Compassion vs religion

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)

I was not at all surprised at the many reactions I received to my article last week entitled “God loves bakla.” The comments came via Facebook, Twitter and my blogs where I posted links to my column. Topics about gays, lesbians, sexuality in general are really hot items and everyone has his or her two cents about it. As a writer, I have noted other hot topics that elicit strong reactions from readers such as politics, God, religion, mid-lifing, the afterlife, love, parenting, the RH bill, to name a few.

I believe in the age-old observation that the two main issues in human history that have triggered the most deaths, wars and strife are religion and politics. From the Crusades and the Inquisition, to suicide bombers and attacks on people of different faiths, we have seen how religion, as much as it aims to save, can be a toxic brew. As for politics, talk about EDSA, the Marcoses, P-Noy, the millionaire generals, etc., and you will surely elicit strong opinions.

I used to avoid writing about religion for obvious reasons: the ultra-religious do not want to read anything that will challenge or bother their closely held dogmas. When they do read such things, they turn hostile, which, in turn, invites the more informal believers and the downright non-believers to also comment. Often, this results in long, drawn-out “conversations” — arguments, for the most part — in my blogs.

For the very same reasons I used to avoid the topic, I now wish to write about it. I like to see people discussing what I write and commenting on it, for or against. It does not matter which side you are on. My purpose is to stimulate my readers on this otherwise restful Sunday.

As I mentioned above, I got a lot of feedback on my last article. Many of them were from straight people who are sympathetic to gays. Some reactions were written by gays who thanked me for writing about their struggles.

There were some who said they felt pity for the plight of gays but felt that God disapproved of their lifestyle which made them “condemn the sin, but love the sinner,” a line of reasoning I have heard often from Christian fundamentalists, which seems to me to be a nuanced attempt to explain their abhorrence of the gay lifestyle.

This particular reaction stood out in my mind. I was fascinated and sought to explore it since, quite frankly, I find it to be disingenuous and somewhat intellectually dishonest.

There is very little to disagree with when you hear people say that we are all God’s children. We believe in the universality of God and his love for his children. When you accept this, you can’t help but deduce that God made us the way we are with all our characteristics, deficiencies and greatness. For example, God made me tall but not very talented in sports. My wife is beautiful, but she cannot sing. Stuff like this is easy to accept — until the question of gayness comes in. In the view of some, God did not make gays; gays chose to be gays.

Last week, while writing my article and pointing out how difficult life must have been for a lot of gays who grew up in my school, I could not imagine how anyone in his right mind would “wish” to be gay. In other words, why would anyone choose to be gay and invite trouble from his classmates, his family, his religion, and so much of the rest of the world? It just doesn’t make sense.

To some, this notion of the possibility of being born gay would be sacrilegious because God would never create such an “abomination.” Only the devil, with his evil schemes, must be the source of this. Of course, the devil is making ordinary people gay. In religion, there has to be a bogeyman to explain the “imperfections” within God’s creation. And yes, they must be saved. This “abomination” must be corrected.

After years of looking at some of the hard topics that make the world a horrible place to live in, like hunger, child mortality, wars, discrimination, grinding poverty, disease, etc., I have come to quietly accept many things. No, there isn’t a devil behind things that go wrong. Yes, there will always be poverty, injustice and intolerance in the world. And yes, we must continue to fight against them even if we accept that they will never completely go away.

I am coming from the idea that as much as the world can be a horrible place, we must accept it fully, not with the cynicism that things will not change, but with compassion, because only that will liberate us.

There are well-meaning religious people and even secular activists who get caught in a bind where they are forever angry, tense and stressed out because they are forever on a mission to save the world. I often catch myself in this mode and I know how much of an unsustainable burden it can be for the spirit.

The world will always be in a fix. Life will always be difficult. But accepting this is the first step in the direction of really doing something about it. And what this means is, when you begin to find compassion within yourself, it will awaken in you the beauty in everything.

Acceptance is a wonderful thing. When you don’t have to condemn one thing over another, things become easier to accept. When you can calmly live with the imperfect, the horrible, within or outside yourself and not be on frantic mode rushing to change anything, peace begins to seep in.

When you think about it, it is often the “idealists,” in their desire to change the world, who have actually destroyed the world. Extreme examples are Pol Pot, Hitler, ethnic cleansers, religious fanatics, etc. And the scary thing is, there is a little bit of them in many of us.

Religion should not stand in the way of compassion to understand, and accept people as they are. If we cannot see their full humanity through the prism of our religion, then I don’t believe that religion serves us properly. God is bigger than any religion. That is why religions keep updating themselves to attempt to catch up with the unfolding reality of God, which no one will ever succeed in fully defining.

Just listen to your heart. That is your true spirituality. Would you deprive anyone of what you feel you are entitled to simply because of a different sexual orientation? If you would, then perhaps your religion has too much pride and ego investment.

An insight from Joseph Campbell put it so well: “Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination.”

In the end, the understanding that will matter will not be the one that will eradicate parts of the world or life itself, in order to save it. In a strange way, the world is beautiful with all its little and monstrous contradictions. Without these, our lives would have less dimension and depth. We may even have to invent the devil to make our lives more interesting.

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Go beyond a point-and-shoot experience. Let me teach you how to use your DSLR camera. I would like to invite you all to my 2nd workshop in Manila for 2011. I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on March 12, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Visit, or write me at for questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303. Call or write now.

‘God loves bakla’

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 20, 2011

The first gay person I met was in prep at the Ateneo de Manila. He was a strange, effeminate boy who immediately invited ridicule and persecution from our more aggressive classmates. I could never understand why someone who, just because he was different, and even when he was not hurting anyone, had to endure such cruel taunting and ridicule.

I had no bias at all against gays in school. In fact, I took pity mostly because they were always the reluctant whipping boys in our all-male environment. They never asked to be teased but got large doses of humiliation all the time.

As we moved to the higher grades, I noticed there were more of them. It seemed that the more we moved up in age and grade, the more they appeared or manifested. It reminded me of something I read in biology class where some in the male species will exhibit female characteristics and eventually become fully female to: a) balance the sexual count in their environment and b) maintain harmony and lower the aggression among males who share the same space.

I have often wondered how it felt like being gay at the Ateneo when we were growing up. As most of us looked across the creek towards the lithesome ladies of Maryknoll (now Miriam College) when we got to high school, the gays must have looked longingly at some of their classmates. There must have been a lot of frustration and guilt they had to deal with being in a Catholic, all-male institution like the Ateneo, so much so that I often wondered how most of them seemed to manage at all.

How did they survive sports, class nights, sharing toilets and showers, proms, school activities with self-esteem bravely intact (at least that’s how it looked to us)?

Last year, the answer to all my questions came when I met Raymond Alikpala, a fortysomething lawyer and dyed-in-the-wool Atenista who courageously went out of the closet quite late in life. He had written a book and generously gave me a copy. The book is called God Loves Bakla, a searingly honest account of how he went through a complete Ateneo education from prep to law school, and how he maneuvered mostly successfully through the maze of personal, parental, church and societal expectations until his outing.

The book spans many years, and a lot of life stages, and the personal and spiritual battles he waged. From his early experiences of boyhood crushes to an unexplainable attraction to certain people as he was growing up and advancing in age, he talks candidly and thus rivetingly about his complicated emotional dilemmas, thoughts, and his denial of his sexual orientation which resulted in so much self-loathing. His was a journey of long psychological and sexual suffering before he felt the healing power of complete self-acceptance.

It is not a kiss-and-tell book. But it is a well-documented one. It helps that he kept a diary. He mentions important events in his life but many times spares the identities of those who may feel compromised by the stigma of even remotely having had any type of relationship (even a non-sexual one) with a gay person.

When I read the book, I could not put it down. Every reference to his years at the Ateneo, and its academic and religious practices , its spiritual formation, is portrayed from the point of view of a gay person in denial. His account is that of a silent voice that was never heard, and even if it had been, it would not have been taken seriously. In fact, it may have been cause for expulsion to express anything as candid as this then, and arguably even up to now. He had to wait for a less hostile time, or at least a more moderate environment before he felt that his story could be told. Mostly, it had to wait for him to finally and totally embrace himself as a gay man before his narrative could be shared.

What is quite amazing is how clearly and honestly Raymond could express his painful moments as he grappled with the possibility of being a gay person, or the constant effort of putting up a manly persona and his fear of being found out, or even his pathetically funny attempts at having a heterosexual relationship to “cure” himself of his gayness.

I won’t say anymore since I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of discovering a good read.

Lately, my old classmates and I have been getting together socially, including a gay classmate who has lived abroad all these years. Ube Abeleda recently decided to come back and retire here. I still remember him in high school.

In a way, he was lucky. He was our resident gay and many of us were fond of him. He was easy to like and his gayness did not “threaten” anyone. We were strangely protective of him. It was quite comical to see some of the macho guys in class shout “Quiet!” to silence everyone when the shy and meek Ube was called to recite or speak in his soft, frail voice.

Many other gays I knew from school have done quite well, too, and seem to have gotten over a lot of the macho drubbing they got while growing up. It seems so since many of them often attend class socials and school homecomings.

I have heard stories about gay boys being beaten up by their fathers or siblings to “straighten them out” but I have not heard of any successful macho conversions. While I know a lot of self-proclaimed religious people who abhor gays, I also know more men who do not. Maybe things must have started to change with my generation. Hopefully, gays will have an easier time now than they did during my youth.

In my view, the media in the Philippines does a disservice to the gay community by keeping their image locked in stereotypes. There are the screaming fags, the shallow commentators whose idea of humor or intelligent commentary is gay lingo gobbledygook. I would like to see an openly gay, dignified man who can coolly talk of substantive things and not let his sexual orientation detract from what he says. Boy Abunda and director Joey Reyes come to mind. There should be more.

In our lifetime, we have seen communism collapse, capitalism shudder on its knees, China’s dramatic ascendancy, Arab despots teetering to inevitable oblivion. It is my hope that someday soon, the time will come when gays will be accorded full equal civil rights in matters of love and family.

Yes, I do believe in gay marriage. And as much as I know how abhorrent this may sound to some of my more conservative readers, I imagine how unthinkable and equally disgusting it must have been to have once held the thought that slavery and apartheid were fundamentally wrong.

Sex is a taboo that is hard to break and it is probably because it is that area of human activity where people express themselves most uniquely. “My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror,” W. Somerset Maugham observed.

But abhorrent, complicated or unacceptable the issue may seem to some people, I do share the view that the God who made a world so wonderfully complex and nuanced in multi-dimensional ways must love ALL her children.

Yes, God loves bakla, too. We should do no less.

* * *

1) Join my Songwriting Workshop on Feb. 26 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is a fun, challenging workshop where the student is taught the elements of good songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. Hits from all genres and styles of music are analyzed. The “hook” is discussed and applied at length. Most importantly, the student is challenged to actually write songs during the one-day workshop. Students must know how to play an instrument.

2) Go beyond a point-and-shoot experience. Let me teach you how to use it. I would like to invite you all to a workshop in Manila . I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on March 12, 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. If you enroll in this class, you can get a discount from Canon when you buy cameras and accessories.

Seize the dying day

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 13, 2011

I’ve been having some great moments lately with old high school classmates. In the past four months, we have had two class reunions that were very successful and so much fun. It’s been 42 years since we got out of high school. Since that time, a great many of us have gotten married, had children, built careers, fought our personal, professional, spiritual, and some medical challenges and battles, but have somehow managed to survive more or less intact. We have engaged the many aspects of what comprise a life and have more or less succeeded.

Time really goes by so quickly. Very often, I ask myself and others, whoever thought the day would come when we would reach this age? I started asking this when I got to my 30s. We are almost 60 years old now. Each time I ask it, I experience the same feeling of incredulity.

Somehow, after a great gap of four decades, being with people you spent your tender years with feels more wonderful than ever. It is important to connect with one’s past. It’s good to go back to our origins to measure where we are now. And we have all “arrived” somewhat, and that makes us more secure, respectful, caring and even interesting to each other.

Many of us have grown and changed. Some of the shy, quiet and somewhat invisible ones in high school have become quite successful. And about an equal number have somehow remained the same. The old nicknames we gave each other still seem apt. The jokers, comics and mischievous ones still manage to make us smile when they share their stories. Many of those who were not too serious and were happy-go-lucky have remained so.

I notice that some seem to have aged more than others. Many have medical conditions that have affected them for some years now—high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, to name a few. Some of us have white, thinning hair or have lost most of it.

There are also those who are on their second marriages, or have chosen new singlehood. A few are now in early retirement, or in the midst of planning their next decades here at home after spending the best years of their lives living abroad.

In both class reunions, the organizers made sure they invited live bands that some of the more musical classmates have been playing for. Last Friday, we had the Rhythm and Blues Band headed by classmate Sammy Climaco on guitar, with his wife on keyboards, his son on bass, his daughter on drums and three singers. It was great to see Sammy still playing just like in high school when he wowed everyone with his musical prowess. The band played the music of our glorious youth, which got us all excited, and nostalgic.

And to get everybody up and about, there was a bevy of young and rather attractive dance instructresses who really got us going on the dance floor. And boy did we dance! And sing, and shout, and laugh as we gyrated, did the swing and the boogie, lost in our time-travel moment.

We felt like we were just 17, the way Paul McCartney expressed it in the line, “And you know what I mean,” in the song I Saw Her Standing There.

While the girls gamely danced with us, alas, for most of us, our bodies were no longer as strong or as limber as we remembered them to be. We could not dance more than stretches of about 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Besides, at our age, conversation and catching up with old classmates are now as attractive activities as dancing, even with young women — a realization that made us laugh.

Musing on our own past salad days, I shared the view with one classmate that being young is still such a glorious feeling even when all we have of it now are just short fleeting moments. Like most good things, one hardly appreciates youth until it is almost gone. Indeed, youth is wasted on the young!

So much about being young is also about being lost in a sea of angst and raging hormones. If only we already had the focus, ambition, direction and purposeful passion in our youth, instead of teen narcissism where we confused transient feelings with commitment, and sexual attraction with real love.

Even as we are now close to our sixth decade of life on earth, it is uplifting to see some of my classmates still flying with the wind beneath their wings. Their chi, or prana, or life energy is still strong. It is evident in the way they carry themselves, the way they smile, their composure. There is still that twinkle in their eyes even as they talk about mundane things. They are alive, present, curious and engaged. It was clear to me that they still want to do other things before thinking of retirement or slowing down.

With modern medicine, vitamins and with clean living, 60 is the new 50 or even younger. Compared to our parents’ generation, I figure, it would be quite premature for us to retire at 60 when we can still have one, two or even more decades left. What would we do? How would we spend our time? It’s hard to pretend being old when we do not feel it.

But even as we may feel that we can still shake the world, it is also time to take stock. Some may feel it is time to seriously make and pursue our bucket lists, or not waste time in setting a few things right in our lives, or go into mentoring the younger generation.

Whatever one decides to do, one thing is clear: for those who still have the energy, this may be the time in our lives when we will be taking our last big expedition, or finishing what we started long ago and making sure that we put the crowning feather on our life’s work. This is the final sprint before we begin walking slower.

With the little youth we have left, we must seize the dying day and make something with what’s left of it. This is our last chance to be energetic and passionately purposeful!

* * *

1) Join my Songwriting Workshop on Feb. 26 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is a fun, challenging workshop where the student is taught the elements of good songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. Hits from all genres and styles of music are analyzed. The “hook” is discussed and applied at length. Most importantly, the student is challenged to actually write songs during the one-day workshop. Students must know how to play an instrument.

2) Go beyond a point-and-shoot experience. Let me teach you how to use it. I would like to invite you all to a workshop in Manila . I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on March 12, 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. If you enroll in this class, you can get a discount from Canon when you buy cameras and accessories.

* * *

Visit or write me at emailjimp@gmail.comfor questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375.

Re-imagining Pilipinas Bukas

Re-imagining Pilipinas Bukas

By Jim Paredes

The idea riveted some members of an NGO called Pinoy Power Inc. a few months back. The idea was to try and imagine what the country could be in the future, not unlike the way Rizal did during his time when he wrote ‘The Philippines: A Century Hence’.

What direction can we take the nation to? We asked ourselves. We felt it was a good time to do this. After all, we have just elected a new administration full of promise of reform. And this February is also the 25th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power event. It felt right to do it.

The idea finally materialized last weekend when 99 people from different disciplines, advocacies and passions were invited to join a workshop to do exactly that—re-imagine what the Philippines can become 25 years from now. Artists, businessmen, entrepreneurs, overseas Filipinos, indigenous peoples, social professionals, scientists, religious, senators, cabinet members, and others showed up for the workshop. It was purposely a motley group whose members were encouraged to cross disciplines, and be imaginative and inspired.

We gathered together from Friday night to late Sunday afternoon for this unique visioning exercise. Friday night was for getting-to-know-you over drinks to get people more relaxed. It helped to break the ice early since the credentials of most who were attending were quite impressive, and thus potentially intimidating to some. What was needed was an unguarded, instant, relaxed sharing of ideas.

The workshop was conceptualized with the intention to break the mold of the usual workshops. It had none of the traditional elements such as keynote speakers to establish the themes for discussion. The last thing we wanted was too much intellectualizing instead of speaking candidly and concretely, or too much posturing in place of sincere sharing. In place of spoken words coming from people with PhDs, we had short interesting videos and unique musical numbers (kulintang players, a modern ethnic band, the Kamikaze band, a children’s choir), and dramatic vignettes to establish the themes for the discussions which were to follow. We also had three people from diverse backgrounds talk about the topic at hand in ten-minute segments to provoke the discussions.

The workshop was held at the sprawling Meralco Center in Antipolo which had a lot of areas to hold different activities, break-out sessions, and meals.

The discussions started Saturday at 9 a.m. The first session explored the proposition of culture as ‘wiring’. Are we as a people wired to fail? We asked ourselves. This was meant to elicit a lot of ranting and raving, a way of purging the negativity out or getting over this national pastime of self-bashing so we could spend more time expressing the positive potential scenarios we could come up with through re-imagining.

The next session provoked us to be more positive. One way was to take a look at the same things that bogged us down, and ask how they can be positive traits. Can our family ties extend to a social network that could be beneficial to all of us? Could our penchant for ‘small’ help liberate us? Could our hospitality and heartfelt caring for people serve us well?

Culture, economics, politics, and sometimes religion, dominated the discussions. People talked about their apprehensions but also gave insights for opportunities. While participants from almost all sectors, including the military, spoke of problems, the same people also spoke of solutions.

But we discovered that reimagining a different, more optimistic trajectory for our country was not easy. Most everyone, it seemed, was stuck in a box. Not a few noticed that we had become creatures of habit. It was quite an effort to re-imagine a specific, rosy, positive scenario without being bogged down by how we were going to get there.

At one breakout session, a participant reminded our group that when John Kennedy declared that the US would be the first country to land a man on the moon, he had no idea how it would be done. To further push the point, I suggested that we think like children and not be pulled back by the need to be realistic, logical or ‘sane’ in coming up with our vision. “Jump and the net will appear,’ I said. ‘If it does not, we may discover we actually have wings.’

Soon after, visions and declarations began to flow as easily as water. Some ideas from our group and those shared in the plenary were quite exciting: one expressed that 25 years hence, he hoped that he would be taking his grandchildren to a ‘Poverty Museum’ since poverty would be a thing of the past. Some people envisioned a one percent fertility rate, a society with 80% of its members in the middle class, a forest cover of 40% and coral reefs restored to 50%. An indigenous hoped he would be ale to drink from the Pasig River!

I expressed my vision of Philippine culture, ideas and arts as being dynamic, positive, influential and as identifiably unique as say, Japanese, Brazilian and Chinese culture. No more gaya-gaya (imitations). We would be proudly, uniquely Filipinos with something important to share. Someone else wished for an end to his NGO since it wouldn’t be needed anymore, simply because government would be efficiently and abundantly delivering the goods and services to the people.

A military man expressed the vision that the highly professional armed forces would be confined to barracks and not have to intervene in civilian life anymore because the internal conflicts would have been resolved and we would be enjoying domestic peace. Society would be peaceful, and people would have enough food, proper health care, access to education, jobs and a healthy, clean and sustainable environment. Essentially, that was the big picture envisioned.

To anchor the ideas closer to reality, it was suggested we come up with ‘doables’ along the vision lines which could be started within three years.

The weekend had many highlights, which included the unique presentations done by groups in song, poetry and drama sprinkled with lots of chutzpah and cheer. Then there was the ‘historic’ dinner that had the same menu (extravagant French cuisine no less) served during the Malolos Convention of 1896, and the beautiful Kundiman sung by Rachelle Gerodias and two other tenors after the meal.

We also did a social experiment after a discussion on poverty where, during the last lunch, only one table for about eight people was served lavishly with fine dining while the rest of the 91 delegates had sardines and mami noodles. We wanted to see if the ‘rich’ would notice the disparity, and whether the ‘poor’ would complain. After a while, the abundant table did notice the ‘grumbling’ and promptly shared their food; and everyone burst into applause.

I left the workshop with my heart full and my spirit soaring. It must have been the same for most of those who attended. At certain points, when people were speaking from their hearts expressing their love of country, and even during some of the performances, I thought I could feel Inang Bayan present in the room listening attentively as well.

I could hear strains of meaningful songs playing in my head as I left the workshop. But two phrases that stuck in my mind summarized my feelings. One of them was ‘Kay sarap pala maging Pilipino’, a line from a song I wrote in 1986. The other was something I heard from Joey Ayala years ago which went, ‘Kung kaya mong isipin, kayo mong gawin.’

We have re-imagined a future of this prison we are in. Now we must act.

Mabuhay tayong lahat.

# # #

1) I am inviting you to join my Songwriting Workshop on Feb 26 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is a fun, challenging workshop where the student is taught the elements of good songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. Classic hits are listened to from all genres and styles of music. The “hook” is discussed and applied at length. Most importantly, the student is challenged to actually write songs during the two day 12-hour workshop. Students must know how to play an instrument.

2) Go beyond a point-and-shoot experience. Let me teach you how to use it. I would like to invite you all to a workshop in Manila . I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on March 12, 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. If you enroll in this class, you can buy a Canon EOS camera and get a discount!


, or write me at for questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375.