Monday, March 29, 2010

The Heart and the Spirit of a Nation (Part 2)

That which comes out of our mouth defiles us, not what goes into it, the Lord Jesus said. Out of the depths of our hearts come corrupt things like lust, hatred, slander, envy, cursing, rebellion and murderous thoughts. How such things arise in the hearts of those who were once such innocent infants or children is a process not many of us understand. It also pictures the transformation that our nation went through when we lost what Rizal described as our Eden-like past.

In the early ‘70’s, I was a lad fresh out of high school, just starting to enjoy and endure college at the same time, together with my bosom friends. It seems, we never had a day without our usual jamming with a guitar and a Jingle chord magazine (which was optional for most of us). In the midst of the seething and growing political turmoil that would divide many of us un-politicized and nearly-politicized Diliman citizens into many factions, we strove to derive as much fun from the free time we had away from calculus computations and philosophical speculations. We had no idea our growing-up years would be accelerated in tempo with the literal staccato noise of Armalite gunshots. Within two or three years, we would see the worst of what a government can do and what depths of suffering a nation could go through before marching into a zombie-like existence during Martial Law years. By then, many of us were political or spiritual renegades, not knowing what to believe in or, in many cases, whether we needed to believe anything at all. Many of us found solace in the Gospel.

EDSA ’86 was a chain-breaking event whose euphoria lasted shorter than it took many of us to await its coming. What many do not realize is that many years before EDSA, the Gospel had already gained a strong foothold in the hearts and spirits of spiritually hungry Filipinos who attended Bible studies in almost every corner of towns, cities and inside stores and office buildings. The confetti that rained in Makati prior to the departure of Marcos were literally those of renewed or born-again believers who put their hopes in God to set them free and not in the ideologues or the politicians. Still, the freedom we thought we had gained remains as elusive as before.

Not many of our youth today understand what the ‘70’s meant to our generation, just as not many of my generation did not understand what our parents went through in the ‘40’s during World War II. If the youth of today could learn to see and appreciate their parents’ strivings to give them the best they can with their meager means, then they would know what we, the parents of today, feel for our parents as well. The cycle of life revolves no matter who sits in MalacaƱang Palace or in the White House. Each generation’s task is to form a society that works for the common good from top to bottom.

The relative peace and uneasy freedom we have we owe to the people who actively fought to establish our institutions: from the time of our ancestors who set up the villages in these islands and farmed the fertile soils beside the unpolluted rivers to the time of the revolutionaries who took up arms to regain our lost sovereignty. The heart of the Filipino is no different from the heart of the Hebrew during Moses time when they built the pyramids of Egypt. The sugar-cane planters of Negros slaved to maintain the haciendas of the Spanish rulers. Even today, they continue to live the same kind of life of our ancestors in the present haciendas of Negros and Tarlac. The massacres that happen there today are mere spasms of the continuing injustice Filipinos go through till now.

The heart of the Filipino is a patient heart. Like the timid carabao whose only sense of relief from the burden of work is to wallow in the mud after toiling in the sun-baked ricefields, he sits silently in his home waiting for a chance to rise above his dreary existence. The factory worker goes home to the squalid slums with the bright thought that someday, one of his children will work as a nurse abroad and finally give the whole family the comfort and peace of owning their own house. Thousands dream a similar dream in an oppressive landscape that remains etched forever in the conscience of those who desire to provide relief to the weary of body and soul but end up offering only prayers and consolation. In a world where poverty and relief work are daily realities, calamity is nothing more than a vacation from monotony.

When given finally the chance to express his anger, the Filipino rises to the occasion: the Katipuneros, the guerillas, the rebels and the student activists, among others. Each time, the heart marched or marches to the call of freedom and the desire to claim one’s destiny in this world. Yet, so much like the Hebrews who suffered silently and lived to see their freedom given to them through divine grace, Filipinos, in general, desire a peaceful resolution of things that beset them. The heart may rise up in protest but the spirit subdues the violence that emanates from the heart and seeks heavenly wisdom which alone can institute desirable, permanent change. God has honored such pacifism by sparing our land from complete civil strife.

Even before the colonizers arrived, the Filipinos already had a deep spiritual awareness of their role in this world. The Aetas of Zambales recognized the power that reigned over Mt. Pinatubo and called Him “Apo Namallari” – the God Who owns or the God Who is Almighty. The Igorots embalmed their dead in the hope that one day, their bodies would be reunited with their spirits which they believed remained with them, roaming in the forests and mountains and not to be disturbed or desecrated by those who destroy Nature. Perhaps, our ancestors believed in a Heaven somewhere but preferred to believe that the spirits of the dead lived among them and offered caƱaos (meat sacrifices) when they had dream-visits from their dead relatives.

Enter the colonizers who taught us a devitalized form of Christianity. (To prove the ironic point: Luther defended the Reformation in the year Magellan arrived here. What Europe was beginning to throw away, we were only beginning to learn.) Thus, instead of showing our ancestors genuine freedom and compassion, they exploited them and educated them in their decadent ways. Thus, unlike the Japanese and the Chinese who preserved their identity, we lost our native character. We had the heart of a person rooted in tropical lands and seas but our hearts and minds were somewhere in the temperate continents, imbibing the soul and the spirit of the ruler who himself was once a slave but learned to conquer. And conquer he did -- or they did.

How do we free ourselves from such a confused experience? It is a task next to impossible. Many have tried to make us aware of this reality (like Rizal discovering and uncovering the writings of de Morga in London or Sionil-Jose writing about what we can do with what we are and have to improve ourselves); but, so far, we have failed to make a concerted effort to harness the gifts we have received through our revolutionary spiritual experiences. Instead of looking into the lessons of our past and charting our future upon our own unique identity, we move forward like dressed, headless chicken – naked and blind.

Yes, the heart may hold much of what we know and desire; but it is the spirit – quickened by the Spirit of God – that will overcome everything, according to the promise of Him Who overcame death itself. The human heart, after all, sees and feels what is right for us and our children. However, the heart, blind to the teachings of Heaven, will march ahead toward perdition in the belief that humans can steer their own destiny. Such were the colonizers who shaped the lands they conquered through their idea of governance and exploitation. They believed in their supposedly manifest role to mold others according to their image. They fancied themselves gods with a mission to save the world when they really needed salvation more.

We have fallen victim to the idea that our salvation is in the material advantages derived from industrialization and commercial progress. We want to be world-class and so we build bigger houses, condos, malls, churches, hospitals, monuments and institutions. Is it not those very nations who usurped our freedoms and stole our innocence who continue to burden the globe in the political and economic sense? Ironically, they also arrogantly assume that they hold the key to our spiritual well-being. The latter is the worst kind of deception our nation has gone through. For more than four centuries, our nation has remained hostage to the spiritual slavery which Rizal sought to free us from. Yet, today, we remain blind and enslaved spiritually. The so-called spiritual leaders are as confused as the people they lead. In many cases, they are as corrupt or even more so.

The heart, the soul and the spirit of a nation that remains enslaved to spiritual, economic and political imperialists, can only attain its freedom from the God of Heaven. It is not from its leaders or from its so-called allies. It is God alone Who can cause a rebirth of our nation. How He does it is clearly seen in the events that are transpiring in our midst today.

The signs of a deteriorating Earth are obvious. Forget about global-warming or climate-change brought about by CO2 emissions. This is already a discredited belief. Other alternative causes of the climate-change are equally viable. The point is: It is not us humans who are causing the deterioration for the signals are those of the End-Times. The problem is not merely social, industrial or economic; it is spiritual. The spirit of humans is what is at stake – not the Earth or the Universe even. If we continue to be deluded that science and technology can help us solve all problems, we are grossly mistaken. If we continue to think that good politics and governance alone will bring about real change in our societies, we are pitifully shortsighted.

The time Noah began to call for riders of the Ark was just before he began building it. More than 100 years earlier. Whether the end of this present world comes in 2, 10, 100 or 500 years from now, today is the right time to tell all that a Judgment Day is coming. We will not mince words; nor will we apologize for our doomsday message.

Many Filipinos escaped sure death when the Ondoy floods came; but, today, they are back to their usual ways – dancing to the lewd tunes of material and carnal pleasure. Whereas they shed tears of fear or of gratitude for having been saved, they now smile smugly in their slavery to worldly passions. We live as if, like the Hebrews, God never showed us His power to save and transform us from within. The TV networks become compassionate and civically-minded when disasters come; but when summer vacation comes along, they purvey us with indecent shows as if the disasters never came about because of our immoral ways. Sadly, the spirituality of Filipinos has descended to a very low point that it is no longer a surprise when calamities visit us with a vengeance. For what the great and powerful media instill in our hearts and spirits is corruption (disguised as entertainment) that leads people to disobedience and further rebellion against God’s laws.

Yes, the average Filipino is corrupt or corrupted by the ideas he or she imbibes from the environment. The total decay we see is merely a manifestation of the corrupting evil spirit that rules over the nation. The only way God can purge such evil from our land, just as He did in the wilderness of Sinai, is to send more plagues. But plagues or disasters will never stop the businesspeople from making more money over the dumb souls of hapless and witless Filipinos who patronize their programs and products. Even the pure and wise may find it hard to escape spiritual annihilation.

Our present political leaders do not have the answers to all these problems we present. They only have answers to those problems they see immediately around them. They are blind to the spiritual decay around them for they themselves wallow in the mire of corruption and refuse to take the only way out. We need a more drastic, inner revolution. It begins with genuine education of the heart and the spirit that can only come with the intense desire to follow God’s life-principles.

I Corinthians 2:6-16

However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written:

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.

But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

(Photo above: Is it possible for an innocent child to teach an adult?)

(To be continued)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Heart and the Spirit of a Nation (Part I)

The Philippine 2010 Election period gradually heats up simultaneously with the rising tropical temperatures of Asia’s first independent Republic. With 9 officially recognized presidential candidates, the contest has left not a few people rather confused and so many noncommittal at this point. Of course, we hear many others eagerly pitching for their chosen candidate with their personal reasons for doing so. Their choices, in the long run, are mainly based on their assessment of the personality, character, qualifications and experiences of their preferences. A few I have talked to and read about bring into the picture their rationale for choosing a person on his or her ability to provide the needed leadership to address the many problems the country faces. It seems that not many have fully analyzed the real state of the nation and what (and it seems to follow, who) it will take to bring it at par with the generally-accepted ideal state (no pun intended in regard to “US Statehood” proponents).

Most of the reasons given, therefore, can be clearly classified as perceptions of voters of the candidates as if they were applicants for a business corporation. True, the role of a president as Chief Executive of the nation requires the highest degree of qualification in administering the many affairs of the State. And among the lot, we can safely say that six or seven are equally and fully capable of fulfilling that task. In fact, even if all of them were individually qualified to serve as an effective orchestrator of the multi-tasks of the president of the land, we would still have to consider their ability to provide the most important ingredient needed in leading a nation into its uncertain future within a fast-changing and self-deteriorating globe.

To complicate matters, one of the main issues, if not the most important issue that is foremost in the minds of Filipinos, is that of corruption. One candidate is said to be so squeaky clean that he is ironically not qualified to rule because he has done nothing whatsoever as a legislator. Not corrupt but so inept, it is said. Another is so corrupt (having been convicted for economic plunder) that we wonder why he even had the gall to run for office. Still another has been charged of corruption that he has spent much money and time doing damage control by literally putting words into innocent kids’ mouths to prove he is not guilty. In short, out of the mouth of babes we could be hearing lies instead of praise for truth and honesty. Pity the children (and other young impressionable volunteers) and leave them out of politics.

Politics -- the ideal kind, the one that involves contemplation of the highest good of the majority and implementation of the supreme ideals of nationhood through selfless service -- engenders unity and cooperation. In that, we must involve the youth. But the one we have -- and the only one many probably know -- divides and corrupts. As it is, our nation is gradually being divided into ten or so partitions that could very well lead into an utterly fragmented nation that mimics the geographical nature of these islands. With such a divided mix, we would easily fall prey in the hands of criminals, opportunists and rebels among us. A failure of elections could very well produce a chaotic society that will be left with so many leaders fighting each other and not one strong leader to summon it toward harmony and peace. It has happened in many countries before.

In the light of such inescapable and even inevitable realities, the leader we choose must be more than an able executive or an astute politician as if the need for the hour is business and governance as usual. Yes, two or more candidates may present themselves as quite intelligent and also academically prepared for the job, but that does not still provide us with the assurance that the entire nation will be safe under the care of any of these “smart” leaders.

I would humbly like to beg the issue by saying that it will not take any one person among the many candidates to prepare us for the coming six years or more of our country’s existence. Any leader will only be as effective as the people will allow him or her to lead them. He will either succeed or fail with them. Take the case of Moses: Chosen by God to lead the Israelites from slavery and into freedom and nationhood, he eventually failed to enter with all those freed slaves because of disobedience. Both leader and people were prevented from receiving their trophy due to unbelief and disobedience.

Was Moses qualified to lead a nation? Absolutely! Was he wise and strong enough to save a people from slavery? Yes, he was. But the people rebelled and wanted to put up their own spiritually unqualified (un-anointed) leaders and because they kept complaining about their situation, God judged them unworthy of His material reward. Moses’ anger against a hard-headed people likewise led to his failure to get the reward. A small thing, perhaps, compared to the glory he received eventually as a prophet but it bears a relevant lesson for us today.

A leader can only remain a good leader as long as he keeps his heart and spirit in the power of the Lord in Heaven. And so with the people he leads. If the people, like the Hebrews, murmur and criticize (a favorite pastime of many Filipinos), any good or qualified leader will lose heart and spirit in his or her work. The Promised Land is for those who (like Joshua who was young, obedient and faithful) are brave enough to listen to the call of God to conquer through His might and to face the challenges of fearsome giants and countless enemies.

Let us then look at the hearts and spirits of those who would claim to be qualified to lead our nation. Let us test their hearts and their spirits and find out if they have gone through the fires of testing that God alone -- not business or political experience -- can bring about in order to form the real person or character that submits to Him and does not seek personal gain or glory. Let us check the motives of those who lay claim to the highest position of leadership of a nation which is called by God to lead other nations to Him.

Our country, by God’s grace and mighty plan, has been established not just to exist on these islands but on every part of this Earth. Visit any major country and you will see that Filipinos live and work there. Today, more than 80% of workers who operate and work in ocean-vessels are Filipinos. The dollars, pounds and euros all our OFW’s send back home are nothing compared to the honor they bring and will bring to our homeland when we, as a united people come to realize our unique role as God’s instruments of His salvation for the world.

Yes, we all want to save our nation from poverty and from corruption. We all want to see our nation like those around us, progressive and well-governed. For ours still needs to see the light of elusive unity and prosperity. The Hebrews also dreamed of escaping suffering, poverty and slavery. They wanted to plant their own seeds on their own land and harvest their own fruits for their own families. God gave them a leader suitable for their dreams. God showed them His power tenfold in Egypt and a hundredfold in the wilderness. Yet, they remained blind to God’s grace.

Even before this election period, we have been divided as a nation. We are even divided as a Christian nation. But our calling today clearly points to our becoming a nation of God that will bring about change not only in our families and in our towns and cities but in the entire globe, even in all the nations of the world. To look at Elections 2010 then as just a make-or-break political event for our country is to shortchange our destiny as God’s people. We are a beloved nation of God. We suffer because God is purifying us and preparing us for a great task ahead. We are divided because we go through the wilderness without a recognized strong unifying leader (although God is there speaking to us every moment). We are confused because there are so many around us who would want to leave God out of the picture and bring themselves or their selfish interests into the arena.

The heart and the spirit are not abstract things we are incapable of seeing and understanding. We, perhaps the most religiously receptive nation in Asia, if not in the entire world, are quite capable of discerning spiritual truths and realities. We just need to humble ourselves like we did during all the calamities and revolutions we have gone through and learn to recognize God’s hand in molding us into a nation ready to claim its Promised Land. It is faith in God that will guide us in this election period. It is our trust in the almighty power of God that will open our own hearts and spirits to the ultimate plan laid down since the beginning of the world for our country to accomplish.

Politics and elections are mere tools for attaining change in our society. Remember, we are not merely choosing a leader; we are reaffirming our submission to God as our one and only true leader. He is the one allowing us to escape poverty and suffering. He alone can bless us through the way He has chosen for us to follow. In short, when we choose a leader, we must allow God to enlighten our hearts and spirits according to His eternal plan for the life of our nation and the entire world. That plan cannot proceed without the people deciding as one that they will listen and heed the call of God.

Do you hear God calling you to do great things? Yes, you can do great things if you let God direct you. Choose and act according to His plan and His wisdom.

(Photo above: Filipinos crossing the "Red Sea" of Ondoy? Is there a Promised Land for our people?