Sunday, December 24, 2006

What James Bond Can Teach Us About Worship

First, something I've been meaning to say for awhile. You do understand that my blog is about anything I may be thinking about on any given day, right?
Today, I was thinking about 007. Specifically the new film Casino Royale.

This film has struck a cord with movie-goers and critics alike:

Entertainment Weekly- Owen Gleiberman
Relaunches the series by doing something I wouldn't have thought possible: It turns Bond into a human being again -- a gruffly charming yet volatile chap who may be the swank king stud of the Western world, but who still has room for rage, fear, vulnerability, love.

San Francisco Chronicle - Mick LaSalle
Casino Royale is fresh, actually fresh.

LA Weekly - Scott Foundas
What's appealing about Bond is precisely its unhip classicism -- its promise of clean, crisp excitement delivered without the interference of whiplash-inducing camera pyrotechnics, attention-deficient editing patterns, gratuitous color tinting and/or ear-splitting rock ballads.

Slate- Dana Stevens
Martin Campbell (who also directed Pierce Brosnan's first outing as Bond in "Goldeneye"), has chosen to give us a Bond who's both metaphorically and literally stripped bare. Let me take this opportunity to thank him for both.

So what does this have to do with worship? It actually has more to do with what people respond to (or don't) in a worship service. A James Bond movie has been released depicting an authentic, believable British Special Agent. This special agent uses a regular gun (not a gun made out of a shoe), a regular car (not an amphibious cannon-capable roadster), and the audiences are responding to him. What I've heard is this; when people leave the theatre, they like the guy because he is a real person.

It was much the same reaction with Batman Begins. People got tired of all the over the top theatrics, special effects, and explosions. The audiences wanted something more basic; more believable. They found it in Batman Begins.

So my question is this. Why do some churches still beat the same drum of trying to put on a production and turn the worship service into a variety show hour?

It has been said that worship leaders try so hard to put on a top-notch rock concert during a worship service, with mediocre talent and meager funds. My comparison with Casino Royale takes it one step further. Here is a major motion picture company capable of putting out the latest and greatest cheese-fest Bond movie, along with the best special effects show you could possibly imagine, and yet they don't. They deliberately sacrifice the glitz and the light show, in exchange for a stripped down, bare bones 007. The result? A box office hit.

Again, they CAN put on the over-the-top Bond movie, but don't.

Most worship leaders CAN'T be Bono (or Michael W. Smith or Amy Grant or Passion or Maranatha or Hillsong) but TRY to, and fail miserably. And not just on one Sunday, but EVERY Sunday. The worst thing about it is that they actually believe they are connecting with the congregation... every Sunday.

Sadly, it has been my experience that this comparison will not resound with those individuals who need to hear it the most; worship leaders. They will continue in their attempts to entertain rather than lead worship. The will continually fail to make a distinction between worship and entertainment. They will continue to remain blind and deaf to the changes in the cultural make-up. They will continue battling over arguments of tradition vs. contemporary worship, and the silly congregants will continue to be either repulsed or mesmerized by the fact that drums are being played in the worship service. As this silliness continues to fester, those who are desperate for authentic worship sit starving on the side-lines, leave, or never darken the doors of a church.

I mean, why rent a DVD of Octopussy, when you have Casino Royale?

It's not always the case, but this is one of those rare occasions when the church needs to pay attention to what Hollywood is telling us. People in today's culture are seeking authenticity, not special effects.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Hip-Hop through the Eyes of a Child

"I want to hear rap music."

That's what my 8 year old daughter told me yesterday as we were driving back home from the stores.

I didn't have my Tribe Called Quest CD with me or anything else of worth, so if I was to play rap music for her it would have to come from the radio. As a dad, I wasn't all too sure about the content the latest "hit" song would spew into her brains. It's not just the expletives or the massacre of the English language, but everything else that hip-hop today seems to represent (womanizing, materialism... you know what I mean).

Because she is so young, I was curious as to how she would describe rap music. So, I just asked her, "What is rap music?"

This was her response: "You know... when there's a guy singing, kind of; and he has a silver tooth and a gold tooth..."

Does anyone else think that is hilarious and sad at the same time?

Is anyone else turned off by the prevalent images in hip-hop culture?

To keep in step with other fellow bloggers making lists of their favorite hip-hop artists (click the link above), here is a short list of my favorite hip-hop artists. These aren't "the greatest", but rather artists who are or have been innovators in hip-hop. These are artists that I wouldn't mind listening to some day on a road trip with my daughter. Because of these groups, I love hip-hop.

1) Public Enemy - still my favorite. They head-lined the only major hip-hop concert I ever attended. I still have the red T-shirt with the guy in the cross-hairs.

2) Eric B. and Rakim - First hip-hop crew to implement Hebraic/Middle-Eastern pop music by sampling Ofra Haza.

3) De La Soul - The Flower Children of hip-hop. "Say No Go" still one of my favorite all time tunes.

4) Tribe Called Quest - Jazz influence phenomenal. Smartest lyrics I've ever heard.

5) Jurassic 5 - One of the few LA groups I can actually listen to. The only reason these guys aren't mainstream successes is their obvious lack of "bling". Grassroots hip-hop at it's best.

There are more artists I could add to the list (i.e. Brainwash Projects, Pharcyde, Run DMC- goes without saying, the Beasties, Nas, The Roots, etc...) but the point, as clearly illustrated by my daughter, is that today image supercedes art. This is true in everything, but especially in hip-hop.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holy Hat Racks Robin!

This 7-foot long aligator was pulled from the lake behind our house today.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Legacy - How Great Thou Art

I had the privelage of knowing and loving one of my abuelos, Jose Mora. He is pictured here with my beautiful grandmother, Mercedes. We affectionately called them Meme and Chu.

Chu served as a horse mounted military police for the Cuban government, pre-Castro (my mom or uncle will correct me if I am wrong). He passed away when I was about 13 years old, so I never had a chance to sit down for a "man-to-man" talk with him. I remember Chu as a quiet, serious man; until of course he thought of something funny, and then he would break out with a contagious laugh that I still remember to this day. He was a great man who lived a full life, and I look forward to seeing him again in eternity.

So what does Chu have to do with the title of my blog?

I remember the first time I began realizing the importance of the word "legacy". It was the day of Chu's funeral. Many other words flooded to my mind on that day; honor, grace, mercy, love, strength and power. I was 13 when Chu passed. It was on the day of his funeral that I met God face-to-face for the first time.

During the eulogy, the pastor was saying very nice things about my grandfather. Everyone says nice things when someone dies; it's what you're supposed to do. I vaguely paid attention, more interested in being able to sit down and get some sleep. It was late.

We got to a point in the service where the pastor said, "Now, we will sing Jose's favorite hymn, How Great Thou Art."

Favorite hymn? Chu had a favorite hymn? Okay. Maybe he's just saying that about Chu to make him sound spiritual. Whatever.

The lyrics to this hymn go like this:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

I remember listening intently to the lyrics, because I wanted to see what had inspired my grandfather so much.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

I was floored. I could not contain the tears. A woman I don't remember reached out to console me. I cried hysterically and ran to the bathroom.

I wasn't just crying for my grandfather. I was a 13 year old, blown away by the depth of my grandfather, and gripped by the message of that verse.

I cried hysterically for a good 15 minutes. I remember that I was in uncontrollable awe of God. I never felt that way before, or since.

All at once I was confronted with my mortality, my sin, my humanity. I was also in the presence of the living God my grandfather had loved so much.

Chu was no saint. He was a flawed man. But he loved God, and understood what I would later understand to be God's grace.

I thank God for my family, the church I grew up in, and all of the other things that influenced my walk with Christ. But not many people know the impact that Chu and a hymn had on shaping who I am, and Who's I am, today.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas Shopping

I went to Toys'R'Us yesterday to get some presents for my daughter. It's not easy shopping for her, because her toys of preference are limited to electronic gadget games (that get expensive and monotonous after a while), board games and baby dolls. She thinks Barbies are okay, but loses interest after a while. (Did I mention, my daughter is the coolest girl in the world?)

So since she already has an orphanage full of baby dolls, I began my search for those toys which only I could be so ingenious to select. My originality in selecting these toys would surpass that of other parents who just walk in and buy the latest heavily marketed toys on the market. I wasn't going to be like them. My daughter was going to receive smart, unique toys which would challenger her creativity, and expand her mind. These toys would teach her the values every strong, virtuous woman should learn from childhood.

Basically, I was getting whatever toy I could grab that was still on the shelves. The truth is I'm a raging procrastinator when it comes to gift buying... and uh, anything else.

I first entered the board game section. Here you find a wide selection of games, like Sponge Bob Monopoly, or if you prefer, Micky Mouse Monopoly. There's Disney Princess Chess, Jimmy Neutron Trivial Pursuit, Pirates of the Carribean Dead Man's Chest Twister (because Pirates of the Carribean Curse of the Black Pearl Twister is so yesterday), and of course the one I'm sure you've heard of, the classic Fairly Odd Parents Backgammon game.

I bought Trouble. Not That's So Raven Trouble. Just Trouble. I played it as a kid, That's So Raven wasn't stamped all over it, and it was STILL a fun game.

I then proceeded to the educational section of the store. Here a parent could find a myriad of scientific and brain stimulating toys, that push the child to be creative. They had telescopes, microscopes, molding clay, dinosaurs skeletons and farm animals. It was really cool, and a great section to be in because I was the only parent interested in being that section. All the moms were in the Brat Doll section of the store (more on that later) and the dads were checking out the moms in the Brat Doll section of the store.

Moving on I passed the Dora The Explorer and Bob The Builder section, because my daughter is just too mature for them (those toys are so pre-k), and came to the Barbie and Ho dolls. This is the section where you realize that Barbies now appear to be the Amish doll collection, in comparison with the Brat Dolls and the all new low in the, what I like to call "slutification" of our pre-teen girls, My Scene Bling Dolls. The "Scene": your favorite bar, club, backseat or apartment where the guys outnumber the girls at least 2-to-1. The "Bling": all the flashy jewelry a girl can get in exchange for... well, I guess whatever she's willing to give up. To put this in perspective, these dolls are being sold to girls between the ages of about 5-10 years of age, and they are selling like... well, like Brat Dolls.

I tried walking briskly through this section to get to the baby dolls section, just to look at them and rekindle the flame of hope that not everybody in America is buying these dolls for their daughters. Unfortunately, I couldn't get through the near-empty Ho dolls shelves before I heard a grandmother say, "oh, look how cute these dolls are!"

That's what I always say when I turn on the TV and see Paris Hilton, or Britney Spears flashing while wearing skirts much like these Bling dolls... "Oh they're so cute!"

I wonder if the Bling Dolls come wearing thongs? At least they'd have on more clothes than Paris and Britney.

I then continued on and my hope was renewed when I saw that girls still love their doll houses, horse, and stuffed animals. Thinking about it a bit more, I reminded myself that 99.9% of how your daughter grows up depends on the values you teach her at home. It is disturbing however, that these dolls are even marketable. It means someone out there is buying them.

Ah, Christmas shopping. You gotta love it.

Paris Hilton as depicted on South Park

Friday, December 15, 2006

Great Pinochet Story - click here

The attached article was published on

Being married to a Chilena, I've heard first hand accounts of what went on during the 1970's in the early stages of the coup against Allende (the communist leader overthrown). I also heard the stories of how things were under Allende, and they mirrored Cuba; no food, no freedom of speech, no free elections, no opportunities, a failed economy, and a dictatorship willing and ready to be as violent, if not more than, what happened under Pinochet.

The difference? When Communists murder millions, you hear very little talk about it. When it's someone else killing 10 or thousands, you never hear the end of it.

Disclaimer: I did not see this article as an apology for the Pinochet Regime's atrocities. When it comes to history, however, you always need to keep things in perspective.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why Idealists Suck

I just finished reading a short piece my dad wrote several years ago. In it, he gives details about his life in Cuba, his courtship with my mom, life with family in Cuba and his departure in 1962, fleeing the Castro regime.

I find his story fascinating. Because I've heard it first hand from his own lips, reading about it makes it all so vivid. I can see my grandmothers crying as both of my grandfathers were arrested. I can imagine their fear over those long weeks while they were imprisoned wondering what was going to happen to them. I can imagine my mother and father worrying about what kind of life my sister would have if she was to grow up under that system of indoctrination.

On Sunday, former dictator Pinochet died in Chile. Fidel Castro is most likely already dead. These were men who were loved by some and hated by many. Regardless of your opinion of either one, when you hear first hand accounts of the lives they affected, you should be rendered speechless. Some, like my father, had their home and possessions taken; their families disrupted and separated. Others had their loved ones brutally murdered because they didn't think like they were supposed to.

I have a strong dislike of idealists. Specifically, idealists who live in an imaginary world where they don't actually experience that which they are idealizing. Unfortunately, many of these idealists work in our universities, or are movers and shakers in the media or in Hollywood.

If you're an idealist, I suggest you hear the voices of the people who are against your ideology; you may learn something from their first hand accounts. When you do, Che will no longer be the Jesus character he seemed to be in "The Motorcycle Diaries". When you do, you will understand why Cubans reacted when an artist wanted to erect a statue of Fidel in Central Park.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Blog Regarding Stereotypes - click here

My buddy Jose at Emerge Miami posted a video illustrating stereotypes Asians get hit with. My favorite one was "I eat dog", but that's besides the point.

Actually I had some great points and deep thoughts on the subject, until I heard the closing song.... "Tell Me Why?" by Bronski Beat. Dude (Mr. Cho), the video is awesome, but you've GOTTA change that song. Wasn't that a gay 80's anthem?

Seriously though, I can see some of what Jose is saying are similarities in feelings over stereotypes among minorities. Maybe I'm a little more resistant to it, but stereotypes don't bother me too much. That's probably because I love to dish out the stereotypes as much as I receive them.

Is that a post-modern trait? Has my cynicism and sarcasm defense mechanism made it so I can tolerate stereotypes and silly people more than people in past generations could? Maybe so. Maybe that's why shows like Chapelle Show and Mind of Mencia are so popular.

Stereotypes seem to have become a part of the fabric of our culture, for better or for worse. We stereotype other people all the time (by we I mean me, Mr. Cho and Mr. Zapata). We assume we are going to be discriminated against, because all "white" people are like that. Isn't that a stereotype?

So Mr. Cho, and Mr. Zapata, I'm afraid I cannot in all honesty stand in solidarity with you in your American experience. I would be somewhat hypocritical. I love my church, but I also love stereotyping my "cracker" brothers. I do it all the time, but I still love them. I also stereotype my Asian, Colombian, Nicaraguan, Cuban (but that's just self-loathing), Puerto-Rican and... well pretty much everyone I meet.

I guess it's just some weird post-modern... thingy.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Thoughts on Jesus - Before Gethsemane

On the subject of Jesus, C.S. Lewis writes in Letters To Malcolm, "Can it be that the more perfect the creature is, the further this separation must at some point be pushed?"

The creature, Jesus. The separation, 33 years later in the garden of Gethsemane.

I thought of the reality of God coming down to live among us; what that entailed. The sacrifice of a perfect being, allowing Himself not only to become man to eventually die a brutal death, but just to come down here at all. He knew what He was getting Himself into. Why do it at all?

If it's true (and I believe it to be true), then we are forced to ask questions about this whole scene. God came to this earth to suffer, and to suffer dearly. Why would He do that? Most of us living in America don't have a clue as to what an impoverished life is; what it's like to live under the thumb of ruthless leaders and dictatorships. We don't know what it's like to have to watch what you say for fear of reprisal. We don't know what it's like to wonder if your children will have enough food to eat the next day. We don't know what it's like to have to live in the shadows, hiding from government controled military, and being coaxed to rebel against it by questionable rebel groups.

And even though we don't know what any of this is like, and live in a great country, we still acknowledge one of the great truths of existence; life can suck, and it can suck badly.

Before His death, Christ prayed in the garden. He prayed that God would "take this cup" from Him, because the thought of the pain and humiliation was becoming unbearable. The entire process from that point on to His last breath was made doubly painful because He could have stopped it all in an instant. But He didn't. He went through the lashings, the spitting, the mocking and the nails.

The most agonizing thing must have been the separation from His Father.

I watched Mad TV one night about a year ago. On that episode, they were making fun of Nascar fans. 2 girls were selling some trinkets to the spectators. I don't recall the whole skit, but one of the girls was selling Santa and Jesus Christmas decorations. One of the lines that was meant to draw a laugh came when she was showing the customer the difference between the 2. When she mentioned Santa, she refered to his red cheeks or something, with a smile on her face. When she mentioned Jesus, her face went long and she said in a very somber voice, "He died for you", and then went on flirting with the customer. I wasn't offended or anything. In fact it was pretty funny to me, because she wasn't making fun of Jesus as much as she was making fun of the shallow view we have of faith.

We see Christmas, Christianity, faith and God as instruments for our pleasure, consolation, expression of heritage, or experience of community. I wonder how God saw it when He came down to be with us? Was He doing it to make us feel better about life? Was He doing it to ease our pain, or maybe give us a reason to get together on Sundays? Was He doing it to so that we as Americans could make our churches grow and burst at the seams, and to give our charismatic mega-church pastors something cool to talk about?

I think He saw us, and it broke His heart to see our pain. I think it broke His heart to not have His children close to Him. He wanted to be with us so badly, He was willing to lay everything down for us. He was willing to be born and live among us and subsequently allow Himself to be murdered. He was willing to do this out of a desperate love for us.

Can you imagine what that love must look like? I don't think I can even begin to scratch the surface of it. That kind of love is not of this world.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

On a less serious note- Cigars

Time to relax. I've been too tense lately; too uptight.

So, allow me to walk the path of my friend Jose at (soon to be, who gave us a list of the 25 best beers in America.

I love cigars. I have the privilege of living in a city where many fine cigar manufacturers roll their wares - Miami. One of my favorite cigar masters is El Titan de Bronze.

This is Don Carlos (pictured on the left), owner of this cigar factory. He is a very soft-spoken man; all business. The first time I came upon his small store in Little Havana, he greeted me with a smile. Pride was written all over his face. Pride in his cigar making; in being Cuban. He showed me his selection. I told him I liked a shorter smoke, so he introduced me to his Hemingway; shorties with a kick. Of all the cigars I have smoked, these are still my favorite.

That was about 2 years ago. But Don Carlos has been doing this a long time; he told me he and his father before him were cigar rollers in Cuba. His shop is across the street from one of the greats of the cigar world, El Credito. Despite El Credito's hardwood floors, leather accents, and endless rows of rollers, El Titan stands strong with it's faded picture of Giuliani enjoying one of their cigars, and usually 2-3 rollers busily working while listening to WQBA or Alvarez Guedes on Clasica 92.

You can visit their website at But to get the full sensory experience, pay a visit to Don Carlos at his shop on Calle Ocho.

Sometimes people ask me why I like cigars so much. I don't smoke them as much as you would think. I don't particularly like the after taste, and I have health concerns over cigar smoking. I usually smoke about 1 to 2 cigars per month. But when I smoke a cigar, I feel Cuban. I become Cuban, born and raised, if only for a few moments. Every puff of smoke carries an image of a Royal Palm swaying majestically in the breeze, or a wise smile on the leathery face of a Guajiro. Benny More sings Como Fue, and Rolando Laserie sings El Guapachoso (while wearing his Cuban flag berret of course). It's one of the few times I can experience Cuba as my parents remembered it. Castro, Che; they don't matter, unless they are the subject of some good jokes.

My dad watched me smoking a cigar one time. Looking at me he said, "Your grandfather would be so proud to see you right now." That moment was one of the proudest moments of my life as I sat there with my dad and my brothers. It's times like that when I realize why herencia is such an important word to Cubans, like Don Carlos.

Heritage. There is something sacred about that word. You experience it with a good cigar, in good company.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Nativity Story

We just came from seeing the film, The Nativity Story. It was a beautiful film and true to the Gospel (even for Hollywood).

The movie pulls no punches and does not hide anything. "...God has become flesh..." says one of the wise men. Not this will be a great leader or this man will change the world.

Favorite scene was in the manger when a ragged, dirty looking Shepard came up to Jesus and hesitantly reached out to touch the baby. He was reaching out to touch the hope he had been longing for all his life. He had found it in this baby, and cried in gratitude.

The theater was surprisingly empty. I'm not sure if it was poor advertising or if Christians were turned off by the news about the girl who plays the role of Mary being pregnant in real life. I fear the latter to be the case.

Maybe I'm not a good person. That must be it. Maybe I'm not cynical about the right things, or judgemental enough about other peoples sins; if I was I was I would be a better Christian. Maybe it would have been better if I didn't go see the movie. That way when people asked me if I saw it I could say something that sounded smart and pious like, "Well the film lacks historical integrity, and I can't support a film where the main actress playing the role of the blessed mother of Christ is actually living in sin."

We westernized Christians can be so shallow and silly (and those eastern Christians are pretty wacky, too). We lack depth because our belief is limited to walking down the aisle (the conversion conveyor belt) to accept Christ as Savior, so we can begin our life of "being good".

Anyway, please don't be a retard, and just go see this movie with your family. Enjoy it. It is a beautiful Christmas story. It is the Christmas story.