Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In Praise of Christmas Materialism

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‘Tis the season. As we get into the full ritual of Christmas, we will hear the yearly sermons against our materialism, sermons about the real reason for Christmas, sermons calling us to meditate on heaven. We will all feel the momentary pangs of guilt as we continue to shop, wrap, and place presents under the tree. We will feel the frustrations in locating the right toy or gadget, and pretend that this Christmas will be different. We will alleviate our distress by donating to a local charity. Last Christmas was the first of the Great Recession. What have we learned?

Black Friday was still busy, with its yearly injuries, or when we get lucky, a death, that lets express our moral indignation, making us feel better than the people that get so wrapped up with the materialism of Christmas. We will think about the people out of a job, and maybe we will lay low about our Christmas plans. We will watch TV programs about the real meaning of Christmas, and denounce the materialism that has infected Christmas.

There will be lone voices calling out against the materialism of Christmas, calling us to remember the Spirit of Christmas, asking us to go beyond the daily life and pointing to the heavenly realm. The meaning of Christmas, they cry, calls us out of this mortal coil, out of our electric lighted haze and into the glow of the world to come. They call us to be greedy about the spiritual. We will agree with them, and feel ashamed out how much we have become enamored with earthly treasure and forgotten heavenly treasure. We will promise to straighten out our paths next year. And this is our business cycle every year: over-buying, regretting the over-buying, saying we will transcend the materialism, and then over-buying the next year. How do we break the cycle?

To all of this, I answer that I believe in the power of Christmas’s materialism. That materialism is the reason for the season, and it can lead us out of the spiritual malaise of consumerism. For this is the season that God become flesh and lived among us. The Son of God became material out of love for us. Our children can be reminded that God, the creator of the stars, galaxies, and the whole universe, was a child just like them, whether they are 3, 4, 11, 12, 17, or 18. This is the season to help meet the material needs of others, because God met the material needs in the Man, Jesus. The God, Jesus, fed the hungry, touched the sick, spoke to the unwanted, and lived with the sinners.

The first step out of Christmas’s consumerism is to recognize it as an illusion. Christmas is not about materialism; it is about our desires and greed, whether that is a either greed of stuff or spiritual greed. Greed pulls us into ourselves either to unchecked desires, guilt, or self-righteousness.

Greed is the illusion.

It is our greed that makes us empty. Most of us are empty around Christmas because we sense the emptiness of our own greed and have forgotten to see otherd. We cannot reject the greed of Christmas, as that is a trap that keeps us empty. We can only find Christmas in the other, face to face, as God came to us in Jesus. If we focus on the needs of the other, rather than our own consumer or spiritual desires, we will find Christmas. Only by loving others and God do we transcend our greed. This Christmas, meet the other, and God will meet us with the baby Jesus.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christian must reach into the Virtual World

The call to proclaim Jesus in the virtual world is getting louder. That was the message that emerged at the Evangelical Alliance’s Digimission conference in London. Evangelism must go online. Recently, I have heard similar calls to do bible studies on Facebook, and even do church online. The truth is that we do have reach out in the new online world. This is where people are spending their time. I write this blog for that very reason, but there is dangers.

We reach out to pull people out of that online world, where they have trouble connecting with their fellow human beings and back to the life. Connections can be made on online, but is Love online possible? I am not so sure.

The original sin was trying to be the master of our own universe without God. The Virtual World has gotten good at creating Virtual Worlds in which man can relive the original sin, creating worlds where the individual can be the master. Being the master, like a god, of a world made of photons shimmering on the screen makes us run away from life, and love, and others and ultimately God. It promises power and delivers loneliness. It tempts by seemly offering an enormous world, while make the actual world smaller. We think we will be larger, when, in fact, we are reduced. It can make the King of Illusion, but it can't help play and have relationship with my son, my wife, my friends, my church, my Lord.

The Virtual World can never be the eternal life found in Jesus. It can only become another idol to reduce us, and make us run away from our own lives, leading us to a death of sorts. It is a tool to deliver information, and too often we turn it into a tool to run away from God.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

God's Politics Three Ways to Remind Hospitals Why They Exist

Here is my latest post on www.sojo.net

What to do as a Christian when presented with an injustice? I missed. After sharing my story about how outrageous our local hospital charges were, the comments were very supportive and gave good advice as to what and where my family and I could do and go for help. Talk to the radiologist, one advised. Another gave the suggestion that we should go to our faith community and they could help us with the hole that others’ greed put us in. All of the advice was helpful, but I failed in what I intended. I aimed for the conscience and hit the heart.

While I would love to go home for Christmas, I also recognize that is a luxury. My son’s health comes first. The medical bills are being paid and my church did great job of helping us. Your thoughts and prayers have been helpful, and I know Christ has been with us through the process. We will make it through. Yet few commented on the larger point of a broken system. A radiologist, admitting that many in his profession run up the bill, commented that he wished his colleagues could see the damage their greed causes. The questions hanging in the air: Why are they playing the profit game with people’s lives in the first place? What has happened to the Hippocratic oath?

Many people have been willing to help us in the particular, but what about the general? What about those people who are unfortunate enough to lack a large forum and space to tell their story? Give a man a fish, the saying goes, but teaching a man to fish translates into justice.

I also shared our good experience at Seattle Children’s Hospital. That hospital I have nothing but praise for, and they are profitable, as well as being one of the most innovative. It is an example of the how great medicine is less expensive than the less than mediocre medicine that is the norm in our country. One of the major challenges of our health-care system is how do we get more hospitals to function as the jewels of the system and less like the money-loving, fat-filled hospitals that are killing the system.

The real problem is one of purpose. Most modern hospitals are now more concerned with the bottom line than they are in healing; they’re more concerned with taking care of the insurance companies than the “revenue generating units” (what were formally called “patients”). Several proposals could help in refocusing hospitals back to their reason for existence. These proposals would be more in line with capitalism.

First, transparent billing. What does the hospital charge for an MRI? If I knew I could go shopping and get the best deal. Currently, it is more like Mystery Meat Monday. You can never be sure until the bill comes. Second, transparent rating of the medical staff. I can find more ratings on the latest movie. How can we utilize competition to regulate the system when competition is not the practice? Third, provide incentives for the hospitals to have salaried doctors rather than doctors who charge based on services. It is common sense that if there is no incentive to perform needless procedures, then there will be less of them.

A common definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. We know of a great working model for hospitals and one that is not so good. Is it insane to demand that all hospitals become more like the Mayo Clinic, Seattle Children’s, and similar outstanding hospitals? It is insane to put up with $1180 per gallon sugar water, while watching families get ruined. Injustice rules when good people choose to be inactive.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Taking the Lord's name in Vain

After every financial bursting bubble, the bitter end always includes tales of fraud that come to light after the music stops. This downturn is no different with the Madoff case being the most prominent. The one that interests me today says how some people view Church. Capital Investments of Hamilton, a suburb of Cincinnati is accused of stealing more than $7 million from clients. It was a classic Ponzi scheme. The promise of quick riches evaporate as the weight of the pyramid collapses. Toxic mix of greed and lies feeds the thorny bush, which grows in a muck of thr worst desires until light reveals it as poison. It was not the biggest scheme, but it caught my attention. Kevin Millerwill now face charges dubing 80 people to the tune of millions.

One of their major ways of obtaining his victims was through the contacts he made by going to Princeton Pike Church of God. I do not believe that Princeton Pike Church of God was guilty or culpability in the case. I have known many people to see Church as a great place to do business. The logic goes if they are Christians, they have to be looking out for us. Unfortunately, Church doors are open to all, and simply claiming the term "Christian" does not make one a Christian. The Church has a long history of people using its power for their own gain. Does that mean, we should never trust another person in Church? If we cannot trust a fellow Christian, who can we trust? Actually, the poison was beyond the person breaking trust, but what was promised.

While the contacts were made at church, the promise was for cheap money. Greed is something that has become less a sin in our culture, but a virtue. Dollar signs have replace the cross in many people's minds despite what is preached. Just becuase we walk through the doors, doesn't mean we check our critical thinking. We are always called to test the spirits, whether the spirit is offering us a cheap way of making money or our own in wanting a easy money. It is the fruits of the Spirits we must discern.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Tale of Two Hospitals: How Sugar Water Helps Make Christmas Sad

This year we were planning to see my folks for Christmas. It won’t happen. The bills for our son’s medical issues are killing us. In the whole affair, we have experienced the devil and angel of health care. There have been posts here calling out the insurance companies, but it is time to hold the hospitals and clinics to the same fire. Our local hospital in Spokane has been a nightmare of over-charging, while the one in Seattle, Childrens Hospita,l has been a joy. One seems to be out for profit and the other cares for both my son and our family. As we reform health care, an important question is how can we get our hospitals to look more like the Mayo Clinic and Seattle’s Childrens Hospital and less like the pork-filled billing machines many of them are.

Understand our story: we have insurance, but our plan is now 80/20 with a maximum out of pocket, or so we were told. The reality, in practice, is very different and speaks to why our system is plagued by systemic problems. First, our 80/20 split is figured out before the insurance company is given their discount. Second, only a fraction of what we pay out counts toward our maximum. These are the problems of the insurance company. But they are not the only problems within the system.

It is time to call out the providers. The local hospital charged for two MRIs and two C-T scans, when only one of each was ordered, needed, and performed. They billed for two of each because they could claim a change of the angle for each scan and then code it as two different MRIs and two different C-T scans. Doubling the price for the love of money. Now, I say it was one of each in reality, because we had to purchase (after spending thousands of dollars) the MRI and C-T scan to take for the doctors in Seattle. I got only one disk for each, with only one reading, and the Doctors at the Childrens Hospital referred to one of each. One in reality and two for the wallet. In most businesses, such overcharging is considered fraud. In the medical world, this is business as usual. Health-care reform has to answer this problem.

Now, don’t think I am just mad to be mad. Having experienced great health care in Childrens Hospital, I know we can do health care better. The kindness and professionalism of Childrens has been a welcome change. They had us meet with a counselor to help with the financial piece. It also has been a fraction of the cost of the local hospital even factoring the travel and hotel expenses. The better care was cheaper.

The poignant example of how the local hospital over-charged us is a story of the most expensive sugar water. When we brought in our son for his MRI, they had to set an IV. The nurse made my son a pincushion as we, his parents, held him down. He looked at us with terror and confusion. Why were his parents holding him, while someone was torturing him? Eight tries later, the IV was finally set and my four-month-old panting from the experience. The nurse opened one thimble-sized container of sugar water to calm him. She dipped it in his pacifer twice and then threw the rest away. We were billed for two containers at almost $9.00 a pop. If we bought the sugar water by the gallon at that rate it would be $1,180. The pricey sugar water is part of the reason my family will not see my son on Christmas. The question I have is does this seem like justice to you?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Abiding in Jesus

As I read the story about the woman at the well, (John 4) I am struck by the transformation that occurs.
Before Jesus, she was dictated by her past.
The town shunned her. She out in the hot sun, alone.
At their meeting, Jesus asks her for water.
She reminds Jesus about the social barriers.
He offers her living water. She questions the living water. Many commentators after the Protestant reformation think her question cheeky, crass or even vulgar.
Why?
Here was a stranger who first asks her for water in an awkward social setting. She justs points out the social barriers to him. Later, his disciples also notice the social barriers. A stranger makes some claims about living water. She simply ask him what he asked her to ask him.
Jesus gives her the living water in the next part of the conversation, his presence and understanding of her life. After some conversation. Jesus answer her request by asking to see her husband. The story already has the clues to indicate that she probably didn’t have the best reputation and most likely didn’t have a husband (the time and that she came alone). So when she answers Jesus, that she has not husband, her request at first could seem the conversation is going to end with the stranger starting to shun her as the rest of society.
But when Jesus tells her the details of her past, She experiences divine acceptance. It is his presence that becomes the catalyst to transform her standing as she leads the rest of the town to meet Jesus.
The story makes me wonder is evangelism simply means sharing our experience with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Before Jesus we are defined by our past.
After Jesus, are we defined by our relationship to Jesus?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My wife, the published author

Last night we found that Brill just agreed to publish my wife's dissertation with some changes.

This is great news as Brill is such a respected publisher, but I knew it would happen as my wife, Dr Lace Williams-Tinajero is such a top notch scholar. Her work looks to use the tools of Speech Act Theory to enlighten the current debates in New Testament studies. I am so proud of her.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Jerks for Jesus part I

The parking lot was filling up as we pulled in. Someone quickly pulled in front of us, as the spotted an open parking spot. He wanted to beat us to the open spot. In short, he was being a jerk. We went a little further away to park. No problem, but it got me thinking.

His rudeness was the garden variety, nothing to comment on except we were pulling into our local megachurch, Real Life. Now I know you probably thinking I am going to shred the church, but other that moment, we had a pleasant time. I like the sermon, the music, and the general atmosphere. We were there to see a friend dedicate their son to God. I meditated on the service, and thought of a new ministry to start. I missed our church, but it had more to missing my family, than anything I saw.



When you attend another church, it is hard not to be a mystery shopper or mystery worshipper. The temptation is to evaluate the sermon, (agree/disagree) the music, (good/bad) the people (friendly/cold) and whole experience (thumbs up/down). To do so is in reality to become a jerk toward the church. It is like being invited into someone’s house only to criticize the furniture. I felt the tug to stand aloof, while as I entered into prayer, I felt the call from God to just to listen to him through the way Real Life worship him. I came to face my own jerkiness.

One of the founding insights of Christian Anthropology claims that we are all sinners. That human beings all fall short of the glory of God is so repeated in Church as to be ignored out of overexposure. I hand recently wrote a piece on how many economists did not account for human nature. If I had translated the word sinner into a word we could more relate to and not ignore, I would use the work Jerk. All people apart from God are jerks, (including me) and then I realized the church could be characterized as Jerks for Jesus.

I started realizing I could start a ministry that could use these images. “Yes, I am a jerk, petty mean and judgmental, but I know that Jesus still loves me.” Jesus’ love helps me transcend my jerkiness. I shared my thoughts that night with my Bible study, and they too could identify with being jerks. So is what the church is Jerks for Jesus? Are Christians simply jerks for Jesus? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Entering the wilderness

The structure of life is the structure of the cross. Why? The question floats up as we studied the first part of Mark. Why did the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness? Why is there pain? And why does new life come from pain? I know these are human questions. The questions of why birth involves pain. They are also my questions as my son goes through his medical issues. My family enters a time of wilderness. My church enters into the wilderness as well as we are discerning our mission as members leave. My church is dying and we do not know the form of resurrection. My country enters into the wilderness of economic storms. The wilderness surrounds me, and to who do I turn?


The resurrection comes through the cross. I see have seen many times those images that make the cross a bridge to God. While there is validity to that symbol, the cross as the structure of life is seldom acknowledged, but it also true. A seed must die to become a plant. Pain is part of the price for new life. I know the most important transformations in my life have been preceded by a painful period. I am now in the midst of a death, a death of how my son's first year should go, a death what will my live become.

Today, I am called to be a peace maker. I will meet with two warring parties, and yet I do not think I have the strength for the process. Peace comes through the suffering and pain of the cross. I have no answers to the whirlwind of questions that nail me to the wilderness, but I know the voice that comes whirlwind of questions, asking me who am I to ask. Was I there at the foundations of the world. I am helpless in myself to answer. I am left with prayer.



God,
In the midst of death,
you revive. In the midst
of flying rocks, you challenge.
In the midst of anger, you
whisper. In
the midst of nails, you forgive.
In the midst of washing hands
and responsibility, you are silient.
In midst of blood, you walk.
In the midst the cross,
you cry to why you have been
forsaken. In the midst of our lives,
you live.
Amen.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Gospel offers life

The Gospel is the answer. The question it answers is one I think we have forgotten. I meditated on this as I am in anticipation for my son surgery. A few weeks ago I got an insight into the Gospel. We where studying the beginning of Mark. There is it was, like current advertising. plain and ignored. It seems to obvious to be noticed. Yet, the truth is to compelling to let lay like unmade bed. Jesus was offering more than what we are willing to take. Bare with as I explain.

John the Baptist was offering repentance and forgiveness of sins. Many times that is what the church offers us, forgiveness of sin, and then if pushed maybe asking Jesus to put our life on autopilot. We get stuck in what John the Baptist offers. John the Baptist then says the one that came after him would offer something more and to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus would offer something more than the forgiveness of sin. What?

Throughout the ancient world the controlling question was what was the best way to live. Aristotle asked the question, "What is the good life?" and Jesus gave an answer. It is this question that the Gospel answers. So when John the Baptist say the Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, keeping in mind the Holy Spirit is the power of life, Jesus baptists us with the very power of Life. His Gospel is far more than the gospel we reduce it to. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God filling us every moment with life. It is the power that makes a seed grow into a grape vine. The power that makes my son stronger each day. More than the forgiveness of sin like the Gospel of the sinners prayer, more than the promise of the gods of our culture (money, power fame) of prosperity gospel, or promise of heaven after this life gospel, Jesus offers the power of life within our lives. The Eternal life starts now in my following of Jesus.

I understand Jesus' love in the interactions with my son. I follow Jesus as I follow the eyes of Tito. God is real. I experience the power of God in my life, in the smallness of my breathing, the grandeur of the blessings of life. No matter what happens with my son, I know Jesus is in the midst and the power of life is behind it all. We have been baptized in the breath of God. Jesus offers the power of love.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Eternal Life


The last few nights, my son has been up crying. My wife and I have taken turns getting up with him. I think that his upcoming surgery has made more aware of him. Even as he cries, I am find the joy of the Lord in our interactions. I realizer how much of a gift Tito is, and my job is to love him. We now have a certain amount of time before the surgery, and that has awaken in my a cherishing of life in general and Tito's in particular. The eternal life Jesus' promised begins at every single moment. I am learning the secret of be joyous in all moments.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Nature of Dread

Dread may come less from the unknown than from the known.

Since we found out the diagnosis of Baby Tito, we have known that surgery was part of his future. The little boy of joy would have to go an ordeal of surgeons, intensive care, and weeks of recovering. We have known it was coming. Until yesterday, we had on idea as to when. Now, after speaking with the surgeon, we know that as well. We know it will be around his first birthday, late March or early April.

Tito smiled as a team of doctors came. He knows no dread about what is coming, only the dread of delayed milk. We, his parents, know the dread of what is ahead.

Kindness and love come in small gestures. Tito's medical team is every thing right about our Health Care system. The surgeon calmly explained what was to be expected. He was followed by a cadre of visiting Doctors from around the world. They, even as some lack the language to express, gave us glances of compassion. As Surgeon explained where the incision was going and what he and his colleague do to rebuild the eye socket and readjust Tito's brain, Tito dropped his binky. The nurse noticed, picked it up and wash it. I knew Tito is in good hands. Kindness has a power.

We have prayed since we knew what was coming became more in focus. Baby Tito will have hours of surgery. Jesus is real in these moments of life. Dread is knowing what is coming. Jesus is real in these moments of dread, in these moments of the cross, in these moments of Grace. Hope is knowing we are placed in nail punctured hands.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jesus, Language, and house of Being

Martin Heidegger famously called language the house of being. Meaning that language is how we shape being. The danger with this thought is the same as with some of the New Age thinking, or in the Word of Faith theology. If language shapes being, the thinking goes, then if we learn to speak the right way, we control life. The silliness of The Secret takes this concept to its limit. It takes a truth and fashion it into magical thinking. Yet, reality is beyond us to create.

Language does call forth the world out of the vastness of experience and creation. It does not create being but shapes being. It makes a container for reality. Naked reality remains untamed by language. As such, language begins as a response to reality. I understand this better as Baby Tito is starting to learn language. He learning to shape his experience, and the shape of the experience then creates his world. Mama means love. The raw experience of Lace feeding him and caring for him precedes his word Mama.

In the old debate about essence and existence, it came to shaped by a chicken and egg problem. Plato framed it with his love of abstraction and claimed the forms proceeded reality. The Early church took on the Platonic categories and made essence come before existence. They then made the Platonic essences of ideal forms in the mind of God. By taking such a stance, it only was a matter of time before the Church view this world with suspicion. The irony of many who attack the church for being other worldly as opposed to Hellenistic world is that the Church became Hellenistic in its outlook. The church ran away from life becuase of Greek thinking. Jesus rush toward life, and since he is with us until the end of the age, still rushes toward us in this life.

Mount Olympus were filled with Gods who only dealt with the world through their own desires and the Fates were indifferent. Judasim on the other hand always had God deeply concern and engaging man, calling to a better place. For Christians, God is both beyond the workd and intimately with the world. This is unique.

Not a year goes by where there is some pseudo scholar say the Jesus was nothing new. Osiris offered his blood to give life to Isis is one popular claims the Jesus is made up. But Osiris gave his life for another God and not humans. Jesus gave his blood for new life to humans, and the verticality of the Divine-Human is unique. Jesus precedes our words to shape the world, much like Lace's action for Baby Tito shape his understand of Mama and love. God became incarnate and as such touched existence. Existence, indeed, precedes essence, and it is the existence of Jesus. Jesus reveals the sturcture of life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Baby Tito and his upcoming trip to Seattle and Prayer

I have been trying to get the fact of our coming trip to Seattle' Childrens Hospital out of my mind. I know sooner or later Tito will have surgery on his brain. I don't want to think about it. I have been praying about it. At night, my pray keeps me up. In moments of silence, prayer bubbles up. When I see the smile of my son, prayer moves like a storm system.

Yesterday, I received a call from a friend whose husband is in the hospital. We talk. We sense each others' fear. We played the stoic game. Then we prayed. I know Jesus is real, because prayer is real, because the grace of God is real. I don't know what will happen with Baby Tito, but I know God is in the middle of his life.

God,

Thank you for my son, for my wife,
for all the gifts small and large.
I ask for wisdom with the doctors,
and healing for my son. I ask in the name
of Jesus, who came and lived with us, calling
us toward peace, and who we strung up a tree,
only to have Jesus resurrect to new life and power.
I pray that this new life and power
be with my son, myself
my wife, my church, the world,
and all who have the breath of live.

Amen

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is Football Evil?

Is football evil? Recently, I have given up support football for the reason that I became convinced that the sport cannot be played without brain damage to the players. I wrote about it for Sojourners.

Reading Malcom Gladwell's essay Offensive Play made me question supporting a sport that leads to so much pain and suffering. I kept thinking if baby Tito grew up and played football, would it be worth it? and "Can a Christian support the sport, morally, once they understand the costs?"

I have always said the faith in Jesus means confronting sin in your own life. Jesus has an annoying habit of revealing where you fall short. Then he gives you the strength to transcend your weakness. So, when I learn about the problems associated with football, I went into prayer. I found myself arguing with what I knew was right. NFL players get paid great to play. They love the game and it is their choice if they want to play. The question that kept nagging me was ..is this the way Jesus wants us to love one another, asking health men to hurt each other for my entertainment? So, I quit cold turkey.

Now, the problem is that I was a football fan. I found myself having to disciple myself from checking the scores, following the stories and hearing the talk at work. I want to check how UTEP, my alma mater did? I want to check on how favorite players are doing. In short, I am going through withdrawals gitters. I am learning how much my mind and its justification works, as the arguments about why football is okay come back with a vengence. I find it has drawn me back into prayer. I have learn agian about my weakness, as I needed another reminder. In prayer I find myself praying for the families of Mike Webster, (the deceased former Pittsburg Steeler center) and Andre Waters, (the deceased former Philidelphia safety) and all who now suffer after their playing days.

I do share as to why I no longer watch or support football, but I try not to sound superior. After all I did support football for over twenty-five years. I know I now have less to connect with other males, as football is an easy connection. "What is your team?" is a question I have to learn to navigate without sound self righteous. Faith becomes a rock in transformation, and I am led back to Jesus.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Candle poem, Advent poem

Here is a poem that I just finished revising.

Ode to Man Controlled Light
I.
Sitting upon the altar, visible even within
the pulse of electrified light, this season’s
advent candles sway as if moving to a quick
mambo. Where was the primal candle first lit? Home?
Temple? Court? Wheels moved our goods
around on roads of our making, but
was not the harnessing of light,
the leverage and axis point of the imagination
fueling the creating of cities, nations and worlds?
Look into the crevices of collected memory,
where does the one who originally took flame
and touched string embedded in wax and let light
be into the darkness of human night live?

Wonder. Candles are controlled fires. Wax slowing
down the burning making light last for hours.
Where the heat of burning string meets the wax,
the very being of wax changes from solid to liquid.
Playing with the balls of cooling liquid wax coats
the thumb white, making the underlining skin
smooth. The flame opens out onto the demanding
surroundings of the indoors. Seldom do candles live
outside. A flame flickers with slightest shaking
of breath. With too much air passing over,
and the candle dies—the darkness returns. Perplexing?
The Buddha used this black metaphor to explain enlightenment:
Two damp fingers pressed together, then a sizzle
sound and the trembling yellow light departs. Advent,
menorah, unity—candles make people dream
dreams of the bliss. A product of the inventiveness
of the human mind, wax, sting and fire create
contemplation of what lies beyond us. At Christmas eve,
a glimmer of flame passes from neighbor to neighbor
signifying the living light coming in the world. The ancient
miracle of candles burning for days longer than reason
allowed in old Jerusalem’s temple to the Holy One under attack
by Alexander the Great’s rational descendants, a time
remembered to our day by the symbol of the sacred
candle holder, menorah. A man and woman holding
hands in front of family and friends transfer a small blaze
together as a sign of their lasting love. Found among
all the longing corners of earth, they have given the light
to read at night. Candles oppose the violence
of the common world, even as they are now
used simply a backup in case of a blackout,
or as an accent to add romance to any room.

II.
Light bulbs are also controlled fire. Electrified wires
set filaments ablaze. Enclosed in glass, they venture
out into sunny days, wind, and can even conquer
the darkness of the deep oceans. They have walk
on the moon. Library stay open longer
under their power. We have wired homes, cities,
regions, countries, and continents into a great
cable mesh engulfing our the whole of our small
planet, lighting the darkest corners with man’s little
torches. So concentrated our tiny beans that the Milky Way’s
bright burning masses are invisible to eyes living
in our cities. The enlightenment of our day,
optic beams carry our knowledge across the globe,
making us think the world smaller. We realize
through our gather light instruments, telescopes,
radar dishes, and X-ray detector that our universe is vaster
than our ancestors imagined, and expands larger and larger
with each moment. Our night skies only speak
of an unimagined past, stars older than our galaxy.

Yet, the light bulb remains. The reality of the darkness
disappearing with a flick of a button, while still burns
in the heart of the modern ones. The man made
light blazes on screens, phones, landscapes as our sun
slowly burns out. Once lit, we will not return to string and wax.
How can we learn humility, while gazing into the light
of our making? The poor, the rich, the artisans all can see
even when sunlight is on the other side of the world.
Light bulbs when dead jingle to the hand’s shaking.
What effect upon the imagination this force-fed
light? Lazy, we move with readymade photons
and seldom pause to wonder at the live
around us.

III
With candles, torches, flashlights, light bulbs,
penlights, computer screens and so many
more of our controlling photons, what are to make
as we move through the darkness of space?
Joy to our illusions—our light blinds us,
unable to see the certainty our lives—death
can be forgotten by the shining display of neon
until the very last moment of breath. Blinking
lights of holiday lights, of respirators, of shopping
windows, and of planes landing, build a tower
of beams, making the heavens dimmer within
our poetry, minds and thoughts—what joy?
Let us leave the lights on as we leave the room,
Lets learn to sleep with all the lamps on bright,
Let us leave the headlights to drain the batteries.
Let us fill the night like a million Las Vegas strips,
Let us gamble away reds, greens, yellows, and the gaudy
light of our desert fears, When the light of the sun
drowns out our lights, let us forget to pay the bill.
Let our imagination be again be small as our electric
enlightenment. Peculiar—enlightenment—a candle out
and a stream of smoke rising. What can it touch?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two or More Gathered

Throughout Baby Tito's recent trials I have been meditating on my relationship to my wife. A good marriage must be continuous unfolding revelation. Separate stories merge into one. But like how a two legged stool can not stand, our marriage needs the presence of Jesus. Love becomes incarnate.

Yes. Our love reveals Jesus presence and I understand our love is a small reflection of Jesus' love for us.

A deeper marriage creates a place of revelation where the other reveals themselves and the divine. My wife continues to unfold before my being drawing me to blossom within her gaze and we become one in story and life. Then we see our story as part of the larger story of God.

In our relationship, Jesus has presented himself, becasue of the truth of "when two or more are gathered" in his name, he is present.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Tears of God

I listen to a conversation, while waiting for a bus. Two people, mostly strangers, shared their hatred of the people they were living with. The point was to bond by hating the other, the other being the person not to long ago they loved. The point was judgment separated from love. Their sharing would lead to the destruction not only to their current relationship, but sow the seeds for a fragmented life.

Why do destroy our selves?

Hostility draws attention. When fragmented, we become hostile and only share our misery. The pain of life shatters the love, and we settle for an ear to listen to our self made tragedy. Fragmented life draws us to death. What is the being of human judgment? Human judgment draws force and yet it has no power. It builds walls. God always offers an open hand, and we, in anger, attack it with a rusty nail. Why? God's judgment is the cross of Jesus. Love affirms life, and draws life into to itself. Fragmented life draws us to death. We try to kill love, because we are afraid of life, and this fear fragments us. Yet, Love always resurrects.

God's judgment has at its very core being love, while mistrust is the backbone of human judgment. Faith for a newborn arises out of birth and if answered with love, becomes faith. Faith answers our first cries for milk, for touch, and for comfort.

If not true, then why would we cry? Doubt pops up long our first taste of air. It chokes our wonder and replaces it with judgment. For unwanted and unloved children, tears dry up quickly from abandonment. Others, the well dries up in a cauldron of manipulating human rain. Some mistrust their tears, and like a boy pretending to fake manhood, bottle up faith and clench their teeth. Their muscles tense and they no longer discover the world; they protect themselves from others. Another human meets their fate, and faith has his life shatter. The salty water of our eyes transcends human judgment in the blood and tears of Jesus; we find a place peices gather back to a whole.

Love is that which was separated becomes whole.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lessons I learn from my son.

The first task God gives us is naming.
Baby Tito is starting that grand adventure of naming the world.
Prayer needs names.
I have been contemplating this in regards to Baby Tito.
Baby Tito does have medical issues, but this weekend brought up home much joy he brings to those around him.
One of the challenges my wife and I face is not to let him simply be defined by the name "sick" child.
Already, he is so much more.
I was afraid that he would have trouble on the airplane.
He was great, not a whimper or a cry. He dazzled those around us, as other baby and small children were crying, he smiled or slept.
My family was great, not harping or even focusing on his conditions, but on how happy he is, and he is so very happy.
He loved to charm my aunts.
He went to wedding and was happy bouncing on his bouncer.
He smiled.
He was curious about the world around him.
He became my teacher, accepting the gifts presented to him with a grateful heart.
Jesus became a baby.
He then called us to be more child like.
I am still on the grand adventure of naming the world.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Prayer, attention, life, and the incarnation

We are going to a wedding in the Bay Area this weekend. It will the first time most of my family gets to meet Baby Tito. There is excitement. Those who knew me as a baby will see my baby. There is fear. Traveling with a six month old will be an adventure to say the least. In the background, we wait for what the doctors will say about Baby Tito's surgery. My cousin is getting married. His friends are coming from around the country. Ours will not be the only story.

We think life as a linear structure, while it maybe more of a vector force.
A vector force is the direction of a force when all of the other forces from all directions is added together. So many stories, each with their own force, makes the whole present less a line and more of an ever changing diamond. Facets appear and glimmer onto other facets, light appearing to illuminate other story lines, seem to be a better model to give to life.

There will be one wedding, multitude of stories and each driving the narrative structure. For me as a Christian, the underlining narrative force is the divine that is the ground of Being, from which the rest of the other stories arise.

Simone Weil thought of Prayer as a learning to pay attention to God. Prayer maybe learning to pay attention to the underlining force of the narrative, God. The incarnate Jesus will be present at the wedding, as he always is, providing light that shines on all of the stories, making life a brilliant shimmering gem.

It is the risen Jesus I encounter through the stories about my son, my wife, my family, my church, my fellow humans alive now in and in the past. Prayer time is not a time wrenched away from the rest of our lives in order to pay attention to God, but a time that we practice to pay attention to God and take it to the rest of our lifes. Hopefully, we learn to see God in all aspects of our lives. God slowly fashioning our petty distractions into living prayers in the midst of life, for all life can be prayer. Such focused attention can only be a gracious gift from God.

I have tasted this deep prayer a few times in my life, and it is good.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lessons of Life from a Balloon.

It started to descend after five and half months.
"It's a boy." the balloon says and was presented to my wife in one of the many baby showers for Baby Tito. Expressing joy that accompanies the birth of a baby, the balloon shines wonder onto his future. A baby becoming a boy becoming a man becoming a father becoming a grandfather. The river of life flows on with new stories.


We are in Seattle to know the next stage of Baby Tito's story. Baby Tito has medical issues and like a Hollywood movie, we want the quick easy answer, but we live in life and not in simple film narratives. What we got from the doctor at Childrens' Hospital is reassurance, hope and more questions. My son has NF1 and we are busy learning about what that means for the rest of his life. We again play the waiting game as we will learn more after the doctor presents my son's case to his colleagues next Wednesday. Isn't a large part of being a parent playing the waiting game?

And Baby Tito? He is happy even after a six hour plus car ride, a miracle in itself. Love never seems to be a simple story no matter how we try to force it into that cake mold. He charms friends and strangers alike. He lives beyond any tale, fable, or story we want to put him in. He is a river into himself.

I am a poet always hunting for the right metaphor like a college coach courting the star athlete. So what to make of slow leaking balloon in my son's room? What surprised my about the balloon is how long it has taken to deflate. It has gone past what I could have expected for a balloon. It has delighted my son for months. Like baby Tito, the balloon has astonished me.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Anticipation

Today, Lace and I will travel to Seattle with our Son. It feels less like a trip and more of a journey, journey to live, and toward prayer. We will have to learn a new language about our son's condition.

How can we ask the right questions, if we can not even use the right words. The language of NF1 is so different from the speech I am use to. It is unlike the language of poetry or the the language of Jesus. NF1 words, pathognomonic, neurofibromatosis, plexiform, are exotic words like animals from the depth of a mysterious ocean. Yet I have to enter the deep to understand their meaning and their relationship to baby Tito.

I have been busy reading all I can on NF1 . We face the unknown of what the doctors will say. Surgery? Treatable? His future? The questions rattle around like vases on a shelf during an earthquake. They tremble on the shaking surface as we try to hold onto them. And do they contain answers? Suddenly prayer blooms.

The questions are becoming more in focus as I learn more about NF1.

I remember one of my favorite quotes. I was given the book it comes from when I was a young poet. I am no longer young, but it gives me comfort.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.
–RAINER MARIA RILKE

We have to learn to live the questions about our son Tito.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Waiting Game

Right after Tito was born, we, new mother, new father, and baby boy were left alone to bond for an hour. We both grasped at the wonder of this little guy. We were told (and teased) to count toes and fingers. The time was really to hold him and be with him and to let the beauty of life and the gift of God flow through us. We had waited 38 weeks for this moment. The joy laid a thousand hands on us, ordaining us for the task. Time seem to disappeared for us during this hour. We try to grip time, even as it oozed away.

We noticed his long fingers. Long in proportion to the rest of him. He was so little as any baby is. His hand looked like a tear drop in the wideness on my hand. In the coming months, many people noticed his long delicate fingers. At church, a woman said he had the perfect fingers to play the piano. She could imagine him playing Chopin's contemplative compositions. My Father-in-law knows my love of basketball and said his long fingers would make for the perfect jump shot. Others predicted surgeon, potter, sculptor and many other fields that require careful use of human hands. I resisted the call of playing fortune teller with my son. As a new father, I wanted to bath in the current moment and the gift of my son. God knows his destiny, and mine is to love both God and my son. The unknown caress our dream like hands in the form of clapping hands.

Now, I wait on the Lord and what the doctors will say about his future. I think about my son's fingers. Once, I got a picture of his hand folded in way most people hold their hands while praying. So, perfect that a friend accused us of staging his long fingers for the photo. His hands found that position on their own, without any help from me. He is now holding toys, my fingers, and his parents heart. His future rests in others hands. I wonder if waiting is the space between the finger of God and our finger?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Aphorisms for my son

1. Beauty is seldom theoretical as it is personal and as proof, I look into my son’s eyes.

2. Truth us is less stated and more lived. At six months, my son doesn’t understand words, but he knows when I hold him close. At Forty-five, I understand his smile, even if he lacks words.

3. Only in facing our sin can we hope to face truth.

4. Power that uses violence is self-negating; a wolf devouring its own feet in a vain attempt at escaping. Power can only be power when affirming life. Understanding this, I realize my son is more powerful than I. He can fill a room with joy through his vulnerability.

5. Words are powerful when they are tied to reality. See my son struggle to stand up and see him learn to move his toys. Hear my son coo and shed tears. Love becomes concrete.

6. Foolishness with words is believing they cannot say what needs to be said. Foolishness with words is thinking they can say what needs to be said. Silence becomes the only responds to God, even when the sigh is too deep.

7. God hears even those words. Words broken by the heart of lif
e.

Friday, September 18, 2009

WHY the ZAGS Will Win and an update

They have the best fans. Thank you all. Go Zags!

video




My wife just posted this on Baby Tito's site. She said it better than I could.



Dear Loved Ones,

Thanks to all for your phone calls, notes, and emails of support. We cannot describe how fortunate we are to be blessed by each of you. Today, we heard from Seattle Children's Hospital. Now if only the Spokane doctors would call. Alas, we wait no longer. The medical staff at Seattle Children's have reviewed the reports of both the MRI and CT scans (but have not seen the actual images). They told us that there is no rush to get the baby there before September 30th. You can imagine our relief. The baby is scheduled in the Neuro-Oncology department at 2:30pm on Wednesday, Sept. 30th. The next day, he is scheduled with Opthalmology at 3:00pm. We have no idea what will take place at these visits beyond a consult. Our baby continues to thrive. He offers us endless giggles and is starting to turn over. Like the Syro-Phoenician woman, we beg Jesus for the crumbs that fall from the table.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Baby Tito's CT -Scan




Steps of Pain

Baby Tito may have NF1.
We learn all we can on NF1.
His pediatrician noticed his left eye protruding at 4 months.
Baby Tito had a MRI that week.
A preliminary report was mistaken, no communication.
Time passes.
Baby Tito's eye continues to protrude more.
A month later Neurosurgeon sees Baby Tito.
He is stumped.
A preliminary report was mistaken, no communication.
Time passes.
Baby Tito's eye continues to protrude more.
We contact friends, family, and Seattle Childern's Hospital.
CT-Scan ordered.
Baby Tito's eye continues to protrude more.
CT-Scan done yesterday.
Baby Tito's eye continues to protrude more.
No communication.
Time passes.
Baby Tito's eye continues to protrude more.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Poems for my son

Here is a series of poems I wrote for my son. Some deal with his condition. Some with the joy my son has given me. Share them and pray for my son.

Poem 1
The Pain I need to Share After Learning about my Son's NF1

My son, my son,
I weep for you. I weep for the world;
the world cruel in its self-hatred, cruel in its love
of violence. I will not abandon you, son, even as I
am weak, weak in will and strength. God,
I pray to you for strength and will, for forgiveness
For life is not a Disney movie, but filled
With suffering. How to protect you, my son?
Protect you from the terrors of biology,
Flesh, and pain, and how little you look
To face the taunts of the world; the taunts,
The cross, I know too well. I have
No shield to offer but my love,
My soul, and my god. My God
Who hangs bleeding from a tree. My God,
My God abandoned by friends and followers.
Rise from the grave, my soul and my son needs
You. As it is all we can do, my son, my son, we will stand
Together, awaiting Easter, calling it compassion

Poem 2
Song to the Lord of the Crowded Street


To touch the cloak of God, we must work through
the crowds cheering, and must work through the fear

of divine rejection. Of evil, we know only of our dear
failures of our hearts. Hearing the terror embedded

in the cry of a newborn, we can understand the condemned.
yet we continue past the disciples, past the inner circle,

to the back of he who is God. Hemorrhaging, we touch for life.
Lord, who I am to ask you to stop, and turn around to ask

who touch your cloak? Yet, I want to stop you, the divine and
point to my son, and demand healing. Lord, I know you know

what it is like to weep for your son. So I ask, plead, and bleed
for you to stop, turn around and notice us.



Poem 3
Baby Boy's Milk

A voice calls out in the night. Answer the cry
with milk. Answer the call with love. Answer
the cry with fear and trembling. Time
will move us beyond this stage of being small. He
is small, not yet ten pounds. I am small,
not yet confident. The night unfolds. My boy
searches for questions to his hunger. Feeding
in my arms, I wonder if am holding him
right. A way moves through our space.
He is old in his wisdom as I am young in fear.
Prayer comes at the end of us, circling
us like a dark bee in search of nectar.
I think about God and address God.
What is there to do in the darkness
of a late night feeding? I wonder,
Then I change his diaper...


Poem 4
Psalm to my Lord from my Front Lawn

I planted last fall the grass seed mix with faith
in water, sun and soil . I hope to see the unseen
seeds sprout in this year's Spring. It has
appeared. It has taken root and mingles
with three leafed microclover. Taking a blade
in one hand, and a three winged leaf
of clover in the other, I lounge with my soul.
I look to our newest friend, a young oak we just
added. The newness of life fills me with longing for
God.

Sweet Lord, who moves in the wind,
who moves me beyond my smallness,
makes me take notice of others in love,
to take notice of the young
couple living to my left raising their first
boy, not even one. Our boys , both babies now,
will grow up together. To my right, a man,
barely into his twenty, drinks the poison
of fun, parties and rootlessness. Without
aim, he finds purpose in a case of malted
mash, and cheap beer. Behind me, my family,
the gift of being alive, my baby boy discovering
the sweet taste of milk and Moma's voice.
He has learn to cry at the prospect
of sleep. Why sleep when life awaits,
demands to be experienced?

He sings the song of creation in his voice,
He will soon grab a handful of grass and clover.
For now, I bring him a clover to smell
he laughs and smiles. St Patrick would understand.
Today, my baby discovers a new smell.
Today, people fight for their freedom in Iran,
people mourn the death of Michael Jackson.
Today, we will share dinner with friends. Today,
we will place ancient flagstone of coppers red
and earthen browns on the side of our house
and plant creeping thyme to fill the spaces
between to stones. Today, I will sing
praises to my Lord.

Feeding the Hungry: Remembering Norman Borlaug

My church started a community garden this summer. Our tomatoes, beans, and greens now grace the shelves of our food bank. The inspiration for the garden came from simply seeing available land and hearing the dire need of our food bank. We turned a small patch of our church land into a bit of Gospel. We also had to learn by doing. It was our small attempt to answer Jesus’ call to feed the hungry.

Bread is central to the Gospel: Jesus offers himself as the bread of life. The Lord’s Supper represents the reality of Jesus’ work of redemption, and it is also a meal. The politics of food are the politics of Jesus, and they extend beyond any ideology.

So it is that many mourn the loss of Dr. Norman Borlaug, who passed away on Sept. 12th. Dr. Borlaug was the father of the Green Revolution, which has been responsible for feeding around a billion people. Put simply, the Green Revolution facilitated the development of smaller, high-yield plants. Its effects were dramatic. India, Pakistan, Mexico, and many other nations could grow enough food for their people by utilizing available land and cutting back on the older slash-and-burn methods. Dr. Borlaug did not accomplish this out of some ideological bent. He was no idealist; rather, he took a job near the end of WWII to help Mexican farmers. Seeing the hunger, seeing the poverty of the people and the land, and seeing the need, he acted on the simple proposition, “feed the hunger.”

His love of neighbor and enemy was prevalent in his work. While the Green Revolution was feeding hundreds of millions, he nonetheless listened to his opponents’ criticism about the use of pesticides and worked on using fewer pesticides. He was in constant motion, even into his nineties. Finally, he did his work not for riches or fame, but simply to feed people that needed feeding. He answered the call.

We can criticize the lack of fanfare that his life and passing away generated — hardly a blip on the 24-7 cycle. We can criticize how most people do not know Dr. Borlaug’s work, though I am sure the people eating the bread of his work are grateful. Yet, would it not be better to hear Jesus’ simple call to feed the hungry through the life of Dr. Borlaug? Would it not be better to follow his example of simplicity, tossing aside our ideologies? Remember that life is abundant, and that all we have to do is open our eyes and ears and listen to God’s music. I love the following quote by Dr. Borlaug, as it captures the man and his work. It is best to give him the last words:

“When wheat is ripening properly, when the wind is blowing across the field, you can hear the beards of the wheat rubbing together,” he told another biographer, Lennard Bickel. “They sound like the pine needles in a forest. It is a sweet, whispering music that once you hear, you never forget.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Image of God or Violence? Part 3

Writing multipost piece on the border between yes and no, between love and violence, between life and death. This is the third part. Part 1 Part 2


Love moves beyond nostalgia.

I live still in a moving river with competing cultures on ether side of me. My family shares both the Mexican and American culture. Most of the members have found a place in one or the other. Some of my family can go into two both without struggle. I continued to live on the edge of them. One culture claimed the mantel of greatness, and the other complained about how the other oppressed its land, its people, and even its pride. I learn to make peace with both, while never belonging to either. Both are proud nations filled with their own histories and myths. I am uncomfortable on the border of both. Mine is the shifting ground of a fault line between the two lands crashing into each other.

My mother held citizenship in both Mexico and United States as I would until the age of eighteen. Selective Service then forced me to choose. I lost the feel of the Mexican culture long before that moment, so the choice was automatic. I chose prosperity and English. Spanish has mystery and poetry. My mother was different. She found comfort in the crevices between the two worlds. She could speak in both cultures. She would marry both a Mexican and an immigrant who pass through New York.

My father was a proud Mexican, who tolerated the American culture. He, after I turned seven, would disappear from my life for three decades. My parents spilt when I was barely able to walk, but my father continued with the occasional visits until he fought with my mother. They argued about something doing between adults, and after this, my father’s pride would not allow him to visit his first of children. If he could not have his terms, then he refused to have his first girls and boy. He was too proud for that. I can hear his pride through his thirty-year silence. Pride leads to violence of abandonment. It was not until later that I learn the reasons of the fight. My mother’s pride stopped any explanation. My father just disappeared. Soon, no one spoke about him as if he was dead, or never existed. I was left to myself to make up reasons as to why he vanished from my life. A pride has no room for others and lives alone even if the bed contains another. Pride chokes love. We live in a proud world, which in turn creates the ground of who we will be.

Love and violence formed the context of my birth. I am like the rest of humanity. Like all those before me, I was born to this proud world of negation and violence. I grew up, like all children, with horrors and joys of humanity playing in the background. The details and events may change, but the forces remain the same. A universal neurosis and sin would shape me as I started to learn to walk. Nevertheless, I knew love beyond myself in my flowing blood and in my mother’s hands as she held me. I breathed in life into my new nostrils. I was the youngest and the only male child of a Mexican family to survive. I have heard rumors of another boy before me, who died either before birth or shortly after in a freak accident. I am not sure what was his fate. Again, there was a silence from pride. They only told the story through the cracks in the silence. The incomplete story would haunt me because of what I was born with. Was I a disappointment because of my birth defect? Would they want what they lost before my birth?

Did they want a whole male?


(to be continued) Part 1 Part 2



Monday, August 31, 2009

Image of God or Violence? Part 2

Writing on the border between yes and no, between love and violence, between life and death. This is the second part.
Continued from the last post Part 3

The yes of my birth tells the beginning.

In the middle of a July desert day in 1964, I made my way into life through the messiness of human birth. I glimpsed out into a violent world still reeling from the assassination of a young US president. Born in Mexico under a dusty sun, I can only picture my birthplace in my imagination. The town has been lost from my memory. I first saw light within its limits, and its shapes and colors are missing from my memories. Although, I know the town’s name, Parrel. Parrel’s medical clinic provided the time and space to the first yes. The place of my last no is still unknown to me. Death remains a mystery.

Between first yes in Parrel and the last unknown no comes a multitude of both yeses and nos, and the quality of our life nails itself to our creative responses to the yeses and nos of life. I am no different; I perceive the pull of peace (yes) and drive of violence(no). I live in tension of love and sin. Yet, I am convinced in the triumphant of love. The life provides the final yes called love. I am convinced that love forms the structure of life, that God became man. A man among other humans, I strung up on life’s crossbar of Yes and No, waiting for Easter morning. How do I respond to my birth? How do I respond to the reality of my death? These questions weave the strands of my life into a story with a known and unknown destination.
My heart aches for a home, and a nation where I can belong. I grew up on the border of two cultures. The country of my birth, Mexico fell into my reminiscences. I long to remember her and her old women slapping corn meal into tortillas with a rhythmic slap, slap, slap. I recognize her words as they pass me on the city streets. I speak her words but not her fables. I live in the United States. There I found love. The Tinajero name found recognition in Tucson after my father moved there; a town I have only been a tourist. America’s dreams inspire me, although they remain an untouchable mystery. Pulling-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps idea eludes me, hiding as violation of nature.I see both as I look across to the different riverbanks. I move along the river only touching down each bank for a short stay. I look for words to build a home.

We travel through the lost worlds in each phase: baby becomes a child, who becomes an adult, then old age and death. Each become a disappearing world. The movement of time keeps me from belonging. I can’t inhabit either national story.

The world at my infancy was busy confronting its own possible demise in a field of atom-splitting clouds. I tasted, in the desert’s heat, the flavor of life within my mother’s milk. She held me tight as I cried in my first bits of air. A world that I could barely make out in its various shapes was pretending innocent for a generation of postwar kids. My birth was last gasp of those hopeful idealists. The early sixties hopefulness played against violence present in all ages. Those times bathed in fresh blood: murder, genocide, and war. Just a few decades before my birth, the Nazis made factories dedicated to murder. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a movement to free the US from a generations old blind stupidity. As my mother caressed my small head American’s were just learning to pronounce, “Vietnam.” I cried with my first breath, while a generation of intellectuals shouted at each other in numerous conversations about death: the death of the novel, the death of Art, the death of poetry, the death of God, the death of love, and the death of man.

Uncle Sam and the Red Bear did battle on a global scale for domination over ideology. Even as my mother showed me off to the rest of our family, the Peace Corp sent out it first young idealists committed to changing the world. Bomb-shelters, and youthful idealism created the era’s adaptation of human paradox. Yes and no continues to play with the destiny of humans. I was unaware of the human condition with my first burping; I knew only strange sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes I could yet name. This world passed on, and we moved to different problems. I had to learn my first and second language s. The time of navy blue suits, thin ties, beehive hairdos did not last, but the context of violence still remains. The poison of nostalgia lays in forgetting the river of blood flows through each period and culture.

Yet, love moves beyond nostalgia.

(To be continue in part 3) Part 1

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Image of God or Violence?

The town of my birth knew my father’s last name. I knew my last name only as a word mispronounced by my grade school teachers. The town of my birth knew the scandals and riches of the family "Tinajero." I knew none of this. I still have trouble picturing my father. My last name, even if it was simply the word that followed my first name for me, made folklore and rumors for the people of Parrel. One side of my family history was lost with my father’s abandonment. Like a tombstone, my last name was for me without a history or story.

“Tinajero” could conjure up myths, tales and gossip for an entire Mexican region. An adult sister, who I had to introduce myself to, told me about how my grandfather caught his wife cheating on him. She had to leave the town disgraced by her acts of violence and love. Like some mysterious force, her story helped to define me. Part of the reason my father cut off his first family was do to the scars coming from this adultery. He never could fully trust my mother. I only heard this story after I turned forty. Strange how much power stories of love and violence have in shaping us.


Birth and death define us, and yet they remain beyond us. To have faith means belief in an ultimate
Yes, which brings love to the present. I, as a believer, eagerly await the final Yes for my existence. I have to trust the ultimate Yes. I also have to acknowledge that it may all end with a no. Knowledge of the last no makes us human. Fear of the last no can makes us neurotic. Birth and death, Yes and No, love and violence thread our stories from end to end. The yes of my birth tells the beginning.

Love and violence have their own intimacies and stories. I gnaw on both as part of being alive. Both give birth to the context of the human condition. They form the Yes and No of life. The human narrative turns on this simply dichotomy. Birth becomes the first yes. Death converts our energy into the last no. Love affirms. Violence negates. What is hate but the desire for the other’s negation? How we negate? We can negate by blaming like Adam and Eve, or dirty the ground with blood like Cain and Abel. Either way, hate aims at destroying or dominating the other. Violence then chooses us, destroying our illusion of control. All that remains is the telling of the story, a sort of remembrance for the those who come after us.

The yes of my birth tells the beginning. (To be continued in Part 2)
Part 3

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A parable of faith

"Why did the Lord tell parables?"
"Some truths are like a hot bath. You need water to transmit the heat of the fire. Without this living water, you would be burned."
"I don't understand?"
"Once their was a boy full of life and spirit. He would go out into the woods behind his house to play with his friends. They would play hide and go seek, hiding behind great oaks older than even their grandparents' grandfathers and grandmothers. These old trees played the same games with generations of children. The boy seldom thought of the trees, as they were always there.

"That is what we do when life is always there, ignore.

"Then new houses popped up and pushed out most of the trees. There would be no more hiding. There would be no more seeking. Except, they kept one tree, and built a park around it. Kids would not play hide and seek as there was only one place to hide and to seek. They could still hear the wind traveling through the tree. As the boy grew to be a man, he would think of the one remaining tree. It would give him hope. Later, they tore down the houses and built even newer bigger house, but the Oak tree of the park remained, reminding people that one day the forest would return."

"I don't understand. Why the tree?"
"Remember the truth of prayer. Prayer will return to you, if you seek it."
"Again, I don't understand."
"I must leave now and water the garden. Drink the story."

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Cold War Relic Rears its Head and Bears its Fangs

I had a post published on Sojo.net and below is the post with the original title. They changed my titled, which I think their title works better, but I like my title as well.

Being a writer is learning to dance with your own ego, even as your ego steps all over your feet.

A Cold War Relic Rears its Head and Bears its Fangs


I remember playing WWII as a boy. We would pick sides of American and Nazis. Of course, everyone wanted be the Americans, the good guys. The solution became to pretend the team you were on was the Americans and the opponents were the Nazis. We did the same when playing war of Americans vs. Russians. For my team, we were the good guys Americans and they were the bad guys Russians, and for the other team they saw us as bad guy Russians to their good guy Americans. We were children and our play reflected our world.

I am part of the second generation that grew up shaped by the Cold War. When asked in English class to write a poem or story, a good percentage of us would take the theme of nuclear war, fear of radiation, or fear of USSR. The Cold War taught my generation to view the world through good guy/bad guy eyes, seeing the world as Manichean. I have blogged (http://www.life-and-faith.org/2008/11/christian-thought-cold-war-and.html) about this Manichean worldview in our current world. The one of lasting effects of the Cold War is this Manicheanism within our politics, and we are witnessing this in the middle of the health care debate. Recently, Chris Baker, guest hosting on the Glenn Beck show, called President Obama a commie, a secrete commie wanting to control our lives. Mr. Baker was playing out his Manicheanism like an irresponsible child playing a game seeing nothing but evil in President Obama. Good guy/bad guy motif made him blind to the point of a fearful child’s incoherence.

I know that Manicheanism is unchristian and the early Church was right to be distrustful of it. St Augustine, a one time Manichean, became one of its biggest critics. Christian anthropology starts with premise of all humans falling short and being sinners needing God grace. All are offered grace and can be transformed by grace. Our check a balance system was built on this premise. Don’t trust people, as we all are sinners. Best to divide power and go through the messiness of consciences and democracy. Manicheanism does the opposite. It demands trusting right people and mistrusting others. The key is to have the good guys in power and oppose the bad guys when they have power.

The calls to a civil debate about health care have met this good/bad guy motif, and dividing the world into opposing camps. The danger becomes apparent when the question is asked what to do with the opposing side. For the Manichean Democrats, what to do with the evil Republicans? For the Manichean Republicans, what to do with the evil Democrats? Christians are called to be peacemakers, and the beginning with rejecting Manicheanism, rejecting the other, and enter untidiness of loving friend and enemy. President Obama is under pressure to stopping working with Republicans in reforming health care. No matter how hard it may become the road to reform must include working with as many people as possible. There is no other way to live with each other. We must heed St. Paul and become adults and put away childish ways.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Harris om Collins

I posted today about Sam Harris opposition to Dr Francis Collins's appointment to head the National Insititute of Health on Sojourners. What I find interesting is how Science no longer the issue with those who oppose Dr Collins, but it was his beliefs. There is few that are pointing to evidence of Dr Collins doing bad science, but many pointing to his beliefs. Steven Pinker, in his letter to a journalist about Dr Collins states:

Also, the human mind and brain constitute one of the frontiers of biomedical science. Cutting-edge research treats intelligence, morality, and religious belief as products of evolution and neuroscience. The idea that there is divine design and teleology behind these functions, on the basis of Iron Age and medieval dogma, is antithetical to this vibrant research area. How will Collins preside over the allocation of research priorities if he believes in ““the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted”?


Pinker seem to connect the atheistic materialism with Science. Is it? Neuroscience has validated Religious experience in the work of Andrew Newberg and others. While Neuroscience has not proved religion, it has disproved the old Enlightenment bias of "God as explanation theory." People have and continue to have religious experiences. God is more than what material atheists assertions of God being an explanation for unknown phenomena or simply the God of the gaps. Again Pinker from the same letter:

Collins has said that he came to accept the Trinity, and the truth that Jesus is the son of God, when he was hiking and came upon a beautiful triple waterfall. Now, the idea that nature contains private coded messages from a supernatural being to an individual person is the antithesis of the scientific (indeed, rational) mindset.


Dr Collins did not offer his experience as proof or evidence of God, rather he was sharing his Religious experience. Pinker reaction is not with a scientist's curiosity about a real phenomena, but with dogmatic righteousness of a true believer. For Pinker, such experience should be rejected despite the current work of neuroscience. It seems that his material atheism has gotten in the way of his science. Quoting for my post on Sojourners:

What bothers Mr. Harris is that Dr. Collins is a Christian, and a vocal Christian to boot. Further, Dr. Collins apparently commits the sin of claiming to be both a scientist and a Christian. That Dr. Collins sees no conflict between science and faith clearly offends Sam Harris’ belief that faith and science do not belong together. For those who believe faith and science are at war, there are just four logical conclusions to Dr. Collins’ work as a scientist: A) Dr. Collins is not a true scientist; B) He can compartmentalize his work from his beliefs; C) His faith will sooner or later pollute his science; D) The premise of science in conflict with religion is mistaken.

Dr. Collins’ work already eliminates option A. Few are questioning his previous work. Mr. Harris chooses option C, and yet Mr. Harris fails to give any evidence of polluted science in Dr. Collins’ work, only the possibility of it. If there were such evidence, it would have emerged in Dr. Collins’ already long career. It seems logic would dictate that only B or D are compatible with the facts, and with either conclusion, Mr. Harris has nothing to worry about with Dr. Collins’ appointment.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Posting on Sojo.net Interpretation, Hermeneutics, and Judge Sotomayor.

I just post on http://sojo.net/ a post, Interpretation, Hermeneutics, and Judge Sotomayor. What interested me about the whole process she is going through is how the theories of Constitutional law mirrors the debates about Biblical interpretation. Should, in interpreting the Constitution, look at context, word meaning within culture, and the host of others issue, or should a judge just look at plain meaning of the text. The complaint of activist judges seems a bit naive. One man's activist judge is another man's upholder of the Constitution. Most biblical interpreters have gone down this road already. Just ask a biblical scholar about the meaning of Greek word, "authenein" in 1 Tim 2:12 and watch the sparks fly.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Modern psalm of the week II

Poetry is about trying to capture the intensity of life. I have come to use it more and more lately with respect to becoming a father, both The Pain I need to Share and Psalm to my Lord from my Front Lawn came from trying to capture the nakedness of being. Joy and fear need to be experienced. The Bible is over 70 % in verse, a fact that argues for God's love of poetry and song.


Song to the Lord of the Crowded Street

To touch the cloak of God, we must work through
the crowds cheering, and must work through the fear

of divine rejection. Of evil, we know only of our dear
failures of our hearts. Hearing the terror imbedded

in the cry of a newborn, we can understand the condemned.
yet we continue past the disciples, past the inner circle,

to the back of he who is God. Hemorrhaging, we touch for life.
Lord, who I am to ask you to stop, and turn around to ask

who touch your cloak? Yet, I want to stop you, the divine and
point to my son, and demand healing. Lord, I know you know

what it is like to weep for your son. So I ask, plead, and bleed
for you to stop, turn around and notice us. Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Personal finance Blog

Personal finance has always been a weakness of mine. I know I need to have more information to become more powerful in that area. I have made so many strides since my younger days, but in these times of recession, it always is good to keep on top of latest information.

Click on the link above to find the latest information and advice to help navigate through these tough times. I really like the post on "How will we know the Economy is Better?" as it gave me an idea about when to get back into the market. Since last years, I stayed on the sidelines, holding our positions. I strongly think we should have a good source for current information for personal finance.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fear of the Future and the Unknown

A poem I wrote after finding out my son has Von Recklinghausen Syndrome:


The Pain I need to Share

My son, my son,

I weep for you. I weep for the world;

the world cruel in its self-hatred, cruel in its love

of violence. I will not abandon you, son, even as I

am weak, weak in will and strength. God,

I pray to you for strength and will, for forgiveness

For life is not a Disney movie, but filled

With suffering. How to protect you, my son?

Protect you from the terrors of biology,

Flesh, and pain, and how little you look

To face the taunts of the world; the taunts,

The cross, I know too well. I have

No shield to offer but my love,

My soul, and my god. My God

Who hangs bleeding from a tree. My God,

My God abandoned by friends and followers.

Rise from the grave, my soul as my son needs

You. As it is all we can do, my son, my son, we will stand

Together, awaiting Easter, calling it compassion