What Christmas means to me right now

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 25, 2016 – 12:00am

If you have lived long enough, you will know that as you get older, things, people and events can change their meaning, relevance and connection to you.

They assume different values at various stages in your life.You may have believed that a character named Santa was giving you your gifts as a child only to find out later that it wasn’t true.

That’s the way things are. We awaken to new truths all the time.In my own life, Christmas has had many meanings and I have gone through different moods and feelings about it.

Today, I would like to share what Christmas 2016 feels like for me right now.It is certainly not a celebration of materialism.

I have hardly bought gifts. I just don’t feel it is what I need to do right now. Another material acquisition will not save us from the hell we are in at the moment.

While I attended parties, I looked forward to talking to people and sharing stories more than the drinking and the eating. Reaching out and getting to know people more intimately is far more enriching than the usual shared drunkenness and stupor.

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Amid the dreary and dreadful goings-on in the world right now, Christmas to me feels like a happy and safe place. It seems like the only real thing I can believe in. The world is in a mess. There is no doubt about that. If you look through the lens of history, it seems that the world is headed for some big cataclysm and tragedy.

This celebration of an event that occurred more than 2,000 years ago seems to be our only hope to console our tired and weary spirits and re-imagine a different, more humane future.

This year, I have contemplated more on the spiritual aspect of Christmas. Sure, it is great being with family, receiving gifts and being greeted with good cheer wherever I go.

But I have delved into Christmas’ deeper dimensions and mysteries more than at any time in my life. And the things I have realized are quite unfathomable.The birth of Jesus with its attendant narratives and meanings has actually riveted and inspired mankind for two millennia.

It has shaped a big part of civilization as we know it, and yet its fruition or goal has not been achieved. We are far from experiencing the peace on earth that was promised and we have not been sharing enough goodwill to all mankind.

This year, I pondered more than ever the paradoxes of Christmas: how a child born without any means was tasked to save all of mankind.

And that the spirit of Bethlehem is meant to be a continuing force that opens us to more than what the world has to offer, and that, in a sense, it tells us to reject the values the material world lives by. I also realized the profound irony of how much God wanted to be man and how much man has always dreamed of being God.

It is fascinating and mysterious why the infinite wants to experience what it is like to be finite, while the temporal wants a shot at eternity. I went whole hog in anticipation of Christmas this year. I set up the Belen, went to Mass as often as I could, restarted meditating and looked for the guiding star to guide me through this crazy time. I fought cynicism and hopelessness and I embraced the promise of peace and love.

I know there will always be suffering in the world. But it is our choice if we want a meaningful suffering that liberates, or a senseless, needless one that leaves us bitter and cold.

In the days heading to Christmas, I purposely went out of my way to do good as I saw it, and even gave up a few things to help others. To me it was less of “suffering” and more of a preparation for a greater experience of the spiritual implications of Christ’s birth.

Now, how could someone like me who has actually been ranting against Christmas for the past several years suddenly become such a big fan? Simple. I went back to basics.

I remembered how a classmate, during a discussion about religion, told me that when things got too complicated, he often went back to the catechism he learned in prep school.

He applies these lessons in his life with the same innocence with which he understood them then. From my family to yours, may you have a Merry Christmas.

My Christmas wish list

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 18, 2016

When my kids were young, they made their Christmas wish lists hoping that Lydia and I, their ninongs and ninangs, uncles and aunts and everyone who gave them presents would get them what they wished for. It is so simple and joyful to be a kid at Christmas.

As a child, I never made a wish list because when I was growing up, we were not rich enough to get what we truly wished for. In a middle class family of 10 siblings, everything is planned, rationed and apportioned. We were thankful for anything we got.

Even if I never made a Christmas wish list, more than ever, I want to make this Christmas wish list now. I will not ask for small items such as gadgets, clothes, shoes and other material things. I don’t need anything for myself. My wish list is actually not only for myself, but for the world and all of humanity.

I am addressing this to God and to every human being. We are co-creators every moment that we are alive on this earth. It’s time we act more lovingly towards each other and the world. Here goes:

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1) I wish for peace and solace for the people of Aleppo and all other places where war is being waged. What has been going on there is hell on earth, or as a UN representative described it, “a meltdown of humanity.” Both the perpetrators and victims of wars have lost a big portion of their humanity. May God restore their spirit to live their lives in peace, abundance and dignity.

2) I wish we would stop spreading lies and falsehood. It does not serve anyone when we post made-up articles on social media to support or defend our opinions. I wish we could all be heralds of the truth.

3) I wish for us to awaken our consciences and innate goodness, to be able to determine right and wrong. Very often, we ignore our conscience to protect our egos and the choices we made. It is time to ask ourselves: Did we believe in extrajudicial killings, cruelty, cursing, demeaning women, lying and violence before we cast our votes in the May election? Can we admit that we made a mistake? Or have we chosen to ignore the inner voice that tells us when something has gone very wrong? We need to stop denying what our conscience tells us.

4) I wish for us to have courage and face our fears. We cannot retreat into our cocoons and ignore the evil forces that are shaping our world according to their own twisted ends. We cannot be complacent. We need to be committed and steadfast in fighting for what we think is true and right for our nation and the world. We must take the lead in protecting our world and not leave it to those who would, in their lust for power and greed, destroy what is good in it.

5) I wish for us to have the will and the stamina to address the environmental concerns plaguing the world. Scientists say that the earth will deteriorate drastically in the next 20 years. The seas will definitely rise a few meters and this will be disastrous to humankind. We are already seeing the weather patterns changing, to the detriment of masses of humanity. We had three Category 5 storms in the vicinity of our country this year. It is time to end our non-sustainable way of living. We must reawaken our respect for nature which we have set aside in our quest for material progress.

6) Lastly, I wish for everyone the peace that comes with humility, discernment, acceptance, hope, and the resolve to bring our world towards a higher evolutionary direction. It is my wish that we can inspire one another to transform ourselves so that we can transform the world.

Some people may find me too optimistic, a resident of La La Land, a certified Pollyanna. I know real change is difficult, but it must be pursued. We either succumb to inertia and fall backwards or push against it. During defining moments in history, it was the dreamers and doers who insisted on the direction where humanity must go. And most of the time, they were right.

The first Christmas happened at a time when the world was fraught with danger. Children were being killed en masse by an earthly king who feared the birth of the messiah whom the people awaited.

Christmas is a time to wish, to hope and work for a newer, kinder world to be born. Mankind has been celebrating Christmas for over 2,000 years. It’s time we took its message seriously.

Let Christmas reign

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 11, 2016 – 12:00am

I looked back at the articles I have written about Christmas the past few years and I was quite appalled to find that I have mostly complained about the inconvenience of the season, pointing out the endless traffic, non-stop parties, social pressures, the big expenses, the crass materialism and commercialism that we go through to celebrate it.

I sounded like the Grinch ranting against Christmas.

This year, I vow to be more positive. I will embrace Christmas and savor it in the best way possible. Why? Because I feel it is the only way to survive and remain sane at this moment in our country’s march into a very uncertain future. In these times where every day seems to usher in a new crisis in our country, where people are truly worried about where our society is headed and what the future will bring, it is hard to feel the cheer and joy that usually accompanies the happiest of seasons. There is, in the air, a sense of an impending dictatorship. All this talk about martial law or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus has raised the anxiety levels of many Filipinos. The Marcos burial has unleashed much anger and indignation.

Fear stalks the streets of many poor communities where extrajudicial killings happen daily, resulting in close to 6,000 people dead in less than six months. As we put up our Christmas lights, we have a Congress rushing through a death penalty law, and a Supreme Court deliberating on the petitions of people charged with plunder asking to be freed. Somehow, it is difficult to imagine Santa wanting to come here since he may not be safe, and may even be unwelcome.

But thank God, Christmas cannot be moved or canceled for another better time. The world does not and will not stop turning. In fact, Christmas may be all we need to make the holidays a better time for everyone.

So I am going whole hog for Christmas this year. Bring in the decor, the tree, the dancing lights, the mistletoe, the tinsel and Christmas balls, the boughs of holly. Hang them up high to light up our spirits. Bring in the carolers. Play all the Christmas carols that bring back the wonder and joy of Christmas when we were young and carefree.

Most importantly, bring out the Belen. Prepare that special place in the house where Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Three Kings, the angels, and the animals are assembled around the manger. A homily I heard two Sundays ago urged the flock to go deeper into the meaning of Christmas. Don’t just go gaga over the happy Yuletide season. More importantly, bring back the “Christ” in Christmas. Bring back that hope that has been so difficult to sustain, much less to find, most of the year. This season, let hope reign. Go back to that seminal moment in the manger when God gave us the greatest paradox of all time — that the Savior of mankind would not be coming from the ranks of the mighty and powerful but from the poor and powerless.

Let the goodness inherent in all of us dominate the fearful social, political, emotional and psychological spaces we are dwelling in right now. Let the light dispel the fears and doubts, the negativity and gloom, and break the spell of evil that has blanketed our country. In the thick of the darkness that has enveloped our country and the world, let the shimmering stars of hope break through in full force.

Let Christmas reign!

This is why I love teaching

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 4, 2016 – 12:00am

It was the last day of my “Special Topics in Performance and Practice” class this semester. One of my requirements was that students had to do a performance before the semester ended.

I told them what I wanted, and that was to take me to a place where I had never been before and show me who they really are, what they are passionate about, and reveal a side of themselves I had not seen in class.

This assignment is usually very challenging. That’s because the students have to offer something of themselves. They are not intellectualizing the lessons we learned in class but actually experiencing them. It is all about authenticity and presentation.

It requires the student to, first, show up; second, do it; and third, come from his/her own truth. These are three of the five rules of the creativity topic we tackle in class. But since it is also a performance, they must present themselves to the class, hopefully with surprise and delight!

One student presented her passion for making brownies by sharing the recipe through rap. Another danced ballet to rock music. There were the shy ones whom I never expected to be energetic and creative dancers taking over the stage. Some recited poetry, acted out scenes from plays, sang songs from musicals. Let me say they were all delivered quite impressively.

Some performances were touching in their boldness and honesty. One student sang about his “coming out,” starting the song wearing men’s clothes and by the time the performance ended, he was in a dress and heels. The class broke into applause.

One quiet student did Tai chi and martial arts with great precision. His movements were fluid. We were totally enthralled. A girl shared her success in designing and making bags. Another one shared her creative campaigns in the field of advertising. There wasn’t a performance that left me bored.

After all the honest sharing through their performances, I could sense a feeling of well-being and joy in the room. I sensed that my students felt not just relief but also proud accomplishment. They in turn asked me to perform. I gamely sang a song no one knows about that I wrote years ago. Its melody was too high to sing in the morning without vocalizing. But I did not care. It was an exercise in authenticity.

After I said my goodbyes and posed with everyone for a class picture, I asked all my students to gather in a group hug. I told them how much I appreciated their efforts at coping with this crazy subject they signed up for, and hoped that they learned something in class they could keep and use in their future. I also thanked them for the lessons I learned from them and wished them the very best in life.

Since I started teaching this class, it has evolved a lot. I have learned many things from my students’ feedback as I strive to be a better teacher. Every now and then, I hear from or run into some of them. I have written recommendations for employment. One student invited me to her wedding. Some keep in touch through social media. I continue to bump into those who are in media, especially during rallies, or when I guest on television.

I get a great sense of fulfillment when I see them years later, especially when they bring up the classes they took under me. I am happy to learn that they took a lot of the lessons to heart, and to see them succeeding not only in their careers but also in being good human beings.

This is why I love teaching!