Monday, December 24, 2007

Caja China? We Don't Need No Stinking Caja China!

At Christmas, Puerto-Ricans do Parrandas, Mexicans do Posadas, and Cubans do Lechon. This means that while Puerto-Ricans and Mexicans have very meaningful and festive Noche Buena celebration, Cubans sit around and eat pig. Not that there's anything wrong with that; it's just that we're more... sedintary, if that's even possible.

Regardless, it's a wonderful time. The Caja China is the name given to the the Cuban pig roasting method. The Caja China is sold online, and I'm not going to knock it here. It is really a well-built, well thought out system of roasting the pig. But, as far back as I remember, Noche Buena at the Palacios house was done old-school. The Caja China was not store bought. Each year, the Caja China is created. In fact, as I write this, my brother-in-law and the master pig roaster (his dad), have already set up the cinder-blocks, heated the coals, and smoked the wood chips, thus starting the roasting of the pig. The mojo has been prepared with the skill of a chemist. The Cuban coffee is intermitently brewed. It's hot outside, but every once in a while a breeze blows through.

This is an all day event involving food, wine, cigars, and great conversation over a 7-8 hour period. The conversation revolves around the economy, who's running for president, and of course, Cuba; nostalgia, anger, passion and laughter over the silliness of it all.

When I was 9, the scenario would have been the same. The same Miami breezes were intermitently felt. the smell of the pig roasting was overwhelming and made my stomach grumble, even though I had been munching on Cuban bread, gingerbread cookies, and mariquitas for most of the day.

The whole day was spent thinking about 3 things. First of course, obsessively thinking about what amazing things Santa was going to leave under the tree. Second, the bliss and utter joy of knowing that for 2 weeks, I would not have to go to school and could spend hours playing with the amazing things that would be left under the tree. Third, that unbelievable pig roasting all day over that heat.

And there was family. Everyone was together. This was not the last thing I thought about. I didn't have to think about it. We were there and we were together. And it was wonderful.

But oh, that pig! That Glorious pig!

Many images have been struck in American culture of families sitting around the table on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. In these images, we see a dad holding a carving knife in hand, ready to carve a white piece of turkey or goose, as the family sits still, looking on patiently for their delicious piece of that succulent meat. Norman Rockwell paintings captured these moments. They are beautiful and represent something that is timeless and noble, and are a reflection of what America represents to me; Love of God, country and family.

But someone really needs to capture that most important moment on Noche Buena, when the pig is hoisted out of the Caja China, skin crackling and popping. The entire family stands around, like ravenous wolves waiting for a turn at the most treasured part of the pig; the skin. Cubans really need an artist rendering of that moment. The pig-masters standing there wearing gloves, smelling of sweat and cigars. The rest of the family and invited guests looking on dressed in their Christmas best. The gloved hands begin cutting and ripping at the crisp, browned skin. Everyone begins to politely pick at the broken skin, which is still sizzling from the roasting. I can't eat bagged pork rinds. Once you've had them off the back of a freshly "Caja China" roasted pig, no bagged Frito-Lay pork rinds will do. The image of a Cuban family standing around a pig at dusk under palm trees in a Miami backyard. Any artists out there reading this, please accept this as my commission to have you paint this image for me. I would love to hang it next a to a Normal Rockwell in my living room.

The accompanying boiled yuca with mojo, arroz and frijoles.... pa' que hablar.

Well, it's only 11:30 am right now, so I better stop writing about this before I eat my laptop.

I was recently asked why I write this stuff down. I do it for the same reason Rockwell painted images of Americana. Someone has to capture these moments for my children. Historic moments, spontaneous ponderances, random ravings. Whatever they are, good or bad, meaningless or timeless, they only come around once in a while. If you don't write them down, they are easily forgotten.

Have a wonderful Christmas Eve. Make it memorable, and never forget it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

El Pesebre

Christmastime for a Cuban-American boy, whose first language was English and whose family belonged to the whitest denomination in America at the time (the Presbyterian Church in America) was interesting. It was interesting because the church I attended was made up of mostly Cuban families, all equally weird among among our extended family members because we weren't Catholics. Everyone went to church EVERY Sunday. There was choir practice and Bible study EVERY Wednesday. Our church was an amazing example of community built on culture, family and faith.

And yes, faith came last. We weren't the super holy people many of the adults pretended to be. Our church attendance was to be admired; but only by way of the love everyone in the church shared. We really wanted to be together. There was an air of superiority to our Catholic brothers and sisters however, which to this day rubs me wrong. But that was part of growing up Presby-Cuban. We were told we were right and more religious, and that is what defined us. There were some faithful among us, who understood the Gospel, and loved Jesus. Looking back however, the overall message of the church was "We are Cuban, and we are Presbyterian." Somewhere in there, we had some Christians, too.

So every Christmas, our church put on "La Cantata"; the concert event to end all concert events. My mom sang in the choir, and for a while there my dad did, too. They really were well put together (...the Cantatas). I am told our church was the talk among young churches in Miami back in the 70's. So the turn-out to the Cantatas was impressive.

And I'm pretty sure one of the few places to go in Hialeah to see a re-enactment of the manger scene was our church.

So "La Cantata" was always followed by "El Pesebre", the life-size manger scene. Every year, my dad built a manger out of wood. I'd go watch him build it, and hand him a 2'x4' now and then. All it took was a nicely designed wooden shelter, some hay and farm animals and you had true-to-life Bethlehem manger off of Okeechobee Road.

Thinking back, it was poetic. That area of Hialeah wasn't the best. There were a lot of seedy hotels, bars and other houses of ill-repute in the area. It was a perfect representation of the kind of people Jesus came to eat with, laugh with, live with and save. Though I don't think too many of us were thinking about that back then.

At least I wasn't. I was more into the live animals, dressing up like a shephard, and hanging out outside, thus avoiding having to listen to La Cantata (I mean, come on... I was 9 years old. Wait a minute... the tought of sitting through a Cantata NOW makes me ill, too... never mind). The night was clear, and I remember seeing the stars out. It was a great night under a Hialeah sky.

Then it happened. One of the animals, a goat, decided to bolt.

One of our wisemen, named "Ito", decided it was his job to bring back the errant goat, so he bolted too. And I'm willing to bet that this was the only time in all of Hialeah history, when a wiseman from the East was seen running across la 12 Avenida con Okeechobee, in full wise man garb, after a goat.

Ito finally caught his goat.

And while parts of this story may have been embelished, and the actual year might be off, Ito did chase a goat down the streets of Hialeah, and I was there to see the return of the goat. And Ito and the goat made that Christmas one of the most memorable ever.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

El Cho de Elsa y Raquel

I asked my dad to send pictures of Christmas past. This is what he sent me. Not exactly what I was looking for, but it did bring back some memories.

Growing up Cuban-American in the 1970's, TV was not the wonder-box of variety it is today. There were very few shows for kids, except for Electric Company, and Gilligan's Island and Brady Bunch re-runs. After that, you were pretty much on your own to make things happen. We didn't venture out in the neighborhood too often. A riot had broken out at Riviera Middle School one year. The riot was between Americans and Cubans. I've been told that riot police were called in. That may have been part of the reason why we didn't go out much. Or maybe it was just that we liked being at home; I don't know. Either way, being home a lot forced us to find ways to entertain ourselves.

My sisters were the creative minds. All they needed was some of the extra Goodwill clothes donated to us which was not fit to wear, now to be used for costumes, a few wigs (don't ask), some make-up and an impromptu script. The result?

El Cho de Elsa y Raquel.

"Cho" of course, is the word "show" spoken with a Cuban accent. We knew how to pronounce it correctly, but some words in English sound better with an accent, especially when used with other Spanish words.

My sisters put on a lot of shows over the years. Some were actually recorded on cassette tape, like the 'novelas' my grandmother would listen to.

What you see in the photograph here, is me dressed up as Santa (not sure why), playing a snare drum like a bongo (not sure why) for a "Cho" we put on one Christmas. I remember that day because this was one of our biggest Chos. Both sets of grandparents attended, as well as my parents.

I remember it because it was fun. That's pretty much it. We put on the show in my sister's room. The curtain was the closet door. The stage was set in front of the bed. And somehow, in this little 10'x10' room, we fit the actors and the audience, and had a wonderful time. I remember everyone laughing. My Santa belly was down by my crotch, so I looked like I had "enlarged testicle syndrome" (reference to the film Johnny Dangerously... not an actual ailment). I think that's what made everyone laugh the most. My sisters sang some songs and put on a great show. It was a perfect night.

More Christmas memories to come. By the way, my father clarified something for me from my last post. It was not a donkey running down the streets of Hialeah. It was actually a goat.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The List, 1979

As a kid growing up in Miami, right about this time I was thinking about 1 thing. The Christmas list, masked in a letter to Santa all about how good I had been.

The letter was written in English. My dad would tell me about Los Tres Reyes Magos, the three wise men, and how in Cuba, that was the day he would receive gifts. But here in Miami, my parents were living by American traditions.

So every year, I'd pull out the department store catalogs; Jefferson Ward, Sears, The Gold Triangle. I'd leaf through the catalogs, past the tools section, housewares, pause briefly at the women's bras section, and continue on to what mattered most; the toys.

My sisters would sit with me and help me go through the catalog. It was 1979. Elsy was a senior in high school. Raquel was a freshman. I was a fourth-grader with a crazy imagination, fueled by the introduction of "Japanimation".

A few years earlier I was introduced to Godzilla movies. Godzilla was my introduction to bigger than life monsters, entire cities being destroyed, Japanese people, and really bad English dubbing. Around 1979, a crazy 'Battlestar Galactica'-type Japanese cartoon started airing weekday mornings on a local channel. It was dramatic, explosions happened in slow-motion. It was a combination of lasers and ancient Samurai swords... in space.

That same year, Mattell released... THE SHOGUN WARRIORS!!





The Shogun Warriors were the grandfather of The Transformers, Voltron, and the myriad of other 'robo' toys that followed. These babies were almost 2 feet tall! And best of all, they shot things; stars and battle-axes.

Yes, this is what I wanted most in 1979. Specifically, the one pictured here... Dragun (awesome name).

So I made my list for Santa. Sure I put some other toys on the list, but this is what I really wanted. I finished my letter and handed it to my mom. "Yo te lo mando", she'd say. "No te preocupes, que yo te lo mando", assuring me it would be mailed post-haste.

And yes, I was concerned. This list had to get out quick and early in December. Time was precious for our family during Christmastime. Soon, this family would be caught up in the same madness everyone experiences at Christmas. But when your part of a predominantly Cuban, Presbyterian church, busy takes on a whole new meaning at Christmas.

After all, there are Cantatas to be sung, Christmas programs to put together, and donkeys to chase down through the streets of Hialeah in the middle of the night.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas.


Christmastime is here.


I already received my first forwarded email (twice) called "Heritage Lost", a play on the words of Twas The Night Before Christmas, all about how America is Godless, we're taking Jesus out of Christmas... yada, yada, yada...


These conversations seem to permeate the Christmas season these days. It's sad that during such a beautiful time of year, people are reduced to walking around so angry at the world. They create an evil of bitterness and superiority complexes that far exceeds the evil of consumerism, or any Godless behavior Walmart could ever perpetrate on America.


In 1989, CCM artist Michael W. Smith produced what I consider to be the best Christmas album ever produced, entitled, Christmas. My favorite song on the album is Anthem For Christmas. Those of you who know me would think my favorite Christmas song would be written by someone like Rich Mullins, Daniel Amos, or Mike Roe.


The lyrics to this amazing song were actually written by Ms. Gloria Gaither:


In the space of the beginning
Was the living Word of light
When this Word was clearly spoken
All that came to be was right


All creation had a language
Words to say what must be said
All day long the Heavens whispered
Signing words in scarlet red


Some have failed to understand it
So God spoke His final Word
On a silent night in Judah's hills a baby's cry was heard


"Glory!" sang the angel chorus
"Glory!" echoed back the night
Love has come to walk among us
Christ the Lord is born this night!


All creation sing His praises!
Earth and heaven praise His name!
All who live come join the chorus!
Find the words!
His love proclaim!


I hope this Christmas, you are filled with the joy of coming to know the God you have heard of since you were a child; the God who is bigger than anything you ever heard.

I hope this Christmas the story of God becoming man becomes as real to you as the ground you walk on and the air you breath.

I hope this Christmas, you find the words.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Protestant Cuban at Christmas

Many stories have been written about culture-clash experiences. My story is not unique. When I was growing up, however, I always felt like the round peg in a square hole.

There were 2 times of the year when I felt it most; Christmas and Easter.

Let's start with my mom and dad in Cuba. They weren't Catholics. They went to a Methodist school, got married in a Methodist church by a gringo Methodist pastor. My extended family wasn't Catholic either; they were Episcopalian. I'm not sure what that meant to other Cubans in 1950's Cuba. But I sure as hell know what that meant in 1970's - 1980's Miami.

Freak.

It meant we didn't go to "La Misa del Gallo" on Christmas Eve at midnight. It meant that during Easter, I was the only kid in my school without the ashen cross on my forehead on Ash Wednesday. It meant that I was the only kid eating croquetas and bistec on Good Friday.

It meant that I was the only kid in my school who spent an inordinate amount of time in church (most of my classmates did not attend Catholic Mass on a regular basis. They usually went, as far as I could tell, about 5 times a year).

I was usually dubbed "El Santito" or "Religious", or something sublime like "That kid that goes to church 3 times a week and is a wierdo for it". Things like that.

Being a Protestant-Cuban in a Catholic-Cuban world wasn't easy. Thankfully, I was part of a church where most of my friends were going through the same stuff I was. We were all freaks from different places -- I lived in the Southwest Miami area, others lived in Perrine, a few lived in Hialeah. But we were all dealing with the same challenges.

We also had a lot of fun. We got to experience some things that, maybe, some of our Catholic friends never got to experience.

What follows over this Christmas holiday period is a time of reflection on growing up Protestant-Cuban, especially at Christmas time, in Miami. This is my "A Christmas Story", without Scott Farkas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's Bugging Hollywood?

I was surfing the web looking at movie previews. It seems that once again, Christianity has raised the ire of Hollywood, and the film-makers are making it known.

I didn't have to look far either. On one website alone, in less than 10 minutes, I found 2 films with insane looking, or flamboyant "men of the cloth" representations, and 1 documentary, called Protagonist, a documentary about extremism, featuring 1 former "ex-gay minister" (by the way, the other "extremists" in the film are an ex-criminal, an ex-terrorist, and an ex-martial arts expert), who will obviously be pushing one of the main agendas of the film.

The funny thing is, I wasn't even looking for this. I just clicked on a couple of movies that looked interesting. Some of these films actually seem pretty cool. I want to see Protagonist.

My only question is, why is Hollywood being so hypocritical?

There is a film that came out in 1991 called At Play In The Fields of The Lord. I rented it several years ago, because it looked like an interesting movie, set in the Amazon Jungle, a story about Christian missionaries and their struggles and adventures trying to convert the indigenous people. I had high hopes for the movie; the cast includes John Lithgow, Kathy Bates, Daryll Hannah (who is cool again since she played Elle Driver in Kill Bill), and a few other note-worthy actors. I lost interest when I saw that EVERY "Christian" character in the movie seemed to be completely insane (Kathy Bates loses her mind halfway through the movie after spending the firt half speaking in King James English. I remember one disturbing scene of her naked and covered in mud... yikes), or utterly depraved and completely lost. the only "balanced" folks in the movie seemed to be anyone who wasn't a Christian. This didn't anger me as much as make me laugh. I actually thought, up until that point, that Kathy Bates was a great actress. Obviously, she didn't research the part very well and came up with a caricature she conjured up in her mind of who a Christian missionary wife is. This movie was "Reefer Madness" in reverse.

And this is how I feel every time I see a depiction of a Christian in a movie; or at least a typical Hollywood depiction of a Christian.

Okay Hollywood. I get it. Christians suck. We've done a lot of stupid and pretty bad things. There's The Crusades, bombing abortion clinics, Jimmy Swagart, The Moral Majority, WWJD bracelets... I understand your angst.

But Hollywood, I do have 2 requests.

First, in an age where authenticity rules the day, can you be consistent? If you're going to give us a believable Batman in Batman Begins, and a real James Bond in Casino Royale, can you give us at least a few more Christians who aren't snake-handlers, or unbalanced evangelists? Is there any way you could give us at least one Christian character who doesn't speak King James English and wear a polyester suit?

Second, would you use the same concern you have for our Muslim, Hindi, and Jewish brothers and sisters when you talk about or depict us? Can you please stop being so hypocritical?

Just a thought.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Something's Going To Happen... Something Wonderful.

In 2010: The Year We Make Contact, astronaut Dave Bowman gives this, one of the most memorable quotes for me of any 80's movie. Today, this quote comes to mind as I think of this coming year.

A few posts ago, I raised some questions. I gave a rant. I was frustrated. I was annoyed.

Today, as 2008 approaches, I get a sense of coming to the crest of a roller-coaster. A feeling of the unknown is intensifying. My heart is gripped.

I've been giving an ear to God, and he is speaking quite loudly. He is using words like Grace, but pointing me to others (I've been focusing that word on myself for some time now). He's also speaking justice to me; what that word means. Also charity, dignity, courage, fearlessness. Most importantly, love.

At the crest of the roller coaster, you're paralyzed. Everything stops and all you hear is the wind, and the slowly intensifying screams.

He is speaking other words to me. Pain, discomfort, sacrifice, hurt. But always, he's speaking love.

I'm not a psychic, and Nostradamus was focusing on the wrong issues. What is on the other side of that crest is bigger than the end of the world.

On the other side of that drop, as the screams of anticipation come to an ear-splitting screech and the whole earth seems to be shaking under those rails, you find people.

In 2008, somethings going to happen; something wonderful. God is going to do a work in my life, and in my family's life. It has nothing to do with wealth, a house, a new baby, peace of mind.

God's thrills are found in love; in loving other people. In 2008, God is promising me a new perspective on what is important.

The Answers to the Questions You're Not Asking, But Should Be.

A great post by my friend William.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Questions

I met with some friends last night. For reasons I can't get into here (my friend's livelihood specifically), the specifics have to remain undisclosed. However, it had to do with church life, and the complete and utter lack of attention modern churches give to being relevant.

It's frustrating because it seems that no matter how much you talk about it, bring it to people's attention, etc... people just keep doing what they do, which usually involves putting on performances for the few church mice who attend because they feel obliged to, or because that's what they do on Sunday.

My friend Frank then sent me a video posted on GODTUBE.COM (that's a whole other story). The video was forwarded to him by his younger brother, who is about 20 years old. The video was a semi-professional production. The theme of the video was one of these "if you don't tell your friends about Jesus, they'll go to hell and it will be all your fault" story-lines. Frank's brother sent him the video clip, and called it a scare tactic. I agree.

I'm wondering...

Why is it so difficult for Christians to stop playing church games? Why are we so disconnected from reality?

Why is it so difficult for Christians to understand the gospel? When did we reduce the Bible to a book of rules and a guideline for living?

Why do we settle for mediocrity? When did we take a backseat and let culture and media lead the charge on what is art; what is beautiful?

Why are Christians not paying attention to the world around us?

Why are Christians so afraid of the world? (i.e. GODTUBE.COM)

What are Christians afraid of? Losing control? Hell? That not everybody thinks like us?

Why are Christians so concerned with growing churches? I thought Christ said to make disciples of men.

And finally, why is church so... well... cheesy; so damn irrelevant?

What the hell is wrong with us?

Are you serious? Are we still having the same old and tired conversations and debates about worship styles and music? Are we still trying to re-invent the wheel (meaning the truth of the gospel)?

I really don't blame people for not wanting to darken the doors of churches.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Must Read Blog


Please check out my friend William's new blog, Wanderings Toward Truth, Beauty and Love.


There you will find deep thoughts, good book suggestions (like a William's Book Club type of thing), and other cool stuff.




"Faith is different from proof; the latter is human, the former is a Gift from God."
- Blaise Pascal-

Luke: I can’t believe it.
Yoda: That is why you fail.
-From 'Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back'-

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Spirit FM, WMCU off the air... a bad thing?

On September 30, 2007, WMCU, aka Spirit FM, signed off the air after 37 years on the air.

Sigh.

I'm not so sure what to make of this. I think Christian radio stations are a wonderful thing. Historically, these radio stations have been instrumental in encouraging, teaching, and ministering to people all over the world. Because of Christian radio stations, people are introduced to inspiring messages and worshipful music. I can remember times when turning on a Christian radio station, at home or away, reminded me of God's love for me, maybe at a moment when I doubted it, or forgot about it.

If I'm honest, I will admit that WMCU had that effect on me throughout my life growing up here in Miami. Were it not for WMCU, I would not have heard Steve Brown. Were it not for WMCU, I would not have heard....

.... well, that's it. Steve Brown.

True, there were times when I heard a "buck up little camper" type message on WMCU to perk me up a bit. But, what exactly did WMCU provide us with, besides a rooster crow at 7:30 am?

WMCU became the focal and central source of information, teaching and spirituality for South Florida Christians. That is a reality, and it is a SCARY reality. WMCU was the source of spiritual food for many South Florida Christians. In other words, if you didn't hear it on WMCU, it wasn't "worthy". Again, in other words, if Chuck Swindoll, Tony Evans, John MacArthur, or the myriad of the other now erstwhile teachers weren't preaching it, then it probably wasn't "kosher" ( I purposely left Steve Brown off that short list because I think most Miami Christians tuned him out. I was probably one of the handful of Christians in Miami who wasn't offended by him. The only reason he was still on the station is probably because he was grandfathered in.)

Whether it was purposely done or not, WMCU became the hat on which many Christians in Miami hung their hats.

Case in point, here are some comments I picked off the stations website from well-meaning people in South Florida, upon hearing the news of WMCU's demise:

"Your station and all who work there have become a daily habit for me. The programs and music you have offered over the years have been edifying to so many and glorifying to our Heavenly Father. This community needs this station!!! "

"I'm sure Satan is rejoicing at the hole he has blown in South Florida."

"This has created a great void in many lives."

So the question is this: Has Christendom as we know it come to an end in South Florida?

Hell no! Satan blows, but he can't blow a hole in South Florida, brothers and sisters! Sure we'll miss having the same songs repeated over a 10-15 year period! Sure, we'll miss having a station trying to sound like secular station, playing music that is trying to sound like secular music! Sure we'll miss... uh... Steve Brown! But look on the bright side:

- 20 years of hearing the song I believe in Jesus by Degarmo and Key, a song recorded in the 80's, as a segue song to 'lead us into the news', are over.

- Once again, Third Day will be okay to listen to, in the knowledge that there is at least one less 65 year old grandmother in Miami, who will no longer be moving her body to the rhythm of their latest song, thinking that her 15 year old granddaughter "just has to hear this".

- John MacArthur is off the air in South Florida.

- The worship leaders in your church are now free to expand there repertoire of worship music outside of Casting Crowns, as part of their regular worship music in your church. They are no longer bound by the ecclesiastical rule of "thou shalt not play music not approved by St. Steve James, or his successor Sister Mary Ann Perdomo. All other music is unworthy, so sayeth the code of the dove".

So, "buck up little camper"! There is life after WMCU. Satan has not given a blow to South Florida, and the fat lady isn't singing yet (Hey! There's another good thing... Sandy Patty's off the air in South Florida, too!).

When something so many people relied upon for their spiritual walk is removed, then we have to know that God has done it for a reason. This is a good reason. God calls us to rely on His word. He gives us instruments, through the media, written word, and the arts to use as an expression of his word, but in the end, he wants us to think for ourselves, and rely on Him alone.

WMCU was one of those instruments. For those who saw it as more than that, give thanks that it is gone. You'll be a better person, and Christian, for it.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Preservation


I wanted to highlight a website all about the town my parents grew up in in Cuba, Santiago de las Vegas. The site has some great old photographs, offering a glimpse, not only of life in the small town, but also on the island.
My father submitted the photograph above. It was taken in 1948, and my dad was about 9 years old. He's the boy on the front row, second in from the left. I just posted it here to bug him.
We need to remember where we came from. It shows us who we are, and helps define where we're going.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

You can lead a horse to water...

(On Galatians 4: 12-20) "Paul's forgiveness of the Galatians for their betrayal of him is so automatic that we can hardly notice it. It is only because his appeal to them (as strong as it is) is so affectionate and free from resentment that we realize the strength of Paul's forgiving spirit. Later he cautions the Galatians against a growing spirit of resentment and back-biting (Gal. 5:15). The more they lose touch with the gospel, the more resentments and grudges grow."
-Tim Keller-

I'm learning a lot about my own heart by studying Paul's letter to the Galatians.

Again... I'm learning a lot about MY OWN heart. MY resentment. MY bitterness. My grudges. My anger. MY fears.

Often we read the Bible, or hear a preacher speak, or read the latest and greatest "good advice" book, and apply it to other people. "So-and-So needs to read this." Very few times do we apply the advice being given to ourselves.

Why? It usually hurts to get honest about yourself.

The Bible can lead you to the water. The question is, will you drink? Do you see God speaking to YOU, or do you just see Him speaking through you?


"...the strength of Paul's forgiving spirit."

I'm learning that my heart is wracked with bitterness. This bitterness will not allow me to forgive. Not being able to forgive keeps me bitter about other things; makes me critical of people I don't even know. Forgiveness of what? Anything and everything. Things I don't even think about, until a conversation comes up and I find myself getting defensive, critical, and angered.

Thank God for the reality of knowing my nature. Thank God for showing me that I have not yet "arrived". Thank God for accepting me as I am; an acceptance that gives me no recourse but to respond in praise of Him.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

For the Berkeley-Rican

This video link is for my friend Jose living out in Berkeley. It's from, of course, South Park.

Enjoy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Intellectual Mystique

I just discovered Urban Dictionary. I love it. It's called a "dictionary with your definitions".

Here are some of the definitions placed for Pseudo-Intellectual:

-One who attempts to flex intellect that does not exist within his or her own mind.

-Can probably be found with a thesaurus in hand, while in a chat room, looking up new insults that are synonymous with "stupid" in order to boost his or her own undeserved ego.

-Posseses a severe tendency to blindly and wholeheartedly believe any bullshit they hear, only to subsequently regurgitate the misinformation to anyone they see in an asinine attempt to appear more intelligent than a used, broken condom. Should the victim of the verbal onslaught happen to have a differing opinion, the pseudo-intellectual will revert to his or her thesaurus and insult the opposition with words he or she never knew existed, and probably cannot even pronounce.

- A person who uses "big words" to impress people, insists on being politically-correct all the time, constantly bitches about "the system", and thinks they're gods among men because they're atheist.

- the act of going to a coffeeshop with an impressive book (Debord, Nietzche, or maybe an advance bio book) and flipping through the pages without comprehension in hopes of starting a conversation with another patron.

I love the internet.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Leo

As I was writing the last post, I received news that an old friend of mine, Leo, passed away yesterday. Leo leaves behind his wife Ileana (another old friend) and their little girl.

I met Leo when he and Ileana were dating. I was asked to teach a Bible class for a small spiritual retreat at a church, and Leo came to that class. I remember teaching about our sinful nature, and how God's grace covers ALL of our iniquities. I talked about God's awesome love for us. I remember Leo was impacted, and I remember being impacted and humbled that God had spoken to him in such a powerful way. Leo was crying, and yeah, that made me bust out in tears later on, too.

That was my only "spiritual" contact with Leo. After that it was mostly his' and goodbyes'. He and Ileana got married, had a beautiful little girl. We didn't see them much in the interim, except for the occassional wedding and funeral.

But Leo made an impact on my life. When you see the gospel shake someone to the core like that, you can't help but be impacted by it. You never forget it. There is something about brokenness that makes you shudder. There is something about recognizing our smallness before a mighty, infinite God that shatters every paradigm.

You can't forget that stuff, and I won't forget Leo.

I'm journaling here...

"Didn't I cultivate a life that was excellent and praiseworthy in so small a creature? But no, it was not my doing. All these were gifts from my God -- none were from me -- in whatever came together in myself". - The Confessions of St. Augustine

I'm reading this book. Augustine had such amazing insight; mostly into his own fallen nature.

This week, I've been able to reflect on how screwed up I am. Not in a "Man, I'm such a sinner because..." kind of way. That's always there. Ironically though, that can become a doorway to self-righteousness. Usually, we only acknowledge smaller sins. The real sins in us (you know, the ones that make you say, "Did I just think that?") terrify us too much, so we quickly push those aside in our minds. We would rather just look at the moderately troublesome sins in our lives. The ones where we can say, "Yes, I am a sinner saved by grace (and don't I sound so righteous saying that)."

This week, I tried to apply the idea that "I am more sinful than I ever dared believe", and failed miserably. It's a long story, but my self-righteousness got the better of me.

"But no, it was not my doing." Any good in me comes from God. Any good that works its way out of me comes from God.

If I say, "God loves me because I am good", I am denying His sacrifice of love.

If I say, "God loves me because I am a pretty nice guy", I am denying His sacrifice of love.

I I say, "God loves me because I recognize how sinful I am", I am delusional, unless I really understand how horribly destitute and impoverished my heart is.

This week, I have learned that most of us (hell, ALL of us) have no real idea how much in need we are of God. I mean everyone; from Christians who talk about loving Jesus all the time, down to the beetle-eyed sunglass wearing, black "BEBE" shirt wearing, dyed blond-haired Cuban chick with implants we saw yesterday walking into La Carreta, whose narcisistic desire for looks from envious men and women far surpasses any other desire in her life (sorry... had to get that shot in about Miami culture).

Any good that comes from me is God's expression of love manifested in me. If any self-righteousness creeps up in me, then I am faced with the reality that my sin is as ever-present in me as it was in,say, Hitler. There is no difference between the Nazi homicidal maniac, and me; except for the knowledge and presence of God's love and grace in my life.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Idiocracy and MySpace


I just saw Mike Judge's "Idiocracy" a few weeks ago. Great movie, but I don't want to get into an in-depth review of it here... "or nuthin'". Except to say that it is a brilliant but sad expression of an American reality.
The reality? We will become a nation of idiots if we don't navigate ourselves out of the doldrums.
Case in point - Myspace.
I was talking to my friend Frank today, as we were browsing around the Internet site that connects people from all over the world. Myspace users have the ability to create a website of their own and choose the content they want, usually things that reflect their personality and tastes. Myspace users can also insert a text at the top of their page that reflects how they are feeling on any given day, or share an inspirational or meaningful quote; something that matters to them.
The following quote was take from a randomly selected Myspace user's site. Not since Solomon has the world heard such great wisdom. I give you a quote from a young American, from the great city of Opa Locka, Florida; the future of our great nation:
"If the devil wears prada,
Adam Eve wear nada,
I'm in between but way more FRESHER!
But way less Effort!
If you dont like me
there is nothing i can do
newsflash bitch
i dont live to please you"
In order to preserve the integrity and intent of what this person was trying to express, I did not correct grammatical errors. This actually be what she wrote.
Now, as you go through your week, I hope that this quote will give you the kind of charge you need to make it through. Believe in yourself. More importantly, believe in America... bitches.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Freedom

I have to step away from what I originally intended to write about (Miami). I've got to journal for a moment.

Freedom is a term that has been on my mind recently. My friend William sparked my thinking on the subject last week. What does it mean to be free?

Freedom means I am no longer a slave to my past. This means I am also no longer a slave to depression, anger, pain, resentment, doubt, competition, ego, pride, putting on a good face, trying to be something I am not, pretending everything is alright, keeping up with the "Rodriguezes" (Miami version of the Joneses), personal achievement, impressing others, etc...

I have been liberated, though not by positive mental attitude or a determination to make "it" work. I have been freed by the knowledge that I have been fully adopted as a son of God, with all the rights and privileges of a natural-born son.

I am free. The implications of that term are staggering, once you really start to understand it.

Many years ago I read a great book called "The Bondage Breaker". Now, reading through an older book called the Bible, specifically Galatians, I am understanding what true freedom actually is.

It is so much more than a right that we are to demand. It is a gift offered to us freely out of pure love.

"The lust, the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life
Drain the life right out of me." - The 77's

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rasta, Papa'


Miami has been called a melting pot. I like to think of it as an Ajiaco.

Ajiaco is a Cuban/Colombian/Latin American vegetable and meat soup, choc-full-o viandas (a Spanish word for a variety of different vegetables we Cuban kids grew up eating, like yucca, boniato, potatoes. Vianda is one of those words heard as children, spoken in the background while watching re-runs of Gilligan's Island, that made us wonder, "what the heck is a vianda?")

Miami is like a big pot full of exotic vegetables; hot, spicy at times, but always full of flavor.

A few days ago, I had lunch at my new favorite Lebanese lunch spot, Shawarma. Shawarma is owned by a South American family, migrants to SA from the middle east at some point in their family history. The restaurant is run by the family, and the owner's children help cook and attend the register.
The children speak perfect English. Their Spanish, like mine, is not as refined, but inteligible. They make a mean Shawarma (kind of like a Greek Gyro, but for some reason I like the Shawarma more). They also represent what Miami is, and continues to evolve into.

My new Latino/Lebanese friends prepare their food while listening to a group from Puerto Rico called Cultura Profetica, a roots-Reggae band. The video-album playing is a tribute concert to Bob Marley. The guy singing the lead is a Boricua who sounds, almost identically (but not in a comical or unnatural way) like Bob Marley.

So as this Cuban-American sat in a Lebanese restaurant owned by a South American family with Americanized kids, listening to a Puerto-Rican group performing in "Queen's English" excellent renditions of Marley tunes in the background, it dawned on me that Miami is a special place.

NY and Chicago are great cities, and are melting pots of many of these same cultures. LA is.... a melting pot. San Francisco is a beautiful city, also a melting pot. But I believe only Miami should have the honor of being dubbed, an Ajiaco.

Miami hasn't always been an Ajiaco. It was a flavorless place for many years, at least for me. But lately, it's been a pretty cool place to be. Flavor is coming back. Life is not as plastic and superficial as it once was; so stayed and uptight. There is color (and not those cheesy fake pastels; real color). There is vibrancy.

There is a sense of place; of culture being redefined into something of substance.

The Ajiaco has not finished cooking. It needs a little more time. But it's getting there.

"I'll have the 'mojito chicken'." - My friend Katie Kerestes,' Americana', ordering at a Cuban restaurant in Miami, pronouncing the 'j' as a 'j' instead of an 'h', and not smiling while she did it.
"I figure marriage is kind of like Miami: it's hot and stormy, and occasionally a little dangerous... but if it's really so awful, why is there still so much traffic?" - Gwynn Marcus, Miami Rhapsody

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Miami



Sigh...

Miami. the Magic City. The place where I was born; back in the day.

When people north of the border (that is north of the Miami-Dade County and Broward County line) think Miami, they see... well, this guy. Others see Tony Montana blasting off an Uzi Sub-Machine Gun. And still others see... well, this guy.

This is my hometown. I can honestly say that like many of Miami's children over the years, I grew weary of my home. The reasons and excuses were many, and many of those were valid. By way of revelation, however (whether divine or self-perpetuated by a love for arroz con frijoles negros, I'm not sure), I am slowly finding myself falling in love with my hometown.

Anyone who has known me for the past 10 years would say to that, 'Err... What?', but yes it's true. I love Miami.

This is what's on my mind now, so as my English friend Randolph says, "Brace yourself b_____'s!" Here comes a new series of thoughts -- only I could care about of course -- on Miami.

Miami Beach is where neon goes to die. - Lenny Bruce

Man, I can dig tropical, but this is out of bounds. - "Rico" Tubbs on Miami Vice

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sadducee - Part 1.... Just Kidding.

I read this quote from a study on the book of Galatians. I thought I'd share it:

“If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious and pleased with us, or if we
presumptuously expect to please Him through our works, then all [our compliance
with the law] is pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up
self as a false [savior]… Note for yourself, then, how far apart these two are:
keeping the First Commandment with outward works only, and keeping it with
inward [justifying faith]. For this last makes true, living children of God, the other
only makes worse idolatry and the most mischievous hypocrites on earth…”
-Martin Luther, Treatise Concerning Good Works, 1520

Some questions to ask (yourself):

Do you believe that God is gracious and pleased with you?

Do you expect to please Him through your works?

Are you deceiving yourself, and those around you?

Are you outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting yourself up as a self-savior?

I've thought about it this week a little more; this whole Grace thing. I have once again concluded that there is nothing to add to it, nothing to expect from it, nothing to do for it, now or in eternity. I want my motivation for anything noble that I desire to do -- for living rightly, for honoring God, family, country, and obeying the golden rule -- to be the fact that God loves me, and is pleased with me.

If it is not that, it is not the Gospel. If that is not enough for me, then I need to pray that it would be sufficient motivation; the only motivation.

Just blogging; just thinking.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Revisionist Thinking


"That's right, Mr. Garrison. Christopher Columbus discovered America and was the Indians' best friend. He helped the Indians win their war against Frederick Douglass and freed the Hebrews from Napoleon and discovered France." -- Mr. Garrison's hand puppet Mr. Hat
Have a great weekend.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Pharisee Part 10 - In Closing...

The Pharisee series is dedicated to someone very close to me; that person being... well, me. It is an analysis of myself and the Pharisee who is always peeking his head out, trying to take away the joy and freedom I have in Christ.

If while reading this series you saw a bit of the Pharisee in you as well, then welcome to the club. If you didn't; well then, I am sorry for you. You are delusional and need to re-evaluate the "magnificence" that is you.

The Pharisee is not partial to the white Christian fundamentalist Baptist, reformed Presbyterian, or other white polyester suit wearing male of your main-line denominational choosing. The Pharisee also likes to show up in those who feel hurt or marginalized by the church. He especially likes those who say, "We're not like those other 'denominations'...", mostly because there he finds the heavily fertilized (yes, I do mean "shat" upon) ground of discontent, anger and self-righteousness hidden in the cloak of "deeper" spirituality.

Tim Keller, in his study of the book of Galatians, says "The gospel teaches us to say:

'I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe'

'I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope' "

Yes my friends it is true; sexual deviance is a horrible and hurtful sin, but so is moralism and judgementalism. Either way, you are a sinner. Either way, you are contributing to your own self-destruction and causing division and strife.

At the same time the grace and love that God extends to one, he also extends to the other.

There is hope for the silly little bearded Jewish man in us all.

I leave you with this great song by Steve Taylor from back in the day:

SMUG

Strike this little pose
Chin up in the air
Lips together tightly
Nostrils in a flare
Now look like you care
Very nice!

Practice in the mirror
Brushing back a tear
Very sincere
A promising career could begin right here at home
If you've got that smug...That smug...

chorus:

Hey mama hey mama lookee what your little babies all have become
Hey mama hey mama don't it ever make you wish you'd been a nun?
Vain and fickle, were we weaned on a pickle?Is it in our blood?
Rome is burning
We're here turning smug

Strike another pose
Power politics
Swallow their conventions
Get your power fix
We love to mud wrestle
We love to be politically Koreshed

Practice that smug
Post it like a man
One part Master Limbaugh
Two parts Madame Streisand
Now pretend you're in a band
My, my, we're looking smug
Very very very very

(chorus)

All you smug-starved millions in the thick of the search
Welcome to our church
Whatcha wanna solve?
We can help you evolve from merely self-righteous
To perfectly smug

Strike the proud pose of our country club brethren
Friendly as a tomb
Fragrant as the bottom of a locker-room broom
Now what's the matter?
Hey...get off your knees...that part don't come 'til later...
God will not be pleased...

Rome is cooking
My, we're looking smug

Monday, July 30, 2007

Pharisee Part 9 - Church

I owe this post to my friend Dave.

I am thankful for many things. My wife, my daughter, my family and my friends. My wife made it home safely from her trip to Guatemala yesterday. On Saturday, I spent a great day with my daughter snorkeling the reefs off of Key Largo, in some of the most breathtaking waters in the world. I served dinner for my parents and my wife's mom on Friday, and my awesome niece Emily. We then watched Peter Seller's The Party. It was a great Friday night.

Yesterday while attending worship service, I got up to take my daughter to children's church. My friend Dave stopped me as I walked down the aisle. "Marcos", he whispered, "Here's that Cuban leaf cigar I told you about." Dave handed me a beautiful cigar, right after a time of worship, as our pastor began praying in preparation of a message on spiritual and physical healing. in speaking of spiritual healing, my pastor spoke of the need to be healed from things like self-righteousness, resentment, anger, jealousy, anxiety; you know... some of the feelings that may be creeping up in you right now at the thought of a cigar being handed to me in "church".

This weekend I went to church. Everyday, from Friday over spaghetti and meatballs and good wine with my family, to Saturday swimming among the bright colors of God's underwater creation with my little girl, to worship on Sunday with the added bonus of a cigar, culminating with the safe return of my wife; all of these things created elements of what it means to have church. They all brought me to reflect on my God and his amazing love and grace extended to me.

We cheapen the idea of church when we limit it to walking into a building for 2 hours on a Sunday. We miss the grace and love of God when we spend our time thinking about church, instead of enjoying church.

Thanks for the cigar Dave.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Pharisee Part 8 - Nietzsche

"I do not know how to make a distinction between tears and music", said the nihilistic philosopher and thinker.

The hardened heart is the result of a slow and silent decay being caused by life's many painful and disappointing moments. Nietzsche is the ultimate example (at least in word) of this hardening; a brilliant man reduced to death by insanity.

So it is for the Pharisee; the slippery slope of cynicism, sarcasm and opinion. The Pharisee's world of judgement and self-righteousness becomes what defines him. He becomes an island unto himself, and no one is allowed to vacation there. In time, no one really wants to visit there. It is after all, a very dull and dreary place.

The Pharisee brings himself to the point where "tears and music" gel and eventually dissipate; emotion is nullified. God is an ogre, and we are the worms he devours. The man who was once mystified by the love of God forgets his First Love, and over time, silently and subtly, is reduced to a walking opinion that no one really cares to hear.

The Pharisee becomes irrelevant.

"As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message." - The Apostle Paul

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Pharisee Part 7 - On Being and Doing

James 1:22, King James Version

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

James 1:22, New International Version

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Both translations say the same thing. But, depending on how you read it, one sounds more "active" than the other.

Be ye doers sounds so... sweaty; like you're about to start working on an assembly line at a chocolate factory (doopity-doo).

The Pharisee is like -- well -- one of Wonka's Oompa-Loompas. He works feverishly and emotionless at making sweets for children. He is tireless and relentless in his work. The difference between the Oompa-Loompa and the Pharisee however, is that the Pharisee usually only pretends and gives people the impression that he's actually working. The Pharisee spends more time making sure everyone knows he is "holy".

The only difference between a Pharisee and any other believer is the mask the Pharisee so desperately works at keeping on. The Pharisee spends more time focused on making sure everyone focuses on his mask -- the mask that says "I am a good Christian" -- then actually doing any good work at all.

Even though "Be ye doers" sounds ominous and daunting, it simply means to obey the word of God. James goes on to say "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does."

The perfect law that gives freedom is the one perfected in Christ, freely given to us, requesting nothing in return. That is what we are to be "doers" of; living in his grace.

So there is no need to fake it; no need to wear a mask. You're not impressing anyone worth impressing. Loosen up! Don't be so uptight. Come to grips with the simple fact that Jesus loves you, and live joyfully in that knowledge.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pharisee, Part 6 - God the Giver

"To give to God is to take from God's right hand and put that very thing back into God's left hand" -Miroslav Volf

The Pharisee in me demands that I give to God. This giving on my behalf is required of me in order to get something in return; God's love and acceptance, a job opportunity, the warm-fuzzies, a ticket to heaven, or the love and admiration of people. The Pharisee in me says, 'You better give to God by following these rules, or else _____________ (fill in horrid results here)".

We fail to see that whatever we may be able to give to God, whether it is given in a moment of fear and doubt, or out of some warped expectation that God may "return the favor", or even out of genuine worship, could not be given by us if He did not give it first.

God is the giver. We give nothing to him that he needs, or demands. Yes, it's true; God doesn't need you. Whatever God gives or does for us, is out of complete and perfect love for his children.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pharisee - Part 5 - My Self-Sermon

"When a man or woman is truly honest (not just working at it), it is virtually impossible to insult them personally. There is nothing there to insult. Those who were truly ready for the kingdom were just such people. Their inner poverty of spirit and rigorous honesty had set them free. They were people who had nothing to be proud of."
- Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel -

Are you poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3)? Am I? Do you find yourself on "off days" sitting in judgement of "sinners", churches, your neighbors, that guy with the tattoos, the smoker, the adulterer, the self-righteous, or whoever may be "insulting" you on any given day? What is the greater insult; the "tresspasses" against you by people you may not even personally know? Or YOUR own tresspass on YOUR own heart as you ravage it with pride, resentment, disappointment, anger and fear? Who are you angry at? And again, "My God, how did I get here?"

"Blessed are the poor in spirit", said Jesus.

"Yes Jesus, but these people really piss me off with their constant disregard to you", says one.

"Yes Jesus, but I'm the only one with the "right" theology; so I must instruct these people in the error of their ways", says another.

"Yes Jesus, but these evangelicals are so judgemental and harsh. And those conservatives are heartless", says another.

'Yes Jesus, but that guy is gay, and he should burn in hell for his sin", says yet another.

"Yes Jesus, but I have to guard my heart, because if anyone knew who I really was they would hate me or I would be ashamed", says... everyone.

What hardens your heart? What hardens my heart?

Something to really think about.

"Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." - Jesus

Monday, July 09, 2007

Marketing and Image

Photo of Al Gore on one of his websites, "SOS", The Movement for a Climate in Crisis presenting Live Earth".












Photo of Brian McLaren on one of his websites, "Deep Shift, The Everything Must Change Tour"









...I'm just sayin'... ummm, is this the new "face" of "Hey kids! This 'Christian' rock star sounds a lot like this secular rock star! Buy the CD and check it out!"


I think Y-O is right; we are in deep shift.


Marketing is evil.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Pharisee, Part 4 - Self-Righteous Without Religion

This is a quote from a website called Al Gore, The Movement. Read it carefully:

"The" WILL To ACT" is a Renewable Resource - Al Gore Quote at the Academy Awards... PLEASE HELP MAKE ART A DRIVING FORCE FOR CHANGE... THIS SITE IS FOR AL GORE SUPPORTERS AND STOP GLOBAL WARMING AND THE STOP THE WAR IN IRAQ SUPPORTERS NOT FOR THOSE TRYING TO SPREAD MISINFORMATION FROM THE EXTREME RIGHT ! ! ! IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE IN GLOBAL WARMING,AND ARE NOT AGAINST THE WAR FIND YOUR SELF ANOTHER SITE TO EXPRESS THAT YOU'RE AN IDIOT ! THIS SITE IS FOR THOSE THAT LEAN LEFT NOT RIGHT ( OR " THE SELF RIGHTEOUS " )"

The parenthetical remark "OR "THE SELF RIGHTEOUS", was not added by me. The owner of the site put that there. So glad to see those on the left are so not self-righteous.

The Pharisee comes in many forms; not just masked with religion. The Pharisee creates his own laws, and demands that his views be observed by everyone, or else.

I once observed an anti-war protest on Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. As I sat outside a cafe on the sidewalk lined with celebrity stars, I watched as peaceful protesters marched, holding signs and voicing their displeasure with the Iraq invasion. Unfortunately, their voices were muted out by those who were crying out for the death of George Bush, holding posters with bloody images of our President, which reminded me of the images I had seen of burning flags and Bush effigies in the Middle East. Watching this march, I could only think of how proud they all seemed to be with their own formulated brand of self-righteousness. How high-brow. How very enlightened. How very frightening.

The Pharisee cloaks himself in righteousness, and misses the point; that our perceived righteousness, whatever it may be, is a creation of our own mind. It's that thing that defines us. In fact, the cloak is the covering; part of our mask. And it is the very thing we have to bring into question about ourselves, lest we get lost in our Pharisaic little world.

There is a Pharisee inside everyone of us; even outside the walls of religiosity. The trouble comes, however, when we come to believe that we are indeed righteous, and lose ourselves.

And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? ...am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
My god!...what have I done?
-David Byrne-

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Gimme Shelter... with a pool


Today we begin our official search for a new home. I know, I know; those of you who know us have heard me say that for about a year (or 2) now. But we're actually getting serious about it now.


We're not too excited about it, because we have to sell our current townhouse first. While we're in a buyer's market, it's a catch-22 for us since we have to off-load our place and it may not be that easy. But, we'll be positive about it and see where God takes us on this little adventure.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pharisee, Part 3 - Knowing God

It seems like everything I've been reading lately relates well to this subject. Here is another chunk of wisdom, this one from Tim Keller:

Jonathan Edwards argued that both the rationalist fear of religious experience and the
emotionalistic excesses are incompatible with gospel-shaped faith. Edwards knew that, on
the one hand, the gospel has a content--it is a body of information that must be delved and
grasped, and that takes thinking and reflection. On the other hand, if a person studies the
gospel and it does not thrill and amaze and comfort them, that means that the gospel was
not understood. This is true because the gospel does not just bring God’s power, but it is the
power of God in truth form. This means that a Christianity without deep and abiding
emotion and passion is not true. But passion is never to be “worked up” directly. Rather,
passionless Christianity comes from a lack of understanding of the gospel. Nor do you work
up “discipline” by a sheer effort of the will. Rather, an undisciplined Christianity comes
from a lack of understanding of the gospel. Only if you truly understand the good news does
it enflame the heart and engage the will.
- From Tim Keller's Study on Galatians

For so many people, belief in God is an emotional trip. For the Pharisee, he has become a logical conclusion and an idea to argue over.

Belief in Christ and the desire to experience his reality results in a passion beyond any human emotional stirring (i.e. "I cried when I heard that song") or seminarian rambling (i.e. "Let me tell you what the Gospel is really about").

I like the use of the term "enflame the heart and engage the will". God is an experience in reality, not an idea on paper.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pharisee, Part 2 - Morality and Habit

Some great quotes from Donald Miller:

"The hijacking of the concept of morality began, of course, when we reduced Scripture to formula and a love story to theology, and finally morality to rules. It is a very different thing to break a rule than it is to cheat on a Lover.” In Search of God Knows What

“I believe that the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man’s mind into a habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God.” - Blue Like Jazz

The last quote really got me thinking. What is my habit? Can I even ask that question sincerely? Do I have the ability and humbleness of heart to acknowledge that I have a habit that keeps me "wasting time"?

So often I'm concerned with sins and behavior. Many times, I'm concerned with those of others, sometimes with my own. But in my efforts to be "religious" or "pious" or "learned" or "Godly", am I missing the opportunity to examine myself? Who I really am? Who I have become?

Is my faith based on a formula, or a love story? Am I losing sight of who I am; a child of God? Are my efforts, whatever they may be on any given day, stifling my ability to engage God?

One more quote, this one from Mike Yaconelli:

“Nothing makes people in the church more angry than grace." - Messy Spirituality

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Revelation 3:20

"There must have been a door there in the wall,

When I came in."

from "The Trial", Pink Floyd- The Wall

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pharisee, Part 1

Pharisee - Phar·i·see /ˈfærəˌsi/ –noun 1. a member of a Jewish sect that flourished during the 1st century b.c. and 1st century a.d. and that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and traditions, and belief in an afterlife and the coming of a Messiah.
2. (lowercase) a sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical person.

I found this on a website that is some kind of posting forum; it's weird so I can't really give credit where it's due. But, I loved it.

YOU MIGHT BE A PHARISEE IF...

…you get upset when people leave your church because, after all, yours is the only one in town that is truly "doing it right".

…you think any Christian music written in the last 50 years is from the devil.

…you pay exactly 10% of your income to your church each year; no more, no less.

…you ask questions like, "if I get a birthday gift from a friend, am I supposed to pay a tithe on that?"

…you make sure everyone notices all the underlines and highlights in your Bible.

…you wonder if someone is really a Christian when they casually mention they had a glass of wine with their dinner last night

…you always quote the chapter and verse reference when speaking of scripture.

…you ever gave your pastor a doctor’s excuse for missing a Sunday evening service

…you ever worried about whether or not you should read the italicized words in you King James Bible because they weren’t in the original text

…you refuse to read any other Bible except the King James version.

…you display your Sunday School perfect attendance award prominently in your office or home.

…you rub down the ends of the pages in your Bible that relate to the Old Testament, just like the ends of the pages in your New Testament section, so it will look like you spend much time all over the Bible.

…you casually mention your giving habits in conversations with your pastor.

…when asked to consider being an elder in your church, you get excited because your name badge will now have an important title on it.

…you always let people know, "I’m praying for you", even if you haven’t been.

…some sins are okay to admit you struggle with, but others are not.

…you are seen with a calculator right before the contribution basket comes around.

…you boycotted The End of the Spear because the part of Nate Saint was played by a homosexual.

…you think someone else’s baptism "didn’t work".

…you ask questions like, "isn’t the church staff breaking the sabbath by working on Sunday?"

…you immediately conclude someone is not a Christian when you hear them use a cuss word.

…you love to wrestle with questions about the Christian life that start with the word, "should".

Finally, you might be a Pharisee if after reading all the above you say to yourself, "I thank God that I am not a sinner like those guys…"

More on the Pharisee mentality to come.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Deep Shift

I was looking for something interesting to read on the web and decided to check out Brian McLaren's website. On it, he is promoting the Everything Must Change Tour '08. The organization behind it is called Deep Shift. This is what they're about:

A time of transition
rethinking
re-imagining
and re-envisioning

A time for asking new questions
and seeking answers
that are both new and old
fresh and seasoned
surprising and familiar

What does it mean, in today’s world, to be a follower of God in the way of Jesus?
What does it mean to be a faith community engaged in the holistic, integral mission of God in our world today?
How do we, as individuals and faith communities, respond faithfully to the crises facing our world?
What is our duty to God, ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our enemies, and our planet in light of Jesus’ radical message of the kingdom of God?
How can we engage in personal formation and theological reformulation for global transformation?

Living in deep shift can be exhilarating and energizing, but it can also be disorienting and frightening.

Sounds great. Then, I checked out who is sponsoring the tour:

Emergent Village

Sojourners: Faith and Justice Churches

Sierra Club

Please check out the websites I've linked above. I really would like to hear opinions from all sides on this movement. Presently, I am forming an opinion which I hope will be centered on the Gospel. In fact, my hope is that at the center of this movement, started by Mr. McLaren, we will find the heart of the Gospel. Will we? I'm not sure; maybe.

One question that comes up is, at what point does activism, to the Right or the Left, become counterproductive to sharing the Gospel? Check out Sojourners and Sierra Club (both with activist leanings, the latter not a Christian organization). We've seen the damage the Right can do; are we swinging the other way now in response? In a world where relativism is king and absolutes are questioned (or dare I say, reversed), where does this movement fall?

If anyone is interested, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Chile Day 12 - Evening at Mao's


My favorite pub in Santiago is Off The Record. This is one of those neigborhood pubs that has a defined characteristic; left-wing and neo-socialist. So why do I, a right-of-center registered Republican call this "communism is neat" pub my favorite pub? It's just the right pub, in the right neighborhood, and it's got the kind of bohemian feel I like.
The menu is great too. We had 2 plates which we shared among 4 people. One was a picada type of plate with salmon ceviche, sliced smoked salmon, quaill eggs, and assorted veggies and cheeses. The other was a plate with grilled beef tenderloin, lamb chops, pork tenderloin and chicken.
I also had a mojito made with Havana Club Rum.
Speaking of communist hypocrisy, the pub, which is a cash-cow from all appearances, features pictures on the walls of great communist thinkers like Pablo Neruda (who owned about 5 houses throughout Chile and lived in France while he supported communist ideals of equality for the people), Che Guevara (...you know), Isabel Allende (socialist critic of capitalist ideals living well in New York city off the well-deserved earnings from the sales of her books), and various other silly idealists, some of whom actually had some interesting things to say. The centerpiece of the pub is a piano with a pink portrait of Chairman Mao over it.
As Gotan Project played in the background (my favorite song of theirs is the one that chants "El Capitalismo es un arma!", which was also a cash-cow for Gotan Project thanks to capitalism), Off The Record was introducing the first issue of their new magazine, which includes literary pieces and article by Santiago writers and thinkers. It just so happens some of these very writers were there for the release of the new mag. As conversations carried and I heard terms like, "the people won't stand for that" and "censura facista", I enjoyed my mojito and we laughed and had a great time with Felipe and Carolina.
To top off the evening at Off, I inquired as to where I could get a copy of the new Off The Record magazine. The writers were gathered in an intellectual huddle, but they managed to turn around and offer me a moment of their time. I was going to say something deep like, "I'm looking to expand my horizons and open my mind to socialist thinking, since I have now been exposed to the oppression of the poor and down-trodden people of Chile. I would like to learn more about your views on the caste system which is so evident in Chile; the poetic symbolism that exists as the rich and the privelaged live in the upper part of the valley looking down on the poor, uneducated workers below. Please, show this fat American the brilliance and genius of your socialist ways."
Instead I just asked for a copy. A lady among the group told me "Sure. I'll get you a copy. That will be $1,000 pesos.
Classic.
I gave her 1,000 pesos, we paid the hefty bill for the food and drinks and left this bastion of socialist equality and capitalist criticism.
But really, Off The Record is a stylish place and I enjoyed it very much. I finished off the evening with a good Cuban Cohiba. As I puffed on my cigar, I thought of the great country I live in. I love Chile, but I'm looking forward to getting back home.
See you soon.



Chile Day 12 - Morning and Afternoon

Today we managed to find the cemetary where Ceci's grandfather is buried. It was nice to be able to visit the grave site after all these years. Ceci's grandfather had basically filled the role of father when Ceci was very young. He died in 1992 one year prior to our wedding. Ceci was not able to go to the funeral or see her grandfather before he passed. Now, going to the grave site, she was able to at least see his final resting place.

We then had tea-time at the neighbor's house, where we had tea and bread.

Chile Day 11

Uneventful. Went out looking for the cemetary where Ceci's grandfather is buried and we got lost. So, Ceci did some shopping in Bellavista, one of my favorite areas un Santiago. Bellavista is like Coconut Grove in Miami; it's very bohemian. We went to a small store called "Emporio Nacional" where they sell "comida artesanal", which is basically specialty wines, sauces, spices, etc...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Chile Day 10



Today we started out the day on the dunes in Renaca, just north of Vina del Mar. We then loaded the family up in the truck and went to Valparaiso and stopped at an antiques fair. We then ate at a restaurant called O'Higgins, where we ordered and consumed large amounts of meat (a parillada). Chileans aren't known for their beef, but wow the pork was good. I also had some morcilla (blood sausage). This was the best morcilla I ever had, considering I don't really care for it and usually eat it because it makes people go "ewww!". But really, it was delicious.


We then took a drive through Valparaiso and Vina. I really love this area of Chile the best, mostly because it is very cosmopolitan and maritime. I had visited here before, but since this is the first time I actually get to drive through it myself (as opposed to riding a bus and seeing it from a window) I got a chance to really see it. Vina is a beautiful city. Valparaiso is cool and very bohemian. The views are spectacular and there is a lot to do. I'm thinking that if I ever do by land in Chile, it might involve a nice condo inside Vina.


We got back to Santiago around 10:30 pm. It's been a great weekend.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Chile Day 9

Today we left Santiago. We stopped in the small town of Pomaires to have lunch. Pomaires is a rural community with a tradition of a type of pottery making with the local soil, called greda. We came here in 2002. I wanted to come back because I remembered they have make these HUGE empanadas. I had one and it was delicious. We then drove through a lot of farm land I had not seen before. Chile looks like a narrow spit of land, but there is a lot of open area here. The closer you get to the coast, the greener and more lush the landscape gets.

We arrived at Viña Del Mar around sunset and I am now at Ernesto´s house in Reñaca. Ernesto is Ceci´s godfather. We´re going to spend the day with his family tomorrow, and visit the sand dunes, downtown Viña, and Valparaiso.

By the way; I was just watching local news. Some nut cases in some hick town in the south of Chile said they found the chupacabra (!). I can´t believe they´re still talking about this. They showed the alleged chupacabra. It was some kind of ferret. Pretty funny.

Good night!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Chile Day 8

Today was very uneventful. Spent most of the day lounging around because it was too cold. I watched the movie "Holes" with Racky. I was tired from our trip to Chillan; I just didn't feel like doing much of anything. Tomorrow we drive to Vina del Mar.

I bought a really good pie today called "quesillo de manzana". It's like an apple pie, but it has a sweet cheesy mixture inside; very good. We just ended the evening looking at photographs of Ceci's family, some dating back 100 years. Ceci's grandfather is a war veteran and sailor, so there were photos he took back in 1940 in Havana when his ship went to port there. Very interesting.

That's it. Going to bed.

Clarification on Tea Time rant

To anyone who may have read my blog raging about tea-time in Chile and said, "Well Marcos, don't you know tea-time is something celebrated daily in many different countries".... yes. I get it.

To clarify, my rant was specifically directed towards those Chileans I personally know who like tea-time, and with a very high-brow attitude say, "we don't eat dinner because tea-time is enough", which translated means, "we don't scarf down big meals like you fat Americans do."

I like tea-time. I like it at 5:00pm, with a little "bready" snack, in the knowledge that dinner will follow at some point. That makes sense. Unfortunately, the CHILEANS PERSONALLY KNOWN TO ME have breakfast (bread, tea and cheese), lunch (a well-balanced meal) and tea-time (bread, tea and cheese). When I mention dinner they say, "we are not accustomed to eating dinner here", hands folded, eye-brows on top of their heads. But if you decide to cook up some steak, stand back! They'll scarf it down quicker then a hungry Texan cowboy named George.

Having said that, I love the CHILEANS PERSONALLY KNOWN TO ME. I've eaten very well and have no complaints I wouldn't tell them of face-to-face. They know my tea-time poutty face, pondering the possibility of no dinner(!), and will gladly offer me a steak.

Just killing time today. Miss you all!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chile Day 7 - The Farm


Today we said b-b-b-b-bye cabin and sought refuge in the warmth of the artificially heated Nissan (kick-ass by the way). On the way back to el centro de Chillan, Ceci's aunt wanted to pass by the farm of some dear friends.

We dropped by to visit Don Juan and Dona Raquel, an elderly couple who live on a family farm, owned and run by the family for about 2-3 generations. The farm is located on a river. Their house (shown above) is very humble. The kitchen has a dirt floor with a stone wood burning hearth as the center-piece. Don Juan and Dona Raquel are your typical farmer family. Meeting Don Juan, you might as well be meeting a Cuban Guajiro or a Puerto-Rican Jibarito. These people will give you the shirts off their backs. Don Juan? He gave me a sack of potatos.
I'm serious. A HUGE 100lb. sack of potatos! I almost cried; not because I love potatos, but because he just met me and was giving me something as a gift. He didn't talk much, either. He just smiled and very proudly showed us his land.
I also got to see the river that Ceci swam in when she was a small girl. El Rio Chillan runs behind Don Juans property. You can fish for Salmon there!
Racky asked me what was so special about the river. I told her that her mother used to bathe in the river as a child while Guille, her brother played the pan flute and walked his Llama to the river bank to get a drink. Ceci didn't think that was funny. I thought it was.
We then said goodbye to the Don's and took the 5 hour drive back to Santiago. All-in-all it was a nice trip.
Oh I forgot to mention; the Don's also gave us 6 eggs, 1 large green pumpkin, some decorative gords, and freshly made bread. I think I can bring the gords back to Miami. The sack of potatos I'm not so sure.

Chile Day 6 - Snow in June


On Wednesday we explored the forest surrounding the cabin. The weather during the day is perfect for hiking here. There's usually a steady breeze and it's sunny.

It doesn't snow around the cabin. But, when you drive about 45 minutes up the road you're surrounded by snow. This is "would you like a slice of arm with your earlobe" country (get it? The guys who crashed in the Andes? They made a movie about it... you know!).
It's cold up there. And it is also the most beautiful place I have ever seen. When you're driving up, the word majesty comes to mind. There are trees up there that must be thousands of years old.
At the top of the drivable road (by the way, Nissan Pathfinder 4 x 4 Diesel kicks-butt!) is one of Chile's premiere ski resorts, Las Termas De Chillan. They have a 5 star restaurant, and it appears to be a 5 star resort. There are also thermal pools, hence the name.
Racky and I had a snowball fight! That was the best part of being up there.
Unfortunately, since we slept in the refrigerator the night before and spent the day in the cold, I was feeling crappy so we had to cut the snowball fight. But it was very cool to be that close to the top of the Andes mountains! We had a great time.

Chile Day 5 - CHILLAN is Chilling!


Hey Everyone! I'm writing here to keep mostly my family up to speed on what's going on south of the equator. I'm also journaling, so if this gets ponderous go to youtube or something.


For the past few days, we were in Chillan and I was not able to post to the internet. We just got back. It's about 10:30 pm.


First impressions. La Ruta Pan-Americana, which is the highway you take to go south is awesome. A lot of tolls, however, and it's not cheap. Speaking of not being cheap, the peso is at $524, but everything is more expensive than it was 2 years ago. But the economy seems to be strong.


Chillan is not in the lake region as I thought. It's further north. It's a small city. We went to Chillan to stay at a cabin in the mountains belonging to one of Ceci's aunts. We were welcomed by a family friend, Patricio, who along with his wife, Jeniffer welcomed us into their home with a steak, longaniza and pork lunch (!). I thought I was going to explode. But I was mostly impressed with the way these people welcomed us into their home and provided a meal for us ( a HUGE meal), without really knowing us. I'm not going to go into one of these "Oh, these Chileans are such wonderful, giving people" speeches, but this kind of welcome I have RARELY seen state-side. You might get offered a cup of coffee and a drive to the nearest McDonalds, but I've never been received by anyone in this manner.

We then went to the cabin. It's really a beautiful place. The cabin is set atop a mountain and overlooks a small town. The cabin is nestled in a protected forest area. 30 km further up the road your about as close to the top of the Andes mountains as you can get and playing in the snow!

Speaking of cold, there was only one down side. The beautiful cabin we were staying in HAS. NO. HEAT! There was 1 small "estufa" for the whole cabin, which measures about 3,000 sf and has 2 floors. Ceci, Racky and I kept warm with body heat only. That's one of the reasons we left early. We were living in a cabin with electricity and all the comforts of home, but with an ambient temperature of 40 degrees. You should have seen this Cuban trying to start a fire. It was pathetic.
That's kind of a synopsis of the first day.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Chile Days 3 & 4

Well Sunday and Monday were mostly uneventful. No photos to post here, but the family will get to see the same shots (of the living room, dining room, and everybody at the house in Chile eating and hanging out) you usually see when we get back.

Last night was probably one of the most miserable nights of my life. I woke up at 2:30 am with stomach acids literally shooting out of my stomach (ala Linda Blair in The Excorcist, sans Father Karras). See, I suffer from acid indegestion issues, and bread usually kills me so I try to stay away from it. Unfortunately, Chileans still practice Tea Time at 5:00pm, and are proud of the fact that they refrain from gorging themselves on a large meal (although around 9:00pm, the local pizzerias are jam packed with take-out orders... because tea time isn't FOOD!). So, tea time usually involves sandwiches (bread), crackers (bread), pastries (bread), baguettes (bread) and other bread by-products. So naturally, around 2:30am, the demon expelled a squirt of acid that scared the living daylights out of me. Then, it was cold. I mean REALLY cold. After cleaning up and getting back in bed, I was shaking (escalo-frio I believe my mom calls it). After warming up a bit I couldn't get back to sleep, started coughing, and got a massive headache. I got out of bed around 4:30 am and started working on some files (my job).

This morning everyone woke up coughing. Ceci, my wife's aunt, went to the hospital and was diagnosed with Influenza. Ximena, my wife's other aunt is going to the hospital tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I'm getting the hell out of Santiago; away from the smog and pestilence. If all goes well we're going south to the lake region, assuming nobody is hospitalized for coughing up a lung.

Mom, don't worry. Ceci has Influenza type A, which I was told is not contagious. She also brought some extra drugs for everyone in the house.

Good night.