1. Immersion

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I had my social immersion this weekend. See, our university requires that all graduating students spend two and a half days living among the poor so that we can get an idea of what their life is like. I actually enjoyed it. It wasn't too bad. Actually, it was kinda fun watching my groupmates freak out. Shhh.

We learned how to cook some of the things the vendors sell on the street. We slept in their shanties, ate their food, and (to the horror of some of my groupmates) showered in their tiny bathrooms equipped only with a bucket of water and a small pitcher. I'm sorta used to it because of camping. =) Not a kind of life I'd want to live permanently, but I made do.

Most of the time, though, we listened. They have interesting stories. Apparently most of them are from a few provinces in the Visayas, and they left because they feared the insurgents in the area. They've been occupying that lot for some 30 - 40 years now, and a few generations have grown up there.

As part of our social immersion program under Fr. Padua (our theology teacher), we looked into the issues that united and divided their community. A major bone of contention for the different groups in these slums is a small chapel. Hardly a chapel, even - just a clear space with a roof over its head and a small altar for Mass - but it has resulted in deep rifts. Fr. Padua and the other people we talked to seem to think that one of the families there is trying to maintain control over this chapel for somewhat less than admirable reasons. It's apparently quite a lucrative venture - P2,000 for a wake, when the actual costs are so much lower! Other people complain about the drinking and gambling going on there - sometimes even inside the chapel. Accusations of nepotism abound, especially since the controlling family seems to be exploiting the common space for their own personal gain.

Of course, I feel vaguely uncomfortable at hearing only one side of this. I wonder what they would have to say.

We'll probably be focusing on that for our report. Anyway, look - I survived immersion. Cool, yes?

2. Religion

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I'm also coming to terms with religion. After much soul-searching (and an unbelievable amount of Googling), I've realized quite a few things about myself.

I'm an atheist. There, I've said it. Doesn't mean I'm going straight to hell (not that I believe in hell). Doesn't mean I'm going to go and be a nasty person. It just means that I have no particular belief in a god.

I guess I should explain that before my parents start wondering where they went wrong. =)

I came from a Catholic grade school run by Benedictine nuns (they're really nice), and when I was growing up, I think I really believed in it. I attended mass. I took communion. I eagerly devoured stories of saints and miracles, and wondered if I'd ever be one of the beatas or witness a miracle.

Then again, I also believed in all sorts of strange things back then, like spirits and ghosts and cloud castles and stuff like that. Blame it on people trying to use the supernatural to scare little kids. (Note to self: Never ever do that to small kids.) In retrospect, it was sort of embarrassing. |)

I think I was losing bits of it already in the last part of grade school. I was never really one for retreats. Going to a nonsectarian high school forced me to reexamine many of my beliefs as well.

I was never too comfortable with the somewhat fundamentalist stance that many people took when it came to religion - "I am right, you are wrong. I will be saved, you are damned." You know, that sort of thing. It's a good thing my parents were pretty moderate and tried as much as possible to explain to a rather confused girl that not everyone thought that way. On the contrary, many people thought that all the different religions were just different ways to reach one God and one truth.

I think it all started with the afterlife. Haven't we all thought about death and life after death? While thinking about it, I realized that I didn't really believe in hell - no fire and brimstone, no eternal boredom or loneliness, no eternal punishment. It just didn't make sense to me, partly because I have a hard time thinking that anyone's absolutely and irrevocably evil, and partly because I didn't see how useful Hell would be as a deterrent.

So naturally I turned to thinking about purgatory. I never really did feel comfortable with the thought of indulgences or souls hanging around in limbo waiting for people to pray for them so that they can enter heaven. Didn't make sense to me.

What did that leave? Heaven. I was still a little okay with the idea of, well, a heaven with everyone in a perfect society. Utopia. That sort of thing, yes? So heaven remained, and for a while I was okay (although a little unorthodox).

Then a friend of ours died, and I found it strangely acceptable that his corpse was, well, rotting away in the ground, and that was it - finis. End of existence. No flying around in heaven. No disembodied spirits hanging around. No consciousness. No resurrection, no second chance, zip. I didn't need the idea of heaven to reassure me that everything was going to be all right, and besides - on what had I been basing my idea of heaven on? Just what I'd been taught? So that faded away, too.

One life. One chance. After this, that's it! Tough luck. Bye. =) No hanging around trying to influence others. No praying for intercession. What makes life worth living? Maybe the difference I can make in other people's lives - the great experiment that has yet to be performed.

Around this time I was also examining my beliefs about good and evil. I used to actually believe in a literal personification of evil, what with all of the stories told us, but I realized how that didn't really make sense. I've had the luck not to run into anyone I could really call evil, and that also means I don't quite understand it either. That's one of the TODOs I should probably get around to resolving. =)

So there's that - the realization that I'm an atheist. I don't believe in a god, or some higher power that watches us and loves us. Not that I'm saying that God doesn't exist - people can believe whatever they want. I'm just saying that for me, well, I don't strongly believe in that. I'll still go to church because my parents would like me to, and I'm still going to try to be a nice person because I like being a nice person.

Perhaps one day I'll emerge from the other side. Who knows? But I don't want to pretend to beliefs that I don't have. =) Nice to have things out in the open, yes?

3. Lighter stuff - nice roses!

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Heavy thoughts, aren't they?

Here's a pleasant one so I can end this message on a high note. =) A beautiful bunch of light peach roses arrived this morning. Normally I'm quite against anything that smacks of sentimentality and stuff - dead flowers! what'll I do with dead flowers? - but they were just so pretty, and we had a vase handy.. I'm a little unclued as to the sender (I have my suspicions, thought!). Still, thanks! That was quite nice. =)

Send any birthday greetings to my mom. After all, she did all the hard work - I was just born. My dad would like to share some credit, though - keeps saying that he gave birth to me, so humor him.