Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Redeeming the Time: Collecting Golden Minutes

What does it really mean to “redeem the time”1?

First, let us define how most people use it. It means transforming or overhauling our thoughts and behavior such that our use of time, energy and resources will be for a good or fruitful cause. That is, whereas we used to spend much time gambling or drinking with friends to have a “good time”, we now spend that time (reclaim or redeem it) for the Lord’s purposes -- studying His word or teaching it to others, going into business or any productive or charitable project.

The whole concept of snatching back time supersedes the predominant attitude of our using time for selfish pursuits or motives. In essence, it rejects the Devil as the beneficiary of our use of time or of our very lives. Getting back that time and offering it to the Lord is the whole point of the teaching.

Some people have the rare gift of knowing how to make full use of their time. Their parents taught them well or they fortuitously went through an experience that taught them early the value of time. A good example was Confucius. At 15, he began his education. At 30, he could say he had formed his character and knew how he stood in the world. At 40, he could confidently say he had no doubts. At 50, he “knew the will of Heaven”, meaning he knew “the correct way to govern and manage”. Certainly, anyone can learn from such sublime wisdom, claim it and apply it in one’s life as well.

But there is a deeper meaning to the principle that we can pursue here. It applies to the consequences of what others have done to us, our history, our culture and our very lives and what we can do to erase and to reverse the effects of what such a corruption or destruction has caused. It could mean changing our beliefs, our way of seeing things, our manner of speaking, eating and even working for ourselves and our families.

Redeeming time then takes a form of subverting the very structure of our social, philosophical, political, cultural and spiritual world and replacing it with something that will suit our newfound faith, ways and perspectives – for the glory of God.

Time is gold. No, it is more precious than all the precious metals in the world. But we do not see it or use it as if it were so. God gave us time but we waste it like we waste water. We clean dishes or wash clothes while the water overflows the basin when we should turn off (or turn down) the faucet and use only the water we need. In the same way, we while away much of our day sitting in front of the PC or the TV or the JW or the SMB (the last two are popular alcoholic drinks).

Wasting a single minute is the very opposite of redeeming time. If you could claim back a minute to be with a dear person who has died, would you not want to do it? Redeeming time can mean merely using the minute we now have the best way we can. It begins with realizing that all that time will run out in an instant. Why wait till you can no longer breathe a minute’s worth of air?

We all want to change and strive to become better. Most people, however, remain where they are or as they are. They find no need to redeem anything for they see only a one-dimensional nature of life. Eat and be merry. Live it up before you die. Or, some people may have subjected themselves to an enslaving idea or way of life that prevents them from reclaiming their very lives for the Lord Who calls them to freedom the same way He called Abraham and the Israelites from idolatry and bondage.

Many of us seek truth and meaning in this life. We strive to make our world better, our lives more meaningful and the future of our children more secure. We cannot sit down and wait for things to remain as they are or go down the drain. We have to redeem time even for those who do not understand or appreciate why they need to.

For instance, in Philippine history, our people lived on this archipelago without foreign masters for centuries, until the Spaniards came and later on the Americans. True, we cannot “reverse” time as a sovereign nation, absolutely free to chart our own course through history. All we can do is to find ways to redeem what that colonial experience might have made us what we are today that we do not want or deserve to be – backward, ignorant, sickly, decadent, corrupt, undisciplined and unprogressive. It could mean, however, wresting from the agents of our enslaved culture (that is, including ourselves) the freedom to reform our lives totally and effectively.

Recently, I discovered to my surprise how Magellan’s journey had made me, personally, a victim of an unhealthy diet, not just of a degraded environment and of a damaged culture. I will use this discovery to illustrate what “redeeming time” can mean. From there, we will see how time can be used to a much greater purpose than what we have used it for and how we value it compared to how the Lord – the One Who dwells in Eternity; that is, Infinite Time -- values it.

To God, a thousand years is said to be like a day. That is how rich God is with respect to time. It is as if He has ten billion pesos which He spends to buy a drink of cool water. (The picture shows how many of us can waste a day away while in the mind of God we might have actually thrown away a thousand years.) A destitute person puts a lot of value on one peso because he has nothing. A rich man will not even think twice about gambling a million pesos away in a cockfight.

We were once a people who were masters of their land and of their lives. Our ancestors traded with the Chinese, the Indians and the Guamanians as a free nation. When we were subjugated by foreign nations, we lost our freedom, our culture and our wealth. We traded with Mexico and Spain not to make ourselves wealthy but a kingdom on the other side of the globe. We grew plants which did not truly nourish our lives but sustained the whims of aristocratic families living in castles surrounded by well-manicured lawns. We gave up our beliefs in favor of institutions that built lavish cathedrals to house the wealth contributed by the poor souls of the world’s faithful who knelt before many exported golden altars. We labored not to preserve our ancient ways of tilling the land and preserving our health but to support the wanton, wasteful and greedy motives of rulers who overthrew our lives and our identity.

What brought Magellan to these islands? Spices, as the history books say. But that hides more than it reveals. When I was young, I always thought Magellan was a chef who was looking for garlic, onions, cinnamon and pepper to support his culinary arts back home. Those were the spices that I had in mind.

In reality, he and the rest of the western navigators, like Columbus, were looking for basic, money-making “spices of life” that were raking in money for the western potentates: sugar, tobacco, tea and coffee. Sugar comes first because it is used in the other three either for curing or making them taste sweet.

I grew up in Negros Oriental where, until today, much of the arable land is still planted to sugar cane. We lived in a city nursery-farm fronting an hacienda or a sugar plantation with a sugar- milling plant. I never saw the insides of the plantation or the family that lived in the mansion in its midst. I only savored and got to taste the sweet-smelling aroma of freshly cooked cane juice which wafted daily to our house and filled me with yearnings of “tira-tira” (dark brown cane candy which we stretched and twisted while hot until it cooled and hardened – hence, the white, Christmas candy canes) all day long.

We would often walk to the sugar cane farm and break some stalks (when no one was watching) or ask some from the sacadas (cane farmers). We would peel those stalks with our bare teeth and crunched the pith dry as we sucked the sweet juice, spitting the dessicated fiber on the side of the road. We were very efficient mobile cane-millers!

I was unaware of what transpired inside the cane mill. I only knew they made the mascuvado sugar (dark brown sugar) and the refined sugar we used at home. Why we did not use cane juice to sweeten coffee or chocolate, I did not know. It would have been cheaper and more healthful. We never had tooth decay as kids because somehow we exercised them enough with raw cane and fed them with natural cane sugar.

But the industrial revolution was on the move and commercial use of agricultural products was gradually transforming our lives and our way of eating. Refined sugar became the instant calorie-refuge for millions of people who had acquired its taste. Obesity, a sugar/carbohydrate-induced malady, gradually crept in.

Magellan, of course, never lived to see sugar make money for the Queen of Spain. But later colonizers realized this dream of making these islands produce enough “spices” (which now included opium -- as well as gold, or always did but it is an entirely different commodity) to make Spain challenge the supremacy of England, France, Portugal and others. She overran the Americas and added other products to top her riches (cocoa, cocaine, banana and slaves) until she could no longer sustain her empire. The damage had been done to so many countries and so many peoples.

From my childhood, I learned to eat refined sugar in its purified form or as candy, banana dip, bread topping, cake confectionery or softdrink sweetener. (I began to have tooth decay when we moved to Manila.) I never realized until recently2 that it was pure crystal poison having no nutritional value, only calories that went straight to the intestines, giving energy and nothing else. The addiction it produced in me and so many people was enough to make us outnumber by the millions those who succumb to heroin or shabu. Removing it from my blood for exactly one month now has made me feel triumphant and free of this vicious, body-snatching, acquired-taste slavery.

So, why do food manufacturers label their products “sugar-free” now”? Because they know what refined sugar does. Same with refined flour, milled rice and other over-processed foods. They are basically bringing back to consumers what Nature once gave us – natural, organic nutrients minus the toxic chemicals or devitalized substances that the body was not meant to ingest.

No wonder we have diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis and scores of other illnesses brought about by this centuries-in-the-making corruption of our ancient, healthful ways. One of every five Filipino adults, or approximately 11 million, had either pre-diabetes or diabetes in 2012.3 The country ranked No. 8 worldwide in diabetes prevalence in 2011.4 Is that an accident or a pre-conditioned sickness borne by our lack of knowledge and self-control? A result of our having lost our legacy from our ancient ancestors, having been wrested from us by those who imposed a corrupted rule over us?

Redeeming our health through eating the proper food and preparing our food in the right manner is the first step toward redeeming time. Why? Because it literally adds years to our life. This is everyone’s responsibility. Yes, even in a country that still has sugar-refining as one of the major industries and the sustainer of the wealth of many of our political and business leaders. See how sugar encompasses our lives today and you will see how much the claws of Spain’s and America’s colonization have remained in the present. Will you dare to be free from that bondage?

But a sickly body is nothing compared to an unredeemed soul, a sickly soul. How can the soul redeem its time here on Earth? The same way we do with the sickly body -- eating the right kind of food for the soul.

Today, too many sweet or candy-gospel messages have mesmerized millions to a way of life and faith that falls short of the Lord’s standards. So much of what we hear is sugar-coated to make it palatable to people. The commercialization and devitalization of the message of Christ has led many to lose sight of the empowering value of His true message for the lost. This will not be the kind we can solve by buying sugar-free, organic food from the corner health-food shop.

Redeeming time for the soul and spirit requires going back to the roots of Christ’s message, minus the false teachings and the idolatrous practices passed on to us by the same rulers who gave us “spices” instead of real food, exploitation rather than genuine economic development, and palliative religion instead of truly life-changing and abundant faith.

Redeeming time requires great sacrifice. Christ gave His life to redeem the lives of all people whose time on Earth were spent in servitude to the Devil. Having gotten back that time and then offering it to us, He pleads us to receive it and use it according to His terms. Will you not?

Take hold of the time you have now. Use it as wisely as you can. Take stock of what you have now. Use it for His glory from now on. Look into your heart at this moment. Live your life right and meaningfully as if there is no tomorrow, only today. Today is the only time we all have. You cannot redeem yesterday’s time or tomorrow’s time. Any minute you throw away today is lost time you could have invested in eternal time.

Eternity is what God grants to those who triumph by redeeming time for God. Collecting golden minutes from now on can be the most inspiring, most refreshing and most fruitful thing you can do in your life. Redeem all that wealth!

How rich is God? He owns Eternity which is worth billions and billions and billions of years and even more without end. It can be ours. Yes! Now, that should be worth more than enough to buy each one of us an everlasting mansion in Heaven.

1Ephesians 5:15,16: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
2Read William Duffy’s enlightening book, Sugar Blues, here:

(Painting above: Salvador Dali's classic surrealistic "Persistence of Memory", 1931)