Monday, January 14, 2013

Holiday Aftermath: A View on Ballistics, Antics and Fanatics

No family should go through the pain and anguish of losing a child from a bullet fired by a mindless person during New Year’s Day celebration. Senseless, irresponsible, wasteful, murderous – no adjective can describe such an illegal and criminal act. We condole with the family and friends of Stefanie Ella who succumbed to a damaged-culture-driven bullet.

Be it a bullet fired in the sky, a karaoke song at two in the morning, fireworks exploding in the sky or a traditional event practiced in accordance to one’s beliefs, each is an expression of our inherent individuality within a democracy that is most unique in the world. Each one is a result of celebration, a release of emotional and physical energy and a psychological manifestation of who and what we are as humans, rightly or wrongly.

There are no accidents in this world. Everything is a result of people thinking or not thinking properly of what they do every moment of their lives. Even a gun that unintentionally fires and kills someone does not kill by accident, if we come to think of it. For guns are meant to fire, to hurt and even to kill. Anyone who owns one bought it from someone who made it to fire as it should, when it could. No one can totally prevent such accidents as a guard’s shotgun that falls and fires by itself. But it happens because someone made the gun and someone used it for what seems to be a good intention. Yet it killed unintentionally.

Who do we blame? The gun itself, the maker, the user or all of them? We might as well blame people because they die from gunshots. Or God, because He made all these things possible. But that would be bringing the argument too far. And yet, you’ll be surprised by the number of people who reject God because He cannot prevent such “simple” accidents.

The freedom given to us has many dimensions and it is our responsibility to know the limits of our freedom. Hence, a gun fired, raucous singing, toxic fireworks and even religious feasts are all expressions of our so-called democratic freedom. Each one of them is a religio-socio-cultural right granted by our laws and traditions that cannot be curtailed except by specific laws.

True, a gun fired into the air is clearly a lawless act. Someone has to answer for violating the law. But what led to the firing? Was it not, perhaps, the religious or social atmosphere that led people to violate the law? We have failed to clearly define and effectively enforce the limits of what comprises true religion and what comprises excessive behaviour and so we suffer from the misdeeds of people. Let us explain further.

When September comes in the Philippines, people bring out their Christmas carol albums and play them until the first week of January or so. In the longest-running Christmas season of all, Filipinos go through a ritual that reaches a frenzied height near the end of each year. The build-up of traffic on the streets and the crowds entering the malls becomes palpable and leads to a stressful level that only lets up when people plop down from fatigue after the midnight Noche Buena (Christmas meal). It does not end there though. A shorter but equally riotous build-up repeats and reaches its climax on New Year’s Eve. And that is when people really go crazy partying and eating as if there is no tomorrow.

Whereas Christmas is relatively noisy and festive compared to ordinary days, it has none of New Year’s Eve’s din and excitement. The fireworks and the pollution they bring can almost deafen and suffocate you. And the number of houses that burn down from the mayhem leaps as if to signal that the New Year has arrived – brighter and hotter for some homeless people.

What for? Just to have fun? To blow your horn once in a while? To get wasted once a year?

Along with this physical manifestation of a social and cultural quirkiness that is often taken for granted and tolerated by most people, comes a certain behaviour among many Filipinos that causes them to depart from their normal or sane behaviour. Call it social adaptation or excessive nervousness brought about by uncertainties of the present and the future, it seems to push people to do things that make them want to be noticed or appreciated by others. Why else would they turn up their karaoke machine’s volume if not to be noticed? Why would they fire their guns if not to let the world know they have the power or the courage to do whatever they like? Why would they buy and explode the largest firecracker or ignite the brightest fireworks available if not to show how grand their celebration of New Year is? Why would people raise up the tallest Christmas tree, organize the largest choir or the most well-attended mass or assembly if not to prove that the feast is really what it was meant to be celebrated by the God in heaven?

Unfortunately, all these and many other feasts we hold are signs of missing the whole point of life and salvation in Jesus. A gun kills whether in the hand of a sane or insane user – and so does a baseball bat. It is the culture of death we have embraced through media and the Internet that brings about these things. (Election violence will put all the carnage on New Year’s Day appear paltry, if the past is our gauge.) Loud and noisy singing irritates and keeps many neighbours awake. It is the culture of selfishness that makes us forget the rights of others. Fireworks cause asthma and bronchitis. It is the culture of excessive fun that makes us waste our resources and our lives on inane things. Christmas trees and lights consume electricity and, except for dazzling our eyes, add nothing to the bounty of genuine goodness in the human hearts. It is our misplaced faith that leads us to do things that have no bearing at all on true spirituality.

Choirs singing in malls can never be appreciated for what they are because oftentimes they only add to the noise level inside them. (“Silent Nights” and carols sound best in the stillness of night or in the silence of one’s room. Even then, they may not at all tell the real story of Jesus but of a lonely person wishing to see snow or to have two front teeth.) Most of all, assemblies on Christmas Day are, at best, a sentimental compromise for many season-converted Scrooges who feel shallow goodness or holiness during that one day in the year but relapse to their wicked ways the rest of the year. Yes, it is the culture of ritualism and pretense that drives us to a life that never shows us the true, holy face of God but merely a replica someone made for us to look at once in a while when it is fun and convenient.

Well, alright, it is about being like a child again (justified, it seems, by our making a baby of Jesus and not visualizing Him as the ruling, righteous and mighty King He is in Heaven) and just having some fun. And, yes, we can be fanatics of any tradition we choose to believe and propagate. We can be a bit psychotic in the way we pursue our beliefs and rites. Our democracy guarantees us the right as long as we do not destroy the rights of others. But God requires us to be perfect in the practice of our virtues and our duties to Him. Christ and the early Christians never practiced many of these things we do today. The Apostles would be aghast at the way we use the name of Jesus for many of our hypocritical ways. No, they would be stoned and pilloried again if they were here now crying out against the shameful behaviour we manifest today.

Yes, let the laws deal with excessive and criminal behaviour. People are there ready to do that job. But to be able to stop people from doing these things over and over again, we need a much more powerful deterrent than our laws. We need a greater motivation for doing things according to the fundamental and simple requirements of our Lord.

Religion and society have not done enough to clean up our nation from the wasteful, senseless and useless habits, traditions and practices. On the contrary, we have encouraged idolatrous ways and cheap thrills in the pursuit of flimsy values. We need an overhaul of our minds and hearts if we are to see how far we really are from the basic tenets of plain, simple, joyful and holy Christian living.

Come Holy Week, without fail, we turn another leaf and make another effort at reforming our lives. It is a cycle we go through in our effort to show ourselves and others that we truly love and serve God. Again the fanatics and the insane among us will have a heyday flaunting their mad ways. And even the sane, the holy and the virtuous will go down to their knees to follow the throng in the solemn remembrance of the great deed that has once and for all has been finished and which we continue to rehearse and rehearse without ever being truly converted to Christ’s life-giving ways.

A bullet fired straight up into the air will stop for a moment, come back down and regain velocity until it nears its original speed. Our idolatrous or corrupt ways could be that very same bullet we fire at heaven hoping to make God and the angels take notice of our celebration of life as we know it and as we wish it. Until we realize too late that God has rejected that bullet and sent it coming back directly at us at a fatal speed.

The laws and traditions of humans will fail us; but the laws of nature and of God will not.

Friday, January 04, 2013

apat4E (A Place and Time for Everything)

Here's my first blog entry for 2013. Missed writing for so many reasons, main being not so enthusiastic about writing when no one seems to be reading. But writing for fun and not for money is that: fun -- and whether someone reads or not, one gets the satisfaction of learning and being able to share the experience, eventually, I guess.

One of the things I did before 2012 ended was to clean up and organize my tiny studio apartment (an unending task, apparently). I could not believe how a little tidying up, discarding trash, organizing and minimalizing one's world can give so much peace to the mind and relief to the body. For instance, assigning a certain space for a particular use -- say a corner for the TV and sound-system -- and nothing else, removes any possibility of confusing it for other use, such as putting trash on top of the CD player or using speakers as book ends. The latter, I still have to undo. I need another book shelf, I believe, although the red cookbooks look well with the black components.

That led me to a simple general rule for organizing life and a lot of our many mundane concerns. I resolved to. . . ooops! This is not a New Year's resolution. It's an old idea I've had for many years but have not really seriously implemented in a universal scale. Yes, my whole universal significance now depends upon "finding a place and a time for everything" -- EVERYTHING is my whole Universe, if not for everyone else.

In the case of my meager possessions, that means assigning a place for each particular item: a drawer for socks, another for underwear, a night table for night items like a bible, reading glasses, ear plugs and a cup of water, a rack for shoes and a hook for a painting. Duh! Obvious and simple? No! For one who has so much on his mind, the Universe can be a chaotic darkness before order and light come into existence.

I've done a lot of moving from house to house and emptying and filling up bags, boxes and files (both hard or soft) and have not seen the end of it. It takes superhuman wisdom and strength to say once and for all that there must be order and efficiency in one's life before there can be order and life in the Universe. Salvation truly means being perfect before all, if not before yourself. That is, in spite of the Law of Entropy in Physics which states that all things tend to go from order to disorder, we have been given the divine command to be perfect in an imperfect world. To do the impossible in a world cursed with impossibilities.

Cleaning up is truly a godly task.

Women, in general, are trained to be well-organized, meticulous, thorough and clean. Men, on the other hand, are not. We have used this inability as an excuse for our gross ways. Sometimes, to the point that not being so is seen either as being compulsive or gay.

Perhaps, owing to the nature of man's original work as hunter or farmer, he had to deal with the unpredictable or complicated elements facing him in the outdoors. His primary concern was not to put order into his job as much as he had to put efficiency. The way Nature produced "unorganized" forests with fruit trees and lumber and "unmanicured" fields with shrubs, crops, wild herbs and wild animals, all man needed to do was to collect whatever he had to in order to feed the family. It was only much later when more scientific and organized farming and foraging came about.

All the while, woman had to constantly put order into her home and family life early on. It was but natural for her to organize her life and time in relation to the needs of everyone else: her husband, her children, herself and her neighbours. And not necessarily in that order sometimes.

In our modern world, life has become more organized as it grew in complexity. Cities are a testament to the supreme ability of humans to plan and provide for their multifarious needs and preventing so much chaos or strife. Of course, there have been civil wars, revolutions, traffic jams, collisions, city flooding, riots, stampedes and massacres. But these are precisely the things that make our common Universe worth putting order and discipline into on a daily basis. It is an unending task as much as managing a little apartment or any single human life is.

Yes, trash has to be segregated and thrown away at the proper time. And a bed can also be a place to read a book on, to pray on and for so many other things for so many people. (Someone used it once to advestize an album.) We do need to consider, however, if the time we do certain things is the right or appropriate time. Is it time to sit on the sofa and watch a sitcom or is your time better spent reading a book or visiting a friend in need? An engineering student inside a Physics lab is at the right place and the right time, as far as his or her parents are concerned. But, as far as the student is concerned, it may not be his or her idea of the Universe. But what does a young person know about life to make him or her question such things? And what do parents know about the present world that makes them qualified to impose their ancient ideas of the world?

Most of the time, however, we only move from place to place and being carried naturally by time (our self-imposed schedules) that we forget to think about the fact that we have been given by God dominion over "all things" -- pretty much the Universe as we know it. To God, we can be the conquerors He meant us to be.

Or are we victims of place and time? Are we beholden to other people and not self-determined in our vision of our own worth as individuals? Is the Philippines, or any country for that matter, the right place and 2013 the right time for us to make things happen for ourselves, for our family and for our country?

The ring is the right place to put a basketball through at any time possible within a game. Success in that case means making as many baskets as you can. Earning as much as you can in a week or a month is also a determinant many use to measure their accomplishment in life. Others make do with the psychological or emotional satisfaction of doing something that may not be so lucrative.

The place and time (space-time, as Einstein called it) every person finds himself or herself in within the Universe relates with every other person's space-time. A car and bus could not be at exactly the same space and time along EDSA or there will be considerable damage and injury. Managing the order and destiny of the Universe depends upon each one of us managing our small and important visions in our small Universes. Let me rephrase that: For God to manage the Universe well according to His plan, we need to manage our own individual lives well. How exactly? By doing it according to His example.

A forest or a whole mountain way seem wild and unkempt but it is God's way of providing us air, food, houses, phones, clothes, cities, cars and satellites. Wisdom is often derived from all the apparent confusion we see around us. The wisdom we ultimately get from our Creator in this cursed world is meant to be used to have proper dominion over all of this groaning Creation. And that wisdom includes the love and compassion for all of Creation as well.

The Universe, after all, is large enough for everyone to find his or her corner in the cosmos. Borders or boundaries create conflict between individuals and nations. This happens when each person thinks of how big his or her world is compared to those of others. A mansion dweller has a certain pride in his gigantic space; otherwise, he would have built only a cabin. Superpowers naturally want to extend their reach over other territories, physically or economically. Until we learn how small our place is compared to the Universe and how limited our time is in relation to Eternity, we will never see the wisdom of apat4E.

A Place and Time for Everything. Clean up your tiny room, finite human! God gave it to you so He can see if you deserve to live in a mansion in the sky.