Easter ever after

Last Sunday, my family went to a windswept swathe of space that served as the lawn--acres of it--of the Kansas governor's mansion. We were there along with droves of children and their guardians for the annual Easter egg hunt. Yes, here in the so-called Sunflower State, Easter came a week earlier ahead of the commemoration of Christ's crucifixion.

What a breezy change, I thought.

From the navel of the "Cradle of Christianity" in Asia, I grew up browbeaten with the stifling sense of the Gothic in the heat of Lent. A time when the altars of churches are draped in purple cloth, and you're expected to wear your Catholic faith like a blood-soaked piece of bandage.

Forgive me, father, but I always had this sneaking suspicion that we were way too self-indulgent circling around our guilt trip over our Redeemer's death. As if we had to feel sorry for having been saved, to begin with! It's like everything God has given us--our senses and its need to be sated--were no less misbegotten than tumors that have to be lopped off with the scalpels of self-abstinence.

Somehow I chaff at the disquiet of being a derelict of my Catholic duty, and I wonder if this is what God wanted me to feel.

Good thing there's always the open-hearted exuberance of an Easter Sunday to validate my innocent belief in a Christ no less alive for truants like me. Whatever faith persists in me, I owe it from an instinctive idea that grace is ineffably larger than dogma-dictated rituals. You and me, sinners all, have long been saved. And it's enough to honor him by being pleased of that knowledge, even if we will lapse as always back to the whole nine yards of our shortcomings.

Through the bone-crunching weight of Holy Week, I prefer and take comfort of the image of Christ smiling despite all the sorrow, our sinfulness, our burden of being human, our never-ending need for our own private paradise. (Something I tried to deal with
here in my latest column in the op-ed page of Sun.Star Cebu.)

Happy Easter to all us, now and forever!


High five, hands down

It's no contest, period. No problem if the presentor for Best Director and Best Picture in tonight's ceremony at the Oscar Awards would sleepwalk to the podium and go ho-hum.
What's surprising would be someone out there not puppy-eyed after watching Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, impervious to its enchantment.

Almost too tricky to be true, how its style and sensibility throw caution to the wind (the potential of falling in the muddy face of cliche, like innocence and goodness overcoming the odds as true love prevails, tra la la). How it nimbly leaps and swoops through its sprawling narrative (dovetailing its hyperkenetic chase sequence in the slums as the film kicks off) and dances around the dusty land mine of a dreary and ordinary tale (a doggone boy in desperate search for his girl en route to a happy ending). Marvel at the smoke-and-mirror structure of its storytelling (memory on a quick burn out of the questions in a game show, and destiny as no more than a matter of multiple choice for two brothers blazing on parallel but forking paths to redemption). How Boyle hoists a torch of a toilet rag called reality in a Third World country through a ripple of silk curtains whipped up by his camera's abracadabra. Such a storm, indeed, of visual (and aural) combustion.

That you come out tripping the cinematic light fantastic after the credits roll to the rhythm of a Bollywood no-holds-barred choreography is no accident. Just the way joy and all that jazz settle down, with spirits rising.

Indeed, to describe this pyrotechnic piece of filmmaking would entail no less than a fire-eater's feat of gurgling petrol-laced syrup and spewing out bubbles of flames. Enough said. Or, if this unrestrained awe is not enough, click here to read my opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu as my head brims with the tune of Jai Ho straight from this video remix below:


Bite this book

It happens that a book might as well bark at you; its dog ears one too many of its prize-winning pages.

"God Laughs and Plays" is the first book I have finished reading so far this year. And there's no stopping me from unleashing again an urge to pore and mull over such watered-down notions on faith and finding joy, how these are suffused with the wildness of its rage and the grace of its wisdom, easing you into an introspection so chockful with a grin and chuckle every now and then.

God bless writers like David James Duncan. He with a maverick's sulphur in the stomach, a Zen master's zoom into sunlit sense of things, and a stand-up comedian's sass. All the world may be a stage for buffoons and charlatans, but Duncan affirms it's also a garden of wonder, a shore of fathomless possibilities, a temple in a playground along a river where fly-fishers can romp around like children.

"Duncan is a scandal both to the institutional church and to secular snobs; a truly dangerous man," a reviewer defines Duncan. Blame it on his writing, "a mind-bending trip through spiritual thought over the ages, with plenty of stops by the wayside of the troubled, politicized present." After all, this book as subtitled is a subversive trove of "Churchless Sermons in Response to the Preachments of the Fundamentalists Right."

Forgive me if my tongue is wagging like a tail regarding another reviewer's unabashed description of Duncan and his book: "He has been a denizen of the wilderness for forty years and has returned with liberating parables and allegories that are majestic, rib-tickling, and timeless. He has brought water to the desert of self-righteous 'Christianity' and in so doing, restores our faith in faith itself. Read it once and you will laugh. Read it twice and you will play again with God as you did when you were a child..."

And here's the publisher's postscript: "It is the vision of an activist sage. A sage ecologist. An ecological mystic." Now you see why I'm drooling rabidly.


Star student, proud parents

My eldest son Gabriel Ollivan, who turns six today, recently made it a strain for me and his Wawa to get ourselves immune from immodesty. You see, Avondale West Elementary School recently posted his photo on the wall beside the gym door along with those of other students who got a star certificate for academic excellence. Golli, as he is fondly called, is one of the two star students in Avondale's two kindergarten classes.

Caught me by suprise, really, because I thought all the while that he is a rough chip off the old reckless block. You see, it's been a frequent complaint by her teacher that Golli often has a hard time listening and keeping his mouth shut. Mine is a rolypoly kid, I know. Someone who would rather frisk around as most kids would prefer rather than study. Another thing: he complains a lot when asked to read. So imagine how pleased as punched we were when he showed us his star-fringed certificate.

It's the second time Golli surprised us since he started kindergarten. Last December, he told us that their school will present an annual Christmas play. All of my classmates are in it, or so he mentioned in passing. No big deal. We thought he would be no more than pipsqueak in the background, considering how he merely made us hear a line he had to say to someone else in the play. So we just shrugged the whole thing off, until we saw him onstage so breezy with those long lines he had to deliver! How did he manage to memorize those? Turned out his part (as Papa Snow) was one of the play's main character.

Enough tooting of parental trumpet. Which, as every father and mother would know, is as easy as stifling a post-prandial burp.

Meanwhile, keep up the good work, anak! At least all my panic overdrive while whipping up your lazybone to a frenzy every morning in preparation for school has been not for naught.


Good morning, Mr. President!

This is the day! All the world wakes up with America embracing a new era. God bless Barack Obama as he rolls up his sleeve along with the rest of the nation and its dreamers and believers of the possibilities of hope and change in this time of challenges.

Click here to read my recent opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu in celebration of this unprecedented moment of the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America. For the complete text of Obama's inaugural speech, click here.


Monterey in my mind

Four days into the new year, and off I went up in the air. There I was, peering down the plane's window over the desert of Arizona en route to California to join a multi-cultural gathering of writers, editors, linguists, translators, and professors in the scenic peninsula and city of Monterey.

So there I went spanning the bridge, so to speak, between the fact of loitering after each day's seminar session through Cannery Row, Monterey's most historic spot celebrated by John Steinbeck in his eponymous novel--and the fiction of lives he rendered more vivid into immortality. Where nothing now stays of the "stink and a grating noise" from the fishing industry that Steinbeck scribbled for posterity, the air continues to stir true to the opening line of the novel: "Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem... a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream." Amen, I say short of humming.

For someone who owes his lifelong faith to the power of literature in no small measure from Steinbeck's body of works (Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, Grapes of Wrath and, yes, Cannery Row, among others), all that I could exhale was nothing less than the inebriated air of exhilaration.

It was also a blast reuniting with a long-missed friend and former colleague in Cebu, Cathy V., with whom I had an exquisite dinner at the Sardine Factory. That Hollywood celebrities gorge themselves here when they are in Monterey is not hard to swallow, pun intented, with its world-class cuisine and ambiance (such a lazy word, I know, for something that takes your breath away). Clint Eastwood shot one of his films here once, or so the book about the Sardine Factory reveals. That Cathy and I had the luxury of having our fill in this adjective-choked restaurant renders only one fact a tad fantastic: How can such fabulous service and delectable menu and ambiance (there goes that word again, waxing ever so pretentious) be so affordable? But, I swear, to slurp is to believe.

Four days drifted like opium smoke: The post-prandial chatter about language and its distances and disguises, the cross-pollination of cultures and its greenhouse of complexities and possibilities and, yes, small talk and side-splitting asides over wine or beer. No wonder, on my flight from Monterey back to my family in Kansas, the cumulus of memory still hovered over my head even as I sneaked a bird's eye view over the urban sprawl of Los Angeles and the Hollywood marker on a distant hill. Always near, these: what the heart opts to hear above its beat. The squeal of a thrill, as if from a shared secret, with Steinbeck's bust. The roar of the shore-scraping surf against the rocks where seagulls gathered to roost. The silence from a fragment of a time-crusted shell that I picked up and promised to keep so it would echo bits of what endures of Monterey inside me.