The year that was–and will be.

I will begin regular or irregular re-posting on this site on January 5th. But for now, all I can say is that the year that was turned out to be an adventure for myself and for the world at large.

As for the year that will be, I cannot even guess about what will happen. I do know for certain that major changes are in the offing, and it will, I suppose, be yet another year of grace.

I do have some hopes:

1. It is perhaps a sign of the times that people will rediscover what is most important. I hope that the coming financial crisis will move the historic Christian churches into retrieving their most valuable resource, the costly ointment that, as William Cavanaugh suggests, allows us to counter-imagine the world, and not to dump it for what is “relevant” and “fresh.” Elsewhere I posted Victoria Matthews’ quote about this subject, from her diocesan synod address to the Anglicans in Christchurch, New Zealand:

“We often fall into thinking that catchy music or trendy liturgies attract newcomers to Christ. I suggest to you that there is nothing more compelling than excellent liturgy, preaching and holiness of life.

Indeed, the greatest counter-cultural thing that the churches can offer is precisely that.

2. I do think there will be a shift in job demand this year, at least where I am living. Two things are happening in the States at least that will affect us greatly. The first is that the new tax policies the Obama government will introduce will give more incentives for companies to keep jobs in North America. While a friend has said that this won’t mean much, I suggest that the moves to abide by this policy have already started. Dell has introduced a new paid service where tech support calls will be handled in the US for those who subscribe to it. The second thing is that with the layoffs in the US, people may be more willing to take the jobs that they once thought they would not have. Call centers may very well want to take this chance of resettling in the States, even if the costs are higher, and again, they have an incentive.

But that means something for those among us who tried the first-wave BPO sector and found it wanting. I wonder who would come up with the idea of taking advantage of the KPO or knowledge process outsourcing field, in its newest manifestations. A friend suggested that firms in India are drawing young lawyers to work on processing briefs for firms in the US, and as he says, we might have yet another chance to miss an opportunity again. Our legal system, while still based ultimately on the Code Napoleon, has a stronger American influence than that of India’s common-law system.

My hope is that the government around here realizes that it can’t be in denial any longer. It is not, as the Business Mirror suggested in one of its last editorial for the year, a question of patching together a plan from wishlists of all sorts. It requires a sense of imagination which I fear we no longer seem to have. When we dumped our last president with a grand vision of our country 22 years ago, it seems we haven’t had anything to replace it with.

Here, I suggest that it is about time that we do question some of the assumptions of the Philippine Revolution, that it was about adopting an Enlightenment mindset of secularism which does not “work” in our country—and indeed increasingly in many parts of the world. Only from our convictions about God, the world, and humanity, and the relationships between them, can we speak the truth about our condition and what can be done about it. The grandest vision, I dare say, was not drafted by a benevolent dictator. It became flesh and dwelt among us. “And we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

A blessed new year to everyone!

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A temporary reopening to confess/apologize for something

Christmas is a time where I often pay attention to how I behave and what is going through my head. My worry is that I do think with my heart more than with my head (or the other way around, if what the Pueblo Indians say is true), and for me it is a time when emotions run high and start to crash just as quickly. Infatuation and suspicion come together at this time, and it is a most dangerous mix.

Perhaps I have to be honest, and I have to live with the consequences. I would like to thank everyone whom I have met so far for bearing with me as much as I try to bear with you. I am grateful to my family for their willingness to bear with me. I would like to thank the friends I have had for a very long time for their patience and concern and loyalty. And for those whom I have hurt by whatever I have or have not said or done, I ask for your forgiveness. I don’t know what it is, but only God knows and he is more forgiving than any of us. I forgive those who have held me in suspicion or contempt, or who have been indifferent to me.

And with all this said and done, I ask that you remember me in your prayers as I will do for you. As I continue to struggle with the doubts I have in building relationships and doing what I am doing, I would like to have faith enough to keep me on the calling to which I will devote my life. In the time I have left between now and the hereafter, a time whose exact duration I cannot control, I would like to live my life in hope, the hope that disturbs and frustrates whatever anyone of us can do. And most of all, I would like to love as God has loved me first. That is my deepest desire this Christmas.

That is a post I wish I could have written earlier, and that is what I am really supposed to say.

Killjoy? A reflection on Advent

Any consideration of the season of Advent should acknowledge the fact that its origins were penitential. Especially in the East, when Epiphany, where the Baptism of Christ is one of the “three wonders” that mark this holy day, was another time when baptisms were celebrated, a penitential season parallel to Lent before Easter would be a most appropriate time for preparing those to be baptized. To this day, Orthodox Christians have been observing the Nativity Fast from mid-November, and its vestiges outside the East are still seen in Milan’s six-week Advent.

Its penitential origins are still seen in the fact that the Gloria in Excelsis is not sung during Advent (and its use in the Simbanggabi an exception which I would personally regret, for reasons I will state) and that violet, a traditionally penitential color, is used during this time. There is also the practice, at least among some Anglicans, of having the (Cranmerian) Great Litany sung in procession on Advent Sunday, and the Litany in its traditional form has penitential overtones.

Of course, the notion of this being a penitential time is no longer meaningful for most of us. In fact, I would suggest that such a position would turn Advent into the ultimate “killjoy” season, at least as some people perceive it. The reality is that the Advent season clashes with the anticipatory secular celebration of Christmas even before the liturgical year is over, a celebration that cannot trace its origins earlier than this century. Some rigorists would exclude having Christmas songs on the church menu anytime earlier than Christmas eve, and ideally, this would be the case in churches outside the Philippines. (The Simbanggabi is again an exception here, as far as I know.)

This is why the Church (and by this I mean the Roman Church in the West and those who follow it at least on this matter) emphasizes the notion of Advent being a joyful anticipation and a time of waiting. It urges us to take penitence as one aspect of this waiting for the coming that occurs, not just in the beginning or at the end, but in every occasion. But it asks us to be sober, as Paul’s letter to the Romans puts it. Advent is ultimately counter-cultural, because we are asked to reconsider, especially now, what our own culture teaches us about the celebration of Christmas, and how it has been corrupted (willingly) by the blatant commercialization of the season.

Why do I say “especially now”? There is a sense in which everyone around the world is being called to change their lifestyles, thanks to this crisis that shows up the faults in our free market system. I hear stories of cutbacks in Christmas celebrations in some places because people and companies could no longer afford to do it. And the search for bargains in an economy where gift-giving—and the buying of gifts—is considered a good unto itself has led to one tragic death. The economy of exchange has distorted what should be an economy of the gift. The latter is precisely what Advent anticipates: the mystery, as Jean-Luc Marion and the Radical Orthodox love to celebrate in their writings, of something “given” before we ask.

Part of this reconsideration, I think, lies in reforming certain aspects of the pre-Christmas culture in our country. While the Simbanggabi in the Roman Catholic rite takes on the character of an anticipatory Christmas celebration, with the use of the Gloria and white vestments, I think we should look at how the Episcopal Church decided, while adopting this most Filipino of customs, to keep the Advent mood. My suggestions would be twofold:

1. We should expand the repertory of Advent songs in Filipino, and encourage more Advent songs in English, even the revival of some of the great Advent hymns of the Western tradition both past and present. A good place to begin writing new Advent songs in our language is to adapt texts from the tradition, like “Veni, redemptor gentium” and perhaps that great Advent hymn by John Wesley, “Lo! he comes with clouds descending.” Original material that speaks of anticipation and penitence should be composed as well. I am not up to the task, but I am sure others will take up that challenge.

2. Such hymns would find a place in a reform-of-the-reform Simbanggabi. I would prefer that the Gloria in Excelsis be suppressed, or at least a setting that speaks of a sober mood be used. I would also suggest that the use of rose-colored vestments become customary during this time. I advance two reasons: first, rose is an Advent color and the nine days commonly start after the Third Sunday of Advent when this color is used, and second, it is associated with the Virgin Mary, for the masses of the novena are, as far as I know, considered votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman rite.

I propose reviving the time-honored idea of making the twelve days of Christmas the focus of our celebration of the Incarnation, something which can be helped by a move done this year in our country to declare seven of them a holiday—except for those in the banking system. But I would also ask whether, indeed, it is time for some sobriety even in that. Which will be a topic for a future essay.