My Four Happiest Happenings in 2016

It was six years ago when I began reflecting annually on my “happiest happenings” for a particular year (see 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010). My four happiest happenings in 2016 are (not in any order):

1. Driving and living in Nuvali

View of the sky from car's passenger seat, along Nuvali Blvd
View of the sky from my car, along Nuvali Blvd

I’ve always shunned buying a car, which depreciates the moment it is taken out of the casa, so I’ve always tried to live within walking distance from my place of work or study. But living in Nuvali necessitates owning one because no public utility vehicle drivers may ply their trade in here.

Enjoying the view of Taal after enjoying a breakfast buffet with the family
Enjoying the view of the Taal volcano and lake after enjoying breakfast buffet with the family

I never expected to enjoy driving, but I do, though only in Nuvali and its surroundings, what with the beautiful scenery. I also enjoy driving to Tagaytay, though only in the morning, when there is no traffic.

Of course I don’t only enjoy driving in Nuvali but also living in it. I love the tranquility, the fresh(er) air, and the Solenad malls that are on the way home from work. 🙂

2. Borobudur

On top of Borobudur soon after sunrise
On top of Borobudur soon after sunrise

When I was a kid, I had a stereoscopic toy that showed beautiful scenes of various Wonders of the World, and the 3D photograph of Borobudur was one of those that I enjoyed looking at. I was therefore quite happy to visit it after a finishing a task in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I went there at sunrise (as FB’s Mark Zuckerberg once did).

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and Indonesia’s “single most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia” (Wikipedia). Built in the 8th century at the center of Central Java and designed as a step pyramid, Borobudur’s pilgrims would walk up and around nine terraces, whose walls are filled more than 2700 exquisite bas-relief panels, until one reaches the top, which represents Nirvana.

3. K3J

K3J's Anniversary Theme: God Is Able
K3J’s Anniversary Theme: God Is Able

On December 18, 2016, the youth group at church was rechristened K3J (Kabataang Kay Kristo Jesus) and celebrated its first year since its revival. Unlike when I first handled the youth at church in the early 2000s, when most of the members of the group were in college and were children of church members, most of the members of the youth group now, i.e., of K3J, are high school kids and have unbelieving parents. May the light of Jesus (John 1:4-5)  shine in the lives of these kids and their families!

4. Ministry at home

I love it that my house has been used to minister to or mentor various persons and groups this year. There’s my Saddleback Small Group, which began meeting weekly on April 14. Since then we have studied Rick Warren’s The Invisible War and Miracle of Mercy, among others. Then there’s my best friend’s son, Joel, who did a 3-day retreat at my house last September; and K3J’s leaders, who did a 3-day retreat here on January 1-3. There’s also my PhDCS and MSCS thesis advisees, Tessie, Ian, and Regan, who came at least twice to the house. Finally, there are also my family and friends who came in December.

Dad, Mom, and Pen with Tita Aida and Sachi
With Dad, Mom, Tita Aida and Sachi
With inaanak sa kasal, Tessie and Philip
With inaanak sa kasal, Tessie and Philip
Dad, Mom, and Pen with Kuya Mark, Weng, and kids
With Dad, Mom, Pen, Kuya Mark, Weng, and kids
With Carlo after installing paintings
With best friend Carlo after installing paintings
With Lizette and kids
With best friend Lizette and kids
With Justin and Em
With FORMDEV alumni, Justin and Em, who will soon wed
With TLS Youth (K3J) Leaders
With TLS Youth (K3J) Leaders — Jomel, Georgia, Buboy, Tian2 and Jessa — on a 3-day retreat here at the house

I thank God for all the blessings throughout 2016. May 2017 be a year of even more hearing and doing of God’s word (Matthew 11:28).

Blessed New Year, everyone!


Remaining in Jesus’ Love

Resurrection Sunday, 2016. I was supposed to travel to Jakarta this morning, but due to a passport issue, that did not push through.

(As you read the rest of this post, if you’d like to listen to The Katinas‘ “Mighty River”, just click the Play button below. To stop it, just click the Pause button.)


View of the sky at dawn from one of the east windows of my Nuvali house.
View of the sky at dawn from one of the east windows of my new house.

RESURRECTION SUNDAY, the greatest of feasts!

How deeply glad I am to have been able, by God’s grace, to start this day reading God’s Word. The church youth and I are reading through the New Testament, one chapter a day, and today’s chapter is the 15th of John. What struck me is the 10th verse, which says that, among others, if I obey the Lord Jesus’ commands, I will remain in his love. At first, the verse seemed to say that God’s love is conditioned on my obedience:  the more/less I obey, the more/less God loves me, which I knew in my heart not to be true. Soon, however, the Lord reminded me that his love is like a mighty “river of living water” (cf. Revelation 12:1-2) – always flowing, always giving life, abundant life and that it is truly I who leaves the river instead of remaining in it! God, Who is Love (1 John 4:16), truly is wonderful! What’s more, John 15:7 guarantees that as I remain in the river (or on its banks, like a tree), the more fruit I will bear, for the glory of God!

TSW - Newsletter - Vol 4 Iss 2-3 My TestimonyAfter reading God’s Word and eating a delightful breakfast of bread and fruit, I celebrated the resurrection of the Lord with the brothers and sisters at Saddleback South Manila, which is inside the community I live in – Nuvali. As soon as I got back home, I searched my archives for the testimony I wrote for my local church’s newsletter about my Saddleback experience 13 years ago. Here it is:

TSW – Newsletter – Vol 4 Iss 2-3 My Testimony

Isn’t it amazing how, thirteen years ago, I “chanced upon” Saddleback Lake Forest, California, and now, thirteen years later, Saddleback South Manila and I decide to live in the same community?

Happy Resurrection Sunday!


As in previous Resurrection Sundays (see e.g., 2014, 2013), there were birds singing just outside, and dogs barking in the distance. Thank God for all things, big and small! 🙂

P.S. 2

I actually read a couple of books during the Lenten triduum (Stephen Smith’s The Jesus Life and David Platt’s Follow Me), and planned to blog about them, but instead, here I am blogging about God’s mighty river of love and about my Saddleback experiences while listening repeatedly to Mighty River. 🙂

P.S. 3

I’ve been wanting for a very long time to have a regular Christian activity at home, and on April 14, nineteen days after Easter and a hundred and thirty-five days after moving to my new house, I’d begin hosting a Saddleback Small Group at home! How did this happen? To make the long story short, on the Feast of the Resurrection I simply shared with Pastor Narry Santos my experiences at Saddleback Lake Forest and expressed my desire to be of help to Saddleback South Manila, and then he asked me if I wanted to host a Saddleback Small Group at home, and without hesitation I said, “Yes!” God is good!


The Broken Empire Trilogy

I read this trilogy last year, but got so busy I couldn’t blog about it until now (Maundy Thursday).

Note: SPOILERS here!!!

BE MapThe Broken Empire trilogy is set in what would be Europe a thousand years after a nuclear holocaust. Prior to that, scientists and engineers (“Builders”) had previously discovered and exploited a way for man to “control his environment directly through the force of his desire, rather than through machinery” (Fexler Brews in Emperor of Thorns, 170), thereby altering “by just a fraction” (Fexler Brews in King of Thorns, 321) the orientation of what could be viewed as the wheel of the ship that is reality. Since then, this wheel has kept on turning albeit in the wrong orientation, resulting in various kinds of magic in the post-apocalyptic world, including the ability to control fire (“fire-sworn”), inhabit bodies (necromancers), soul-fly (“sky-sworn”), enter and influence dreams (“dream-sworn”), or see the future (“future-sworn”). Unfortunately, the more these magics are used, the thinner the barrier grows that separates life from death, and the collapse of this barrier is now imminent.  Fortunately, the Builders had also managed to create “data echoes” – virtual models of themselves – so that they could somehow survive the holocaust. One of these data echoes is Fexler Brews, who seeks to right their wrongs…

BOOK 1: The Prince of Thorns

PoT (2)Four years ago, Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, then only nine, witnesses from inside a thorn briar the murder of his mother and of his younger brother, William, by soldiers of his uncle, the Count of Renar. Vowing to kill the count, he frees a band of mercenaries who are prisoners of his father, King Oliden of Ancrath, and escapes with them. With the protection of Kashta the Nuban, wisest and deadliest of the mercenaries, and Sir Makin, whom Oliden ordered to bring Jorg back but who would turn to follow Jorg instead, Jorg becomes their chief, leading his band of Brothers with fearlessness and uncanny success.

Now 14, Jorg discovers that his father is about to proclaim his new queen’s child as the new heir to the throne, so he returns to his father’s palace with his Brothers. To prove his worth to his father, he agrees to kill the King of Gelleth, which he accomplishes by piecing together the accounts of the Builders, and detonating what (he didn’t know) was one of the nuclear bombs the Builders had left behind underneath the mountain on which the kingdom of Gelleth stood. In the process he befriends leucrota (mutants made so by exposure to radioactivity) and kills a couple of vampiric necromancers, the heart of one of which he eats, as a way to bolster the dying courage of his mercenary band. When he returns to Ancrath, he is murdered by his own father, but he comes back to life due to vampiric contamination. While dead, he is released from a powerful spell of compulsion placed upon him by his uncle’s sorcerer, Corion, which prevented him from even coming close to his uncle’s lands. The same spell also lent him sorcerous powers without his being aware of them. Jorg eventually kills Renar and his sorcerer, and crowns himself King of Renar.  His next goal: to become Emperor of the Broken Empire.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Though the characterization in this trilogy is not impressive (only Jorg’s character is developed; everyone else’s is one-dimensional), the trilogy quickly startles and then polarizes its readers by beginning its tale with an amoral antihero killing the leader of a small town and participating in the rape of the leader’s girls. (Jorg does make it a point to say that he did try to talk to the leader, but the leader wouldn’t budge.) But the cause for such apparent mercilessness is slowly revealed as a confluence of the boy’s traumatic experience, genetic and environmental predisposition (his father was even crueler), and being bound by a spell by an even crueler sorcerer.  Sure, a murderer is a murderer, but in God’s economy, in which every human being is sinful, even killers can become heroes (cf. Moses, Joshua, David, Paul).

The character I liked most in this book is Kashta, whom Jorg describes thus: “I never knew a man more solid… Few among the brothers sought his counsel, men upon the road have little use for conscience, and although he never judged, the Nuban carried judgment with him” (195). Why did he have to die this early in the trilogy?

BOOK 2: The King of Thorns

KoTSoon after he becomes a king, Jorg meets the charismatic Prince Orrin of Arrow, who, like Jorg, wishes to lead the Broken Empire, but who, unlike Jorg, has more statesmanly goals, which is why smaller nations have been flocking to him. Orrin defeats the younger Jorg in one-on-one combat, but Orrin, who is everything that Jorg is not, lets Jorg live. Jorg then decides that to become Emperor, he has to get the support of his mother’s father, the Earl of Hansa, and brother, Lord Robert. On his way to his grandfather, Jorg has some interesting side-adventures that leave in him the powers of fire-magic and necromancy, insatiable powers that both try to consume him. At his grandfather’s castle, he encounters a “ghost”, actually a data echo, Fexler Brews, who gives him a lens (see the cover of Book 2),which enables him to view any part of the world through satellite and terrestrial surveillance systems, and a pistol. He also gets engaged to Lord Robert’s twelve-year-old niece, the fiery and independent-minded Miana.

Four years later, on Jorg and Miana’s wedding day, Prince Egan of Arrow (who had earlier killed his brother, Orrin) storms Castle Renar with thousands of Orrin’s men, but Jorg kills Egan using Fexler’s pistol, and unleashes the fire within him, burning Orrin’s men as well as his father’s sorcerer, Sageous, who, Fexler would reveal, was the one who put Jorg in the thorns, and who was the one who dream-ensorcelled Egan to commit fratricide. Jorg himself would survive the conflagration (but with a burnt face) because of the necromantic power within him, and the fire magic and necromancy within him would consume each other, leaving him with no trace of either magic. But though the Dead King may have lost his foothold inside Jorg when Jorg lost his necromantic powers, he has now become Jorg’s – and the Broken Empire’s – most formidable foe.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Jorg is growing, and that is good.  Though Jorg still has no qualms killing in this book, there’s now a kind of empathy: “Once upon a time perhaps I might have thought two women running around on fire was a free show…But I had grown to understand this kind of pain” (236). The character I liked most in this book is Fexler, the so-called data echo. I’m doing research on persistent virtual online models of students, so it intrigues me how Fexler-the-virtual-model was created from all manner of data from Fexler-the-human, including “…unguarded moments captured in secret, phrases uttered in his sleep, exclamations cried out in coitus, chemical analysis of his waste, public presentations, private meditations, polygraphic evidence, DNA samples. Data.” (319) Cool!

BOOK 3: The Emperor of Thrones

EoTJorg, now 20, soon-to-be-father, and leader of six kingdoms plus Kennick, travels to Vyene, the former Imperial capital, to make a bid for Emperor at the Congression. Every seven years, the Congression is held at Vyene, where representatives of all the kingdoms of the Broken Empire cast their votes for an Emperor. What makes this Congression different from those in the past is the imminent threat of the Dead King and his army of zombies. While Jorg is traveling toward Vyene, the reader is shown several flashbacks filled with violence, such as the rape of young Jorg by a bishop, and how Jorg took his revenge; the torture of Jorg in a desert, saved only by remnants of fire magic, months of sword practice, and Fexler controlling the body of a mechanical scorpion; and Jorg’s saving the Caliph of Liba from nuclear destruction by an automaton controlled by Michael, another data echo, apparently higher in rank than Fexler.

At the Congression, for fear of the Dead King, whose zombie army is fast approaching, the delegates vote for Jorg as Emperor, since he is the only one who has the temerity to fight the Dead King. The Dead King finally appears in the body of a sky-sworn, while his zombie army kills many of the delegates and scatters the rest. It turns out that the Dead King is none other than William, Jorg’s younger brother, who now chides Jorg for not saving him. It appears that William, whose will (to be reunited with his brother) is apparently even stronger than Jorg’s, fought against death (i.e., annihilation) and won.  When he learned that his brother was intent on reuniting the Broken Empire, William then thought of raising the dead so that together they could “take the empire out past all boundaries, in this world and the next, and make it whole, entire, and ours” (386). Jorg eventually manages to kill the body which William used, but knowing that William isn’t really dead (i.e., annihilated) and can therefore come back, and fearing for his son and the world he will live in, he asks his Brothers to kill him so that he may go to his younger brother. When everyone refuses, it was Chella, William’s harbinger, who deals the fatal blow. In the epilogue, Jorg and William set their hands to push the “wheel” (see this post’s introductory paragraph) back to its original orientation, and Jorg’s data echo meets with his son, the young Emperor Will. It seems that Fexler’s ring got more information from Jorg than Jorg got from it, enough data for Fexler to create a model of Jorg to help him (Fexler) determine whether Jorg could be trusted to save the world.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 4 stars out of 5. I must admit that at first I didn’t like that Jorg died. But then again, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). My favorite character continues to be Fexler. In high fantasy, I’ve always been more interested in the acts of the master wizard – Gandalf, Dumbledore, Merlin – who aids the hero, rather than the hero himself (unless the wizard IS the hero), but since, in this trilogy, magic-wielding men (Corius, Sageous, Ferrakind) and women (Lady Blue, Skilfar, the Silent Sister) are like Sageous, whom Fexler describes as “nothing but a savage, straining truth through superstition,” it is Fexler who becomes in essence the master wizard, influencing and helping Jorg in the race against world annihilation.

MLEmperor of Thrones won the David Gemmel Legend Award (DGLA) for Best Fantasy Novel in 2014. I wish I could write fantasy like Mark Lawrence or Bandon Sanderson one day.


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
Ninong of Danon and Treena
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”
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)





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.


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!