Sunday, October 3, 2010

Things to Die For

I haven't posted on my blog for a long time, like I often do. But I am drawn to write once more, and this is a good thing as any to resume writing. Today is a Sunday and the second in a series by my church (CCF) on the Book of Galatians. It felt easy enough to understand and some points struck me as quite pertinent in my life, especially at this juncture. Because of this I felt I should write a quick version of the lessons and thoughts that I had today.

Preached today by Pastor Peter Tan-Chi Sr., we studied the second chapter in Galatians.

The first five verses show something about tradition, and those who hold to them too much, that they may impede the gospel. To a person like me who sees traditions held by cultural momentum all too often, this particular idea was rather amusing. Certainly traditions are valuable and a great many have practical sense. But we should be careful that they do not get in the way or mire down the core aspects of the Gospel.

We were reminded of some equations to think about, one that Ptr. Peter is fond of using when speaking about Faith and Salvation.

1. Faith in Jesus + 0 = Salvation
2. Faith in Jesus + Good Works = Salvation
3. Faith in Jesus + 0 = Salvation (which leads to -> Good Works)

We are told that by Faith ALONE because of Grace, one is saved (Ephesians 2:8-9) and this so no man may boast of his salvation.

The next part (Gal 2:6-8) speaks further and establishes that regardless of station, ergo those men who are of 'importance', makes no difference. In the eyes of God, all men are equal. This goes on however, to establish that although all men are equal in matters of salvation, sin, and the like - God reaches out to all of us differently. We are all different individuals and thus respond to God's Word in different ways.

This is illustrated by the fact that even in the early days, different apostles spoke to different groups: Peter for the Jews, Paul for the Gentiles. This is important to know - and is practiced by our Church, as an example. Different ministries reaching out to different people. An example given - you don't invite a Makati businessman to a bible study group in Tondo. This is not to say that one is better than the other, but as human beings we all have different levels of comfort and ease - certainly, we do not want to scare people while sharing the Gospel!

"Target Evangelism" therefore, is a valid and useful method of sharing. JZone for High Schoolers, Singles Ministry for young adults after college, Backstreet Kids ministry, the Host ministry, the Song Ministry, Sports Ministry - and other examples I cannot recall were given.

We are also shown that the early church had multiple 'pillars' or leaders - showing the importance of having a type of leadership where there is a team-style. It was at this point I think, where we were reminded of the importance of having peers to help keep us accountable to God. Leaders of the Church, like everyone else, are human and can be just as prone to failing as anyone else.

In fact it shows in Galatians 2:11-13, that the apostle Peter actually committed mistakes. It shows that due to 'peer pressure' from traditionalist Jews, Peter gradually withdrew his presence from Gentile gatherings, until even others were affected and similarly, stopped sharing and mingling with the 'Gentiles'. Paul acted here and reprimanded Peter for his mistake.

Ptr. Peter also points out a very real example - that in our culture of 'pakisama', we often are pulled in to 'go along' for the sake of friendship. This is a weakness in our culture, and like the Apostle Paul did for the Apostle Peter, we should have the courage to point out the Truth. It is of great importance that in issues of 'truth', we must have the courage to correct others.

"Pakisama" shouldn't be treated in the way we often do. When a person is wrong, a person is wrong. Indeed, we should be glad when people correct us. We shouldn't divert the issues and avoid them. Humility is something we should all remember. As friends and brothers/sisters in Christ, we should show our love not by abiding by another's mistakes, by acting in love to correct them.

Peter, was a long-standing pillar of the Church, one of the original disciples of Jesus himself, and here he was being corrected by a 'new' apostle. Many people nowadays might respond with something like - 'Sino ka ba? Hindi mo ba akong kilala?' or sentiments to the like. Instead, Peter listens to Paul's words.

In Gal. 2:14, the apostle Paul reminded Peter that we are saved by GRACE alone - not by traditions or habits, which should flow FROM our Salvation, but are not the cause OF it. Our lives must reflect this Grace through and through - the good news of the Gospel.

Gal. 2:15-16 speaks of being 'justified' - and we are told that in the Greek translation the word used was 'dekaios' which is a legal term that means "Not Guilty". It means that a person is completely absolved, as if no criminal action had ever occurred or was committed. It is a complete and total forgiveness.

"We put our faith in Christ," it says here, as the truth of our justification, not in the mere observance of the 'Law'. The Law being referenced here is the Law of Moses or the 10 Commandments. This does not mean that observance of the Commandments is useless - but that just following this does not entail salvation.

The succeeding verses (Gal 2:17-21) points out other important things. First is that
it points out that true salvation and true faith is the kind that effects change within us. But nonetheless, this does not mean we shall not ever sin again - it does mean however, that there is a real change in our hearts.

Indeed, it warns against hypocrisy - 'If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.' This is because what is 'destroyed' is one's old life of sin, when one accepts Christ.

"No Longer I, but Christ" is the central point of the succeeding verses. Ptr. Peter reminds us that we should not view the Christian life as boring duties, but as a joy. If we should see these things as onerous, then it is important to reexamine ourselves and more closely know the Gospel.

We are also reminded that a Christian, as a person who has Christ in one's self should remember to never ever sell one's self short! We have been saved by Grace and God's Love, and we are special in the eyes of our Lord. We should therefore always strive for excellence and not fear it or shy away from it.

Ptr. Peter ended the day's sermon with a simple story illustrating an example of Grace, which I paraphrased below:

A professor in a university wanted to show his students the concept of Grace in a way that they would appreciate and understand. So for the next few weeks, he dedicated a great effort into reviewing them in classes, showing them where in the books they could find the answers to questions that would come up in their test, and other things one could expect

On the day of the exam the professor gave them their test papers one at a time and told them not to turn it over so they could start together. Carefully he distributed each paper to each student - then once that was done, told them to turn the exam sheets over.

On each paper was their name as well as the answers to each of the questions, with the last part of the test stating simply that each answer was correct - and each of them would get an A for that test.

To each student he walked up and asked, "Do you know what grade you got on this exam?" to which they would reply, "An A." He would follow up that question with, "Did you work for or deserve this A?" He knew well that they all had reviewed and studied for the exam - he had done the reviews with them after all. But no one could really say that the A they were being given was one they had gotten for by their own work.

It was an example of 'Grace', given to them by their professor.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Integrity in Elections

Oftentimes we critique the politicians for being corrupt, for having no integrity, for cheating their way to win and stealing money. This is bread-and-butter criticism for Philippine politics.

But every few years we get the chance to do something about it. We get the chance to participate in our elections and choose leaders. Some of us exercise our rights to do this - all well and good. Others don't. But beyond just voting, there are many who are even more involved in the electoral system.

These are the people who sit there, tally the votes, service the machines, who work with the government, Comelec or the many organizations who do the actual, ground-level work of putting the votes together or monitoring it. These people have their opinions and votes as well, many of them passionate about their choices and opinions regarding their candidates.

It occurred to me then, as I listen to various rumors, reports, comments from the radio, over text, the TV, the internet and other mediums - news of threats, strong-arm tactics, intimidation, sabotage, cheating and so many other things, that these very people who are on the field and going about are responsible for such operations.

You can always point upwards and say, 'So and so is corrupt' and blame a particular figure. But what if you're the actual man or woman on the spot, if you're right there at ground-zero - able to influence a move, an action, or operation to do things which ruin the votes of people who have happened to vote AGAINST your candidate?

Would you cheat, sabotage, or otherwise compromise and interfere with the votes of other people to make your own candidate win?

This is the question that I wonder about - and I fear that some people might not even ask themselves when they happen to be part of the system.

Or even worse, that they're aware that what they're doing is against the law - both that of the land and of ethical/moral law, and they persist in it. These are people who knowingly support a person who is of inadequate competence and character, and act in a way to prop him or her up with underhanded means.

We cannot only blame those up in power - because the corrupt only can attain their position because of the actions of the machinery that supports and allows them to attain such a position.

The question of integrity falls not to just our leaders, who in a time like our elections are forced to respect the numbers coming from the polls, but to all of us who are down there, casting our votes and those who should make sure that our votes are tallied properly, fairly and honestly.

God help the Philippines. We need it, each and every citizen.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Pro-Active Citizentry

Today is May 10, 2010, and it is the first time I have voted.

I felt a bit strange going there, dressed up with a shirt saying (in Bisaya/Cebuano) 'My Vote is Sacred, Don't Buy Me.' but as my family was all in such an attire I went along with it.

The whole election thing felt rather distant until recently, and even today I felt a certain disconnect between myself and the whole political system. But as I sat down and started marking my candidates on that sheet I couldn't help but feel a faint nervous energy running through me.

I was thinking, 'This is it. I'm actually voting. I'm actually a part of the process that could help determine where our country, from the nation as a whole down to our baranggays, could be directed for the next few years." It was a realization that made me feel a little bit empowered. It felt good.

Then other thoughts intruded - I also realized that amidst all this, there were so many factors at play to cheat or twist the system. It angered me somewhat, deep inside, that this sort of thing was happening. All these sort of actions undermined basic human respect for other people and subverted the ideas of freedom and free will.

I could only pray that the people of this country, its citizens, could vote - regardless of whom they voted for, that they were able to exercise their legal, God-given right. We may not have a system that works too well, but at the end of the day we have done our part.

To those who refused to vote, I can only say this, "If we don't love this country, who else will?"

"John Gaisano III, Cluster 58, #47, PN-0228A."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Comfort Zones

Comfort Zones - everyone has them. Circles of activity that they do not normally venture out of, norms and habits that they often return to. The reasons for why a person's comfort zones I'm fairly sure differ depending on their life experiences and the multifarious things that build anyone's perceptions, thoughts, beliefs and whatnot.

As far as I'm concerned, my own comfort zones are lined by a mixture of sloth and pride. Pride, for the fear of being ridiculed in what I might attempt to do. And sloth, because I also know that to be good at anything, one must devote a certain level of time and effort into sharping the necessary skills for a particular activity. There are no born geniuses who are good at things out of the blue. All masters or even just adepts, attain their level of ability through a mixture of both talent and effort.

I am always uncertain what my talents actually are. And I know that I do not exert enough effort to sharpen my mind and body properly for many things, something which I both have a growing distaste and unease of spirit at. If I want to be at least half-decent at something, I need to exert a definite amount of effort and practice at it, no matter what activity this may be.

I hate it when the day goes by that I don't feel productive in some sense. And yet my sloth, my laziness, lets time flow through like sand. Too late do I rouse myself and simply feel disgust or annoyance at myself for letting a day go through without doing something that I should do, or could do. It eats at my heart, that part of me within that knows that this inactivity is of itself wrong because of the sheer waste and lack of meaning.

A few days ago I promised myself to be 'awesome', to use the word that many internet geeks so love to use. It is hard work to remind one's self to do things, to motivate one's self, with all the distractions that exist so easily around a person in this day and age. But that is the kind of person I need to force myself to become, to develop the habit and spirit of being forward moving, progressive, productive. Ever learning, ever doing, acting with purpose and meaning.

God help me, because I know alone this is well-nigh impossible to do. I will need reminders not only from myself, though I am the ultimate arbiter of my own fate and will, but from those around and close to me, because people learn and find strength from those who they chose to place close to their minds, hearts and souls. These variables are what I do pray for God's intervention in.

Strength and perseverance, discipline and humility.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

[Scion] Scrolls of Remembrance

Scion is a game of myth, a world of epic stories hidden beneath the veil of legend and set in the modern world. The name of my Scion series is titled, "Blood of Heroes" and originally consisted of four players, which grew to include 1 more. The sixth player will be joining in the second story arc. They are as follows:

[Original 4]

Toshi Oda - Scion of Hachiman (Louie de Guzman)
Nathan Suvari - Scion of Poseidon (Pepper Laforteza)
Rion Raios - Scion of Athena (Rob Ramos)
Bjorn Fuschild - Scion of Heimdall (Jacky Chan)

[New Blood]
Adolf -Scion of Loki (Monico)
Lightning Park - Scion of Tsuki-Yomi (John Benares)

The first Story Arc was divided into 3 Major Acts, loosely based on the canon Arc, 'Long Road to Heaven'. The 3 Major Acts, in summary, are as follows:

Act 1 - The Golden City

The Scions are brought by their respective parents to San Francisco, where an inter-pantheonic meeting to discuss matters of godly importance is taking place. The Scions are tasked to ensure that the city is free of Titanic presences. In the process of getting to know each other, the band stumbles on a cultist group hiding within the troupe, 'Artistes Titania', and tracks them to their ritual site beneath Alcatraz.

A clash between the heroes and the cultists ensues, aided by two shinobi guards. The Scions eventually win and destroy the cultist group, leaving the dark rite unfulfilled. The sacrificial victim, they soon discover, is a Scion of Loki who infiltrated the cult to attempt to expose them. They report this to their parents.

Act 2 - Birds by the Sea

The meetings continue, and the Scions are tasked to conduct various 'housekeeping' activities to ensure the smooth flow of godly business in San Francisco. Accompanied by their new companion, the Scions go about the cities to address the various minor tasks set upon them by their parents.

Hachiman tasks Toshi Oda to 'assist' one of their immigrant allies, while Nate Suvari is told by Poseidon to speak with a nereid who was tending a Shrine to his wife Amphitrite. Rion Raios is directed by Athena to oversee the transport of some gifts from the Russian Pantheon.

Eventually they discover a variety of connections between each task and resolve the problems of both the Tengu immigrant and Nereid Shrine-keeper in turn, finally tracking down the missing 'Faberge Eggs' to a warehouse guarded by wolfmen grunts. Adolf manages to swipe one of the eggs without being caught and with no one the wiser, sends it off to his parent, Loki.

Act 3 - Snakes on a Train (1 & 2)

The gods discover a 'twist' in the weaves of Fate and send their Scions north-east to investigate the region - which falls right on top of the Six Flags themepark and the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa. The band proceeds to conduct their investigation under various covers: Bjorn accompanies his company's business team for a security contract bidding at Six Flags, while Nate joins a PR/Investment pitch for a new theme park based of eco-friendly ideas. The others arrive as tourists or people on 'vacation' leave.

Their investigations soon discover recurring symbols and items pointing towards snakes. Although some hitches occur, with an accidental triggering of the hotel's fire alarms and systems included, they do dig up some initial leads - blood jars in the newly established Grotto of Gaia Church-extension and some metallic scale in the Medusa ride under repair.

In a short time they attempt to procure more evidence to support their theories - Toshi and Adolf infiltrate Six Flags to find more clues in the broken-down ride, the "Medusa", while Nate attempts to trick Lady Elizabeth Kyle, whom he met during the PR event, into divulging any information. Although the group as a whole confirms there is something strange about the Medusa, they are unable to find anything else. Nate becomes suspicious however that Elizabeth is more than she seems.

Later in the evening the band attempts to investigate the Grotto, which is closed for various private ceremonies. The band discovers a group of cultists worshipping a snake-being. The band makes plans to divide the group and take down the leader. However, things go slightly awry. Although Nate is able to distract and lead away the bulk of the cultists, Rion and Toshi run into the remaining fanatics, which slows them down enough for the leader to escape.

Adolf manages to bug the car that the leader is riding, and shortly after hotwires a Viper in the parking lot to allow them to chase him down - back towards Six Flags. A car chase ensues, ending up with them smashing into Six Flags. A combination of Rion's driving and Toshi's archery skill manages to force the cult leader into a crash into the underbelly of the Medusa superstructure.
Adolf's hacking equipment buys them a few minutes, making the guards investigate different sections of the park rather than the Medusa.

A massive snake erupts from the ground, devouring the cult leader and the vase of blood with him. The Scions fight back and attempt to bring the metal snake down, barely managing to keep it at bay. Nate soon arrives after throwing off the rest of the cultists, bringing Elizabeth with him in a gamble to confront her with supernatural scenery and expose her. His arrival into the battle and his delivery of shinobi shuriken to Toshi give them the edge they need to finally injure the snake-beast.

The group finally brings the snake down, which Rion identifies as Canopus. Its skin, gleaming with archaic greek text, is skinned from it in haste. Nate quickly moves out to distract the security guards, leaving the rest of his band to clean up the mess. Elizabeth, who had hid from the conflict, tells the rest of the band to leave quickly and promises them that she would be able to handle the rest of the clean-up.

The band reports their success on the mission to their parents, who congratulate their children, but tell them not to bother them for the next few days as they are reaching a critical stage in certain negotiations. On the trip back to San Francisco, while digging out the shuriken, Toshi discovers a familiar looking egg in snake's brain...

[Scion] Opening the Gates of Legend

Just the other night we finished the last major scene (maybe) of the Scion Story Arc - "Golden Gate of Destiny", which is my first actual GM/Storyteller-run game. It's a minor accomplishment for me, and I am quite pleased to know that my players enjoyed their time playing under me over the past month and a half.

From their initial meetings and antics with propane tanks to an epic battle with a roller-coaster sized snake, I've seen how my players and their characters moved and acted, running the gamut from frustrations and botches to sheer moments of epic awesome.

The experience has allowed me to polish how I run my games and ways to maximize everyone's screen time while keeping the pace flowing. I'm sure this is a long road to go - but I'll pick up things and learn as we continue. I hope to see my friends play their characters to their ultimate fruition, but that's a journey that'll last quite a long time into the future.

Here's to hoping that Fate allows me to continue watching and guiding their journey, and that the fires of imbas continues to burn brightly within me as I do so.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lifetimes of Purpose

Coming back from watching "How to Train a Dragon", which is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, I was reflecting on the simple and warm feelings a good, well-made movie can do. Prior to watching this I was in a downswing of emotions and moods, trying to keep it together, when the idea of catching a nice pick-up flick caught my mind thanks to way the online oceans tend to carry ideas around.

The positive mood that I was blessed with, largely thanks to the movie, made me feel like this was a sign to continue pursuing and developing my creative side. As I often do, I quickly associated this with some rough number crunching. While most people wouldn't associate creativity and enjoyment with numbers, this sort of calculation is really very simple and something I'm sure many may have stumbled upon.

Let us take for example this very movie, "How to Train a Dragon". It is around 1.5-2 hours long of enjoyment, amusement, happiness or whatever positive emotion you wish to ascribe to watching it. Let us say then that at least a hundred thousand people, around the world, have so enjoyed the movie. This is around 200,000 hours worth of enjoyment, albeit distributed amongst many different persons. But 200,000 hours of life spent is roughly the equivalent of 22 years of any single person's life.

Now take any book or any other piece of literature in any form of media, which often takes more time to finish than a movie, and relate it to the simple calculation above. This is certainly a simplistic view of things, but nonetheless it has some semblance of truth to it.

While I have responsibilities and duties that have been thrust upon me, I do not ever wish to give up this thing that I believe God has gifted to me - this meager talent or at least, desire, for writing and what other creative skills I have. I believe that someday, after I have done what 'duties' have been asked of me, I will be able to produce work that will salve the souls of others, or at least for some moments give them enjoyment, happiness or food for thought.

And when I am at that point, I hope to remember that perhaps for ever little book or piece I might produce - it just may be the equivalent of one person's lifetime worth of happiness.