Organically speaking…

Some people have begun noticing the change in my eating habits. Including me! For about a year now, my diet has been for the most part, organic and health centric. I say, it’s not really my eating habits that’s changed as much as it is my outlook in life. And that outlook just happened to involve an awareness in personal responsibility. Responsibility towards health and nature, that is. Hence, my reason for taking the organic route.

First of all, I believe organic food is healthy, not necessarily in a physical sense but more in a perspective of wellness. For me, it means a little peace of mind. The peace from knowing I cared, even if it’s just a little bit. It’s a good feeling to know that I care, respect and am thankful not only for my health, but also for nature and the folks responsible for my being able to eat clean food. That, to me is giving importance to the wellness of my own being. Now, if that’s not being healthy, I don’t know what is. Hey, let’s just say, if I could choose food that has less chances of chemical contamination, why shouldn’t I? I’m sure the regular variety won’t kill me anytime soon (it hasn’t, in the past 45 years) but if it doesn’t give me peace of mind anymore, what good is it for me?

Another thing I should note is that organic food may or may not taste better than non-organic varieties. In my experience, a lot of them do, but some don’t. However, that is the least important factor, in my opinion. I didn’t choose organic products because they taste better. If they do, it’s simply icing on the cake. Choice is a matter of principle. What we believe in and what we care about. I believe that whatever we decide to eat is a very personal choice. The way we shape our diet is from the knowledge we gain from a desire to understand, as well as our own fundamental beliefs, if we have any.

Unless we grow our own food, we’re stuck with what society feeds us. We’re force-fed with very limited choices, in stores or even in restaurants. There’s not as much control we can get when eating out as we do from when we’re cooking our own food. By the way, it is important to know how to cook, if only for this reason alone. But… that’s for another story.

Okay, let’s be honest and take the marketing labels out of the picture. Wouldn’t most of us choose organically produced food if the price was the same as the ones that aren’t? I hate that it costs so much to buy organic – it makes no sense, I know – but if that’s what it takes for me to gain peace of mind, then it is my responsibility to adjust my finances to fit my priorities in life. After all, the length of my life isn’t as significant as its quality. And quality is subjective to each person’s decisions. However, at the end of the day, practicality is still just as important as sensibility. I hate snobbery of any kind! It’s what makes sincere attempts to do good look suspect in many people’s eyes. And that’s what stereotypes a worthy lifestyle. That’s what reduces a good habit into a mere fad.

We make decisions in life according to the level of responsibility we are willing to take. Just like anyone, I have mindlessly eaten countless amounts of junk food in my life. And believe it or not, it doesn’t bother me much to this day. It’s just that now, I’m a little more aware of how much responsibility I am willing to take, whenever I do it again. I may eat healthy all week and decide to pig out at KFC one day. No guilt there. Or, if I decide to buy a more costly bag of healthy groceries at the expense of a road trip or a fun weekend somewhere, so be it. Or if I’m invited to a backyard bbq over at a friends house, I’d enjoy that big fat burger just like anyone would, with no hesitations. I call that… life. That’s right! I stand for life, not religion. When lifestyle becomes religion, life is robbed of its freedom.

Now, our decisions will always cost us something, no matter what it is. All I can say is that after a year of gaining health awareness, its effects have drastically transformed, not only my body, but my mind and spirit as well. Now, if that wasn’t worth the cost and trouble, I don’t know what is.

So I say… simply live life to the full because that’s all that matters, really. And organic or not, we still need to eat our vegetables.

To endure is what counts

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. ~ Hebrews 12:7-11

Life is so hard, sometimes. Doesn’t matter how well you are on the outside, you can easily be struggling on an emotional and spiritual level. And that’s something you can’t hide from yourself. There is no running away from it. In the world, struggles are often unbearable because there seems to be nothing to hold on to. There is no hope and everything seems to come to a dead end. Yet, the degree of fear and pain doesn’t decrease in the life of a Christian. However, it offers an opportunity to gain inner strength, not through one’s self, but through a loving Savior. Yes, in Jesus, there is hope for the taking. There is faith to be had. There is light at the end of the dark tunnel. And the effort exerted is never wasted but always rewarding.

This life is not about ridding ourselves of our “problems.” That is a futile attempt, at best. It is about enduring the hardships that come our way. Without them, there is no reason to exercise our faith in God whom we claim to love and obey. I had to go through my divorce and feeling of loneliness for years, just to find out how far I would go with my God. Some people may have to go even farther, but to me, I have to fight to quickly see the big picture before things get worse. I cannot give up. My relationship with God is too precious to gamble with. If I lose that, what else is there to live for? Both here and the afterlife, that is. There is no hope without God. Only darkness. There is no better place. Only a dead end road. No forever. Only oblivion.

Each of us has a personal road to walk on. We live our own lives in our own personal deserts – with our own sacrifices, hardships and struggles to go through. No one is exempt. I am thankful for my own struggles for without it, God would not be in my thoughts regularly. My need for him would grow lesser and lesser each day. And that, to me, is scarier than having to go through the discipline God has put me under – because he loves me and wants me to know that there is someone who cares. It’s his way of getting my attention. And boy, does he need to do that on a daily basis. Talk about his own perseverance! And my “good deeds” is not what pleases him, by the way… but my brokenness and my desire to get up everytime I fall. That’s what puts a smile on his face. My desire to keep walking when I get tired. My desire to try it again, for the umpteenth time. Yes… my desire to endure. It’s what counts.

There’s more to the picture than meets the eye

flickr-icon-19Hey hey, my my… I need help!

I just realized my cooking adventure of late had left me with a ton of photos to upload on Flickr. I’ve been on the photo-sharing site for over 3 years now and never thought I’d manage to fill up the 200 pic limit, ever. But here it is… I’m just about to hit the mark and the site’s been bugging me for over a month… Go Pro, bro!!! Well, looking at the big picture, I love photography and I’d probably won’t stop taking pictures anytime soon. And so, after a bit of research, reading on people’s opinions and experience, I’m finally on the verge of deciding to suck it up and, well… go Pro!!!

That’ll set me back 25 bucks! Ouch! So much for my holiday shopping.

Well okay, maybe not. But I’m actually hitting Arizona for the Christmas weekend and I plan to shoot like a maniac while I’m down there. I wonder how much cactus photography I can take. So anyway, I would really need the unlimited web space that Flickr’s Pro account offers. Besides, it would be nice to finally be able to organize my pics into multiple sets. And the groups! I love the groups and the discussions. Interactions with other folks have been incredibly helpful, educational and inspiring.

I’ve also wrestled with switching to other sites like Photobucket and Zooomr. I considered Smugmug as well, but they’re even more expensive. I don’t know. Is there really more to the picture than meets my wallet? Just want to make a sound decision, that’s all.

So, should I or should I not go with Flickr Pro? Someone help me decide, please.

Cookin’ up a storm

Been a while since I wrote anything here. But trust me, I have been around. Just not in here, unfortunately. Well, sometimes you generate a new passion and it steals all of your time you don’t have any left to write about it. In my case, I have been cooking a lot lately. Not necessarily pigging out, just… cooking, that’s all. Funny thing happened yesterday… I cooked 3 dishes in 6 hours. Man, I was so tired I felt I needed some food. So, I treated myself to a little fish filet sandwich at McDonald’s.

Just to back track a little… Last year, I went to the doctor for the first time since… well, since my mom dragged me there when I was a kid, actually. I’m not kidding you! So at 45 years of age, I naturally thought, wow, I must be in big trouble now. Well, I was lucky I almost got a perfectly clean bill of health. I did say almost, yes. That’s because at the last minute, I was prescribed a cholesterol lowering med to be taken in the next six months. Just for precaution, the doc affirmed.

At the start of this year, I vowed to be a lot more health conscious and try to do as much as I could to not be given another round of prescription the next time I visit the doc. Well, it’s been a fun ride, actually. Back in January, I weighed in at 152 lbs. Not terribly bad for a guy standing at a towering 5’6″. But still a tad overweight, I guess. Golly, when you’re in your forties, your body’s not very forgiving. I should’ve learned this early on. Anyhow, so I began counting calories, being mindful of fat intake, nutrition, physical activity and all that good stuff I never thought existed before. I started walking a lot. At work and everywhere else. Ditched the elevators and took the stairs. I purposely missed my floors so I could walk even more. Started experimenting with vitamins and bought as much organic food as I could. Fat-free this low-fat that, you name it. I spent half of my time in the grocery store just reading labels.

But mind you…I didn’t obsess! 🙂

Okay, maybe, just a little in the beginning. However, as the months passed by, I realized that trying to develop a healthy habit shouldn’t be about losing weight or because you’re afraid of the imminent bad news your doctor might have to break. It should be something you’re meant to do. So, as an artist, I found that as I labored in the kitchen, the joy wasn’t coming from a health perspective. Although it was definitely a bonus, my satisfaction came from an artistic standpoint. It was creativity that made me want to cook. I cook even when I’m not hungry. It’s not about eating as much as it was about creating something. Well, I knew I was gonna get hungry sooner or later so it’s not like it goes to waste, right? Now, this is probably what filled in the void that my songwriting and music playing has caused in the past couple of years. I had to channel it somewhere as art is what keeps me functioning. But it had to be meaningful, somehow. And cooking was.

Now, I’m not a vegetarian. I don’t like to label myself. But I try to be sensible and responsible, as well as practical, about food and nutrition. I believe food is something all humans have to be consciously grateful for – in words and in action – at all times. Food is a gift that nature abundantly and freely gives. There’s a lot of respect that needs to come from that alone. But I’m not going to elaborate on this anymore as I’m sure you already know what I’m talking about and that we all have our own little ways of translating this into our own lives anyway.

Though for me, it definitely has been very inspiring. For one, I have lost 20 lbs. and my waistline went from 34 to 29. All in 10 months! I feel so much better and I have more energy. I’m only shouting this through the rooftops because I’m not young anymore. If I was in my twenties, it’s probably moot but when you’re over the hill, it is something to be  celebrated, I think.

Okay, what I’m trying to say here is (Yeah Chris, what are you trying to say already?) that cooking has become a true passion lately. One that brings me joy and fulfillment. I mean, I’m a fan of cooks and chefs on TV, too! They’re like my new found rock stars and I watch their shows as much as I did all those hair bands back in the 80’s. I get inspired, not necessarily by their recipes, but by the passion they invoke into their craft. It’s infectious! That passion is what builds my own. The only difference probably is that I try to be as consciously responsible as I possibly could. Towards nature and my health. And without being snobbish. 🙂

Oh yeah, I also started a food blog, lately. Check it out.

Show, don’t tell

“We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control.”

Someone came up to me the other day asking how much I charge for guitar lessons. Happens a lot, actually. Usually, after some sort of goofy performance I did. Unfortunately, I have to be a bearer of bad news by saying I don’t teach. Not anymore, that is. But not because I don’t want to. I just don’t think – and this from experience – that mere “teaching” is effective and productive in a real world situation. Just because I graduated from college doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out, does it? Some people who never went to school are more substantially successful than the ones holding a degree.

you can do it

You see, I don’t want my “students” to do stuff simply because I said so. I expect them to challenge me and prove to themselves that they can do better than what I’m telling them to do. I expect them to step outside the realms of the norm. To carve out a distinct identity for themselves. An identity that flaunts progress, not nostalgia!

So, what am I talking about here? Intense motivation and passion. We can read all the books in the world and spend half our life in school, but if we’re not willing to die for something, we’ll probably either quit at some point or simply dwell in lukewarmness and mediocrity. And what a waste of time that is. How boring that makes for one’s life, whether ours or that of the ones we could have a chance of making a difference towards.

Most of what I am today is, in fact, a product of inspiration from people I’ve personally decided to look up to, over the years. These folks didn’t try to walk me through life, I simply chose to watch them in action. Heck, a lot of them failed many times. Yet, I followed and learned from reality instead. I guess, they must’ve been doing something that’s hard to ignore, whether in the form of words or deeds. Nonetheless, it was definitely effective.

I’ve never been a fan of learning by-the-book. I’m not saying we can’t get anything from it or that we shouldn’t. It’s just that when the book becomes the be-all-end-all, we become a slave to someone’s own thoughts and opinions. Our mind cannot, or rather, will not “break the rules” because we’re not able to see beyond those “rules.” And beyond is where the unknown universe lies. Beyond is where we find our true and unique selves.

A recipe calls for a clove of garlic. I put in five… so, sue me!

When one is not aware of the consequences, neither will the benefits be obvious. We learn truly from our own mistakes, not from that of others. We can’t possibly understand someone’s pain until we feel it ourselves. Why limit someone’s imagination, then? Why be the judge of what is “right” and “wrong?” Don’t we all have the capacity to make that decision for ourselves? What is the real issue here? Trust? Fear? Control? Insecurity? For instance, I’m not for abortion. I don’t recommend it. It is against my beliefs. But I certainly won’t think less of someone who decides otherwise. I may not agree, but I accept. Whether there are consequences or rewards, my only business in it is acceptance. So, why do we impose our man-made laws as if our opinions matter more than that of others. Why do we shove our morals down people’s throats… and call it love? Good luck gaining converts that way.

What I believe is that people need to inspire, as well as be inspired. We need to be heroes as much as we need heroes in our own lives. We need to show examples as well as we need to be shown examples. Real world examples. Ones that produce results. Because results are effective. We’ve all heard the cliche – We should be the change we want to see in the world. It’s true. But in the same token, we shouldn’t expect anyone to follow our lead. We can only be sincere in wanting to do our part without expecting anything in return. Yet, if we’re motivated enough, passionate enough, persevering enough… maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance we’ll turn some heads and raise some eyebrows. And to me, that’s a job well done already.

Just my 2 cents…

Oh by the way, still insisting on guitar lessons? Well, if you can handle a boot camp and promise not to quit, no matter what… rip me off for $30/hour.

Otherwise, stick to RockBand.

Group love

I remember a time when I would be in tears because there were people I knew who were searching, struggling and spiritually lost. These were people whom I’ve invested in and built close personal relationships with so I could share with them the overflowing abundance of fruit in my life.

grouphug

Sadly, those days are now gone. Today, I don’t care. Or, maybe I still do. Only I don’t have any proof.

Recently, I thought of why this is. And I realized that one of the biggest reasons I was able to develop feelings that strong towards the lost, in the past, is because I was not alone. I was in the company of BROKEN disciples who were driven to spurring each other on, at all times; to leave our old characters behind and to renew our way of thinking. We had a single purpose and were united in mind and thought. And most importantly, our love for each other shined like a blinding light which made our evangelism utterly effective.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. BY THIS ALL MEN WILL KNOW that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  ~ John 13:34-35

Group love. Obvious, embarrassing, inconvenient, silly, cheesy, awkward group love. Nothing less.

To this day, I still have the conviction that men will not care about our Christianity until we have something to show for it. And what that is – is love that is impossible to ignore. They may either appreciate it or loath it, but they can’t ignore it. You know why people sometimes persecute? Because they’re envious… whether or not they’re aware of it.

For a lot of us, one thing that we probably don’t think much of, in our little circle, is the fact that we are Christians today because that is how we grew up to be. We weren’t really converted, in a sense. Neither was there much struggling nor searching for our faith. Church was familiar ground. It was home. Jesus was and is a part of our household. We didn’t really eat much with “sinners” either. I mean, when was the last time we’ve changed the life of a Satan worshiper? Or someone who simply hates God with a passion, for whatever reason? Would we even give these people the time of day? Wouldn’t we be somewhat indignant if they were a part of our community? As opposed to having and showing compassion towards them instead? Let’s be real.

Anyhow, we know we can’t just talk about love. We need to show it and prove it. And the world will be the judge of that. Not us! If the world does not take notice… we can’t blame them. We can only humble ourselves to desire to find other means to meet them, where they’re at. The ball is always on our court.

Our church needs to act as ONE body, not as individual parts laboring individually. That is how strength and individual courage is built. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. The culture that is born of modern society subtly encourages lukewarmness towards God. This culture MUST change and conform to that of the first century Christians. And not the other way around. Unless that happens, I seriously doubt that spiritual growth, be it personal or that of the church, can be expected anytime soon.

So, what is Evangelism 101? To love the lost? I believe, before we can develop our love for the lost, we first have to develop our love for one another. A kind of love that the world can attest to. One that they cannot ignore, even if they tried.

Alas! We have work to do, don’t we?

1 Corinthians 12:12

Trust no one

When I first moved to Hollywood, CA back in the late 80’s, I remember it being a time of discovery. A time I was beginning to learn the ropes of life away from the comforts of my own hometown. I lived near Sunset and La Brea where, back in those days, the craziness was at its peak. Or so, it seemed. It was supposed to be a bit scary actually, but I wasn’t scared at all. I thought it was just festive and that’s what I liked about it.

catch

One night, I remember driving to a Laundromat down on Sunset to wash my clothes. I had a boatload and needed a ton of quarters to get them all washed. So I used the bill changer to get my quarters. Now, most of the washers were in use at that moment, and I had to wait till they’re done. Since I had time, I thought I’d go next door to grab a slice of pizza. What I did before I went out is that I left all my quarters sitting on top of the washer. When I came back, the maintenance lady got on my face and said, “Are you nuts, leaving your money out here? This is Hollywood, boy! You’re lucky I knew it was yours and I made sure no one took it.”

Well, I thanked the lady and went on my merry way. Then it dawned on me later, I left the money there thinking it’s no big deal. Hollywood, schmollywood! Why would anyone steal it, I thought? I mean, that’s crazy talk! Who in their right mind would do such a thing?

Needless to say, I eventually learned that a lot of people, in fact, aren’t in their right minds, at times. Me, included! Imagine that. So now, I had to go from knowing nothing to knowing too much! I had to go from being naive to being suspicious. From being carefree to being careful. From trust to doubt. Smooth to scarred. It’s what the world calls… being wise.

But isn’t that what the world teaches, anyway? Really. To trust no one? I wonder sometimes, if the ones who consider themselves experienced, learned, wise… the ones who say, “enough is enough” or “no more”… I wonder if they still experience true happiness and contentment? I wonder if they’re still able to love unconditionally? To be sincere and compassionate? It’s hard to imagine. Or what if they are, indeed, wise enough to admit that they have been scarred? That they have certainly lost their spiritual virginity and have become a victim of this enslaving world that rejects God?

I am a victim. But I also admit to having allowed myself to be one. And I am just now getting myself back to where I used to be. Back to where it’s safe. Back to where there is freedom. And pure joy. Back to the world of trust. Hey, “wise” can sometimes be overrated, you know?

The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?  ~ Psalm 118:6

Almost there… I hope you’re waiting.

Contentment + Gratitude = Peace

peaceIn light of the current economic recession, I found myself pondering lately on how I’m incredibly blessed to have a stable job, right now. And not only is it stable, I truly feel that with this job, I am being paid for my hobbies, too! To wake up on Monday mornings excited to go to work is something I don’t take lightly. I am grateful that I am not only passionate about the work that I do, but also because I work with people whom I trust and consider friends… a very important factor, I believe. I can honestly say that in the last four years working where I work, I haven’t felt an ounce of stress, at all. Being in the office, in fact, does not feel all that much different from staying at home, either. This is just ridiculously good! Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how much longer I can get away with it.

But even that’s only the beginning.

The real story I wanted to tell here is what dawned on me, this past couple of days. I realized that I have been debt-free for exactly one year now. Yes!!! I was able to pay off everything I owed right about the time the economy was beginning to falter. After having religiously lived like a broke college student (okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but you know what I mean…) for many years, I was now able to breath freely and… well, not hesitate to fill up the tank and go for a joy ride, every now and then.

But wait… here’s the cherry on top of the whipped cream. Right after my debt was paid off, I set up an automated savings account just so I can get myself back to financial normalcy without having to think about it, all the time. Now, I had forgotten about this account. Yesterday, I decided to give it a look. Well, what do you know? I was surprised to find in there – well, let’s just say a substantial amount I’ve never had before! Just like that! I was like… gee wiz, if not for my occasional trips to Guitar Center (which, by the way, can be hazardous to a struggling musician’s financial health), I would’ve ended up with much more! Haha! Nope, not complaining at all!

Anyhow, I’m not saying this is a lot or even a big deal of a case. Circumstances are obviously different for everyone. But for a single guy who loves the simple life and doesn’t need much (well, sans the occasional musical acquisitions), this is absolutely monumental. Yet, I don’t think my spending habits have changed much at all, after all these years. When you’ve trained yourself to be content out of necessity, contentment eventually becomes a comfortable way of life… even long after necessity has expired. And this goes beyond mere finances, of course! When you are grateful for the littlest things that come your way, trust me, the peace it allows you is simply priceless. And no matter where we’re at in life, isn’t peace what we all crave for, ultimately?

I thought so. Especially, in times like these.

Ask not

Sometimes, I find myself being frustrated with my church. You know, like I want it to be a certain way but it’s not. If it only does this and not that. Or, if only they have this and not that. Whatever.

Every church has its own culture. For the most part, that culture rubs off from that of its surrounding community and society. The church I’m in now isn’t the one I grew up in. And neither is the city. I will forever be the new kid in town, where I am right now. But that’s not my point.

serve

It’s not necessarily wrong to desire for a change in one’s religious culture – be it of the church or society – if you’re willing to do the work. It’s going to take an enormous amount of time and effort to do it (especially for a stranger like me). And on the way, there will be resistance of all kinds. Don’t believe me? Go, ask Jesus.

Me? Actually, I’m willing. Maybe, I’m just unable. Or so, I think. Anyhow, just because I’m used to certain things doesn’t mean it has to be that way all the time. Right? Well, there’s my excuse! Flexibility is beneficial in life. I realize that in most churches, people come and go because they church-hop hoping to find the “right” church for them. And I can understand that. To a degree, that is. I’m beginning to see that this can, indeed, become a sin as well. Trying to be in control when God should be. Giving in to what we want instead of looking beyond our circumstances to see what God is trying to say to us. Finding the perfect church is a futile attempt, I think. Any church “can” be the right church, if only we listen closely to what God is telling us instead of what we’re trying to tell ourselves. A desire for convenience can sometimes lead our hearts astray. It’s a comfort zone issue.

Bottom line is, as long as humans stay imperfect, we’ll never find the “perfect” church. However, we will always find our hearts, regardless of its condition, in any church we’re in. And I certainly don’t want to find my heart in a bad condition at a church that God has put me in. I want to find out what he has in store for me. I’m sure it is good. I know it is. Maybe, I won’t find it today. But I trust that someday, I will. Like the saying goes – In his time.

So meanwhile, I say… Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for it. For by this, God’s voice will resonate louder than ours so that our purpose will become clear to us. We will then find an answer to our questions and meaning to our lives.

God bless.