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


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.


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


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.