Kristus Aman Youth Ministry.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Life of Writing Footnotes

Blog Entry

We love to take credit for the good things we do. For the cool songs we write that move people. For the moments, the skies and portraits we capture on film. For the brushstrokes, and the words, for the thoughts that spill onto paper...and computer screen. We love to be recognized for our technical prowess and business acumen. But at the end of the day, who can really claim credit for anything good?

The songs I've written that truly matter, the ones that resounded in peoples' souls -- it's like I pulled them from the air at the precise moment when my whole being was disposed to catch them. And the truths that they express existed long before I was born. The skies, the moments, the people my talented friends capture in photographs -- they all have a Creator. And long before they snapped the shot, their subjects already were, at the very least, a thought in God's mind, already in motion. The images we paint, the pieces we write, the work we do -- all our attempts at creativity, though beautiful, can only be so because they reflect things that already existed before we even noticed. And the sciences, the numbers and theories that we feel we have a hold on because of education are an attempt to map out the territory that's been there for ages.

My line of thought is this: that truth, beauty, goodness -- they already have an Author, and we're basically just making footnotes, in all our attempts at creativity and progress.

What good do I really do? What good do I actually create? I don't create anything. I echo, reflect and decipher. Mankind at its best is merely writing footnotes.

I think Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said that God is good. It's a huge statement; not just some sing-song alliteration. All our attempts at good -- they are simply us saying, "hey I noticed something that God did -- see?"

God alone is good. Not my songs. Not her dances or his cleverness. Not my friends' photos or works of art. Not our genius in industry, economics or whatever. The more we humbly understand that only God is truly good, the clearer the reflection of good, the more crisp the sound of the echo of God's glory. God alone being the true good also gives me hope. Because I'm very capable of doing the not-so-good, and even the downright bad. But when I realize that it is only God who can pour goodness into my life, He eclipses the pressure to be great. I become more content to be who I am and let God be great. And it is He who will do great things in the world.

The cool thing is that He uses us. To reflect and echo, to present our friends with a fresh new take, an inventive angle, a different color from what they've seen. God uses us the more we recognize that He's good. So keep the reflection pure. Keep the echoes clear. Keep writing accurate footnotes to the Author of everything good.

Stuck in a Moment

Blog Entry

Stuck in a moment. Have you ever felt that way? Most know me as an idealist, impassioned, optimistic, energetic, lively and loud. And they are right, because that's what I am... most of the time. But I have these moments when apathy gets a hold of me, and I just want to... exist. Just exist. Breathe in and out, in and out, and do nothing better than that. Well, I think "want" is the wrong word. Nobody really wants to be apathetic. At the moment of apathy, nothing is all you feel, whether you desire it or not; and the trouble is, you're perfectly fine with nothing.

Other times, I feel stuck in sin, even after asking for and supposedly receiving God's forgiveness. Even after the effort to change. The words of a wise priest I know then resound in my mind: "Sometimes we have more faith in sin than in God's mercy." What a true and convicting thought. So often, we get stuck in a rut because we have more belief in the power of sin to weigh us down than in the power of kindness and mercy to change us. We have more belief in our tendency to fail than in the grace that empowers us to change.

If what we have faith in is evident in our action, may the Lord have mercy on us for having so much faith in sin. May He forgive us for having so much faith in the status quo, a profession we have made in our apathy, in our resignation to the way things are and refusal to get up and actually do something -- for ourselves, for God, for our neighbor, for the world.

We Are The Comeback and the Restoration

Blog Entry

I was reading about World Food Day. It turns out, the world produces enough food for all its inhabitants. Yes, even in this supposedly over-populated, degenerated, globally warmed state that we're in, there is still enough food for everyone. Makes me marvel at the Creator's wisdom -- what an impressive piece of work this planet is! But in spite of this abundance, over 850 million people around the planet go to bed hungry every night. That's ten times the Philippines. The more fortunate of these people are reached by feeding and nutrition programs that offer the bare essentials. But for many, even that is a luxury.

This made me think. God made a world of abundance that pretty much throws the economic premise of scarcity out the window. The world does have enough, and in fact, already produces enough. It's not scarce. It's the avaricious attitude that mankind is disposed to have toward the world's abundance that's the problem. Man is disposed to bite off more than he can chew.

But onto brighter things. In spite of this reality, I've been thinking about the power of hope. Jesus was all about hope. What can I say -- I'm a fan. These are some of my hopeful and idealistic musings. They're a little neo-classical-cheesy-sarcastic-rapper, so I warn you. Enough with the disclaimers. I hope you enjoy.

Hope and Struggle

Hope and Struggle
Make a lovely couple
You can't have one
Without the other
They sometimes fight
But in spite
Of their differences
You know
They'll always be together

A toast to Hope and Struggle!
A strange but lovely couple!

We Are The Comeback and the Restoration

We are the comeback
And the restoration

The return of the downtrodden and lame
Of the beneficiaries of misfortune
And shareholders in calamity
With the high-fisted audacity
To make such a claim

We are the comeback
And the restoration

Bold enough to be the transformed
Criminals, redeemed and reformed
The garment was torn
But remade, we're reborn
Like an innocent child
Now breathing, alive
Gazing into the light
For the very first time

We are the comeback
And the restoration

The sanctifying grain and flavor
In a world that's lost taste
And polluted by waste
As one we endeavor
And believe it can change

Because we are the comeback
And the restoration

The small hidden seed
Breaking ground trodden down
By lies and deceit
Mankind's conceit --
The overworked feet
Treading filth that has steeped
It in reservoirs of withdrawing
One's heart from the Maker

We are the comeback
And the restoration

When evil began dreaming
Its candied fantasies
Mouth watering with an appetite for mankind's disease
It shuddered in fear
For its twilight was near
In the scent of Redeemer
Its end was proved true
For in Redeemer
Its nightmare
Was realized
In you

In Redeemer
Its nightmare
Was realized
In you...

In Redeemer
Its nightmare
Was realized
In you...

You who believe
In an invisible Force
The reforging of good
And truth
A sword indestructible
Cutting straight through
Flesh and bone
Soul and spirit
Light, and darkness removed

We are the comeback
And the restoration

Oh, let us come and be changed!
Come, let us make idealistic claims!
And oh, if all of us could be so brave!
To cease the attempt of our lives to save
But believe that in dying
The freedom to choose
The eternal comes alive
Hailing evil's swift doom

We are the comeback
And the restoration

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Our Caste System

I was reading about the Dalit (pronounced doll-leet) recently. For thousands of years in India, among the different castes, the Dalit have been the lowest, formerly known as untouchable. Today, although the Indian constitution guarantees fundamental rights for all Indians, the Dalit continue to be oppressed -- the effect of a culture that has existed for literally ages. The Dalit are not considered to be part of human society, and supposedly pollute people of higher castes with their presence. As a result of discrimination, many Dalit are deprived of the most basic of human rights, and their dignity remains unrecognized by many. Currently, there exists in India a struggle for equality.

Reading and thinking about the Dalit, I was led to wonder...

What castes have we put up? What caste divisions do we agree with, whether explicitly, or as implied by our lifestyle and mentality?

In the Philippines, I hear a lot about socio-economic division, denoted by the letters A, B, C, D & E. I try not to figure out where I fit in because it shouldn't be all that important, right? But the truth is, sometimes I do give it importance. I've noticed that because I dress a certain way and speak decent English with a particular accent, people assume that I'm from a richer class. This isn't something I necessarily like. It works to my advantage in some situations, getting me past tight security guards or out of situations when people are trying to con me. People at malls and hotels respect me for the most part, and I feel confidence when I stand in front of important people. I can converse with people and not feel shy about my occupation. Some people might even like me more. But on the converse, the appearance of affluence can be to my disadvantage. I've been to places where I was judged because of how I dress and speak, even when I possessed the purest of intentions.

The point is, we do have castes. And what is dangerous is that they aren't institutionalized. They are invisible. They are cultural. We may not be as extreme or discriminating as others might be. But in many ways, we have erected barriers and limitations to the extent of our love and respect. There are certain jobs and paychecks that supposedly carry more dignity. Certain schools are "more acceptable" than others (this is not to say that standards of excellence should go out the window; but respect can never be thrown out). In our minds, some neighborhoods aren't just nicer, they are better. And lets not get into the cliche of talking cars, clothes and cellphones. And if it's not a material issue, the issue is cultural: the East Coast vs West Coast rap wars. Rich vs Poor. Young vs Old. Cheap vs Classy. Manila vs Cebu (!).

And here's another thought: I don't know if it's just me, but sometimes we're more discriminating towards people who are not "far" from us. We're annoyed most with people who are almost like us, but aren't. They try to be as cool, they try to be as rich, they try to be as funny, but fall short of our standards. And so we hold onto that for security.

When our mentality becomes an exclusive one, we move out of the culture of the Kingdom of God. It's been said that the Church exists for those outside it. It would do us a lot of good if we Christians ran with this truth in every area of life. Not just in the context of Christianity and non-Christianity, but in every respect. A ghetto mentality breeds disconnect and disrespect which bears fruit in other evils. Our pride is the reservoir of sin (see Sirach 10). And sin sure knows how to procreate.

So, may we examine how we think of people who are unlike us. Let us dismantle the social castes and lifestyle imaginations that hold us prisoner and inhibit us from loving our neighbor. May we recognize that dignity is fundamental and cannot be taken from anyone who has been made in the image and likeness of God.

A Wrecking Ball to Babel

Blog Entry

During winter, we'd turn on the radiator to heat up the air inside our home. Winter was spent wishing for spring, because it could get quite cold and bleak. Spring and summer would inevitably come, signaling that it was time to turn on the airconditioning. When you think about it, it's quite remarkable that we are capable of creating whatever environment we please. At the push of a button, we can change the channel, the soundtrack, the mood, the person we are talking to, the temperature.

I've begun to wonder if technological advancement has actually brought us closer to the ideal, closer to God's intended order of things. Or if it has separated us. I think it depends on us. There's a story in the Bible about the Tower of Babel. And simply put, it talks about how the technological achievement of mankind empowered them to the point that they felt they could approximate God's greatness. They could match the power of the Creator, they could reach the heavens. They were now creators, too. This was their downfall. And instead of drawing closer to God, they became all the more separated from Him and each other.

Many times, people tell me about how they feel separated from God. Many feel that they are separated from their place in the world among a sea of people. Many are in need of direction or purpose in life. Many have absolutely got to hear from God. But many don't. Many can't.

It's no wonder because in many ways, we've returned to Babel. We've come so far in terms of what we can create, and how we can manipulate the environment to suit our tastes. When there is spiritual turmoil, we can turn on the television and drown it out. We can get on YouTube to cheer ourselves up. We can text a friend. We can turn up the music. We can go out and forget about it by watching a movie and getting rowdy with friends, because even if we live far from each other, we have vehicles that get us wherever we want. We can daisychain our distractions.

We have made ourselves creators of alternative environments, where we are kings and queens, dictators of the way things should be. Instead of taking circumstances and silencing ourselves to consider what God may be telling us, we can do all sorts of things to create another environment, if the current one doesn't suit us.

Don't be afraid to face things. To switch things off if you have to. May what we've created draw us closer to truth, to our place in the world, to the service of others, to the presence of God. Otherwise, we're rebuilding Babel: a testament to our supposed greatness, a monument to our downfall.

Nice Legs: Musings on Dreams and Visions

Blog Entry

Sometimes I drive around the city and it just hits me. This world is broken. It shouldn't be this way. She shouldn't be selling sampaguita at 2am. That kid shouldn't be sniffing that stuff. That annoying driver shouldn't be such a jerk. And I shouldn't be judging him.

Don't get me wrong, the world and all the people in it have many great qualities and beautiful attributes. But we exist as "glorious ruins", to borrow the words of Brennan Manning. God intended for things to be better, but our selfish designs ruined us. In the beginning, the Creator worked His wonders and made all we know, crowning it with man and woman. It was perfect. But man and woman trashed creation with sin, and that was the atomic explosion that changed everything. Perfection violated is quite grave. When an expensive dress is stained; it's far worse than if an undershirt is stained. The more precious the thing violated, the more serious the matter. You can imagine how serious it was when God's perfect masterpiece of love was defiled. It was so gravely terrible, that we still see the effects today. The world was broken then, and is currently in need of repair.

That's where dreams and visions come in. Dreams and visions are a God-given solution to the world's broken state.

Michaelangelo once said, "I saw the angel in the marble, and I carved until I set him free." This is a great illustration of dreams and visions. Seeing the angel was the dream; laboring to set him free was vision at work. A dream is abstract. A vision is more tangible. Vision is a dream with legs. It makes the life of a dream more exciting by directing it to a purpose, and setting it into motion. A vision is a directed dream that you're actually doing something about. Thus, to have vision is to know the ideal -- the dream -- and actually do something to make it real.

All throughout the history of mankind, the people who have made their mark were those who had dreams and visions. I love to think about Abraham and how God told him to look to the heavens and try to count the stars. He gave Abraham a huge dream, that God would make of him a great nation as numerous as the stars or the sand. And what made it significant was that Abraham's dream was directly tied into God's dream to save the world through Jesus. I think the whole of Scripture is a story of a dream and a vision becoming reality. God's broken masterpiece is being rebuilt, with Christ as the Hero of the story.

And here's the cool bit. We're in on it, too. We're like sidekicks or something.

The Church is God's vehicle for the rebuilding of the dream. We are His visioneers.We are His legs. It sounds funny, being God's legs, right? But we are! And people of true vision are more than just selfish dreamers, obsessed with acquiring cool stuff in this life. The purest sense of vision, the most potent world-changing personal vision, is the one that identifies most closely with God's vision. That's what made the patriarchs, the prophets and all those surreal visionary saints more than just hallucinating freaks. They were visionaries who saw God's dream for the world and dedicated their lives to making it a reality.

So here's my prayer for everyone: may we be dreamers. And more importantly, may we be people of vision.

When You Can't Do Anything Right

There are some days when you feel like you can't do anything right. Sometime last year, it was one of those days. And to top it off, I had to preach about I forget what. So I did my best to pray and prepare for the talk. Come the event, I came forward, did my little 30-minute spiel-cum-exhortation and that was that. Honestly, I wasn't feeling it. When it's time to teach, it's good to feel like you're in the zone. That day was not one of them. My outline was all over the place, and so was I. But my heart was set on communicating the message as best I could. I gave it my all. And that was that.

Yesterday a friend of mine was sharing casually about her turning point in life, when she decided she would live for the Lord, and serve Him and others. Turns out the day her life changed, was the same day last year that I wasn't feeling it. And during the teaching I was giving, God was working on her heart through what was being said. I am always humbled when this happens, humbled in the deepest sense. It is then when you realize that it's all God and never You.

The decision to do what needs to be done often lies at the intersection of your not feeling it, and someone else's time of salvation. And at the moment, you have no idea how significant your choice is.

So today, who cares if you aren't feeling the burning passion to make a difference with your life? Who cares if you're all dried up and dying? Give it a shot anyway. Don't back down from the challenge to do God's will. Be not afraid. Do it uneasy. Make sure your heart is right with God, and prepare as best you can. But even when you feel insufficient, if you know God is leading you somewhere, go for it. The sweetest offerings are the costly ones.

"We hold this treasure in earthen vessels to show that this power is from God and not from us." 2 Corinthians 4:7