On losing a father

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 26, 2012 12:00 AM

In the early evening of Saturday, Aug. 19 , my wife texted me that Jesse Robredo’s plane had crashed in Masbate. I immediately called friends who might know more information. Even if it seemed like I was in hyper mode, I was also in a state of shock.

The name of Jesse Robredo has always come up in the NGO and government circles associated with honesty, dedication, service and good governance. Everyone liked and admired him. If Jesse Robredo supported any cause, we knew that it was a right one, a worthy endeavor. He was one of the silent, good guys who delivered without fanfare but with great tangible results and with far-reaching positive consequences.

He was an easy guy to like. In person, he was always smiling, easy to talk to and really listened to anyone who had something to say. He was never dismissive. One got the feeling that he was a mature person with great compassion who was always helpful. He could act quickly but he could also pace himself if he had to take the long road and the long view to make sense of things and make things happen. He never gave up.

The pain of losing him hit me in two ways. As a Filipino, I feel that we have lost a good public servant. He was one of PNoy’s cabinet secretaries who got the job done and never called attention to himself. I always felt bad every time some two-bit politico would question his credentials in the Commission on Appointments or some know-it-all AM radio commentator would belittle government efforts where Jesse was involved. He was a man who gave his heart and soul to anything he did and I felt that he was underappreciated.

During the last elections, his name was floated for a while among the NGO community as a possible candidate for President or VP. He had the qualifications, surely. Many of us were very excited at the idea but fate had other plans.

On another level, a personal one, Jesse’s sudden demise was even harder for me to take. Every time I hear of a plane crash, I feel it on the gut level. My father died in a plane crash with the late President Ramon Magsaysay in 1957 when I was five years old. That crash was the start of an unexpected journey that my family and I were forced to take. March 17, 1957 was the day that altered our lives forever as a family and as individuals. To borrow writer Joseph Campbell’s metaphor, that day, we were all kicked out of Eden.

There are other similarities. Jesse Robredo, his assistant and the two pilots flew out of Cebu. So did the Magsaysay entourage. Like in the 1957 crash, there was one survivor in this recent one. Both Magsaysay and Robredo were loved and admired by many and were taken early in their lives. And to make the connection more personal, my father, who was a servant leader like Robredo, was so named “Jess.” Both were also considered by their alma mater as exemplary Ateneans.

I was trying to imagine what it was like for Jesse’s wife and children in Naga waiting, hoping for the best that their loved one was alive as the hours and days wore on. I thought of our own family’s experience. That March 17, we first heard the news that the plane was missing in the morning. It was in the late afternoon that we received confirmation that the plane had crashed. Initially, they could not find my father. My mom and siblings must have hoped that perhaps he had survived and walked away from the site to get help somewhere. When his charred body was found, one of my brothers speculated that perhaps it was not really him even if his perfect set of teeth gave him away. The death of a loved one, especially when it happens so suddenly, is too hard to comprehend, much less to accept easily.

I read a tweet from Ces Drilon last Monday where she shared that her own father had died in a helicopter crash and his body was never found. That is even harder to take. How can anyone fully accept a life-changing event like this without the evidence of seeing the loved one’s lifeless body? How does one deal with a “missing” status emotionally? Does one just accept that he is dead without incontrovertible proof? How long does one wait before giving up? Will one ever know for sure?

When you lose a father at a young age, it leaves a gaping hole in your being. My friend Harriet Hermosillas calls it “father hunger.” That’s what it felt like to me. I was lucky I had father substitutes to fill up part of the void left by my dad’s passing. But to a great extent, I dealt with it by having what one might describe as “an imaginary continuous dialogue” with my dad especially when I needed his guidance. His sterling reputation and the values he stood for were quite clear to me, making it quite easy for me to deal with moral questions. Even if I had spent very little time with him, I just knew how Dad would have handled certain situations. The stories I had heard about him made that possible.

Often, he would appear quite suddenly in my dreams. I would be somewhere and see smoke billowing not far from where I stood. It was the crash scene, but instead of the mountain where it actually happened, it would be on flat land. I would see him coming out of it wearing his white sharkskin suit, the one he had on when he was last photographed before leaving Manila the day before the crash. He was fit, handsome, smiling and exuded a reassuring fatherly warmth. We would not talk. I was a little boy and I would simply walk with him. The dream would almost always be in black and white. When I woke up, I just felt good and assured that I was OK.

To the Robredos and the families of the two pilots, I cannot possibly fathom how hard it is to deal with what you are going through. All circumstances are different. But I hope that knowing other people have gone through something similar helps somehow. I wish you healing and love. I hope this outpouring of sympathy coming from an entire grateful nation gives you comfort and help ease the pain of loss. It will take time but with God’s help, it will happen. Slowly but surely, even as the pain of loss will not go away completely, it will become more bearable.

The road is long and arduous. The doors of Eden have been shut. You are now forced by destiny to take a different, unplanned and unexpected journey.

And just as my father’s short but meaningful life played a big role in shaping me, do take comfort that your dad’s legacy of goodness, love for country and his decency as a human being will guide you as if he were present with you. You can be sure of it.Acts of love are seeds planted and they always bear fruit.

Faith, science and the RH debate

Faith, science and the RH debate
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 19, 2012

The reaction was visceral on both sides of the RH fence when a wannabe senator, a sprinkling of congressmen and a writer declared that the flooding we experienced the other week was caused by the vote in Congress to end the discussion on the Reproductive Health bill. God was punishing us, they intoned ominously.

While the rain poured down relentlessly, on the net, the Pro-RH camp reacted with disbelief, anger and total disdain plus a dollop of ridicule. The “Anti” side waxed apocalyptic with Old Testament-style doomsday warnings of floods, floods and more floods damning the Filipino nation for having turned away from godliness by inching toward the possible passing of the RH bill into law.

It was really quite bizarre in its childishness and stupidity.

While on the surface, it would seem that the great divide in this issue is purely religious, I sense other levels of conflict at play. There is modernity versus ultra-conservatism, change versus inertia, logic and rationality versus fear and hysteria. There are egalitarianism and democratic ideals of individual freedom and fairness versus an authoritarianism that seeks to be in control and demands blind obedience. There is church dictation versus secularism. And there is also openness versus dogmatism. But most importantly, I sense the clash between faith and science that looks like it’s leading to a showdown in this country.

I could not believe my ears when I heard Congressman Bagatsing suggest the postponement of the vote to end the RH debates last Aug. 6 to the next day because 6 is the “number of the devil.” How could a fully-grown, presumably educated man, an elected lawmaker in the 21st century, possess such a medieval, superstitious and irrational mind?

But there it was, in its full, radiant idiocy parading before us. In the world of Bagatsing, Mitos Magsaysay, et al, the ending of further discussion on the RH bill had angered God who then unleashed His wrath on us sinful Christian Filipinos who have chosen to behave like heathens by not following His wishes.

I could not identify with the God they know who behaved more like an Ampatuan than the God of Compassion and love Jesus introduced to the world.

Did it not occur to them that it is the rainy season, and with global climate change, this kind of weather is scientifically explainable? Do they truly believe that God punishes people by sending them days of destructive rain? If so, isn’t it rather insensitive and stupid for God to be sending rain of this magnitude that punished those who do not practice birth control more than those who do? Look at who suffered the most. Wasn’t it the poor with the most children and the barest of resources to rely on when disaster strikes who were most adversely affected by the floods?

The superstitious, irrational mind will always look for an explanation to phenomena that often can neither be proven nor disproved but has a ring of authority to it because God is invoked. “God is angry and is punishing us.” “God has appeared as the dancing sun,” etc. How many times have we heard of so-called visionaries who have claimed that Jesus, Mary or some saint supposedly appeared to them warning of disaster? Or saying that we are the Chosen People? And always after the fact. It is amazing how many people actually fall for it, quite often with hardly any question.

There are those who will say that I talk like this because I have no faith. That would be their judgment. But I do not dismiss the argument that one must have faith to see God, or God’s hand. And this leads me to ask the following questions: Is faith necessarily irrational? Is it always dogmatic? Is faith the same as religion? Can it co-exist with reason and scientific facts? These are questions that the greatest of minds have tried to answer through the centuries and my attempt to do so is not anywhere close to the brilliant answers of learned men, but hopefully, it will provoke the reader to think on this Sunday morning.

Faith can be irrational, mythical and even magical, which can make one believe in divine intervention no different from the Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy experience. I am not saying there are no real cases of divine intervention. There were times in my life when I felt that divine intervention saved me from myself. Am I being irrational? What proof do I have that these were divine interventions? I do not have empirical proof but I have experience of its trueness. I have faith.

I believe that faith is not necessarily irrational when it is anchored not on immutable dogma but on an openness to everything. It can even be trans-rational, or transcending reason going into the mystical realm. Who was it who said that belief is not the start of knowledge but the end of it? Faith in the modern world need not start with a definition of who or what God is, but an openness to the God experience as it reveals itself. God is not static. No one, no religion, can have a full grasp of God. The Deity manifests to each person uniquely, individually.

Are faith and science compatible? God need not fear science, since God made science. In fact, a mystic can see the hand of God in mathematics, logic and all other sciences. The idea is not to fit everything into one’s fixed concept of God but to be open to experiencing God in all things and in all ways. Otherwise, one gets trapped trying to “defend” God who does not need defending.

Science and faith need not be adversaries; they can remain compatible although they have their own domains with parts that may never intersect. A scientist may explain how the brain as a thinking apparatus works but will be hard put to measure or fully explain consciousness. As the physicist Freeman Dyson put it, “Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but both look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.”

What is lacking on the Anti side of the RH debate is an appreciation of scientific facts. In its effort to protect the faith, it denies science. Even the Pope who has said many times that condoms do not prevent HIV, has partly conceded his position after seeing how AIDS is decimating hundreds of thousands in Africa.

I am not surprised to know that many on the Anti side have relied mainly on the opinions of the CBCP in their defense of this bill. After all, how many really want to read through the entire bill when it is already “understood” and decided upon for them by the Bishops? Also, a lot of people would rather follow “authority” rather than think for themselves on such an important issue. And they reason that it is faith that makes them do that.

While I respect their faith, I find it difficult to accept their denial of facts and their invention of new ones to justify their ideological stand. They continue to insist that the bill promotes abortion but they cannot cite any part of the bill to prove it. In fact, the bill condemns abortion.

If the God whom they invoke in this discussion cannot embrace or accept scientific facts, then that, to me, is a small God. Throughout my life, every time I have encountered a complex situation, my understanding and appreciation of both the situation and of God has grown in complexity. I often feel the presence of a Divine Force who is not constricted by dogma nor pre-judgment of what is good or evil but driven more by compassion to understand and help me find oneness with what is going on.

Lastly, there is the argument on the Anti-RH side that knowledge about reproductive health — which is what the bill calls for — will lead to promiscuity, abortion and a decaying of morals. I find this argument to be quite hysterical, and not well reasoned out. There are many countries where RH services have been available for years and experts do not see runaway statistics on rampaging rapists, violent sex crimes or prostitution because of it. If at all, the availability of knowledge has lowered the abortion rate and maternal deaths.

We must avoid thinking so lowly of humanity. It might help if, instead of focusing on man and Original Sin, we focus more on the Original Blessing (as Reverend Mathew Fox calls it) that God has given to us simply because we were born into the world.

Religious generation gap

Humming in my Universe– Philstar

By Jim Paredes

Last week, the Pro-RH forces in the Lower House put their foot down and stopped the endless, fruitless decades-long debate on the Reproductive Health bill. Under pressure from the Catholic Church, the Anti-RH congressmen have used all sorts of tactics to delay any action on the bill, by citing the absence of a quorum or making endless speeches, hoping that Congress would go on recess before a decision can be made.

While passing the RH bill is a political exercise, it is clear that the on-going debate is not only about Reproductive Health. It has religious significance and repercussions in a country where the Catholic Church holds sway in many important societal and political decisions.

These events got me to thinking about religion and how one gets to embrace one. I remember something I read by M. Scott Peck where he posited that the first qualification for being a Christian is to be sinful. A person without sin is in no need of salvation, and so sin itself must be committed because it will lead one to seek salvation through Jesus Christ.

Thinking along those lines, I thought to myself that perhaps the first consideration in recommitting to or embracing any religion as an adult is that one has to be in crisis. It can be any crisis—financial, physical, emotional, religious, etc. After all, who would be in need of a God, much less think of a God, if one’s life is going great. But when things begin to fall apart and one starts clutching at straws, there is a tendency to look for a power outside the usual places where one normally runs. And there is nothing like being powerless to get a person thinking about God or revisiting religion.

Religion is like one’s parents. You learn your values and attitudes through religion, and it can give great comfort. The guarantee of wisdom and the trusted guidance of one’s parents are a big help to a person in crisis. That is why the cultivated imagery in Christianity is a Father God, a Savior God-Son and an Omnipotent Holy Spirit. And there is Mary, our mother, who protects us, and intercedes for us so that God will grant our prayers. Among the four of them, they have all our basic relationships covered.

And Mother Church, as the keeper of the faith, has assumed the role of a religious parent to the faithful. Which is all well and good, at least in theory.

The trouble is, modern life has become complex and multi-dimensional. People are in need of answers to questions and predicaments no other generation has faced before. And the traditional parent-child relationship that served Catholic generations has become less and less relevant.

The child has grown up in a future-looking, secular modern world while the parent has remained mired in the past, unable to grasp the configuration of modern life, much less its future. In an age of greater freedoms and easy access to social media where everyone is inter-connected, the Church has remained an island, insulated and alienated from a large number of its children.

There is, unfortunately, a major generation gap there. Its children are unwilling to be simply dictated upon and follow blindly. They have become more discerning, critical and questioning of an authority that wishes to rule over everything, including the conduct of their sex lives.

Moreover, in the midst of the scandals it has been embroiled in, including questionable financial transactions and charges of pedophilia and sexual abuse by clerics, the Church is finding it harder and harder to persuade its flock to obey by simply delivering homilies. Like an out-of-touch parent, it has resorted to scare tactics, bullying, and even outright disinformation. That is what we have seen in its behavior with regard to the RH debate.

In social media, where a very lively discussion on the RH bill has been going on for months, it is very clear that people on both sides of the debate are passionate about their positions. There are those who side with the position of the Church, but there are so many more who support the passage of the RH bill. The lines are drawn and the positions have hardened.

A great number of people are quite perplexed and have turned away from the position of the Church which they see as out-of-step with the times, authoritative, dictatorial and outright medieval. They feel let down by the virulent language and the disinformation, finding the CBCP’s behavior to be less than honest and forthright.

And it is partly because of this that on a deeper level, the ‘parent-child’ relationship between the Church and its flock has changed profoundly. The metaphor of Holy Mother Church propagated for centuries seems to be running its course. Clearly a new metaphor is needed. What is shaping up is an adherence to Christianity on a more personal, individualistic basis. Catholics are following the dictates of their consciences over the command of pastoral letters issued by bishops from time to time.

I was introduced to religion at an early age and I was quite devout during certain periods in my life. But as I grew older, I began to lose the taste for much of the trappings that go with its traditions. I began to feel that the Church was assuming to know too much what God wants His followers to do in the world. It delved too much into subjects and areas of modern living it knew little about. I began to see the bishops of the CBCP as rulers of an empire trying to hold on to its fading glory by edict in order to compete with secular power, often failing to consider scientific evidence and rational logic in its discourse with the community.

I know many priests, mostly Jesuits, who continue to inspire and demonstrate compassion, intelligence, love and respect for others amid the debate on RH and other issues. To me, they mirror a Christianity that is closer to the teachings of the Christ I got to know in school. They do not show disdain, judgment or condemnation for people who support the RH bill. Instead, they advise Catholics to follow their own consciences. They are some the few people I still listen to without cynicism when it comes to religious issues.

Earlier, I suggested that a person needs to undergo a crisis before embracing a religion. I also said that religion is like one’s parents. When a person is in crisis, his take on religion is simple: He asks for help. An adult on the verge of a meltdown would have a primal child-like yearning for the love and assurance of his mother or father that he will make it through.

But I also believe that in order to grow up and come into one’s own, one must step out of the sphere of influence of one’s parents’ and find his own truth. I remember telling my Mom once that to me, a parent’s job is to raise children who will ultimately outgrow them and become their own persons. She smiled, because that was precisely how she raised us.

In the same vein, I feel that to get to know God more, I must also travel on uncharted paths outside the paved roads of organized religion. Even without religion God I believe talks to each one of us.

I want a direct experience of God, not one filtered through dogma and other imposed restrictions.

After all, is there any religion that can truly and honestly claim to know God completely?

Those murderous frats

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 05, 2012 12:00 AM

Another one bites the dust.

Drei Marcos, a young man who wanted be a lawyer was murdered last week by the fraternity he wanted to join. Killing, maiming and injury done by fraternities to those who wish to join them have been going on since as far back I can remember. This is not new. But even if it has become a rather common occurrence, each time it happens, we are deeply upset, dumbfounded, angered, asking why something as senseless as this had to happen.

I have been trying to understand and analyze two things: one, why fraternities are attractive to young people, and two, why violence has to be involved in the recruitment process.

Picture a young man who enters a big university. From the high school he has just graduated from, college can seem like the big new world he has dreamed of for sometime. This is where he will take the course that will set him up on a successful career for life.

He ensures his chances for success by seeing to it that there are enough things going in his favor. He needs to take the best classes under the best professors, join the best orgs, and of course, be aligned with the best fraternities which have in their roster powerful power players in society and already successful practitioners in the field he wishes to enter. After all, the frats do foster and develop a culture of camaraderie and brotherhood where members vow to help and protect their brods and help them rise in society.

To be among these elite and be bonded with them by virtue of simply belonging to the same fraternity is something that is desirable and good. Besides, a big group that can help make college life so much easier will really help, especially if you are from the province and studying in Manila for the first time. They know the ins and outs of campus life, and are well-connected in helping you have a social life. What could be wrong with that?

But to join a frat, there is the initiation, which often involves physical violence inflicted by more senior members on the neophyte. The elders pull rank and demand complete obedience from the aspiring member. No doubt, this situation opens everyone to the dynamic of abuse. The higher ups exercise their power over the aspirants, and the common and accepted way to do this is to humble the newbies by inflicting some physical violence.

It is not difficult to see that there is participation mystique or a trance at play here. One guy takes a whack at a neophyte with a paddle and everyone else takes their shot at doing the same thing. There is something primal here and as primal urges go, people often lose all sense of civilized behavior and rational perspective as they get into a frenzy of violence.

One guy hits harder than usual. There is probably some prompting going on to hit harder. There is camaraderie among those inflicting the violence. “What could be wrong? Hey, we all went through it,” must be the common justification playing in their minds, or the little that’s left of it.

Rationality and compassion fly out the window. No one is thinking of the feelings and physical condition of the young man undergoing the hazing. It’s all happening in the spirit of brotherhood.

No one is thinking about the incongruity and utter madness of the situation — that they are bloodying someone in the name of brotherhood and bonding. And never mind that the fraternity members are law students and their meritorious seniors are topnotch lawyers and politicians with prestigious standing in society. And certainly, no one in the room would dare ask how all this violence and maiming will make anyone a better lawyer or leader who will respect the laws that govern the nation.

What is happening there is a shame and a shaming. Each one who takes a whack at the victim was also whacked when he joined. He was humiliated, scorned, cursed, made to do unconscionable things. And now he is passing it on to this neophyte. And when it is all over, they are “brothers,” bonded in shame. Like in Vegas, what happens during initiation stays there. A vow of silence guarantees that.

The practice is so entrenched; it has been going on for years. Many frat men have survived it, but a growing number have met violent deaths at the hands of their so-called “brothers.”

Every time I hear news about a senseless death through frat initiation, I think not only of what the victim went through but also what their parents will be going though for the rest of their lives. How is it that a life one brought into the world, nurtured, fed, educated, cared for, protected and loved for years is snuffed out in so senseless a manner? How can a son be alive and full of idealism and promise one day and be dead the next? What did he do to deserve this? All he wanted was to be a lawyer or whatever it is his ambition was.

And how do the killers, who were born of so-called good families and studied in prestigious schools, live with what they have done for the rest of their lives? How do they justify what happened? How can they live with the awful truth not just as lawyers who vowed to uphold the law and deliver justice but as simple human beings? Will they not get married and have children of their own someday? Would they want this to happen to them?

The stonewalling of the truth in many of these cases goes all the way up to the high echelons of power where many of their brods reside, and who often look out for their beloved fraternal members and protect them from punishment.

Earlier, I tweeted in disgust the question, “What is the difference between murderous fraternities and the Mafia?” I answered my own question with, “Sometimes, the Mafia gets caught.”

The authorities must get to the bottom of this murder and deliver justice. And universities and colleges must clamp down hard on these practices. We must get rid of this culture of shaming and bullying that bonds people in a dynamic no different from the Mafia, gangs and other violent organizations.

You want real bonding? Go build GK houses, do social work, plant a million trees, or test your strength by climbing a mountain where you expend physical power on something socially constructive and physically satisfying. That’s real character building that will certainly improve the practice of law and politics in this country.

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At last, there will be a run of Tapping the Creative Universe, the six-session version. This is the most-cutting edge creativity workshop for adults. Dates are Aug. 13, 15, 17, 20, 22 at 7 to 9 p.m. Venue is at Arts in the City, FVR Park, 7th Ave and Federacion Drive, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Call 399-2311, 880-3028 or e-mail info@artsinthecity.ph for details. http://www.artsinthecity.ph/news-and-events/featured-news/tapping-the-creative-universe.