February 15, 2005

Bombs

Its infinitely harder to be against the death penalty after three bombs have just gone off in a span of minutes in cities that are far apart from each other. People look at you and ask, "how can you be against the death penalty after what happened?" or "how would you feel if it happened to your loved ones?" or just the simple "don't you care?"

The questions hurt and sometimes I wish I could say, "been there, done that" in answer to the same questions over and over again; meaning, I've been asked those questions before, since 1995 and I've always been able to give an answer. Sometimes, I wish I could give neatly packaged answers that are gems of intellectual insight and reasoned argumentation so that the questions will no longer hurt.

But, I've realized that there is a reason why the questions hurt. Its because a part of me is being challenged each time--my principles, my moral compass, my soul, my heart, my faith in my fellowmen and my God. And the only way to make the questions not hurt is to precisely realize the reason why they hurt in the first place.

I've also realized that testing your principles in a vacuum is an easy but ultimately fruitless exercise but testing your principles in the forge of everyday realities is a painful but extremely fruitful process. It's easy to say I'm against the death penalty when no one has been killed heinously or raped brutally; it's easy to say I'm against the death penalty when no one from your family has undergone horrifying and horrible experiences with crime. But try to stake your principles when everyone else is saying the opposite; when the people you love and who matter to you cannot look you in the eye because they disagree with you; try saying to someone you love, "I'm sorry you're in pain but I don't think killing the one who hurt you will remove your pain."

My principled opposition to the death penalty has been tested many times and each time I've realized that I've always had to think about whether I am correct in opposing the death penalty. I've always had to look at faces of real people in order to weigh each time the burden of my principles. And each time, I've realized that my stand remains the same even though the reasons have become different.

I always say that the death penalty ceased to become an academic topic for me in 1999 when two of my clients were killed before my eyes. Since then, it has defined me and my life in many ways. My practice has taken on a vastly different complexion--often I am called by my most famous client's last name, "Echegaray" and often I get strange requests to help out in the most hopeless of cases. Its quite flattering, to be candid, but its also very scary.

From 1994 till February 1999, my stand against the death penalty was a legal one; I knew all the legal arguments for and against it and prided myself in being able to come up with the best arguments against capital punishment. In 1999, two of my clients were killed before my very eyes. My stand became a personal one; it's impossible to forget their faces and I have not forgotten. More and more, my arguments took on their faces--from strictly legal ones, they became more personal, more intimate, more human. In 2001, I gave my life to the Lord and have, at every turn, weighed my stand against the death penalty with what my God would want me to do and each time, I have come away convinced that there is no place for capital punishment in a Gospel that preaches love above all else.

Each time I am asked the questions that shake me to the core of my beliefs against the death penalty, each time I see horrific images of death of innocents from senseless acts of hate, my all-too human heart bleeds and cries out. It would be very easy for me to give in and say, "yes, they deserve to die for all that they have done." But each time, the Lord shows me His face, His hands, His pierced side, His bleeding heart that nonetheless loves despite all the hate He endured. And each time, my God reminds me that He forgave those who persecuted Him, those who hated Him, those who betrayed Him. It is difficult to gaze at that face and remain unmoved that love does not triumph over hate and evil. It is difficult to gaze at His face and not say, "I put my trust and my hope in You that this world will soon know the peace you were born to bring."

In a season of violence, I choose not to spread more violence. In a season of bloodletting, I choose not to spill more blood. In a season of death, I choose life. In this month of love, I choose to love even more.

February 09, 2005

Better than Daredevil (but its not saying much)

One thing I can say about "Elektra" is that Jennifer Garner can act and she really has great moves; but that's about it. The film is better than Daredevil, where the Elektra character (also played by Garner) was introduced, but that's not saying much considering that the only memorable thing about Daredevil was one song from the OST (and again, its not saying much). Rob Bowman (one of the major writers from "The X-Files") disappoints tremendously only because he is probably capable of so much more, both as director and writer; plot is thin as Mcdonald's coffee, pacing is bad, characterization is shot and, by God, the love angle is so lame. On top of which, they totally destroy what makes Elektra so awesome as a comic book character. Oh well, I'm sure there'll be a sequel--hope Bowman does better.

Who and whose we are (a pre-Ash Wednesday meditation)

The act of labelling, marking or branding is an act that sets apart the object labelled, marked or branded. It is also an act that calls attention to the label, mark or brand which will, in turn, inform people of the reason for the label, mark or brand.

In the book "The Scarlet Letter" (or the film, if you prefer), the leading character Hester is forced to wear the letter "A" on her at all times as a sign that she is an adulterer; the scarlet letter identifies and labels her as a sinner. As a result, she is ostracized and excluded from society--set apart, if you will, but in a different sense.

The tradition of marking our foreheads with ash on Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the 40-day period of lent, is similar to us bearing our own scarlet letter. It is a brand, a mark, a label. The mark on our forehead is intended to remind us--and all who see us--that we are sinners and, like Hester, we deserve to be labeled as such and also to be set apart--ostracized and kept from God's kingdom. Unlike Hester, we wear it only for a day--or less. The symbolism of our fragility and weakness as a people--the ash or dust from which we came is externally imprinted on us--helps us to begin lent by remembering that we who have sinned and are capable of greater sin are deserving of punishment.

The ashes remind us of who we are.

The ashes also remind us of whose we are.

The practice of branding cattle or other animals with the initials of the owner indicates ownership of the cattle or other animals. In a similar way, the ashes we receive are not only a mark of our sinfulness but also a label of ownership as well. We go through the day not with initials but with the sign of the cross--the mark of Christ. Through this mark, we remind ourselves, if only for a day, that we belong to Christ; we are His because all of us, though great sinners, were saved by Jesus's death on the cross.

Its no coincidence that the first reading for today, the day before Ash Wednesday, reminds us of how we were created and who created us. It is a reminder to us that we, who were created in God's image and likeness, belong to God and that it is time for us to realize that.

So, tomorrow, as we receive the mark of ashes on our forehead, let us remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are. Let us humbly reflect on why we are being labeled and set apart. First, lets remind ourselves who we are--sinners. Second, lets remind ourselves whose we are--God's.

One thing more, perhaps. Ash Wednesday also reminds us who God is.

The ashes remind us of Jesus, this God who is holy and set apart, willingly allowed Himself to be ostracized, ridiculed, mocked, and labelled as a sinner, to be put to death among criminals and to be publicly rejected by His own people; the ashes remind us that Jesus who became one of us did so purposedly to claim us, great sinners though we are and continue to be, label us and set us apart for God that we may be redeemed, forgiven and loved by our Everlasting and All-loving God.

February 08, 2005

My first cuppa in a week

I had my first cuppa coffee this morning; the first in an entire week.

It was a strange but also familiar experience--like going back home to a place that you haven't been to for some time. Smelling the aroma of the freshly brewed beans and holding the hot cup in both hands was a pleasurable experience all over again but it was also a new experience as well--not having experienced it for one whole week.

Sometime during the past week, I offered up my coffeeless days as a fast for the Crossroads retreat; more than giving up something perhaps, I look at it now, in the light of what Ding Bondoc quite correctly reminded all of us last Saturday, as not settling for second best. The rush that I get from drinking so much coffee is second best compared to the great joy of being able to come before the Lord and encounter Him face to face each and every moment of my life.

So far, I'm still on my first cuppa. . . and I feel fine!

February 04, 2005

Perseverance and endurance

I'm only now realizing just how powerful a book Hebrews is. The readings for the past few days have been taken from Hebrews and there's a lot that the Lord is saying to me from this book.

Hebrews 10:38 - ". . . my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back."

That's what I'm chewing on right now.

February 03, 2005

Coffeeless. . . and loving it!

I find myself on my fourth day without coffee; its a strange feeling to drink water--pure, cold, unadulterated H20 first thing in the morning, and not some dark steaming liquid with that great aroma.

So far, I've not only been surviving, but I've been productive--something I never expected without coffee.

I pray for the grace to be able to continue this fast at least until the end of the week.

February 01, 2005

Java Jives

I've been without coffee for three days. That should not be news if not for the truth that I have been a serious coffee drinker since 1985; by serious, I mean an average of eight mugs a day.

My coffeless days started quite inauspiciously.

Last Saturday I woke up early to get ready for our Evangelization Training Day and discovered that I had ran out of coffee beans and that there was not a trace of instant coffee in the house. Because I needed to get out early, I thought of just making a quick beeline for the nearest McDonalds for a drive through (their coffee is as thin as paper but that's how badly I crave coffee). But traffic prevented me from doing that. During the day, I "forgot" about coffee--something that has never happened before. So I started and ended Saturday without a drop of coffee in my system.

Sunday, I woke up dehydrated; and since there was no coffee at home, I had to "orange juice up" to hydrate myself. Possibly because of withdrawal, my head was aching the whole day so the prospect of driving out to buy coffee was not appealing. I left the house only late afternoon to go to mass at UP but, somehow, it never occurred to me to get coffee even if Starbucks was nearby. So I also started and ended Sunday without any coffee in my system.

Today, I woke up feeling better. I had my prayer time and the Lord led to me to a familiar phrase--"my grace is sufficient for you" that led me to take stock of what I am and where I am now. I realized that one reason I was finding difficulty with joy was that I had not been living on grace but on crutches; I had depended for so long on things that were not from God to keep me going. Affirmation from people, material rewards, indulgences--like coffee--had fueled my life for so long. I loved to tell people that if I didn't get two cups of coffee in my system at the start of the day, I wasn't "formally awake yet." Yet, I had been without coffee for two whole days and I was well. The Lord reminded me that "my grace is sufficient for you" means exactly that; I did not need two cups of coffee to sustain me, I needed just an ounce of His grace. That familiar phrase never felt so real to me until today--after two coffeeless days. I decided, consciously, that I would try to extend my streak to three coffeeless days. So far, I'm almost done with my day and I'm okay so far.

I know that I will eventually drink coffee--I'm human after all. But I suppose what the past three days has taught me is to not to lean on my crutches. I know, in my heart if not in my mind, that coffee is a false "grace" and that I don't really need it for my day to begin; just like today, I started with prayer and no coffee.

If I do take coffee at all in the next few days, it will be just for the usual reasons--eggs taste great with coffee and pandesal!--but definitely not for the reasons I took coffee before--the false notion that I could not live without it.

Hi, my name is Ted, and I'm a recovering coffee junkie!