when you yourselves wear better-than-Solomon’s clothes, sit in gilded chairs and ride in perfumed air-conditioned sedans while the perspiring masses walk along EDSA whose polluted air you have neglected for so many years, thus causing the people to get sicker and sicker. Do not say you want to help families to practice birth control when you yourselves do not know how to control your own carnal and material desires. Do not say you do not want others to use contraceptives when you yourselves have sworn not to enter marriage or, it follows, to use your sexual organ for its intended purpose in marriage. If God has given us natural means to prevent pregnancy, let married people use that but do not say it is what God only allows. In truth, God’s way is much, much stricter: prayerful abstinence in marriage for certain periods (pun intended). Only mature Christians or people can be so continent. It takes spiritual discipline. But why do we listen to unmarried or never-married people telling us how to run our marriage and our families? (Know the secrets of real politics, Carlos!)

Ultimately, marriage is still the best and the only solution to all imaginable problems we can think of. Why? Because through marriage we produce the family. The sanctity and the stability of this product of Divine Creativity are at the very center of this issue we face as well as many others in mind. Our archaic and presumptive ways of solving our problems without incorporating the totality of God’s principles in marriage, and as it extends into family and social relationships, has brought about this confusion of our duties to God, to our nation and to the people.

Finally, the State wants birth control without complete regard to deep moral responsibilities while the Church wants moral semblance without respecting personal choice. And behind it all, poverty is brought in as a bogeyman to scare RH Bill opposers or, on the other hand, to justify the hypocrisy of some who pretend to love the poor. God has the answers to all our problems; but we have long sidelined Him and looked the other way.

Loving our neighbor, in short, is not done by “passing by the other side” but facing our responsibilities frontally – that is, putting our money where, well, the mouth of the bleeding poor is. Our hidden or ulterior motives and agenda in this issue will be exposed by the Great Judge – not now but eventually. But even before that day comes, we can already see through people’s body language. Through media, we can see clearly how people behave and think. Rizal even wrote books about it, in case you forgot how that goes. And we are talking about Padre Damaso (the priest) as well as Simoun (the filibuster). (Muchas gracias, Carlos, for that brave graphic memo.)

The way we talk and walk shows whether we truly love our neighbor or not. Make that: love our nation or not. There is certainly no confusion there.

(Painting above: "The Good Samaritan" by van Gogh)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We are Hostages!

Tragic is the main word for it. A policeman taking hostages, killing many of them and being shot dead as well.

Incomprehensible, as well, could describe the whole incident. That a man should have serious grievances and run out of legal means to seek redress. And he, one among many, in a country swimming in corruption.

Shameful, finally, could best label the event for posterity. How else to describe mishandling a crisis situation that obviously involved what is totally wrong, not just with one person, but also with an organization, a society and a whole nation. We must all bow in shame for what happened and what will still happen to us.

Not that we must feel the shame and bear the guilt of one man’s misfortune and misadventure. But we must, at least, consider how we have absolutely failed to recognize, as individuals and as a nation, how God is using such events as this as well as floods, disasters, rebellion, massacres and senseless murders to wake us up to His ways.

For even the righteous - like Job, blameless though he was -- humbled themselves at the turn of events that lead to their desperate condition before humans and before God. Are we ready to listen finally to the voice of Heaven, just as we are so eager to read and consider the words of those who reported on the latest tragedy that has befallen us, one tragedy more among so many more that will come as long as we continue to miss the lesson? Or are we so inured to the pain and the shame that nothing can move us to act and to get our act together?

Much has been said about the hostage-taking event. So much blame, hatred and bickering has transpired that any more thought would be rubbing salt and pepper into our swollen eyes. But we do need to try to see what God may have to say about the event and about us as a people. Of course, it is too presumptuous that a person should speak for God, let alone assume that he has some inkling as to how God thinks or why He even allowed such a dastardly incident to occur. Given that nobody seems to have that privilege or position, then it behooves any Christian to come out with what insights he might have derived from it.

Now, these insights do not try to explain the whats, whys and hows of the incident as if this were some investigative journalism report. They do not endeavor to provide the reader a valid description of the thoughts and motivations of those people involved in the event. They simply apply and integrate into the circumstances, as much as possible, the spiritual principles of righteous living, of suffering and of sacrifice that the Lord Jesus taught and exemplified in the Gospel.

All pain and suffering arise from the turmoil that dwells in our bodies as well as in our souls. While doctors talk of a bio-chemical imbalance that may lead some to commit insane deeds and theologians speak of evil spirits that may enslave people’s spirits to cause them to do vile things, we can only see the end-result of bloodied victims and the ensuing grief and shame. Even our tears are nothing but mineral compounds in our bodies issuing from some deep emotional processes in our minds and hearts. What makes us humans then is a conglomeration of all physical and non-physical experiences we simply call reality or real-time living.

Today we may celebrate; tomorrow we might grieve. Today we may feel triumphant; tomorrow we might bow in shame. For the past few weeks, we have been grieving and feeling shame. Not the words of a police general or a president can remove that gnawing feeling that we are all hostages inside an archipelagic bus and there is a crazed person vent on blowing us up into as many pieces as there are islands in our country. The question is this: Are people praying hard enough for God to save them from final annihilation or are they more concerned about how they look or sound on camera and on the radio? It is the same question we could ask about the people in Noah’s time: Were they more afraid of a Flood or of not being able to enjoy the pleasures of sin?

A hostage-taker has one primary purpose: to obtain something that is worth killing and dying for. In that one case, the man wanted his job back. In the case of our country, Satan wants nothing more than to continue to rule – no, to have FINAL and TOTAL dominion over God’s people in these islands. A divided Christian nation like ours has been a fertile ground for so many varying teachings and practices that it is a veritable cornucopia for those who would want to promote whatever they may want. Name any belief or faith that you can mention in any other country and pretty sure we have a better (or worse) copy of it. Cults? Plenty around to choose from. Satanic or spiritist groups? There could be one in your neighborhood. Denominationalism? It’s been with us for many centuries.

What exactly do these have to do with taking hostages?

Like a man who would destroy others and even himself in a fiery confrontation, God’s enemies have surrounded our islands and taken us captive and are just about ready to fight it out to a fiery end just as long as they can take as many as they can with them to hell. And there is only one simple strategy they use – so simple we fail to see through it and how we have fallen into its snare: WORSHIP.

Before explaining fully, let us go back to Job. Job was a righteous man who worshiped God and served people. Only one thing stood between him and God: his inability to see the power of God to rebuild and to renew. That is, in his deep suffering (Job talked of His “joy in unrelenting pain”), he blamed God for ever bringing him into this world. Until he realized his mistake, Job did not truly understand what loving and worshipping God meant.

The point in this is that Job, in the throes of extreme pain and great loss, continued to hold on to God – or, he let go for a while but grabbed back His hand in the end. Job could have taken his wife’s advise: Curse God and die! But as a righteous man, he said, “For all the good He has done, how can we do evil against God?”

But most hostage-takers do not have the wisdom of Job. Not even many ordinary people. They claim to worship God but at the smallest sign of trouble, they turn their backs on God, blame Him or even do evil things in His name. God, who has control over leaders and nations, can surely solve any person’s problem if one truly believes and worhips Him. (Why was not a spiritual person brought in to pacify the hostage-taker? Because we never look at things as essentially issues of the human spirit. We only let guns talk to guns because our spirits speak with as much violence.)

A person who truly knows and loves God will want to worship Him with his or her whole life. But since we, as a nation, have lost the real meaning and importance of true, spiritual worship, we have ended up being pierced here and there with many ills and troubles. Many of our leaders do not truly represent our aspirations because they are self-oriented and not God-oriented. Many of our laws are vested-interest-motivated and not people-and-progress-oriented. Our social-economic programs are material-wealth-based and not spiritual-wealth-based. Even churches continue to vie for worldly attention with their well-oiled and monolithic organizations and buildings. Acceptable and pleasing worship has been either marginalized or compartmentalized.

In short, as a nation, we do not truly worship God. We speak His name during Lent, Ramadan, Christmas and other feasts; but we do not honor Him with our hourly talk and our daily lives. We petition God’s help when we utter prayers in the assembly and in our services but we do not need Him (or want Him around) when we take bribes, steal, murder or commit adultery. The hostage-taker took innocent hostages, at least; but Satan holds all of us guilty sinners in his overcrowded bus.

And do not fool yourself into believing that God has the best rescue troops capable of saving us from Satan. All those who died in the Flood failed to see the Ark as their salvation. God has been sending His rescue troops over and over again in the past as well as in the present in many forms and many ways. But we have always been so blind to see His way out.

Here is the sure escape plan for everyone: Stop what you are doing and listen to God and God alone. The wily hostage-taker will show how "good" he really is. He will free some (because they see what he is really up to) and even give food to those that remain. He will continue to take control of your life because you allow him to. The moment you let go of his control over your life, then, you have a chance to escape. But it takes great courage and wisdom not to fall for his sweet ways – he is a sheep in form, but a wolf in substance. Hostages who die are those who continue to behave like lambs among wolves. They end up being devoured! Be a dove that can fly.

Too long have we fooled ourselves into believing that we worship God and that we please Him with our lives. If so, we would have been the most progressive and prosperous nation in Asia. For how can God forsake a nation that truly loves Him? And how could a nation as pure as pearl in the beginning become so stained and still think that with all her sins she can still please God? Alas, we have been pleasing only ourselves for so long and not God.

One man – a hostage-taker -- has shown what kind of people and nation we truly are. We have all reason to blame him and to forget about what we might have appeared to all nations. Or we can look deeply into our souls and ask if we truly deserve to be mocked and blamed for having allowed this thing to happen.

God once promised that the one He loves He will never put to shame. Either we continue to delude ourselves into thinking that God loves and continues to bless us or we finally realize that He is giving us ultimate warnings against continuing in our sordid ways.

The Lord of Hosts never takes hostages; He only wants willing captives of His love.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rage Against Age

Compared to my mother who just turned 90, I am a child. In fact, that's how she treats me -- cooks meals for me still and scolds me, oftentimes. But compared to Methuselah or Noah who both nearly clocked a thousand years, I am but a newborn infant. But compared to God, now here is the mystery we must tackle here, I am but a cell. Even if I lived to be two hundred years old, I would still remain as if unfertilized before God.

Unless I rage against age.

This incomprehensible idea of eternity must be the most oppressive idea of all. Consider this: We rejoice at the birth of an infant, almost oblivious to the reality that the baby will grow and eventually die -- from the cradle to the grave, as the saying goes. So, even our rejoicing seems to be a fleeting experience we must savor as it lasts. We love and get lost or crazy in the euphoria of love's embrace, unmindful that even that will give way to myriads of concerns of married and the whole of adult life. We can go on and on with this until the thought of living forever not only seem so unrealistic and so unappealing but also insulting.

Age or the passing of time is something we can rage against and we will still end up hoarse and hoary. At least, we can rage as we age. That could make us strong enough in the lungs to sustain us for a few more days or weeks. What to do?

If we are nothing in the face of the Almighty and Everlasting God what kind of hope can we have aside from our physical existence? If He has allowed us to live a millisecond compared to His unending being, what purpose could there be to this ephemeral taste of glory?

Does God show us real beauty in life we cannot freely behold? Does He withhold a blessing He has given us a foretaste of? Why would He allow us to suffer want when He promises us abundance of joy?

God is the God of glory because His beauty is seen everywhere goodness reigns. He is the God of riches because His wealth supplies the whole Universe. He is the God of compassion because He transforms tears into celebration. He is the God of life because He makes us worship Him in jubilation knowing we will be with Him for eternity.

Why then should we wonder if God knows what He is doing? Of course, God knows what He is doing. But do we know what we should be doing? Has He given us some clear guidelines to attack this problem?

This may sound like a post-mid-life crisis or an extended one, but it is an issue we all must face at any age. In fact, so many young professionals now decide to marry in their lates twenties or early thirties for fear of giving up their youthful pursuits in favor of adulthood. Raging against age through one's career. Look at all the so-called health companies promoting anti-aging products and youth/beauty enhancement procedures: Is this not another way of raging against age? Expensive and illusory but it works, especially for those who make money out of looking beautiful and young, aside from singing and acting, of course, with that expensive mask on.

Aging gracefully comes to mind. But today, it isn't as simple as that. One must keep up with the cost of, well, “grace”. Apart from retaining or developing one's inner worth or character, we are told to look appealling on the outside as well. If you don't care for cosmetic products or surgery, there are always clothes to fit all sizes, shapes, styles and spending abilities. To look glamorous and attractive? Yes, and to look young as well.

No one buys something willingly to look older than one really is. See all the adults wearing faded jeans, sleeveless shirts and minis. No, we do not fault these people. It is their way of raging against the pain of age's onslaught.

It is everyone's right and privilege to rage against age. Those who give in to age with hands and heads down belong to those who have not discovered the creative force given to them by God even before they were born.

Think of it this way: If we were made in the image of God (The Eternal) then what we have within us is a seed that is undying and unaging. When Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children, there must be something there for the aged as well to benefit from. Technically, we must state here, He was simply telling the listeners that even before adults could enter the spiritual kingdom over which Christ reigns, children are already in it and part of it by virtue of birth, of right, of promise and of design. Hence, we all have been children given the rare privilege of being under God's administration. That is, in our child-status innocence and purity, we all qualified to be under the rule of heaven.

Until we learned to lie, cheat and disobey our parents. As willing sinners -- whether young or old -- we gave up our privileged position which we could only reclaim through faith in Jesus. All the struggles that the Lord, the Apostles and all Gospel teachers go through have to do with leading people back to their childhood status before God. (Churches are full of juvenile delinquents, in a way.) This is God's way of raging against the corruptive effects of age. Why?

The world had been cursed in the beginning. The purity and innocence of the whole of Creation has been subjected to the power of darkness so much so that we have lost touch with the reality of Adam and Eve's better-than-a-child's eternal innocence and purity. That was how they were created; that is how we were brought into this world. Well, almost. We lost it as soon as we caught glimpse of or grasped the world's lust and pride. As easily as our first parents bit off from that poisoned fruit, we gave up our own birthright. Hence, when Adam began sweating it out simply to eat and to survive, he began to age and to warch to the grave. Likewise, we step out of the womb on to a slow but straight trek back to the dusty ground.

As people then taught to become responsible adults, we learned to give up our childhood ways and even our childhood dreams. The doctor who spent much time through med school has responsibilities to society and family to heal and to feed. But I know so many doctors (lawyers, dentists and academicians, as well) in Baguio City who have raged against age by playing and creating music at the same time. And yet, so many others have given up their dreams of making music because they need to pursue "whatever they must".

Then one day, the old woman will rock her chair and look back and regret not having kept her childhood dream. Meanwhile, an old man picks up his guitar and plays a tune while singing with his grandchildren. Many may laugh at Paul Macartney who still sings his silly love songs; but the guy has remained like a child and seems to be enjoying himself, especially as he plays before Obama at the White House. Grandpa still rocking and raging with his music!

Who is old? The one who is 100 years old but thinks like an eager child still or the 25-year-old who must work and has no time to play the piano or who has to wait to retire so she could pursue her dream of singing or of dancing.

To rage against age is to rage agains this worldly age: its ungodly ways, its greedy ways, its corruptive ways, its selfish ways and its proud ways. The child of God who remains godly, caring, sharing and humble does not age. It remains a cell or a seed from God that will suddenly bear abundant eternal fruits by some mysterious force from heaven.

The Way shows us the way to abundant and eternal life: Unless we become children again, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Today, then, I resolve to remain a child before God forever. By His power, I will live for Him by overcoming the world's old and dying ways.


(Photo above: Inocencia Marcos Ragay, graceful and rageful at 90. I like to think that her daily habit of reading the news, listening to the radio and raging against the foibles of humanity (not to mention her youngest son) must give her the exercise she needs to retain her vitality for life.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It takes supreme courage and great sacrifice to follow Christ. In my life, I have, more or less, given five out of the ten asked of me, as I figure it. Call it halfhearted or half-full then and it would still not amount to anything until I have given myself fully.

Some have called me the reluctant preacher, reluctant artist and reluctant whatever. And I can understand why they see me that way. I ascribe it to their not knowing the value of “being”, as opposed to that of “doing”. It seems one who has done something or has acquired things is preferred over one who has not done or acquired anything but has simply become what he needs to be. (Does a preacher need to have a pulpit? Must an artist have to hold a one-man show?) Add the fact that I’ve lost so many things in life and you have a real, reluctant loser me. Greater men would have learned to amend early on.

Not me. I know God does not judge according to appearances. And that the essence of life is unseen. What we cannot see, therefore, is often misunderstood. What people see as idleness or unproductiveness, I simply call waiting.

I love waiting. I guess it’s a fault I have perfected. I enjoy waiting for the sun to rise after dawn or to disappear into the night. No other powerful display of harmony of emotions and colors can come close to giving us a glimpse of heaven’s glory. It’s a free show I learned to appreciate since I was a child. While the rich man goes to fancy cinemas and opera houses, the poor man sits down by his window to feast on God’s recreation of Creation Day – and, by design, a preview of Resurrection Day. The hundreds of sunrise and sunset photos I’ve taken, perhaps, are a record of my worshipful waiting for life’s majestic promises.

I love waiting for journeys to end on long rides in buses and cars. At times, I wish I would never arrive. Those trips not only allow me to think, they also let me see the colorful countrysides, the small towns, the crowded cities and the smatterings of people here and there. Seeing people and nature thrive in a moving panorama reflects and refreshes my own enthusiasm for life.

Finally, I love waiting on the Lord. Anticipating what He will do in my life, as opposed to what I intend to do by myself, has given me the real freedom to savor life every moment. This is how I conquered all those years of worrying in my youth. For no one else can create stupendous surprises the way God does. It’s a dangerous adventure I love to play where I have full assurance of coming out laden with promised treasures every time. One day, I’ll get to enjoy them where they are now laid up in my mansion up there.

Many have been the times when I waited on my knees. It is at such moments when waiting becomes the answer or the fulfillment itself. Or the asking becomes the receiving itself. For me, genuine love comes only through patient waiting. Jacob waited for 14 years to win his Rachel. Surely, our God deserves love greater than that. And yet, not many can wait on God to show His loving face to them.

So many people, therefore, spend so much time dreaming, planning and working to achieve their goals, but only to find that what they have amassed eventually loses its worth. Think of all the ancient palaces, lost dynasties and even broken marriages. Not waiting on God has disastrous consequences.

Nothing lasts except what God has given us. I know that death proves beyond doubt the value of the human spirit – not just to the physical body we now have but also to the immortal body we will receive from Christ. What we do with it from birth to death determines our eternal destiny. Is there anything else worth waiting for even beyond the grave?

The seed and the farmer both await the fruits of harvest. Waiting, in reality, is living out one’s God-given purpose in life. Everything and everyone must seek to know and attain that purpose. As Job and Noah both discovered in their own pursuits, waiting is the key to gaining enduring courage and faithful service.

Yes, we all long to live comfortably from all the labors we do in this life. In my case, I have enough experience on waiting to cover me through all the discomforts and failures that will surely come. The material rewards may not come; but that is not a problem. As I said, the waiting – or the journey – is what matters.

Ultimately, the One Who has the “steerage of my course (shall) direct my sail” to His golden shores.

(Photo above: An almost deserted Intramuros street in Manila. Old paths can teach us to walk in new ways.)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Chilean Model: Is God Involved in Government and Politics?

What recent developments point us to the hand of God working to convince people of His involvement in their affairs? What specific global events will clearly show us that His eternal plan is the ultimate plan for all humans, whether we believe it or live by it or not?

We need not go far to see that calamities occur more often now than before with such disastrous effects that explaining them away as mere glitches of Nature makes us belittle historical proofs of divine power at work from creation to revelation. Only atheists and cynics take out God from the equation and end up factoring in “chance” -- that indeterminate (read that: illogical and baseless) value -- as the only reason for such disasters to occur.

Two contrasting events in the near past seem to stand out and to show us that neither God nor chance plays mindlessly with the lives (or deaths) of people: the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. (There is as much purpose for the geophysical design and processes of the Earth as for the birth and death of a person.) Haiti suffered a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 with more than 250,000 casualties while Chile had it at magnitude 8.5 in February 2010 with more than 700 deaths. Geologists and engineers would easily explain the difference in death toll to dissimilarities in the geologic foundations of the two countries and differences in structural designs and strengths of the buildings and houses that were damaged. Sociologists, economists and politicians would also explain the great difference in how the global community responded to both countries in terms of the two nations’ contrasting political, economic and social conditions. Many of us, however, do not concern ourselves with how both countries may have prepared for such a calamity, intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or unknowingly. But there are clear and valuable lessons we can derive from seeing those disasters from afar.

No one knows when disasters strike. We can only prepare so much for a cyclone or a volcanic eruption, for instance. But these two nations provide us models, not just in disaster preparedness but in overall national preparedness against all kinds of major problems that may arise.

Haiti has been known for its adherence to a form of religion (Vodou) that includes Catholic prayers and hymns, ritual food preparations, invoking family spirits and the possession of certain individuals by those spirits. The Haitian form of this religion originated in Africa and is characteristically conservative and decentralized. Many observers blamed Vodou for the dire economic underdevelopment of this country which was exposed to the world in the aftermath of the earthquake. Scenes of people losing homes and loved ones brought tears to many viewers on TV. The great outpouring of aid and relief for the Haitians revived a similar global response for the hapless people of Africa two decades earlier. The inevitable conclusion for many Christians -- as “tactlessly” expressed by Pat Robertson -- was that Haiti had forgotten God and in her pursuit of other gods, reaped judgment.

Perhaps, it was a harsh indictment or judgment. Maybe, the quake was a mere admonition for people to wake up. Judgment -- if God were to do it now, I guess -- would involve annihilating whole cities or nations, as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah. Or the whole world when He sent the Great Flood. Sparing some to live somehow tells us that He is out to renew the land and to give people a chance to return to Him. Alright, some people are judged and given the death sentence. But the question asked is: Why include the children?

That is a tough one to answer, one that only God can answer. And so, we leave that hanging in Heaven. Let us deal with people of our own size and sinful nature. We boast of ourselves as intelligent beings, even as gods, sometimes. All we can do is to ponder upon our own vulnerability as we walk through the carnage and among the broken bodies.

On the other hand is Chile. After the earthquake, the country mobilized its own disaster relief and rescue operations with great efficiency. The Chilean government emphasized their desire to help its own people and did not seek foreign aid or assistance. In contrast to Haiti, Chile faced its calamity with mature resolve and political strength. (Not even the US showed such firmness during Hurricane Katrina.) We can only admire such qualities in a nation and its leaders.

What many people do not realize is that Chile is a strong Christian nation which went through a Pentecostal or Charismatic renewal in the early 1900’s. Although it is a traditionally Catholic country, it boasts of at least 20% (as of 2002) or more Pentecostal-Evangelical Christian population. Through almost a century, Chile has transformed itself from being just another “banana republic” to an economically and politically stable nation. While we fervently sing a hymn calling for aid to Haiti victims, why not sing a song of praise for Chile for its political and moral maturity?

Our country, a predominantly Catholic nation with a population of about 13 % Protestant or Evangelical Christians, has not fared well against the forces of Nature, and much less against economic, political and social problems. A nation that has faith and yet does not show it in its governance and overall national discipline has much to learn from Chile. We had our 7.7 Magnitude earthquake in 1990, our Pinatubo in 1991 and our Ondoy last year. But we have not arisen from our disciplinary experiences. We continue to be a poor and corrupt nation.

Unlike the Confucian nations around us, we are still incapable of applying high ethical and moral principles in social, economic and political administration. Surprisingly, the similarities between Chile’s military regime under Pinochet and that of ours under Marcos, make our countries twins in socio-economic-political experiences. We also had a Pentecostal-Charismatic-Evangelical revival in the early seventies which has resulted in the establishment of many mega-churches that minister to executives, business-people and young professionals. Even the Catholic Church has her charismatic renewal and marriage-encounter movements. This religious ferment, however, still has to produce bountiful moral fruits in business and governance. The State and Media show perfunctory, if not hypocritical, tribute to Christ’s teachings. Our politics, sad to say, has remained the longest-running and most pernicious disaster of all.

Disasters then, as we can see, have two basic purposes: admonition and testing. Moral or not, a nation is constantly reminded to remain true or turn back to the call of Heaven. Obedient or not, people are tested in order to prove their faith and character and to make them stronger through perseverance. As such, we must accept disasters as they come. And they will.

God is present during hard times. Even in the midst of disasters. He is in the center of every storm. He is in the middle of every volcanic eruption. He speaks in every thunderstorm and hailstorm. He created everything to obey His command. He even created humans in His likeness. And yet, we are the least willing among all creatures to hear and obey God.

For better or for worse, God is in our politics. He waits patiently for us to see Him and what He is doing.

When a person seeks to call upon Filipinos, whether Christians of not, to heed God’s desire to choose a God-fearing leader to sit as president, many do not listen. Why? Because they believe that God is not in the middle of our elections. Sure, He is not, if the people themselves drive Him away from its exercise. But if God is at the center of Nature and all its forces, why should He not be the focus of our political affairs and in our presidential elections? God is everywhere and every place we want Him to be, including our hearts and our lives. He can be the Spirit behind our national government.

I chose to hold up for Filipinos to see the Chilean Model to remind them that God is not asleep. He is awakening us to His very presence now and in the years ahead. Perhaps, it is us who have been sleeping and not hearing and seeing what God has been doing. Earthquakes occur not to bring fear into our lives but to bring faith in our hearts and to lead us to trust in the God Who has the power to save and to give us life.

Politics is God’s way for people to create order in society. The people He chooses to rule often may not be perfect in our sight but, in His plans, those people He chooses serve His perfect will. Within democratic governments, God seeks to show all people -- whether ruler or follower -- that His will is for us to learn to apply His principles which alone can make us perfect subjects and followers of His plan.

Socrates, Confucius and other great teachers like Augustine, Luther and Jose Rizal taught people to attain moral perfection. Their visions of the perfect society have remained clear and valid for all times. We need modern leaders who can encapsulate the ideals of these moral pioneers in our families and communities.

Choosing a leader does not merely require us to consider a candidate’s qualifications but what God wants to do with the would-be leader and with the people whom he will lead. A president then is not just charged with administering a nation’s policies but, more importantly, giving people opportunity to participate in the eternal plan of God. No, we must not merely elect a true believer to become a president but a man of tested faith to assure that our nation will remain true to our calling as a people of God.

The lessons of other nations show us that God is at work. The big question is: Are we working with and for God?

(Photo above: As early as the 70's, we were singing: Ibon mang may layang lumipad, kulungin mo at umiiyak; Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag ang 'di magnasang makaalpas. . . . If even a bird that is free to fly, cries in its cage; much more would an enslaved nation of supreme beauty also yearn to overcome.)