Mainly a non-event here in Manila (at least to my knowledge), it seemed to have captured mainstream press in the US particularly due to the multi-million PR and advertising spend of the Family Radio who heralded and determined the date for the end of the world. I won’t comment on the audacity of the group to proclaim the end of the world. I won’t even try to give my thoughts to the actions they’ve taken to spread their message of doom. However, whatever your belief system or current state of mind you’ll have to admit that they’ve at least begun a great way of calling what I think the closest image of heaven is…rapture.
Rapture according to the dictionary is a state of elated bliss. Growing up, I’ve always thought of heaven as a place where there are angels playing music, where deceased people walked in togas over clouds doing stuff that God wanted them to perform (like angels). These images were reinforced with movies such as Oh God and Defending Your Life (well, it modified it a little)–all of which presented an image of a place–a destination.
Hearing about how the Family Radio’s call and their use of the word rapture bought about several images. For one thing, it bought about a sense of being shielded, or being coddled. If the intention of Family Radio was to scare people–using rapture as the descriptor for the end of the world wasn’t a good idea. Another image was that of a state of being–a sense of being rather than a sense of presence. Hearing of rapture–the image that comes forward isn’t one where you want to go but its more of how you want to feel…how you’d like to feel forever. My heaven now is really more about being at completely at peace permanently.
See, maybe the world didn’t end last Saturday…but if anything it served to give me a view of heaven that now makes me smile even more as I think about it. What about you? How do you view heaven?
“Dum spiro, spero” (While I breathe, I hope).
This year’s April seems to be special in some manner. In conversations with my parents and in-laws, it seems that this year marks a Holy Week that is considered “late”–with Easter being held on the second to the last Sunday of April. Then, I stumbled on an article that focused on spring–specifically April–religious festivals and it seems that, uncannily, most religions (except Islam) will be celebrating a religious festival during this month (see http://www.good.is/post/spring-is-packed-with-sacred-holidays-here-s-what-they-teach-us/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+good%2Flbvp+%28GOOD+Main+RSS+Feed%29).
Personally, I’m not the kind of person who falls into trends or synchronicity–I take things as they are. However, the article stood out not because of the timing of the religious events but due to the commonality existing within the reasons behind the religious festivals. If you look through it, most–if not all–the religious festivals celebrate “hope” as its major theme. Similar to the Easter message, the message of hope–of having resilience amidst challenges or staying one’s course despite difficulties–runs through these festivals with the aim of renewing the believers’ faith or in rekindling in them their sense of meaning. My thoughts immediately move to present times and begin to wonder whether this message is more relevant given the past weeks’ events.
Today is Earth Day (at least in the Philippines). In my attempt at humor, I sent out this postcard/egreeting from someecards.com
Given the recent events these past few weeks and the heightened alert over every shake, wave and tremor–I thought it was good humor to just pass along the card to commemorate Earth Day. Yet, as I look at the card, I realize that the card holds a certain philosophy…a mindset that seems prevalent today. In fact, I’m reminded by how one parent in my son’s school suggested (with a straight face) that we sponsor a talk about “2012″. When pressed further, he explains that we should be preparing people for the coming apocalypse–that we should be responsible (since we were the PTA) enough to help our parents prepare for what can possibly happen. All of these speaks of a certain “acceptance” of things–its as if we’re just to left to leave our future to what’s been predicted or to what natural calamities are “telling us”.
I have a problem with that. If there’s anything that Easter (and the other religious festivals) is celebrating it is the strength of the spirit. This strength, which we can call faith, tells of a hope for the future. For Christians (in celebrating Easter), it is anchored on a historical figure who rose to prove conventional wisdom (death) as wrong (powerless). It is a faith founded on a humbling of self, a giving up of one’s desire for the good of others–a faith that is grounded on the hope that in being human will lead us ultimately to our humanity. This to me is the message of Easter–that no matter how bleak a situation may seem, there is a lifeline waiting to be uncovered. One only need to remember the Japanese experience and draw inspiration that people can still be decent amidst destruction; that order can exist no matter how difficult the situation may be–that the nation’s proudest moment was in standing together to survive.
This should be our takeaway. Hope is not something that we give up just because we’ve been battered down or its not something we have when the good times are here. Hope is something that we always have in us–but need to be called upon when the times get tough (moreso when its tougher). Once we’re through that–when we’ve pushed beyond the here and now then we can begin to see how we can think, decide and act better. In my view, when we do achieve that then acting more decent to each other, taking care of one’s self, and loving more by giving would become instinctive rather than contrived.
Then, we’ve made the message of hope not only relevant but eternal. Happy Easter to all!
I was starting to write a reflection about Easter here when my Google news flashed the trend about Greg Mortenson. If you haven’t heard or read about the guy, he’s the one who wrote a bio about himself, “Three Cups of Tea”, where he talks about his life, work, and experience with Central Asia Institute–a charity he founded that builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The CBS News Show, 60 Minutes, investigated the events narrated in the bio and found intriguing gaps in the events Mr. Mortenson claims to be his own and even found that some of the schools supposedly build by his charity were either built by other groups or (worse) never built at all. Here’s a balanced article about the controversy (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/18/business/media/18mortenson.html?partner=rss&emc=rss).
When you realize the impact of what this guy has done (or doing), it should give you pause for the audacity and scale of deceit he’s willing to put forward for his “15 minutes of fame”. As much as one can immediately blame money and/or fame as the main motivation, I offer the opinion that his behavior is more of a product of how our society has evolved itself into.
Imagine this…in a world where linkages are held in high esteem and reputation is valued equally than money, there exist a certain kind of “order” that is supported by rules of behavior (written or unwritten) which allows everyone to trust each other before being proven otherwise. A lot of people would begin to think that this is nothing more than a utopian view of the future. Yet, for all the readings I’ve done about diaspora life in both the Philippines and early American history (think 1920s), it seems that this kind of behavior did exist. Paper money and written contracts were not standard SOPs amongst immigrants. Word and honor meant more and served as their collateral in doing business in their new location. In fact I recall stories of my Dad which would speak about how our family were extended loans especially during the time we were building up the business. There was little collateral to speak of but we were extended these loans in view of a character reference–the word of an individual vouching for our own character.
In this kind of situation, people would be more careful of the way they conduct themselves. They would be more circumspect in the manner by which they would lay claim over things–cautious that any kind of accusation about their reputation would serve to not only damage the current generation but also the generation to come. Under these conditions, people would be less “tainted” in the way they would view the world since everyone is assumed to be honest and trustworthy. We’d have less Mortensons and Madoffs capturing our news headlines.
What made us change?
One can easily blame population. As the number of people began to grow, the need to assert oneself multiplied with the number of heads. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough that you had a skills, it was not sufficient to be just a college graduate–you had to carve your niche; differentiate yourself. In one sense, this speaks of evolution–where survival dictates how we become the dominant species or in this case the “big fish”. My personal view is the need to take the growing population as a given. When we take this as a starting point then we can begin to figure how to return to that “bit” that worked in the past.
My take is quite simplistic (and I will apologize ahead if it offends you in this way). If you take population as a given then a probable solution to restoring trust and honesty in society lies within us. As much as I believe that evolution causes behavioral changes in people–as scarcity factors tend to serve as a catalyst for shifts in thinking–the real challenge is for people is to set standards as who they are and what they stand for. The reason why Mortensons and Madoffs exists in our world is because we allow their little versions to exist. We’ve allowed the little indiscretions to thrive (even justify) then express shock when the big versions hit us like a “cold splash of water”.
In the need to establish our niche, the value of an honest hardwork may have been sacrificed. Its been easier to just skirt issues, cut corners, and seek intervention on the road to your goal but at what cost? Suddenly, the value of an honest person is severely diminished since you’re half thinking if I can fool you, you can do the same for me (reciprocity, remember?). You’re waking up in the morning where your reputation didn’t matter as much as long as you knew that at the end of the day–the reward was waiting for you. The result is a society of compromises and people who keep wondering, “what’s the catch?”.
Now, I can’t change cynicism. I can’t change an individuals who sees every proposal in front of him to be “too good to be true” (believe me, I’ve met my share of these kinds of people). However, I can change myself. My basic proposition is simple: if we want to honesty, trust and integrity to thrive in our society, then we must be the main practitioners ourselves. We need to set ourselves up to be a standard to it–careful to never be too zealous to alienate but strong enough to make a bold statement. If we do this, we begin the ball of change rolling–a return of value for character, reputation (good ones). No more fancy slogans behind the idea…just the real thing. Think it, live it, preach it.
Maybe we’re on the path to building something better for the next generation too.
My daughter once asked me why we fast during Lent.
I was bought up in a fairly usual family in terms of religion. My parents were not really the active volunteers but were sure to follow and observe all the required practices that every Catholic should do during Lent, which obviously included fasting and abstinence. When I married Marilou these practices not only became more ingrained (since she herself practiced along the same Catholic beliefs) but also took on a deeper meaning given that there was more affirmation and encouragement about these practices from my in-laws. I didn’t mind it at all and truly felt that it created a great backdrop in which to raise my own children. However, when the question was asked…it made me feel the need to seek meaning behind the action. I couldn’t (I don’t know why) just accept telling my daughter that I fast because her grandparents told me to do so during Lent. So, I told her (and my other children) that we fast to be like-Christ when he himself fasted for 40 days in the desert.
Boy, was that a big cop-out. I grabbed the easiest answer in order to move from the question and make the solution more grand than it sounded. It was an empty effort to make sure that I left an impact with the answer but truly no effort in terms of understanding or no attempt to make my children “live” the reason and practice of “fasting”.
This year, my children decided to fast with us. Their willingness to do this (one of them is giving up candy for Lent) made me smile but it forced me to return to the question of “why”. I felt the need to help them process their act properly so that it form a solid foundation for proper decisions and outcomes in the future versus a ritualistic-based frame of mind that promotes fear of the wrath of God. This is my take on fasting:
We’re all creatures of habit. Somehow as we age we tend to pick up practices, actions, and nuisances with the way we walk, talk, use and consume things. If you were to really look at yourself in a day’s worth of actions–you’ll quickly realize how much of the same thing happens every time you make your coffee or sit by the computer (or hold your iPad). That’s what we are–an amalgamation of habits picked up or developed over time.
Fasting is really about taking a pause from all this. As much as fasting has been linked to eating or food, I’d like to think that fasting is really more about “taking a break” with our everyday selves. During Lent, its easy to fold it into eating since we’ve grown accustomed to having three to five meals a day, full servings of food, plenty of variety to go around–fasting from food during the season is a challenge for us to keep it simple once a week, to be frugal from our appetite, and to fill that empty space with a chance to reflect–even pray to God.
Beyond Lent, however, I think fasting is a great way to start over. Its the CTRL-ALT-DEL button (for PC users) or the reset action (for iPad/iPhone/iPod) for “your self” that’s probably become too ingrained with the usual, too accustomed to the current normal, too accepting to what’s given. Its a chance for us to ask the question of “what can we do more?” versus just shrugging our shoulders and saying this is “as good as it gets”. Fasting is a pause on the road that allows you to look back and see what can we do better as we move forward.
The beauty of fasting is that is doesn’t mean denying oneself due to fear of retribution or punishment but more in order to gain a clearer mind, a different perspective, and a shift in outlook. We should see it as our chance to open new doors towards opportunities we’ve shelved in the past. If it brings you to have a conversation with God–or your meaning of an Absolute—then maybe fasting could be a door to finding yourself too.
Check out this blog from Mark Bittman (food writer from NYTimes) about why he fasted and the insight he gained in doing so: http://nyti.ms/hR1HeD.
We should wish to be as lucky as the apostles. Last Sunday’s Gospel centered on the Transfiguration of Christ–that epic moment witnessed by Peter, James and John on top of that mountain which allowed them to personally see the divinity of Jesus. It gave them a first-hand glimpse of God at that moment. Lucky for them.
Nowadays, as we get bombarded with news about natural disasters, civil wars, and violence, it can be quite difficult to easily find God. Don’t get me wrong–the civility and orderliness of the Japanese amidst the chaos, the devastation and the ongoing aftershocks does conjure a type of “faith” in God (or the Absolute)–giving much hope about the human condition. Yet, these things come from stories and news items, it inspires the presence of God that is still “away from you”–as a third party looking in. The affirmation is personal but its not within the everyday activity we are accustomed to doing–not within the everydayness of our lives.
This morning, I had a discussion with Marilou (the love of my life) about the afterlife. Nothing morbid but it led us down to a sharing of thoughts about our relationship with God when we pass from this world. It made me think about the certainty of His presence in my life. The major question was: Can I still find God in me?
Fact of the matter is, as much as its simple to find God amidst uplifting and inspirational stories, His presence in my life is affirmed by what I chose to do afterwards. See, my view about souls is simple–I truly believe that everyone has a piece of the Divine in us. Each of us are given a chance to actually allow that piece to rule our lives or to make it be secondary to the other priorities we setup for ourselves (i.e. money, fame, etc.). Thus, for me, God becomes more present when I choose to make the divinity He shared with me more real through my actions and decisions. Finding God isn’t about being able to find him in natural soil formations or in seeking His presence amidst tragedy. Its really about being more circumspect in terms of how we make decisions and how we act in the situation we find ourselves.
Finding God should be less about what events point Him out to us but should be more of what we are doing to point Him out–to make Him real to others. We have different roles in our lives–as a husband, father, son, in-law, employer, partner, sibling, etc.—its in these very roles that we play that we can make God real and thus give ourselves a chance to personally “see” him on our mountain.
No sooner had I started to move beyond the first post when I stumbled upon this interesting article about journalling (see http://www.dumblittleman.com/2011/03/five-reasons-to-keep-journal.html). Its amazing to see an indirect affirmation for the reasons I started this blog in the first place.
Pay little attention to improving your writing skills. As much as the writer wanted to reinforce the benefits of writing (she did confess she was a writer), the real value of the article is how she insightfully shares her belief that an examined life is a well-lived life. That notion bought some recollection specifically with regards to a new study that shows that living longer isn’t really dependent on most of the conventional wisdom (i.e. get married, slow down, etc) that older generations have passed down (as we now do to our children) but is really more about being conscientious in living your life–becoming aware and deliberate with “living” (For more about the study: http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/03/the-longevity-project-decades-of-data-reveal-paths-to-long-life/72290/). The most intriguing insight from the study: if one was to be conscientious about their life, they tend to seek better results for themselves (i.e. better job, more than suitable mate, etc.).
That’s amazing. Why do we need a study to tell us that?
I think if we consider how society has evolved in the last few decades, we can easily come to the conclusion of how everything seems to have become about the “now”–reinforced even more through the technology that allows us to grab information through our phones, tablets and notebooks. This “living in the the now” has become both a boom and a bane for the way we live. Its a boom because I truly feel that we have at our fingertips so much more potential with regards to thinking up ideas. This has multiplied our ability to discover new things, to enhance our current practices, and to improve on our past. The beauty of linking people easily has, indeed, made the world smaller and it has served us to be more aware of issues and news that extend farther than our village, town, city or country.
This awareness, though, has also served to lessen our time understanding ourselves. We quickly and easily begin to compare our situations with the global neighborhood–thus making us feel anxious either about the gap or about bridging the difference. We’ve lost the time to reflect and understand the whys and hows of what counts. My statements here isn’t about having less time to analyze events (I think if you watch CNN–you’ll quickly discover how many analysts are there for everything) but is more about having less time to analyze us–the “me” inside.
That’s what I think the study is telling us. People who take time to understand themselves tend not only to understand their direction but also limit their options. They make choices. They choose to be happy and content–usually in matters that make more sense in the long term. Matters which lead to building one’s real legacy. Examining one’s life isn’t about trying to dissect the whys of the past but it deals with learning how that past should move us forward to something that we have defined to be “what counts”. That, I feel, is what living conscientiously is all about.
Getting myself “out there” was a long decision. A lot of misgivings and fear accompanied this move to share and journal my thoughts and insights. Marilou (the love of my life) had always said that I seemed to have an opinion for everything…and that they made sense (that’s why I married her). What finally capped the decision was the realization that you shouldn’t really “light a candle and just leave it under your bed”…else your house catches fire!
So, here I am attempting to journal my life and sharing it publicly. My thoughts will be simple. It will reflect my views about being a real husband, the joys of fatherhood (I have four wonderful children I practice with everyday), and how family becomes my personal ministry. I’m not radically religious but I believe that a strong faith begins the process of building for a future–a start of building a legacy.
This is my journal to building that legacy. My father always said that they can only leave two things for us, a good name and a good education. The education is an enabler. The good name is a responsibility. Join me through this journey of making that extending and building on that responsibility. Luceat Lux!