Online Teaching

Online learning has been a way of life for me for quite sometime now. My library is the cyberspace. Much of the new things and information I know today came from the Net.

But online teaching?

This is something new that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. Classes cannot be stopped. But despite training from techie son #1 and IT in the university where I teach, I remain technologically challenged. For how long? Oh, maybe another 20 years. And that’s an educated guess.
There are just too many dizzying apps with too many varied icons to click—not necessarily in succession. You just need to continually risk making mistakes. And then there’s the intermittent power or Internet connection. Suddenly, your screen goes black. Suddenly, you don’t hear your audience’s voices anymore. Suddenly, your slides grow big and small like a yoyo. Suddenly, you need to go to another app. Suddenly, oh, gazillions of surprises! 

Now, if this is where teaching is going, I think I need to consider a four-letter word—quit.

Yet, that’s a dilemma. I remember distinctly what Douglas MacArthur once wrote or said somewhere, “Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.

Body wrinkles I already have. But wrinkles of the soul?!

Please excuse me while I sing an old hymn:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!  


Covid-19: Sob, the Flowers Wilted

One of my favorite spots at the SM mall in our neighborhood is the flower section—not to buy, because they are pricey, but to gawk. Some are arranged in baskets and vases. But some just sit there, waiting for someone to choose them, pay through her nose, in a bunch or apiece. 

Flowers have always fascinated me. That’s why, when nobody's looking, I brazenly paint them between writing marathons. On canvas, they stay fresh and don’t wilt.
 But sob, the flowers in the mall wilted.
All it took was Covid-19 to make them sag, slouch, slump, and stoop—a sorry sight. I would have loathed seeing the beautiful, expensive flowers devalued this way, but my friend Ggie sent me these photos when she was there for errands.

It was temporary grief, however. As I reflect on flowers, gifts of the King of grace for  you and me, I know they are blooming elsewhere—in parks, gardens, curbs, empty lots, and open fields—still looking up to their Creator.

Covid-19 may pass or stay. Flowers will waste away. Life will be gone any day, but this is God’s promise to those who believe . . . 

“. . . having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because

“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.” 

1 Peter 1:23-25 (NKJV)


Silence: Sealing off Grace

While on lockdown, the words I post on social media are carefully crafted to extol or call down an issue. As a citizen wanting only what's best for the country, I participate in national conversations.

Then suddenly, in our church prayer concerns, one item said, "May we act in solidarity to combat Covid-19 instead of complaining and criticizing the government."

“Instead of . . .” that made me feel sad. Because it is not a choice between being in solidarity and being gagged in silence. They are not mutually exclusive. We need to do both. Governments draw wisdom from people's complaints and criticisms, especially during pandemic.

This feeling I could not put into words without hurting the author of the list.

Then on page 121 of the book I am reading, Philip Yancey’s What Good Is God?, the author wrote the words I could not express.

Let me quote Yancey (emphases mine):

“I write honestly . . . even through it may cause others pain. I would hope that readers call me down on my own inconsistencies and exaggerations . . . I know of no more honest book than the Bible, which tells the ugly truth about its main protagonists [think of Moses, David, Peter, Paul] as well as the church to carry on the tradition.

“In contrast, the Pharisees and their kin exhibit one persistent flaw: an inability to take criticism.

“People and institutions naturally want to present themselves in the best light and thus we rationalize or cover up mistakes. When we do so we move away from authenticity toward the very dangers Jesus warned against, in the process sealing off grace.”

My personal belief: while Christians must follow government rules to the last drop during the Covid-19 quarantine, we should not stay silent.
We need to question inconsistencies, lies, blasphemy, unfulfilled promises, foul language, character assassination, unpreparedness, corruption, vulgarity, and more. Lives are at stake.

Otherwise, the authorities will think everything they are doing is right. And we become accomplices to what is wrong, enemies of authenticity, which Jesus preached, and seal off His grace.

Let me end by quoting Dr. Rico Villanueva who wrote in Inquirer, "I find the fact that God allows His people to ask him 'why?' empowering, especially during this time when some of our leaders do not allow any form of complaint. If God can be questioned, why can’t we do the same with our leaders? Are they higher than God? (Doc Rico finished his Ph.D. in the Old Testament from the UK and teaches Sacred Scripture at the Ateneo and the Asia Graduate School of Theology.) 


Covid-19 and ECQ: Excruciating?

I have used the word excruciating only a few times in my life. 

These were when the world was at its darkest: seeing my dad suffer from cancer and eventually losing him; losing a newborn son; losing Tony's only brother to drug overdose; losing my mom to heart failure; losing my mom-in-law and sis-in-law one month apart; hearing the doctor’s prognosis about my husband’s condition (four times, within a few years, close to dying); and less than a dozen more.

Excruciating—meaning, a combination of extreme agony, unbearable torture, and  intense pain—is hardly used in a faith-based life. God’s comforting grace always lifts you up from the pits. That I’ve always believed.

But it was only last Good Friday, in our livestreamed worship service amidst an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), when I realized why.
To illustrate Jesus’ supreme sacrifice for sinful man, Pastor Ariel’s message was hinged on the scourge. It is the whip, made of several pieces of leather with lead embedded on each strand, used to inflict the worst penalty on innocent Jesus before His crucifixion.

From the pulpit, he graphically described how scourging could have damaged Jesus’ shoulders, back, and legs. (A scourge cuts through the skin, and as the blows continue, its ends cut deeper, till blood oozes from the veins. Finally, the skin hangs in ribbons and the entire body is an unrecognizable mass of scrap.)

The savage cruelty continued at His crucifixion.
Can you imagine anything more painful? Excruciating comes from the Latin word excruciare, from cruciare, to crucify. It means, “a pain like the pain of crucifixion.”

The physical pain Jesus endured was surpassed only by the emotional pain He felt at being betrayed by the people He loved and being forsaken by God. And yet, His first words were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34 NKJV)

On that Good Friday, I learned that when I am tempted to use the word excruciating, I will look back to the crucifixion. And I will remember that no human pain can ever be big enough (not even the curse of Covid-19 and the ECQ) to match what Jesus went through for me.


A Quarantined Birthday

A is my nephew—not by blood but by bond, a mighty bond of shared faith. He’s a kind, caring, and helpful kid (I call everyone kid in our church because I saw them grow up) whose heart is almost as big as the sun. 

On top of all the things he does to assist church workers, he volunteers to drive his huge, white van for everyone in our place of worship who does not have a ride. He fetches indigent kids on Sundays so they could attend junior church and Sunday school. This is not to mention his, “Anything I can do for you, Tita?” when he sees me walking around. I could go on. 

I write about him now because he outdid himself on his birthday a few days back. 

Because of the Covid-19 lockdown, it is not possible to have any form of event gathering that involves people other than family.
But A chose to celebrate his birthday with people in his circle.

With his parents, he dropped by our house to share his blessings—grace that would have been served on a table if he were free to celebrate his milestone. No prolonged conversation, just a brief "hi" and "goodbye." They dropped by other homes, too, as posted by church mates on social media later.

While under quarantine for two more weeks, united only via livestreamed worship services and  prayers, may we find beautiful ways—as A did—to hold each other up and fight off our anxiety over the invisible enemy that has suddenly plunged the world in total chaos.

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT)


Covid-19: Are We in the Same Boat?

Rich or poor, young or old, male or female—everyone is a prey of the virulent virus called Covid-19. So are we in the same boat?

No, we’re not.

Just a cursory glance at photos and posts on mass and social media shows two separate and different boats.

Boat A is made of sturdy and expensive materials, and motorized. If you stay inside, the virus can’t get you.

Boat B is makeshift, improvised. It’s made whole only by patches of wood scraps. If you stay in it, it can capsize, leak, and sink even before the virus can get you.

These boats emerged simultaneously after the lockdown was announced. Boat A, with all its resources knew where to go. Boat B, with its meager resources suddenly cut, could not find its way.

“We’re all in this together,” our lawmakers tried to ram that down our throat. In fact, they crafted a law called “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” which gave the president emergency powers to equally serve everyone quickly.

So can we heal as one, even if we’re not in the same boat?

A poem that went viral spoke of staying home, reading books, exercising, making art and playing games.

On the other hand, a series of posts continue to speak of going to bed on empty stomachs, crying of hunger, and waiting and waiting for any dole out—perhaps some grains of rice and anything edible?

These photos (ctto) tell the story better than words.   

Are we in the same boat?

Not the way it looks. The only chance we can live with the thought is to accept, by faith and by grace, what Scripture says.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

Photos: all borrowed from the Internet 


Mother Teresa in a Time of Pandemic

Since we lost Ate Vi, our lifelong househelp, we had a quick succession of others who took their job half-seriously and left unceremoniously. Househelps have become a thing of the past.

But one day, Teresa knocked on our door and said she could work for us three times a week.  She’d come in early and leave late. We didn’t know her from Adam, but we were desperate and she seemed sincere.

Teresa turned out to be unexpected grace dropped from above. Three times a week, this struggling single mother of five, masquerading as a warrior, would clean and sanitize every nook and cranny of our house, wash and iron our clothes, change our curtains and linens, sort out our things inside cabinets, tend to the garden, etc. It felt as though Ate Vi resurrected.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because of the strict implementation of the quarantine, Teresa asked us if she could stay in till after the lockdown?

If this isn’t manna from heaven, what is? Before us was Mother Teresa personified. She came to serve the poor in spirit, four dependent individuals and five pets marooned in a house that needs daily caring.

It’s been three weeks since she moved in, freeing us to do our work online while she sees to the details of our daily needs. Mother Teresa sends her pay to her children who have children of their own but have nothing to feed them because their jobs are on hold.

Picture her family as one of these people, not knowing what social distancing means because they are hungry.
Feel her anguish, her helplessness, her frustration because help from the government has been slow or has not come at all. Listen to her gratitude that she has a job, food to eat, and a temporary home where she is needed, loved, and appreciated. 

I weep and pray for all the mother Teresas in many homes today. Lord, help us to find ways to serve them in return.

"And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God." Hebrews 13:16 (NLT)

Photo credit: https://verafiles.org/articles/hunger-does-not-know-social-distancing


What’s Social Distancing?

In a crisis—especially a pandemic—everything is urgent. It is vital to use simple words that can readily be understood by everyone.  Euphemisms such as “social distancing” are for ordinary times. From explaining the phrase to finally understanding it, many lives could have already been lost.

Social distancing, in essence, means: not seeing anybody anymore; breaking up friendships; not having anything to do with some people; reducing one’s social obligations; being a recluse; praying alone instead of praying with faith brethren, etc.
Why can’t we use "physical distancing" instead? I asked myself from the very beginning because that was what we wanted people to do—stay physically far away from each other to avoid contamination. Physical distancing can be easily understood by anyone—regardless of age or educational attainment.
I thought I was alone in this “nit-picking” until I read an article that said, “Experts prefer ‘physical distancing,’ and the WHO agrees.”

Daniel Aldrich, a professor of political science and public policy at Northeastern University, is concerned that the term could be counterproductive. He explained that it is  misleading, because the pandemic should encourage strengthening social ties while maintaining physical distancing.

He gave as an example, “People running errands for elderly neighbors practice social connectedness with physical distance.”

Indeed, social ties (not distances) can get us through any kind of trouble. We create all kinds of support groups for various medical and societal problems, don’t we?

In The Washington Post, I read that WHO has started using the term “physical distancing.” The organization wants people—even if they are far apart physically—to still remain connected.

Social connections are necessary to heal and recover. It’s like sharing the grace that we receive instead of hogging it all to ourselves.

“So encourage each other and build each other up . . .” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)