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.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Flashes of Inspiration

It's amazing how, when doing something totally unrelated, a series of thoughts suddenly brings you to a vision or realization. This could be a concept an epiphany or anything. But tonight, for me, it was a flash of artistic inspiration.

People leading to action, leading to setting, leading to the sudden coalescing of imagery into a scope that takes my breath away. Colors and hues, shapes, and the wonder of a beautiful scape suddenly fixes itself in my mind's eye. Then it shifts, alive, and presents to me the passage of time and the change of things. Another view, another image comes to me, like a smuggler secretly coming ashore.

It is the beauty of brightness and remembrance of ancient glories, discovered by the presence of two people, each innocent yet sensual in their presence. And in the other, a cool, calm scenery with the presence of humanity yet its absence, hinting at activity that lies just beyond the frozen picture.

I am saddened that I cannot do justice to what springs forth. But I do what I can, and affix these poor scribblings into words and penciled scratches, hoping that someday in the future I shall be able to learn better how to bring such vistas alive. They shall be given depth, color and true shape as befits what is hidden beneath such rough shadings. Someday, they shall be completed.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


All of a sudden, I'm worn out. The energy I've been running along the past few weeks has finally petered out and I've gotten stuck trying to think of where to draw strength again. I look inwards and remember God, and I grasp desperately onto that hand. It suffices and I know it'll prevent me from totally bottoming out in terms of emotional, mental and spiritual fuel, but nonetheless there's a sense of lack.

It isn't that I find a lack in the Lord or anything, as I know that beyond all comprehension, I do feel a sense of reassurance in remembering what He is and stands for. But it is still difficult to rouse myself to do the day to day things I should be doing. I have the ultimate 'power core', that which will bring me to the final and ultimate end that I desire. But again, I feel like I need a bit of the 'mundane' stuff also to help me get through the steps I need to survive and flourish in this Earth that I've been born into.

Maybe I just needed a breather.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What Lies Ahead?

As the school year draws to an end, my last few subjects and their final presentation looming before me as my last major hurdle to graduation, I wonder what lies beyond in life for me. It is a daunting thing to know that I'll soon be taking part in the family business and learning the ropes on how to handle it.

Often times I think I won't be a good boss, that I'll be the doom of the corporation and that I'll cause dozens, if not hundreds, of people to lose their jobs or something. I have to remind myself when this idea looms that dozens of others my own age have done what I'm about to do or have done more. This trial before me is something that is meant to be.

But that aside, in these last few weeks as a 'proper student' in the last few steps of my life in the academe I've begun swinging from despondency to inspiration, almost as fast as a coin flip.

It's been rather difficult for me to focus myself and settle down, to just put myself to work and get used to developing a certain degree of self-discipline beyond the level that school demands of you. Things like entrepreneurial spirit and opportunism in the business aspect are things I need to get myself to internalize. But nonetheless these are also part of things that shadow my thoughts, things I need to learn.

Changes, changes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hiking - Mt. Maculot

On February 6th, I went on a hike to Mt. Maculot, which is found in Cuenca, Batangas. Although I was required to go through the hike, being a school activity, I had nonetheless looked forward to doing it because of my recent lack in physical activity. I figured a day-long hike would be a workout my body could use and an experience I'd be able to appreciate.

An early morning (4am) and a quick ride to the meet-up point at Ortigas, then we were off on a 1.5-hour trip to Batangas. I'd heard that the last trip with the boys had been a sardine fest, but that we'd gotten 2 buses this time to prevent that. Unfortunately one of the buses broke down 2/3rds of the way there, so we still ended up being crammed up for awhile, but I didn't mind it that much.

When we got off from the bus, we took a 15 minute walk into the baranggay to sign up at some checkpoint, probably 1-2km away from the main road. This would be where we'd gradually transition from the paved roads of the baranggay proper to broken, old cement roads and finally to well-trodden dirt paths that led up the mountain. The initial leg went by pretty quickly, and I barely even noticed that we'd gone through the dirt-road sections when we got to the narrow trail that was the beginning of the actual hike proper.

It was amusing at first, being concerned of slipping off the side of the mountain since the trail was around 3 feet wide at the most and past the trodden dirt path to one side, the grass only extended about another 1.5 foot or so before dropping steeply down. Minor complications included goats covered in seeds and burrs, which freaked out some of the other guys, much to my amusement.

The trail moved past some interesting spots, such as a dry 'waterfall' area, and a series of stop sites where locals sold halo-halo and buko juice to hikers. The trail gradually grew narrower and steeper as we went along, and I began to take more breaks the closer we got to the top. By the time we were going along the last section of the trail which was probably under 20m from the camping summit, I was so worn out and exhausted that at some points I'd just seat myself on large rocks that were on the trait itself.

I realized that I really shouldn't have slacked off on doing exercise, especially running and swimming, because at this point the double whammy of slightly thinner air and being out of shape had kicked me hard. I wasn't quite blacking out, but I was definitely feeling the pounding tightness in my head and the exhaustion to the point of nearly puking. I'd down some mouthfuls of water to help keep myself hydrated, and made sure that I'd keep it nice and down.

The minutes dragged on as I lurched up the last parts of the trail to the top, going in short bursts of a few meters, then resting. Each time I closed my eyes to rest, I'd tell myself that this was a unique experience that I was meant to go through and overcome. When I finally hit the summit I was so tired that I just plopped myself down on the ground right at the front of the camp area. It took me at least a full 5-min, focused breather before I could bring myself to join the rest of my group. Within a few more minutes though, I was up and walking, and taking a good look at the view around.

Lunch I have to say, was both amusing and delicious. The cheap siomai and shark's fin in a semi-fail steaming attempt was pretty good.

After lunch was over, me and the others were directed to head off towards the second area. Our coach and most of the team made our way towards the other summit and took a look at the path which allowed us to climb to the other peak. It would take a short but steep descent to a meter wide trail which dropped off way down on each side, then another steep climb up that was almost vertical at some points. I figured that it would be a total waste not to head up to the 2nd peak, even if the path looked daunting, and off we went.

The view from the second peak was just amazing and the cool, brisk wind that swept constantly over it was enervating and refreshing.

The trek down was a lot easier than up, although prone to more scrapes and bruises since the main difficulty was controlling one's descent. I suffered quite a few scratches as I'd latch onto stones and branches to prevent myself from careening headlong down the mountainside. At one point I recalled having to grab onto a tree trunk, resulting in some rather painful but superficial scrapes along my arms. I found it funny that my feet were a bit shaky and trembling towards the later parts, probably due to sheer tiredness.

A lot of my classmates were pretty much trying to go down as fast as they could, as if they couldn't wait to get off the mountain and go home. I didn't blame them, as I wanted to get home to shower and rest myself as well. It was only during the trip back that I noticed the length of the broken-cemented road we'd traveled earlier.

We left the hiking site at around 4pm, this time with a 2nd and fully operational bus with us. Stretching out and crashing to sleep, I was pretty much fading in and out of sleep on the trip back. We arrived back at Manila at around close to 7pm.

Hiking to me is definitely one of the most exhausting things I've done, but I can't deny that even if it does put me out of commission for up to 2-3 days after, they're generally experiences that I hardly can forget.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Scriptoria Magnificat I - Warhammer 40,000

Warhammer 40,000 (also known as Warhammer 40K), is a science-fiction setting set in the distant future. It is a dark time of war and conflict, of xenophobia, heresies and many foes who would extinguish the light of humanity in the galaxy. Originally a table-top strategy game, the lore behind this game has become more and more popular over the years, developing into full-blown novels and sci-fi series in their own right.

A variety of authors have come to the table to write for the Black Library, who publishes WH40K literature, bringing different takes to the varied forces that exist in the universe of WH40K. Each writer holds a certain style of writing and level of skill. Given that they are both bound and enriched by a collectively created yet specific 'canon', one cannot expect things to go far beyond certain limits, they show clear differences in level of skill and talent.

As a fan of these books and with a slowly growing collection that now numbers over twenty individual novels, with omnibuses counting for the separate novels that compose of them, I have taken it upon myself to make a brief review of what lie within my humble library.

My scoring system is as follows:
1/5 - Poorly written, do not buy this. Read at own risk.
2/5 - Average writing, could avoid buying this. Suggested for niche fans-only or collectors of story-universe.
3/5 - Good writing, generally genre-friendly or if fans of the story universe in general.
4/5 - Great writing, can be recommended to readers who occasionally peruse the genre.
5/5 - Excellent writing, can be recommended to most readers, genre-crossing.

Dawn of War (Omnibus, by C.S. Goto) - 2/5

The Dawn of War Omnibus is based off the popular video game. That said, its delivery and adaptation of the video game's story and campaign leaves much to be desired. It is not particularly endearing, as its plot follows the game's campaign almost verbatim. It is my opinion that using the game primarily as a skeleton would've worked better, if the writer had devoted more effort into using 'off-camera' scenes and character development beyond the confines of what was shown in the game. Not a book for those who aren't fans of the genre or game itself.

The Grey Knights (Omnibus, by Ben Counter) - 3/5

The Grey Knights Omnibus is a fine example of action and struggle in the WH40k Universe. It chronicles the efforts of the Grey Knights, a specialized organization dedicated to fighting the daemons of the Warp. While not particularly groundbreaking or anything, the pieces are solid, and fairly well-written. In particular they show some of the inner workings of the Grey Knights and how they operate, as well as the scope of their responsibility. It is a look into the eons-old war of the Grey Knights and the Imperium against the machinations of Chaos. A good read for WH40k fan, and in particular any Space Marine fan.

The Space Wolves (Omnibus 1&2, by William King & Lee Lightner) - 3.5/5

The Space Wolves are one of the more distinct Space Marine Chapters in WH40K. The books by Bill King are great Space Marine pieces, showing a varied selection of settings and challenges for the hero Ragnar Blackmane to face. Lee Lightner's successor books do not disappoint, something which is difficult to accomplish. Lightner retains the feel of rugged, multifaceted conflicts that Ragnar faces in King's books. It's a great start for someone who wants to learn about the Space Marines and shows their interaction with the Imperium of Man at large, with glimpses of the politics and social environment that often gets lost amidst the war and action.

The Ultramarines (Omnibus, by Graham McNeil) - 3/5

The Ultramarines novels are very solid, well-rounded pieces of work. They depict the conflicts experienced by seasoned Ultramarines, thrown into conflicts that normally do not afflict the typical Space Marine. The novels take us to the fight against greatly different opponents in different settings, illustrating the rise, fall and struggle to return by heroes. It is an good series to follow if one wishes to know simultaneously both how the Space Marines operate and the immense scope of the enemies they and the Imperium face.

The Blood Angels (Omnibus, James Swallow) - 3/5

The Blood Angels duology is a great look at the insides of a Space Marine chapter. It shows the grays of the universe that constantly assault the heroes, and how they turn to black. Rather than being focused on an epic movement, the novels are a little more focused on the actual characters' relationship-byplay and internal conflicts against very real threats to their souls and life. A good start to discovering the threats to the Space Marines from a more internal perspective.

With that said, I've finished giving quick reviews of my Omnibus books. Next time around I'll focus on those books I have individually purchased, separate from 'omnibus collections'. Until then: the Emperor protects!


All things upon this Earth begin, and all things upon this Earth end.

The cycles of life and the sequences of history follow one another, one rising and the other fading into the past. Time goes on with the sparks of events and occasions lighting it up, each in their own turn. From ember to flame and flame to smolders, each thing comes and departs as they are meant to.

It is folly to strive against the natural passage of things, to cling too hard against what with a clear heart and mind shows is done. To do so only tarnishes the good of something, as if dragged along in the dust beyond it's proper course.

Therefore with every thing that springs forth into our lives, one must be aware of its ending, and prepare as is right to achieve the kind of end that is to be desired, the kind of ending that is not brittle and hollow, but full and enriching of our souls.

I say that it is right for one to yearn for the resolution of a good work done, the sense of triumph of a long fight won, and the completeness of a masterpiece finished. It is the kind of ending in the finest sense, the closing of greatness or justness of a particular thing or time.

This is the sort of end that I believe is to be desired.

But to leave something, to take it's end properly does not mean it is doomed to be forgotten and cast adrift in the sea of faded memory. Rather, acceptance and learning are right to do with each thing that flows in and out of our lives, to peer deeply into the fine details of memory and leave each moment of study with renewed knowledge or reinforced character.

Remembering and treating these jewels of our past with due respect is what should be done, according them the proper sense of conscious thought, to which supports us as we move on in life.

For perhaps in a different time, a different place, things shall come again to create a new picture that yet shares in the colors of the old, or that a great work shall come to pass that shares its foundation in one's prior achievements. The life of a person and all that happens is linked in ways one can never be quite plotted or charted by anyone of mortal ken.

So we live and learn, until timelessness arrives to be faced with the totality of what we have been given, chosen and accomplished. For this is right for as long as we dwell upon this Earth in our mortal frames, weathering and cherishing that which begins and ends.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Seeds of Writing

One night, not too long ago, I was on the way to my friends' house with Ria when we somehow came across the topic of writing. "You don't write anymore." She told me. I reflected on this briefly, wondering why. A few ideas came to mind on how come I no longer wrote, but things I wasn't able to fully explore that night. Nonetheless it stuck with me until I had the chance to set myself down and put my thoughts to paper.

To me the idea of writing is like taking a seed and nurturing the plant that eventually grows. These are small things at first, ideas or scattered little thoughts, what have you. These seeds need to be planted and allowed to take a life of their own. They can also be small fires that burn brighter as they unfold in one's mind, spilling forth onto the pages of one's desired medium. I realized that many of those moments, those seeds or sparks that bear potential to be written, I would perhaps put in a place that was, at least for me, not conducive for growth.

The written word can be one of the most enduring and powerful expressions of humanity as a collective and an individual's soul. It can show one's deepest thoughts and emotions, allowing others to peer into the lives and experiences we write about, to behold our creations and work. It is a wonderful gift to be able to write and harvest from the wealth of one's life.

But like many things which stem from life, writing must also be cared for and nurtured, lest it withers or grows stunted. It must be placed in the right ground and tended to for it to grow, and grow well. I recall a parable from the Bible, one where Christ speaks of the seeds falling upon different kinds of soil.

Writing is not too much different. In some soils it would lie fallow, useless and untapped. In others it might grow slowly at first, but dies as it is choked by weeds and other things. In others it grows quickly but shortly after dies in the shallow dirt, withering away. But some seeds fall onto rich soil, where it can grow steadily and extend its roots, strong and healthy as it rises in the sun.

In the parable, the seeds represent the 'Good Word' of the Lord and the soil represents the different kinds of people who react to it. With writing, I liken the soil to the places and mediums where we choose to write, how we choose to pursue and practice our writing. It is an environment that we must till properly, the seeds of writing demanding a degree of discipline to ensure its growth.

In both cases, faith and writing are largely dependent on a person's choices and disposition. It relies on conscious will on how to act and where to act. And so these seeds grows or withers depending on these very choices on how to pursue their development.

But let us assume that anyone who desires greatly enough to write will actually do so, to exert effort to write as his or her own creativity and inspiration strikes, as habit and discipline drives on to do so, or as duty and obligation pushes one. Given this will or desire, one would then have to make a decision as to where one would plant such a seed of writing.

The medium of our writing is of course crucial, because it forms a great part of the 'soil'. It is my belief that we should chose to write in a medium that begets more writing, greater writing, and deeper writing. A good writing environment and medium could allow us to maximize our creative spark and deeper thinking, giving us a favorable opportunity to draw forth good ideas and thoughts from our inner worlds and set them down for ourselves to reflect on and others to read.

In this age of information and technology, the writer has so many options to chose from. The classic forms of pen and paper are of course always there. Some might even opt for a typewriter, nodding to some sense of nostalgia perhaps. It is something I've done. But what is likely the most common form of writing nowadays, especially for the younger writers (below the age of 40, perhaps?) takes the form of digital writing.

The medium we have now is far more flexible and arguably powerful than what writers used to have before. The internet has given us a channel that lets us reach out far easier and with a broader scope than just a decade or two ago, with the audience that truly includes the entire world. It has given us a huge number of places where we can write and display our work, where with the ease of a few clicks and the dancing of our fingers on plastic keys we can share almost anything we desire to the multitude.

It has given us an entire field with which we can freely sow such seeds of writing, for them to grow and be seen by all. Or for them to wither in a brief span of time, choked by the vastness of the field, or dying when they cannot find purchase in deeper ground. The soil I speak of here, of course, is the plethora of internet sites. Blogs of various forms, online journals, networking sites with notes and journal options, virtual galleries and different kinds of information repositories are just some of what we have access to.

The internet and all of these easy-to-access places have spawned a generation or three of communication. But it is also a dangerous place, not in the moral or ethical sense as that is beyond the scope of my current discourse, but in the sense that one might as easily lose one's inspirations and muses as one might find them. It can turn those who were non-writers into writers, giving them the light of the world to feed on. And it can trap those who do write into shallow loops of action/reaction, giving little room for one's writing to truly grow, for any sparks to build up into a real fire of thought.

So we return to the beginning.

By now some may wonder what this entire thing is for, what I'm actually getting at. Or rather, what is it exactly that I am trying to say and I should just cut to the chase and get past all what might seem like dissembling, that I should speak plainly what this entire diatribe is for. Very well.

It obvious that I am supportive of the Internet as a good ground for people to use and write in. I am also one who feeds on the reaction and comments of my peers and friends and on the quick and healthy discussions that arise from our writings that the Internet makes possible. One could also surmise that the lengthy block of text above was an exercise to jog my mind, to warm up, shake off the cobwebs and get the writer's flow going again.

This writing was also written with a possible audience in mind. This is not hard to tell. But the audience is as much myself as anyone who might read this. It is to me a cautionary tale to be discerning and thoughtful to where I write, to where on the Internet I should roam and attempt to write in, to not allow my writing to be caught up in mediums where I might be unable to pursue or develop the kind of deeper writing or expressions of my thoughts that I would like.

And that is the essence of this piece.

It is also a reminder to be careful of things like Plurk. But that's another entry for another time.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sparks of the Mind

Every so often I pick up the metaphorical pen once again, the gentle wind of inspiration carrying me once again to write and put my words to paper. Every now and then, I revive an old blog and resume writing there again. But there are times when I feel like I need a change of environment. Just as people grow and move on to different things, so this is the case with the transition from one place of writing to another.

In this case, I've shifted from my old blog ( to this one. I hope that I shall be able to maintain it better, and well into my prime and adulthood.

So once again my blog carries the name 'Sparks of the Mind', and I think I'll keep it that way. The mind is the source of many of our lights in life, and it is my hope that in always writing, in constantly going through introspection and the endless pursuit in the interchange of thoughts and ideas, I can help myself grow.

And if others benefit from it, then praise be to God, all the better. Here's to a new beginning!