Saturday, March 30, 2013

Early Rising

       It is 4 am. My phone's alarm blasts off insistently. My eyes reluctantly open, as I struggle to get off the gluing bed.

I'm at my job a few minutes before 5 am. The morning sun is still way off, nowhere to be seen. "What are you doing here Jose?!" asks my manager surprised. "You are off today!"

I'm very confused. I go and see the schedule, and indeed, I'm off today. An odd synergy of gladness and anger is brewing inside me.

I see my new schedule, and it shows that I only work afternoons. I return home, glad that I can continue resting. 

"Yay! No more waking up early! Goodbye 4 am!"

Well, as we say in my country for good news that prove to be false, "great joy of donkey!" Because the next week, the opposite, dreaded news are received: I work only mornings now.

"Are you freaking kidding me?!"

That was all I could say.

I love mornings. Unfortunately I almost always sleep through them. I guess you could say I'm a night owl. 

Waking up at 4 am for a night owl is quite possibly a form of corporal punishment, a horrendous practice that is asked of us only in special, extraordinary circumstances.

I felt however, the need and desire to embrace this new change. Perhaps there is a blessing here. I love mornings after all, and experiencing every early morning might be a good thing.

I slowly started to adjust my internal clock by gradually waking up earlier and earlier on my days off. Slowly but surely, my body is adjusting to the change. Nowadays I usually wake up at 6 am.

We tend to see early rising as a form of virtue, productivity and diligence. 

I don't think early rising is good in and of itself, nor a religious practice by which we gain spiritual growth. But it can be an open door for many blessings.

We are told in Mark 1:35 that Jesus rose very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and went to a desolate place to pray.

Early rising makes sense in a society where life starts in the morning. If there is any virtue in early rising is simply this: time of solitude with God before our activities begin.

If our early rising is not accompanied by this time of solitude, then it is devoid of its most sacred potential.

It is the most essential and therefore important part of our day. It is our first date with our Creator. It shouldn't be negotiated, nor should there be a commandment of it either.

It should come first as a practice, then a necessity, to finally arrive at the precious moment of grace: a fulfillment of a desire.

So, if this is not part of our routine, why not make it so? Why not try to wake up one hour earlier than we are accustomed, and dedicate that hour in solitude with God?

Imagine our days if we start them out with God!

This has been the great blessing in disguise for me. It is not experiencing every sunrise while birds tweet away. It is not seeing the calming view of a world asleep and slowly rising, even though these blessings are still appreciated.

It is simply spending time with my Father, before my activities begin.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Putting the Poor First

"We believe that God puts the poor first because the world puts them last" writes John Hayes in Submerge.

We find evidence of how the world puts the poor last anywhere we go. Its unavoidability is so persistent, and yet it can easily evade us.

"We don't want to serve those people" the owner of the gas station I work once told me. "So don't give them the key to the bathroom".

I understood the business logic behind that statement, after all, he doesn't want panhandlers and drug addicts to come into the station and damage the ambiance of the store, but those words pierced me.

This is how the world works. It is easier to put the poor on the outskirts of the city. Let the police deal with them. This can affect us as Christians, where it is so easy to put them on the outskirts of our hearts.

But lets go back to the bathroom at the gas station!

When I worked at a gas station that was in the middle of an upscale neighborhood, I remember how clean the customer's bathroom was. It was cleaned at least twice during the shift, many times even more than that.

It was the bathroom employees and customers used.

In Oakland, we have an employees' bathroom and a customer bathroom. As you can probably imagine the employees' bathroom is clean while the customers' is seldom cleaned.

And so it is, that the gas station bathroom in the upscale neighborhood was impeccably clean, while the one in the poor neighborhood was disgustingly dirty.

The world puts the poor last.

"Perhaps" some might think "the people in the poor neighborhood are dirty and even though you try to keep the bathroom clean they always trash it, and so it is not worth the effort of keeping it clean"

I have found no evidence of this. While it is true that on some odd days someone comes in and leaves a catastrophe in the bathroom, on average days the rate at which the bathroom in the upscale neighborhood gets trashed is comparable to the one in the poor neighborhood, at least in my experience.

I don't think the bathroom in the poor neighborhood is dirty because poor people are dirty. I believe the cause of this is a psychological and even cultural one.

It reveals our collective mindset as people, where we think the rich deserve a clean bathroom while the poor don't.

After a couple of months of working in Oakland, I tried to change this. I went out of my way to constantly clean the bathroom.

At first the assistant manager was annoyed by this. "Where are you going Jose?! You don't need to do that!"

I simply said "the bathroom is dirty and needs cleaning" to which the assistant manager almost always relented.

The assistant manager has recently changed his tone. He told me not too long ago "I was telling [general managers' name] that you are the only one who has cleaned this bathroom in 3 days"

Doing something ordinary as keeping the bathroom clean fills me with joy, because I see it as an act of service to the poor. They deserve it as much as the rich.

And in serving the poor we serve Jesus. And how could we invite Jesus into a dirty bathroom?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Others Pay for Our Immaturity

Maturity, or growing in maturity, is one of my favorite things to talk about in this blog. This is not because I am an example of maturity. It is because I am far away from it, and fighting to obtain it.

So what is maturity? We can have many definitions of maturity. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Maturity as "the quality or state of being mature; especially: full development"

I believe Maturity is much more than being responsible, organized, reliable or whatever other word we can come up to describe it. As Christians, we are fortunate enough to have a perfect example of Maturity.

Jesus, and the likeness of Him, is our example of what maturity looks like. Unlikeness of Him, is therefore, immaturity.

Here maturity goes beyond the developmental context that Merriam-Webster gives, though development has something to do with it. You can hardly blame a child, for example, for being "immature", but in this definition, it doesn't necessarily mean the child is not Christ-like in many aspects (cf Mathew 19:14, Mathew 18:3).

But before I derail this post into a philosophical one as I'm so prone to do, let's get to the point I want to make.

My work requires a lot of patience. I work in a gas station in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Oakland. There are lots of panhandlers, shoplifters and the occasional robbery.

To makes matter worse, it is a busy station. Customers can be extremely rude, even threatening you "to beat you up" by some unintended mistake you make with a transaction.

Once, as I was just finishing sweeping the parking lot, I saw a customer stop in the middle of it, opens his car's door, and dump a considerable amount of garbage on the parking lot.  As soon as he was finished, he drove off rapidly.

"Seriously?! We have garbage cans!" I said as I angrily went and cleaned up the mess he created.

Some of my coworkers have the bad habit of just emptying the garbage cans, but not replacing the bags. Customers come to the station and fill the bag-less garbage cans to the brim, forcing me to carry the heavy beast to the garbage to finally empty it, and put in a new garbage bag.

I'm pretty sure they sometimes pay by my own immaturity.

My point is this, and hopefully this is motivation for us to grow in Christ: somebody else has to pay for our immaturity.

If a parent is irresponsible, his or her child suffers and pays for it. If I can't clean up after myself, somebody else will eventually. If I'm impatient and harsh, the ones around me have to pay for my hurting words.

That's the way this world seems to be. It is the justice inherent in us as interpersonal beings.

It is the reason, I believe, Jesus came and paid the price for all of us. Someone had to do it. There is no other way.

Friday, March 8, 2013


 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Mathew 8:20 ESV.

 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" Mathew 6:19-21 ESV.

When I told my mom that I wanted to lead a life of simplicity, I don't think she was very pleased.

"How can you lead a life of simplicity if you always liked good stuffs?" she asked me bewildered.

And she had a point. I love good stuffs, perhaps as much as everybody else. I love my tech gadgets, I love my TVs and movies.

In my novitiate commitment ceremony with InnerCHANGE, where Simplicity is one of the 7 seven commitments that we take, my mom was crying, saying "if this is the life that you want and choose for yourself, then I support you".

I have a nasty past with money. When my mom told me that I like good stuffs she was making a gross understatement. I love good stuffs.

Even though I never really made large amount of money, I always spent disproportionate amount of it in crap that I liked and never really needed.

I accumulated and accumulated, even in my poverty. You see, greediness and the storing up of treasures has little to do with how much money you make.

My desire to go to college was to get a comfortable job that could enable me to get a big house in the suburbs, a nice comfortable car, and endless gadgets to satisfy all my geeky needs.

And then something happened, a call from God that called to an even deeper desire, a desire long forgotten and buried so deeply in my other superficial desires, that it was necessary for God to slowly uncover it, polish it, and bring it to the surface.

This is the desire to be more like Him.

I'm not saying that in order to be like Him we need to be poor. But I believe that if we are focused on our personal prosperity, and that is the goal and focus of much of what we do, then we are running in opposite direction of the gospel.

Jesus, the son of God, told a scribe that wanted to follow Him that even though foxes and birds have a place to live in, He, because of His mission on this earth, didn't have one.

He was basically telling the scribe "are you willing to lose all your prestige and power, your possessions and social standing, in order to become my disciple?"

Granted, not all of us can be apostles or teachers or prophets. All of us have a place in the kingdom. Even millionaires, investors and businessmen.

But all of us are called to be like Him, and to be like Him is denying ourselves of what we fancy as entitlements. Our pursuit is not happiness, wealth and comfort. As disciples, our pursuit is Jesus. Everything else is secondary, even country and law.

I still struggle with money. My love for good stuffs still overrides my commitment to simplicity. But I'm glad that He is patient with me, as He guides me in my stubbornness.

So I'm not writing from a place of experience or moral authority but a place of personal struggle. I'm writing from a place of countless personal failings in this area.

But more importantly, I'm also writing from a place of desire to be more like Him, no matter how far away I am from that goal.

Friday, March 1, 2013

New Year's Resolution February Update!

It's been an interesting month. I had made some changes in my life that I always wanted to make but never got around to. I wouldn't necessarily say that it has been a great month, from the perspective of my 2013 resolutions, but I can say with confidence that I have made some good progress.

Resolution #1: Achieve my ideal weight.

I haven't lost any weight this month, but I have apparently maintained my weight. This doesn't mean that I have completely failed. I have made some changes that I hope will have results on the long run.

I have adopted a mostly vegetarian diet! I still eat meat, but only twice a week, or in special occasions. I like to call myself a flexitarian.

I have already seen some changes in me because of this diet. Apparently what I'm about to share can make you uncomfortable, especially if you are given (in my most humble opinion) to the most ridiculous TMI sensitivities as many of my Facebook friends are whenever I share my "dietary adventures".

If you are, then do yourself and myself a favor and skip the next line.

I'm no longer perpetually constipated!

That's it, I said it, out to the world to know.

I also have more energy, feel more refreshed and don't crave meat that much!

I still eat lots of cheese, grains and what the heck, some good ol' vegetables eventually go in.
Tortillas, Eggs and Cheese, still meatless after all these years!

Resolution #2: Keep my room clean, year long.

Oh crap, I knew I'd have to share this at one point or another. Don't get me wrong, there is definitely some progress, but still...

So I finally got rid of my old useless mattress and is no longer taking up space in my room! Now I can finally throw myself down to the floor and not hit too many things!

I also found a place to store a box of clothes that I don't immediately use.

Good bye old mattress.
Resolution #3: Update my blog regularly, minimum one post per week.

Yup, been doing that. Just check my posts on the right.

That's it! See you in March!