My Five Happiest Happenings in 2015

I normally post my happiest happenings of a (solar) year on its last day, or on the first day of the New Year (2014, 2012, 2011, 2010). However, December 2015 and January 2016 were über-hectic because of my relocation, so  I’m posting this on the first day of the new lunar (actually Chinese lunisolar) year instead. My five happiest happenings in 2015, in chronological order:

1. Ninong at Four Weddings

Three FORMDEV faci  alumni got married last year – Nikko (FORMDEV Batch 8) and Chry (Batch 11) on June 28, Adz (Batch 5) and Ibe on Aug 28, and Danon (Batch 6) and Treena on December 6 –  as well as one of my PhD mentees, Tessie, and former CCS faculty member, Philip, on June 27, and I was honored to be asked to be one of their ninongs. I do my best to pray daily for them, that their marriages would grow stronger each year and last until the end of their long, God-blessed lives!

Ninong of Nikko and Chry
Ninong of Nikko and Chry
Ninong of Adz and Ibe
Ninong of Adz and Ibe
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Ninong of Danon and Treena
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Ninong of Tessie and Philip

2. A Month in Italy

18As I wrote in God’s Canvas, I love travelling in Italy, enjoying its food, language, and art. The things I especially loved during last year’s month-long trip were: the presence of Jesus in the daily Eucharist; interacting with Lasallian experts and researchers such as Br. Alain Houry and Br. Diego Munoz; attending a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic at St. Paul’s; witnessing the canonization of the parents of my favorite saint, Therese of Lisieux, at St. Peter’s; a half day at the Sistine Chapel;  a full day in Pompeii (at the ruins) and Naples (where pizza was said to have been invented); and a weekend in Milan, my favorite city, where I attended mass at my favorite Gothic cathedral, toured the 2015 EXPO, partied with overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and bought what has become my favorite pair of shoes of all time, a pair of brown leather Nero Giardini trainers!

Mass at St. Peter's
Mass at St. Peter’s
With Br. Diego and Murphy at a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic at St. Paul's
With Br. Diego and Murphy at a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic at St. Paul’s
Pompeii and Vesuvius
Pompeii and Vesuvius
At the EXPO 2015 in Milan with Neil, Sue, and Gil
At the EXPO 2015 in Milan with Neil, Sue, and Gil
Halloween Party with Charito Borras and Milan OFWs
Halloween Party with Charito Borras and Milan OFWs
My favorite pair of shoes -- Nero Giardini leather trainers
My favorite pair of shoes — Nero Giardini leather trainers

3. Receiving and Driving a Car

20151202_124658I’ve always thought that buying a car was a waste of money since it depreciates as soon as it is taken out of the casa. But when the Lord gave me in cash (Amazing! Thank you Lord!) exactly the amount of the best Toyota deal I got, how could I say no? I also never thought I’d like driving, but I do – though only when driving at high speed and listening at the same time to good retro music :-).

4. Living in Nuvali

A Strategic Architecture for DLSU STCThree years ago, after writing a 124-page strategic plan for what would become the De La Salle University – Science and Technology Complex (DLSU-STC), I was so convinced of the potential of the said campus to be the premiere Catholic S&T campus in the country and Asia, that I bought a house and lot in Nuvali, only 10 kilometers or 15 minutes, away, though I didn’t get to live in it until last December (long story). I love it here – the open spaces, the cool air, the gentle rain, and waking up to a couple of birds singing (not a cacophony). And I’m very glad that as early as my first month here, the house has been used by the Lord to minister God’s word and encouragement to several groups of people already (see photos below), all of whom the Lord is using or will soon use mightily in his Kingdom.

Something Old and Something New (The carpet's from my first condo; the painting, from my second; the sofa set and blinds are new.)
Something old and something new (The carpet’s from my first condo; the painting, from my second; the sofa set and blinds are new.)
With Dad, Mom, Penan, Ptr Jun, Sis Janet, and K2
With Dad, Mom, Penan, Pastor Jun, Sis Janet, and K2
With current and potential youth leaders
With current and potential youth leaders
With Pastor Arnold and family
With Pastor Arnold and family
With Lizette and Josh
With Lizette and Josh
With Gwen, Divine, Yet, Bing, and Mina
With Gwen, Divine, Yet, Bing, and Mina

5. Floodway 3000 (F3K)

Spiritual Fruit, Gifts, and Disciplines FrameworkI was tasked to lead a church project nicknamed F3K, short for Floodway 3000, the goal of which was to bring to Christ 3000 unchurched men and women living in an urban poor mega-community. To equip our local church to do this, I developed a framework that treats evangelism and discipling as spiritual disciplines in the same way that reading God’s word daily or praying daily are, and presents all these disciplines as simple three- or four-step processes. After an evangelistic Christmas concert last December, four unchurched teenagers started attending the youth fellowship in the afternoon, which I was called to revive just a month ago. Though few, these four  are very precious, for they are the first fruits of our labor, a promise of more to come!

Singing "For All You've Done"
At the Christmas concert, singing “For All You’ve Done”
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Telling of God’s everlasting love and wonderful plan for every person

 

I thank the Lord for all these undeserved blessings. Truly, our God is able (and willing!) to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)!

On The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is

April 4, 2015. Eve of the Feast of the Resurrection.

COJI stumbled upon this book last Christmas. It was on sale yet gathering dust at a typical Christian bookstore, where the books that sell are devotionals and those that could be read as devotionals. Since I love books about Jesus, I grabbed it.

RSGThe author is N. T. Wright, former Anglican Bishop of Durham, whom Newsweek has called “the world’s leading New Testament scholar,” at least according to the Harper Collins blurb. More important for me than Newsweek’s pronouncement, though, is that it turns out that Timothy Keller, one of my favorite authors, praised Tom Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003, 813pp), which is Volume 3 of his magisterial series, Christian Origins and the Question of God (COQG).

NTPGAt only 204 pages, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (2000) can be viewed as Wright’s making more accessible to laymen like myself the first two volumes of his COQG series – The New Testament and the People of God (1992, 535pp) and Jesus and the Victory of God (1996, 741pp). In Challenge, he describes how a historical-critical reading of the Gospels reveals the following:

  • JVGTo Jesus, Israel was called as a nation to manifest the love of God to the world. It was to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • Unfortunately, Israel’s leaders have forgotten her calling, and so have forgotten the real reason for Israel’s continuing theological exile. As a result, their agendas with respect to pagan (Roman) rule – whether the revolutionary agenda of the Zealots and the Pharisees, the agenda of compromise of Herod, or the separatist agenda of the Qumran community – were all wrong.
  • In true prophetic fashion, Jesus then calls Israel to repent (of its wrong agendas) and to believe in Him, her Messiah-King, who will liberate her from the enemy, and in his way, the way of love, as explained in his sayings collected into what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. To do otherwise would result in judgment, i.e., the destruction of Israel, particularly the temple, its symbol of national security and pride.
  • Jesus also makes clear to his disciples at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:28) what action he will take to liberate Israel: his blood has to be poured out for the forgiveness of sins, which, for Wright, would also mean the end of Israel’s theological exile.
  • Finally, Jesus makes clear to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62) that he is the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14, and that he would soon be enthroned in heaven.
  • After this, as Israel’s Messiah-King, Jesus fights the enemy solo, and, in keeping with his own teachings, fights not using the weapons of this world but his own – love, expressed through his death on the cross.
  • Three days later, on the first day of the week, Jesus is vindicated through his resurrection. (I have blogged about the historicity of the resurrection elsewhere, so though Tom Wright allots a chapter to the subject in this book, and would eventually write the 813-page tome mentioned earlier on the subject, I won’t be discussing it here anymore.)

To his disciples, Jesus’ resurrection meant that all that he said – Israel’s calling to be light of the world, Jesus’ calling as Israel’s Messiah and Liberator, the coming of the Kingdom of God, the end of Israel’s exile – must be true! The first days of the Kingdom have come! And with them the promised blessings, not only for the Jewish believer, but for all the peoples on earth (Genesis 12:3) who believe in Jesus (Acts 13:31; Romans 10:9)! Hallelujah!

The question for us today is how are we to live out the meaning of the resurrection in this postmodern world? Wright suggests that we have to:

“learn that our task as Christians is to be in the front row of constructing the post-postmodern world. The individual existential angst of the sixties has become the corporate and cultural angst of the nineties… What is the Christian answer to it all?…What is missing from the postmodern equation is of course love.” (p.170)

I’ll end this post with this long quote:

“We worship other gods and start to reflect their likeness instead. We distort our vocation to stewardship into the will to power, treating God’s world as either a gold mine or an ashtray. And we distort our calling to beautiful, healing, creative many-sided human relationships into exploitation and abuse. Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud described a fallen world in which money, power, and sex have become the norm, displacing relationship, stewardship, and worship. Part of the point of postmodernity under the strange providence of God is to preach the Fall to arrogant modernity. What we are faced with in our culture is the post-Christian version of the doctrine of original sin: all human endeavor is radically flawed, and the journalists who take delight in pointing this out are simply telling over and over again the story of Genesis 3 as applied to today’s leaders, politicians, royalty, and rock stars. And our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce…<big snip here>forgiveness…for all who yearn for it, and judgment for all who insist on dehumanizing themselves and others by their continuing pride, injustice, and greed.”

Working out the practical implications of the resurrection in the postmodern and post-postmodern worlds is of course not something that can be done in one or two days, so… till next time! 🙂

Happy Resurrection Day!!!

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
    for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:12-13)

Amen!!!

 

 

 

Divergent Trilogy

At the prodding of some family members, I went with them a couple of weeks ago to watch what would turn out to be the worst film I have viewed in a theater in recent memory… Insurgent. But Divergent was so promising, so I got a copy of the books before the Lenten holidays, and was duly rewarded. Like most cinematized novels, Insurgent turned out to be much better as a book than as a film.

T1Like the Hunger Games Trilogy, Divergent is set in post-apocalyptic North America, mostly in Chicago, in which each 16-year-old has to enter a serum-activated dream-like sequence, called a simulation, used to determine one’s aptitude and appropriate faction (sector of society) – Erudite (trait: intelligent; symbol: eye) for scientists, doctors, and teachers; Amity (trait: peace-loving; symbol: tree) for farmers and counselors; Candor (trait: honest; symbol: scales) for judges; Dauntless (trait: brave; symbol: fire) for Fence Guards, soldiers, and weapons makers; and Abnegation (trait: selfless; symbol: helping hands) for leaders of government. Each person may, during the annual Choosing Ceremony, opt to join a faction other than the one that he or she was born in. After choosing a faction, the person must undergo initiation, failure in which would render the person factionless, and consequently homeless. And then there are the Divergent, who, because of their multiple aptitudes, don’t fit neatly in one faction and mostly end up factionless. When the trilogy begins, the Erudite leader had begun to take steps to wrest control of the city from Abnegation, and find all the Divergent.

Note: Spoilers here!!!

BOOK 1: Divergent

DivWhen Beatrice Prior’s simulation reveals that she has equal aptitude for Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite, her test administrator Tori (Dauntless, Divergent) destroys her record, tells her that she is Divergent, and warns her not to tell anyone. During the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice transfers to Dauntless, while her brother Caleb transfers to Erudite, to the shock of their father, Andrew (Abnegation, Erudite-born), but not their mother, Natalie (Abnegation, formerly Dauntless), who had earlier assured Beatrice of her love no matter what. During the three-stage initiation process, Beatrice takes the name Tris; befriends fellow initiates Christine (Erudite-born), Will (Candor-born), and a couple more; gets almost killed by Peter (Erudite-born), if not for the timely rescue of her instructor, Tobias Eaton, also known as Four (for having only four fears, one of which is his cruel father, Marcus), whom Tris falls in love with. Despite her being the shortest and thinnest of the Dauntless initiates, she tops her batch, particularly in the simulations, due to her being Divergent.

Ashley Judd as Natalie Wright-Prior
Ashley Judd as Natalie Wright-Prior

When the Dauntless leaders connive with the Erudite leader, Jeanine Matthews, to inject all the Dauntless with a serum through which she can compel them to exterminate Abnegation, Tris, Four, and Tori, who are unaffected by the serum, fight back and win. In the process: Natalie dies saving Tris; Tris kills Will (though done in self defense, she won’t be able to hold a gun steadily from then on); Tris is reunited with Andrew and Caleb and together with Marcus they go back to Dauntless headquarters to deactivate the software enabling Jeanine to control the Dauntless; Andrew dies protecting Tris; and Tris almost dies at the hands of Four, who was injected with a serum that reverses in his mind his friends and enemies, but who breaks out of the simulation when Tris yields her gun to Four, confusing the simulation. After this, Tris, Four, Caleb, and Marcus flee to Amity, where other Abnegation members have already sought refuge.

Veronica Roth
Veronica Roth

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. Veronica Roth’s world-building is certainly better than Suzanne Collins’ (Hunger Games). Centuries ago, the government performed widespread genetic modification to eliminate crime, but this led to personality imbalances (e.g., some individuals were brave but didn’t think things through; some were intelligent but lacked compassion; some were selfless but rarely laughed), which led not to a decrease but to an increase in crime, which was blamed by the genetically pure (GP) on those whom they called the genetically damaged (GD), which led to the Purity War that killed half of America’s population. Further genetic modification could not restore the balance, so an experimental community was designed in which those who were similar in terms of their imbalances lived together in factions, but each faction contributed to society as a whole. But the factions themselves were not what was most important; the factions were designed to prolong peace so that genetically healed offspring – the Divergent – could be produced. By the time Beatrice comes of age, however, the faction system had begun to crumble and the Divergent were being hunted.

Younger Ashley Judd. Natalie Wright would have looked like this when, at 16, she volunteered to enter the experimental community from the outside world.
Younger Ashley Judd. Natalie Wright would have looked like this when, at 16, she volunteered to enter the experimental community from the outside world.

The character I like the most in Book 1 (and in the whole trilogy) is Tris’ mom, Natalie, who organized Abnegation to feed and provide for the factionless, and who dies to save her daughter. Unknown to any in the city (and to the readers of Book 1), at the age of 16 Natalie Wright volunteered to enter the city from the outside world to help avert a crisis brewing in Erudite. She went to Dauntless and was supposed to transfer to Erudite, but she and Andrew met, and because he had to leave Erudite (because he couldn’t stomach the growing cold ambition of the Erudite leader’s protégé, Jeanine), the pair transferred to Abnegation instead. There Natalie continued her mission silently (by keeping the factionless and, therefore, the Dauntless within, alive) while being a loving wife and mother. Wow, what a woman!

BOOK 2: Insurgent

InsAmity leader Johanna Reyes (whose face, unlike in the film, is marred by a thick scar running from her blind left eye down to her lips) tries to hide the four from Jeanine’s minions, but the soldiers find them and almost kill Peter, if not for Tris’ fast action. Fleeing, Tris, Four, and Caleb run into the factionless, who are led by Four’s mother, Evelyn Johnson (formerly Abnegation, Erudite-born). Evelyn had to leave Abnegation when she divorced her cruel husband, which Tobias, then only six, never forgave her for. Evelyn is preparing the factionless to topple Jeanine Matthews and Erudite. Tris and Four then go to Candor to meet with Dauntless members who have not defected to Erudite. Injected with the Candor truth serum, Four tells everyone of Jeanine’s treachery. Dauntless traitors then come firing at everyone, injecting them with another Jeanine-concocted mind-controlling serum. When two persons commit suicide due to the serum, and Jeanine promises more suicides unless all Divergent persons show themselves at Erudite, Tris surrenders to Jeanine. She is deeply hurt when she finds that Caleb had returned to Erudite and had been helping Jeanine develop a serum to control Divergents, killing so many of them in the process. Her serum fails to control Tris, however, and so she orders Tris’ execution, but Peter (who like Caleb had also defected to Erudite) saves her because he can’t live in her debt. He and Tobias bring her out of Erudite. The factionless led by Evelyn combine forces with the Dauntless loyals (led by Tori and Tobias) and storm Erudite; meanwhile Tris, Christine, Cara (Erudite) and Fernando (Erudite), help Marcus get an important video file stored in Jeanine’s lab. (It is short-lived Fernando who calls the team Insurgent.) Tori kills Jeanine, Evelyn claims the victory before Tori does and abolishes the factions, and Tris and Tobias manage to play the video on the giant Erudite monitors. In the video, a woman named Edith Prior explains that the factions were an experiment designed to produce the Divergent, who are to rescue the world outside once they have reached a critical mass.

Naomi Watts as Evelyn Johnson-Eaton
Naomi Watts as Evelyn Johnson-Eaton

RATING AND COMMENTS: While I would grudgingly give the film half a star, I would give the book 3 stars out of 5. There’s more action here than in Books 1 or 3, and it has the best ending – the defeat of the antagonist, the abolition of the factions, and the mystery of the world outside. Too bad the film bungles it by introducing that weird box that “only the strongest Divergent can open” (ugh!), and by portraying Evelyn as a bitch who kills Jeanine in cold blood, which of course never happens in the book (grrr!).

BOOK 3: Allegiant

AllJohanna and Cara lead the Allegiant, a rebel group that believes in returning to the original purpose of the community, as articulated by Edith Prior. Johanna stays behind to lead the Allegiant in the city, while Cara leads the Allegiant team, which includes Tris and Four, that will go outside. Before they leave, Tris gets Four to rescue Caleb, who was to be executed for treason, and she brings Caleb with them, despite her anger at him for his betrayal. They eventually come to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare (but not before Tori is killed by Dauntless Fence Guards), where they were told of the massive genetic modification that happened centuries ago and the Purity War that resulted from it. Since the end of that war, the Bureau had been working toward “genetic healing,” and Chicago was their most successful experiment in that the city’s inhabitants managed to live in relative peace for a sufficiently long time to produce Divergents. However, war is now brewing between Evelyn’s factionless and Marcus/Johanna’s Allegiant (yes, Marcus was able to convince Johanna to let him co-lead the Allegiant), and so the Bureau’s Council decides to “reset” the memories of the city’s inhabitants, something which it had already done before, using an aerosol memory serum. When the Allegiants hear of this, they split into two subteams: Tobias and Christine are to return to Chicago to inoculate key persons; while Cara, Tris, and Caleb are to steal the serum and release it on the Council instead. When Tobias gives his mother the choice to give up the war or else lose him, she decides to get her son back, and cedes control over the city to Johanna (but not Marcus), thus averting civil war and healing Tobias’ wounded soul. The team in the Bureau also succeeds in resetting the memories of the Council members, but Tris dies SR1bsaving Caleb in the process. (This is my only consolation for multi-awarded Saoirse Ronan not being cast as Beatrice Prior – I would have hated to see her die). Two years later, Johanna serves as representative of new Chicago to the world outside, and people can freely join the city or leave it. Tobias serves as Johanna’s assistant, and his mother returns to stay with him for a while after two years of life outside the city.

RATING AND COMMENTS: Like the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, the third book in the Divergent trilogy is also the weakest. Though this book provides a lot of historical background such as how the factions came to be, the purpose of the aptitude test that every 16-year-old had to take (which was for the Bureau to spot Divergents), and even the genealogies of Beatrice and Tobias, and shows how discrimination can exist anywhere – in Chicago, the GD discriminate against the GP (i.e., the Divergent), whereas in the outside world, the GD are the ones discriminated against – the book remains as boring as the man who headed the Bureau, whose family name was not even mentioned in the book, and whom I didn’t bother to name in the summary above. But there’s a character I liked in Book 3 – Caleb, who, despite the Erudite aversion for selfless acts, volunteers to ingest the death serum to get to the memory serum in order to atone for what he eventually learned to understand and accept was his betrayal of his family and humanity in Book 2. Tris agrees to this setup originally, but probably couldn’t handle the guilt in the end, and so manages to switch places with Caleb.

I give the book 2.5 stars. But Summit Entertainment, being the producer of Twilight, is splitting the third book into two films! Money, money, money. No way am I watching those two films.

Thanks to Veronica Roth for a good yarn. I’m glad to have rested my mind. 🙂 Tomorrow, I will reflect on and blog about a more serious book, N. T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus.

UPDATE (March 9, 2016): Since I haven’t watched a movie in a while, I ended up watching Allegiant earlier this evening here in Nuvali. The film departs significantly from the book, and so, as is usually the case when a film does that, this one is even worse than the book, which is already worse than the 2 earlier installments. 😦

A Pastor’s Heart: Reflections on Pope Francis’ Open Mind, Faithful Heart

OMFHThis 2015, one of the things I hope to do is to write a short book reflection every month. And for my first this year, I have chosen Open Mind, Faithful Heart  of Pope Francis, who will be visiting the Philippines next week (January 15-19, 2015). The book is a compilation of his writings as archbishop of Buenos Aires. According to the foreword, “it is the last book written by [Jose Maria] Bergoglio as cardinal, and it is the one what he liked best of all” (p. xi).

(As you read this, you could play Amazed in the background. From Ross Parsley’s album I Am Free, the song is about how wide, how deep, how great God’s love is. Just click on the Play button below and enjoy.)

Pope Francis breaks protocol to spend precious 15 minutes with street children under the care of a Tulay ng Kabataan (Bridge of the Youth) center in Intramuros, right after celebrating mass at the Manila Cathedral, Jan 16, 2015.
Pope Francis breaks protocol to spend precious 15 minutes with street children under the care of a Tulay ng Kabataan (Bridge of the Youth) center in Intramuros, right after celebrating mass at the Manila Cathedral, Jan 16, 2015.

After reading the book, it became clearer to me that Francis is, first and foremost, a lover of God, and as a result, a lover of all people, especially of those who are poor and marginalized. Every chapter, from the first (“Apostolic joy is nourished by the contemplation of Jesus Christ, i.e., by observing how he moved about, how he preached, how he healed, how he saw the world,” p. 3) to the last (“We are encouraged to go in search of our suffering sisters and brothers and to ‘enter in patience’ with them by sharing their fate. We should do this without any desire to hold back anything for ourselves, just as Jesus held back nothing…” p.292), brims with love for God and for people. In Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words, when asked what to him was the greatest of all virtues, he replied: “Well, the virtue of love, of giving oneself to another, and doing that from a position of gentleness.” (p.159)

White Crucixion by Chagall, Pope Francis' favorite painting.
White Crucixion by Chagall, Pope Francis’ favorite painting.

Open Mind, Faithful Heart has four parts – Experiencing Jesus, Manifestations of Light, Letters to the Seven Churches, and Human Prayer. In the first part, Francis talks about the importance of daily encounters with Jesus through prayer and discernment of the signs of the times, and in our brothers and sisters (p.10); of being part of an evangelized and evangelizing community (p.38); of embracing the cross and losing all (p.72) but our joy, which means fervor (p.17); and of remembering the manifold manifestations of God’s grace in our (individual, familial, church, and human) history (ch.14). In the second part he talks about the need for watchfulness that is not only eager but also patient, careful, and faithful (p.118); and about the need to insert our lives into human history (which is salvation history) if we want our lives to become part of God’s manifestation (pp. 130) today and in the Day of the Lord’s second coming (p.164). In the third part, Francis exhorts individuals and communities whose lives reflect those of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. For instance, those experiencing tribulation (cf Smyrna) he urges to resist the great temptation of fatigue (p.182), which manifests itself in, say, the tired person’s expending precious strength lashing out at minor enemies. To those tempted to spiritual infidelity (cf Pergamum), he gives the only remedy (p.191): a personal relationship with the Lord, finding expression in the Eucharist (where God gives himself to us) and in prayer (where God calls us by name). So in Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words, when asked what the experience of prayer should be like he replies (p.45):

HLIHOW“[P]rayer should somehow be an experience of giving way, of surrendering, where our entire being enters into the presence of God. It is there where a dialogue happens, the listening, the transformation. Look to God, but above all feel looked at by God.”

 

Pope Francis at the Meeting with Filipino Families, January 16, 2015. He was talking about St. Joseph, sleeping. Also in the photo is Cardinal Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, whom Vatican analyst John Allen Jr. called "the Asian Pope Francis."
Pope Francis at the Meeting with Filipino Families, Jan 16, 2015. He was talking about St. Joseph, sleeping. Also in the photo is Cardinal Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, whom Vatican analyst John Allen called “the Asian Pope Francis.”

Open Mind, Faithful Heart‘s last part, which is on prayer, is, for me, the strongest of the four parts of the book. It presents prayer not only as “asking God for things” or “asking God to change situations,” which, Francis affirms as “no doubt…true prayer” (p.225), but also our being transformed by God through obedience (pp.225) and understanding (p.262). He reiterates this in his Meeting with Filipino Families at the MOA Arena on January 16, 2015, saying, “If we do not pray, we will not know the most important thing of all — God’s will for us.” Finally, Francis likens prayer to an iterative journey: 1) “setting out in exodus from ourselves,” individually as well as corporately; 2) “enduring our exile and estrangement;” and 3) “a road back home that is ‘far beyond’ any return route we may imagine” (p.249, italics mine). I completely agree!

Pope Francis Holds Weekly AudienceI was momentarily disoriented when I reached the end of Part 4. Throughout this part of the book, I felt that the Lord was lovingly teaching and encouraging me through his beloved and anointed pastor, Francis, and so I felt sad to have reached the end. But, as Francis pointed out elsewhere about prayer, yes there is always an ending, but there is also always…a beginning.

May the Triune God keep Pope Francis focused on Love (1 John 4:16), and may all “people of good will” (Luke 2:14, The Complete Jewish Bible) vigilantly keep him in their prayers.

Many thanks to Claretian Publications for making this book widely accessible in the Philippines.

DPL1a

Update 1 (January 16): In his message to the families at the Philippines’ Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena on January 16, 2015, his last words were:

Pray often and take the fruits of your prayer into the world, that all may know Jesus Christ and his merciful love.  Please pray also for me, for I truly need your prayers and will depend on them always!”

Pope Francis, you can count on me!

Update 2 (January 20):  The original version of this post found its way to the January 18, 2015 edition of the Manila Standard. (Thanks to Pia Manalastas for the invitation.) What a nice, small way to be part of the papal visit to the country. Thank you, Lord!

My Top 5 Happiest Happenings in 2014

View of the sky from my balcony, December 31, 2014
View of the sky from my balcony, December 31, 2014

The 31st of December.

As in 2012, 2011, and 2010, I revisit the top 5 happiest things that happened to me in 2014, as a way of thanking God for all good things. Will you join me, my friend?

 

 

Memorializing the first presentation of DLSU's NLCC process at the CEAP Convention in Davao (September)
Memorializing the first public presentation of DLSU’s NLCC process at the CEAP Convention in Davao (September)

1. Spearheading curricular and pedagogical innovation and working with a wide variety of talented individuals

As Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, I enjoyed spearheading university-wide innovations in curricula (e.g., the New Lasallian Core Curriculum (NLCC)) and pedagogies (e.g., the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL)). This necessitated my forming and working with various committees of top-notch DLSU professors from diverse disciplines and talented academic support staff, as well as delivering presentations to hundreds of people at university town hall meetings and national conventions. What surprised me was that despite the extremely hard work that all these activities — innovating, working with different people, and delivering presentations — entail, I found all of them…quite enjoyable!

2. Learning new things

I have never learned so many new and diverse things in my adult life. This year, for instance, I underwent training in Bangkok and Manila as an AUN QA Assessor, and soon after conducted my first program assessment at the Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City. I also resumed studying Spanish after a hiatus of more than a decade. And as overall chair of the New Lasallian Core Curriculum initiative, I also had to read up on practically all the twelve (!) interdisciplinary (!) courses that make up the NLCC. For example, I had to read so many books on theology and Christianity (such as those below), which, given the goal of the NLCC — which is to develop in students love for God, humanity, country and the environment, and the virtues and competencies needed to practice this love in the 21st century — play a crucial role throughout the core curriculum:

RethinkingChallenge of JesusJesus and VEGlobalization and CSTContextual theologyPagkamakataoVR1BOATBible and UniSP in CPKungPope Francis

3. Time alone by myself, either watching a show (e.g., at the Saigon Opera House after an AUN-QA assessment) or film,

With the cast of the fantastic "A O" show at the Saigon Opera House (December)
With the cast of the fantastic “A O” show at the Saigon Opera House (December)

or strolling barefoot on a beach (e.g., in Boracay after a workshop presentation),

Unwinding at the beach after a presentation of the NLCC process to diocesan leaders (April)

or reading books, including the fantasy trilogies of Joe Abercrombie (fantastic!) and Rowena Cory Daniels, during long weekends. (I hope to post a review of these before the third trimester starts.)

Abercrombie Trilogy  Daniels Trilogy

4. Fun-time spent with the family or with friends and co-workers (including co-workers in ministry) away from the workplace…

Birthday lunch with Dad, Mom, Pastor Jun, and Sister Janet at my favorite Japanese resto (Feb)
Birthday lunch with Dad, Mom, Pastor Jun, and Sister Janet at my favorite Japanese resto (February)
With Divine, Gwen, and Bing at Camaya Cove (April)
With Divine, Gwen, and Bing at Camaya Cove (April)
With FORMDEV faci alums (April)
With FORMDEV faci alums (April)
With VCA Myrna, ERIO Director Alvin, former COB Dean Boo, and AUN-QA Trainer KC from NUS, at a seafood resto in Bangkok (May)
With Myrna (Vice Chancellor for Academics), Alvin (External Relations Director), Boo (former Business Dean), and Kay Chuan (AUN-QA Assessor and Trainer), at a seafood resto in Bangkok (May)
With the NLCC Course Design Committee (CDC) members at Balay Indang, Cavite (June)
With the very talented members of the NLCC Course Design Committees (CDCs) at Balay Indang, Cavite (June)
With my titas (nieces of my paternal grandmother) and their children) (September)
With my titas (nieces of my paternal grandmother) and their children (September). We love you, Tita Bobby!
With my local church's small-group leaders (November)
With my local church’s small-group leaders (November)
With FORMDEV facis at the retreat center in Batulao (December)
With FORMDEV facis at the retreat center in Batulao (December)
Christmas with the family (December)
Christmas with the family (December)
And with the extended family (cousins and their children, December)
And with the extended family (cousins and their children, December)
My prayer post during Day 1 of the last FORMDEV recollection (December)
My prayer post during Day 1 of the last FORMDEV recollection (December)

5. Last but not the least, time spent alone with God (e.g., Christmas eve). At church I have throughout the year taught on the spiritual discipline of spending quiet time alone with God daily, which includes daily prayer as well as daily reading of the Word of God. Though not perfect, my practice of this discipline was much better this year than in the last, and I believe will get better and better, by God’s grace. As a result, I have come to understand God’s love more, which in turn has resulted in my loving God more, which in turn has resulted in my loving others more!

I thank the Almighty for an exhilarating 2014. May many of the things the Lord has begun in our lives in 2014 start to bear fruit in 2015. Amen!

New Year Fireworks Display (View from my Balcony, January 1, 2015)
View of Manila’s New Year fireworks display, January 1, 2015. (For DLSU people: can you see the tip of the DLSU Christmas tree near the bottom right corner of the photo?)

Edge of Tomorrow – It Has To Be Blunt

Live Die Repeat

Transformation and Emily Blunt work together to make Edge of Tomorrow my favorite movie of the year.

EB SideWith the luminous Emily Blunt playing the role of Rita Vrataski, the heroic “Angel of Verdun” (so called for her killing more than a hundred aliens at the Battle of Verdun), I was quite ready to be hooked. But I’m also a sucker for transformation, so when Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) changes, through time loops and Rita’s inspiring friendship, from a high-ranking but spineless army spokesman to a simple soldier intent at destroying the invading horde of aliens called Mimics, even if the only way to do so was to die, I was so hooked that I had to watch the movie again *and* buy the book on which the film was based: Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 light novel, All You Need is Kill.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

The film and novel versions are both memorable. In the following aspects, I find the movie better than the novel:

  1. edge-of-tomorrow-cage-ritaThe protagonist’s transformation is more dramatic in the film version. The film begins with a Bill Cage who is the epitome of cowardice hiding behind charisma and military rank. It ends with a Cage who is on a suicide mission to destroy the “Omega” (i.e., the queen-brain of the alien horde). In the novel, Keiji Kiriya simply begins as a new recruit who, after 163 time loops, turns into a war veteran.
  2. The happy ending. Who doesn’t love a happy ending? In the film, Bill is killed by an “Alpha” (a boss) but manages to kill the Omega (the Big Boss). The result: a “bonus” time loop in which Rita and everyone else, including Bill, but excluding the Omega and her colony, is alive. A very happy ending. (Alas, Rita would die in the novel.)
  3. EOT Rita and AlienBetter looking aliens. In the novel, an alien looks “like the bloated corpse of a drowned frog” (p. 18), which reminds me of when I had to dissect a toad in high school, blech. In the film, they look like the fearsome multi-tentacled metallic sentinels of The Matrix. (For this same reason, I predict that when Ender’s Game’s sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is eventually filmed, the Pequeninos or “piggies” (the only sentient alien species discovered since the xenocide of the Formics) would be made to look less piggy-like and more like, say, the Ewoks of Star Wars.)
  4. EB VioletGreat actors. Rita’s character in the novel is certainly memorable, but Rita’s being played by gorgeous and talented Emily Blunt, who just happens to be the 2009 BAFTA British Artist of the Year, is what makes me want to watch the movie again and again. Tom Cruise’s Cage isn’t bad at all; in fact it is a welcome respite from the flatness of the unkillable Ethan Hunt.
  5. When Cage gets a blood transfusion and loses his reset ability, he finally becomes “mortal “again. This is when the film soars.

But I find the novel better than the film in the following ways:

  1. AYNiK 2Interesting characters. Rita Vrataski might be a war machine but she is utterly feminine. Like any good soldier, she is tough but neither emotionless nor emotional. She is beautiful, but to her what does that have to do with killing the alien horde? Alas, only Cage and Rita’s characters are given some depth in the film (and even then, their characters are not as well formed as, say, that of Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity, also directed by Doug Liman). In the novel, several supporting characters also end up as memorable if not endearing: the nerdy Shasta Raylle, top MIT graduate, who developed Rita’s battle-axe; war veteran Ferrell Bartolomé, Keiji’s platoon leader, who inspires Keiji’s respect; and the well-endowed Rachel Kisaragi, who cooks for the Japanese soldiers of the United Defense Force (UDF).
  2. All_You_Need_Is_KillBackground story. The novel explains where the alien Mimics came from, why they came to be called Mimics, and what exactly happens when the Mimic that the film calls the “Alpha” (but which the author simply suggests we think of as “the server of a network”) is killed: “the signal emitted by Mimics that had lost their server traveled back in time to warn them of the imminent danger they faced” (p. 168).
  3. Younger characters. Keiji is around 18 (he joins the UDF immediately upon finishing high school, and has done only six months of training when the novel begins), while Rita is a year or two older than Keiji (she joined the UDF when she was 16, soon after her parents were killed by Mimics). While I have no problems with older characters, younger characters – Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon – are usually the ones who have the idealism, reckless boldness, and stamina to fight against oppressors, and guided by the wisdom of elder characters, the young ones do win.
  4. AYNiK 6Though not clear in the film, it is quite clear in the novel that the tachyon particles emitted when a Mimic server dies are received back in time by all the Mimics in the network (as well as the human who kills a server while in electrical contact with it), so the entire Mimic network is able to plan ahead in the same way that the human who enters the time loop does. Therefore, whereas in the movie, the final battle occurs in the Omega’s lair, in the novel it occurs when the Mimics catch the humans, Keiji and Rita included, by surprise. The other implication of this is that the only way humanity could win in the novel was for Keiji (or Rita) to break out of the time loop. Therefore, Keiji and Rita had to fight each other to the death to break out of the loop, and only one of them could survive.

Kudos to Emily Blunt and the rest of the cast and crew of Edge of Tomorrow, to Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and to all the Rita Vrataskis out there!

EB Iso pushup

 

Resurrection – “Lord, I’m amazed by you, how you love me.”

The sky might be overcast but, rain or shine, today we celebrate the greatest of feasts, that of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is a beautiful day, hallelujah!

I Am Free(As you read this, you might want to play Amazed in the background. From Ross Parsley’s album I Am Free, the song is about how amazing God’s love is. Just click on the Play button below.)

This morning, after thanking God for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, I asked God, “Why, Lord?” That is, why the resurrection? Surely by the death of Jesus the penalty of all of the past, present, and future sins of mankind has been paid, so that everyone who receives Jesus has fellowship with the Father forever and ever (John 1:12). So why the resurrection?

Each year, by God’s grace, I realize more and more how love (1 John 4:16) is the Triune God’s greatest attribute, and so it didn’t take long for me to “hear” the answer to my question.

  • As the Triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — did the unexpected, creating humankind in God’s image, out of overflowing Love; and
  • As the Triune God did the unimaginable, suffering the separation of the Son from the Father (demonstrated in our dimension by the death of Jesus) out of sacrificial Love for humankind;
  • So the Triune God did the impossible, coming together again (demonstrated in our dimension by the resurrection of Jesus) out of unconquerable Love, so that we can have fellowship not only with the Father but also with the Son and the Holy Spirit — the Triune God — forever and ever!

Love is the answer! And so with Ross Parsley, I sing, “Lord I’m amazed by you, how you love me!” And I worship you!  Let the whole world rejoice in God our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend!

P.S.

I am indebted to Timothy Keller for deepening my understanding of the Triune God through The Reason for God and Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God.

P.S. 2

Just now I revisited my post last year on the Resurrection, and I realized I didn’t hear any birds chirping upon waking up this morning. But I did hear a dog barking in the distance, the kind of bark that a dog uses when happy at the sight of its master.  Given that I love dogs, how can I not be amazed at how the Lord loves me? 🙂

P.S. 3

After finishing writing this post, I looked out the window and lo, it’s a sunny day! 🙂