Friday, September 13, 2013

Like The Hypocrites

Lately, I am praying more. Others' experience of having quiet time with the Lord made me want to pray more. I want the peace that goes beyond all understanding. I want to follow Jesus more. The problem is that it is boring.

Now, I am not saying that Jesus is boring, or that the Holy Spirit is, or that the Father is. Heaven forbid. They are infinitely exciting. I am talking about the fourth person in our group: me.

What a whiner. Get me this. Give me that. I want a new computer. I want … I want … I want. If patience was tree bark, I would stripped the patience off of a 500-year-old redwood, and that damage was only done in yesterday’s time with God. Talk about one shallow dude.

Do I pray for world peace? Nah, I ask for help losing weight. Do I ask for healing for those I see that need it? Nah, I ask for Pizza to be non-fattening. Do I ask for wisdom? Nah, I ask for my post to go viral and for people to talk about me. I did I mention me? I listen more to my culture than to God. My culture tells me that its all about me and my wants with Madison Avenue asking me to make my life about me, me, me.

After all, it is easier to sell stuff to the self-absorbed! (Suckers unite!)

I just happen to agree the ads and make myself a good consumer even when approaching the Almighty.

God, I didn’t like the weather yesterday. Rain? Really, God? I wanted to go outside for fun. I want my money back.

I understand that this weakness in me, and ask for God to make me a better person, one that others will admire and who others will want to emulate because of my strong Christian faith. I am like a self-absorbed cheerleader who gets an audience with the Queen of England and uses the opportunity to complain about her best friend being designer-challenged or her hangnail that is just so, so, so annoying. I really get a good look at my own shallowness within God’s attention.

Hence, why I don’t like it. It is more of a brief yawn of the soul rather than a dark night of the soul.
Hence, why it is important to do. Loving God and others is not natural for me.

And this why I find myself fighting going into prayer. See, when I prayerfully read the Bible, I always cast myself as the hero within the story. I am the hero that comes and blows the horn for the walls to tumble, or frees the Egyptian slaves, or even stops the injustice of the crucifixion. Hollywood movie hero to the rescue.

Finally, I have the really bad habit of thinking that I am doing God a favor by spending time with God. Okay, let’s do this prayer thing, I say, and I will give God a half hour of the day’s 24. Aren’t I good?

When I get to praying, I realize how shallow I really am, and I don’t like it. Notice, I am speaking to the creator of all, and I am prancing around thinking that God should be grateful for my face time. Really? Wow, what a jerk I am.

Of course, I know I am alone in my shallowness. Others pray for the important stuff like loving others. I must be the only one that makes prayer all about himself.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Age Old Problem of Millennials

In my day, when I went to Fuller Theological Seminary, we had to walk six miles up hill both ways, while fighting both the 100-degree heat and four feet of snow. When we got there, we were glad for the thimble full of wine and the piece of bread, which was all we ate for the whole day. So, get off my lawn, you Millennials.

I am hesitant to write about Millennials for fear of sounding like an old coot. I prefer thinking of myself as a middle age coot, or in reality I still think myself as a young coot with graying hair. My body has other ideas, though...

I attended Fuller in the last Millennium, the late nineties, and the hot topic then was why the Generation X kids were not going to church. Being a Gen X, I had some ideas as to why. Then, as now, going to church meant missing a large chunk of young adults. Then, as now, the complaints were of too much politics, too much judgment and too little Jesus. My, how times have changed. Instead of talking about better beats for our music, the church now talks about better lattes. I do like a good latte.
The question of millennials leaving the church neglect an almost century old pattern. Eighty or 90 years ago, one could find articles as to why the young people had stopped going to church and how to get them back. Should women with bobbed hair be accepted in church? But after the young adults sowed their wild oats, they'd return when it was time to start raising their children. So, one can say safely that when millennials will start returning to church once they, too, feel the urge to reproduce. Heck, it sounds like the Amish were right with Rumspringa. No problem, you say. I say, “Get off my church lawn.”

Why? Because, this is not the pattern of a growing church. Jesus' first followers were young adults. When one looks at the vital times of the church, and the current vital growth of the church worldwide, they'll see that young adults lead the church. These were and are people unhappy just being quiet and behaving. They seek action and adventure. Those points of vitality of the church are less about personal ethics and more about what Jesus said in Luke 4:18-21:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The wild oats were sowed and adventure was had within the church. Setting free the captives, what young adult looking for adventure could turn from that? Middle and older adults, of course, are afraid of such vitality as it means the kids are not sitting quietly in the back, but demanding a Jesus that shakes things up front. We want kids to behave most of all. So, we create programs to pretend we want them back and lament when they aren’t coming to church making noise and releasing captives. Who wants to worship with the poor and the captives? Come back when you have your own junior with you and then we will put you to work at Vacation Bible School.

When we see the church empty of the people who are the source of the church’s vitality then we have to question whether the church is proclaiming the Gospel or simply a place of telling their young to behave? Jesus riled things up by preaching peace beyond all understanding, and the young followed. We don’t like things riled up and want the peace that comes from behaving and keeping quiet in the back. Are we really telling Jesus to get off our collective lawn?

Join us for our next Coffee Talk at 10 a.m., Sept. 7 at Revel 77 Coffee for a discussion on "Engaging Millennials." Tinajero is a panelist.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Hot Afternoon of Soul

Afternoon.I feel as drained as a ghost town bathtub, cobwebs growing from the rusting faucet. Yes, a black tarantula makes its way across my mind, after a numbing week at work. Or did I make myself numb? I look for signs of life in the abandoned buildings of my spirit. The rope ties lack horses. The dust settles on the old player piano. The bar glasses no longer clear, but are caked with passing yellow dirt. Even tumble weeds on longer roll down the streets, too much effort.

This will pass, I say under my breath, my weariness for doing work and recovering from a period of creative explosion. The weekend will combine rest, playing with an alive 3 year-old, being with my love and worshipping God. Poetry arises in the living of life, even when the space has crimped dry. But for now, on a city bus heading home, the ground of my being cracks like misfitting puzzle pieces baked by a scorching day. Though, as I make my through this alley way, I fear not as I listen for the still voice that is with me.

Strange, these desert towns that arise periodically like seasonal dirt devils. I have no idea why the train of my life stopped here for the afternoon. The hot dry wind breaks for no reason. The broken door swaying in the breeze, slamming in timed interval. The crashing sound creating a sort of clock. This is the high noon of the soul.

One of the many dangers of the high noon of the soul is thinking that we are more than just tourists to the ghost town. We start to look at the abandoned building for answers. When the bus comes to pick us up, we miss it. There are other rattlesnakes roaming. Thinking that this stop, human as it is, should be beyond Christians. No, we all stop here from time to time. The wilderness’s wilds wrench even those closest to Jesus. High noon will pass. The morning will come. For now, feel the dry sun and be with the desert until the bus comes.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Man Fully Alive - Sunday Service

Greetings all,

I agree to do a Sunday Service for the folks at's Christianity Thread - All are welcome! thread due to the urgings of Ruby. I choose to structure it like a service, though I am aware many who venture here are a various beliefs and non-beliefs that I will mix up the sources. 

The Service takes inspiration from Irenaeus of Lyons words, "Man Fully Alive is the Glory of God." His meaning is that when we are in midst of love, we are fully alive.  The Testimony is my story about kindness of a nurse when we found out Tito's condition and the need for his surgery. 

Call to Worship - Jalaluddin Rumi Mystical Muslim Poet

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”


Dave Matthews - Christmas song

Amazing  Grace - Soweto Gospel Choir

For the sermon I chose a Brit who is one of the most profound Christian thinkers and a great preacher, Samuel Wells. Dr Sam Wells currently serves as the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Sermon- Sam Wells You Must Be Mad PDF Here

This from one of his last sermons as the head of Duke Chapel. His theme is how we are busy making a world without love. It is for the Baccalaureate Service in 2012. He geared it for non-Christians and you can either read it or see it on YouTube Video down below. The sermon starts at 27.30 so you don't have to wade through the whole service. 
Mark 14:3-­‐9
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you,[b] and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Testimony - A Story—A Nurse Stays With Us

How to respond when a surgeon uses the words brain, surgery, and baby in same sentence? Especially the doctor is referring to our baby. The son we have been waiting for, planning for, and love so much, our baby, our son. Now, my mind runs through possible dark futures, going nowhere. The gerbil wheel of nightmares spin round, round, and around. 
We carefully listen to the surgeon on a late winter’s day in Seattle. We journeyed here from Spokane after months of questions and smashing into concrete medical barriers. We generated this trip after finding little help in Spokane. My son’s first winter has been mild with little snow but heavy with a downfall of worry and speculation. 
A spinning cloud overwhelms me, as the doctor’s voice fills the room. He is a good man. His booming voice quietly informs us about our son’s malformed sphenoid bone. The doctor, shaped by decades of giving such harsh news of hope, tells us our seven-month-old’s eye socket has a large gap, a large enough gap to allow his brain to push out his left eye. 
There is help. It involves scalpels, our son’s scalp, a large surgical team of more the ten people, our son’s brain and an all day operation. The doctor seeks our permission. We have to make our minds as what to do despite our terror. Our baby plays with his hands as we play at finding answers to his future.
We now have an answer to several months long mysterious questions circling. What is wrong, we know. The doctor awaits our answer. 
Surgery or no surgery? 
Confidence means being with faith. Looking at the doctor, faith’s meaning clearly comes through in his demeanor. His team has done this operation frequently, but, still, it is my son to be cut open. Questions and fear oppressed. I, in this moment, fear losing control. I fear throwing up. I fear. I fear for my son. I fear for his future. 
I fear death, but not my own. 
We are just beginning to get to know our son. He sits on my wife’s lap in a burnt orange onesie. He soiled the baby blue one he had on earlier. Both were gifts from friends which my son has yet to meet. 
He grips Tolo teething interlocking links, which he shakes for the noise. He alertly watches the doctor without understanding. Wonder defines his life. He sees the world through his curious eyes, the left protruding a quarter of an inch further than his right. Shaken, the bright primary colored links rattle and bring him joy. 
Being alive delights him. We listen to the doctor who will be linked to our future. I understand the doctor’s words; my son, just learning to speak words, does not. A vocabulary of “mama,” “book” and “no” does not have that large of reach. Our words may also lack the reach.
Jesus, then, reaches into my life. I look into my son’s blue eyes; his left one being pushed out by his developing brain and I find Jesus there. The blood of my son’s brain makes his eye pulsate, which anyone can notice if they pay attention. I pause to breathe and listen. I look into my wife’s blue eyes, the same shade as my son’s. I pray, pray for his future, pray for guidance, pray to my God, and find Jesus. 
Ludwig Wittgenstein, the master of logic, wrote, “To pray is to think about the meaning of life.”⁠1 
So, then to pray about a particular situation is to ask about the meaning of life within the situation. An eternity passes in a few seconds as I strive to fully comprehend. We look at our son. What now? Out of my emotional whirlwind, a voice, “I am here.” 
“Here I am,” I answer to myself. I steady myself, and ask the questions needing to be asked. His eye socket was distorted by his condition; Neurofibromatosis type 1. Months of asking questions, of hitting brick wall of mystery, of fear, of the unknown evaporate here. We have an answer and are given a game plan to help my son. They want to cut him open and fix the damage that he was born with. 
We think. We pray. Yes, we will return with our son after he turns one. Yes, we declare. 
Then comes the flood of things to remember. The our son’s future surgeon, surrounded by cadre of doctors looking at our son, gives the timeline, and this cacophony of details crescendo with a description of the incision. A zigzag on top of his head to hide the scar with his future brown hair.  There are risks. He explains. A neurosurgeon will realign the brain to its proper place, while he, the facial cranial specialist builds, shapes and positions an eye socket out of harvested skull bone graft and titanium mesh bands. 
The team reassures us that it has done hundreds of such procedures, some comfort but still this is our son; it will be his surgery. Fear makes me repeat myself. 
Just the beginning. Many more surgeries might follow, making my son’s future uncertain, like all children. As the procedure is explained, our seven-month old drops his pacifier from his mouth. Quickly and without fanfare, the nurse picks up it, washes it, and returns it. She breathes life into the nostrils of the moment and point to the reality of Love, God’s Love, and God. 
I find my self-composure, and grace reveals love, again. Our baby smiles at the nurse. The procedure will be in four to five months, around his first birthday. The team wants our baby to grow stronger. He will be in critical care unit for a day or two if all goes well, and then four to five days of recovery if all goes well. If all goes well, what a strange expression. 
We will be with him through this time, giving the only gifts we can, our presence and our prayers. Our only gift. I notice our kind nurse, hip glasses and long dark hair. She could be in a coffee house listening to progressive jazz. 
The teams’greatest concern is to protect his brain and his left eye. I am blind in one eye, the same left eye, ironically. We are racing to save my son from a similar fate. We will have to continue to watch his eyes in the next few months, continue to makes sure he will see the world right. He looks into my wife’s eyes and smiles for a second, before he cries. He is hungry and wants to nurse. 
The doctors leave us in the care of the nurse. The moments pass over us in silence. My wife nurses and caresses his head. Words cannot speak. Tears can. My wife cries. I cry. 
Our nurse hears. Our nurse understands. Our nurse holds my wife’s left hand as my wife’s right cradles the baby’s head. He suckles with joy. When he is done, he plays with the interlocking links, red linking to blue linking to green linking to purple linking to yellow. The nurse gives us no words, but her presence. Her being with us heals and gives us hope. 
The presence of the nurse seemed on the periphery. What did she do for us? Pick up a binky and held my wife’s hand. The doctors answered medical questions. The medical choice was ours, as were the tears. Yet, her quiet and kind presence gave us the strength to endure. We needed simple human connection along with solutions. She provided for us by being with us, and gave us strength by simply listening, and noticing the smallest shifts in the room. Her value defies words. Somehow Jesus was with us through her.
We pack up our belongings. 
Our son goes into a carseat for safety. 
Diaper bag, backpacks, car seats, we carry a lot. 
It is long way back home. Her kindness went a long way.

Prayers and poems

Again and Again - Rainer Maria Rilke

Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.

Closing Song Ginny Owens Be Thou My Vision

Blessings-  THANKS

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lamenting the Loss of Cool

When we were approached by the 141st Air Refueling Wing and Make a Wish about making our son, Tito, their Pilot of the Day at Fairchild Air Force Base, I was apprehensive. I have nothing against the Air Force philosophically. Like many males, I think being a pilot would be cool. I fear because I knew the truth.

See, I have been fooling my son into thinking he has a cool dad. And, yes, it’s been hard work (yes, I got my dorkiness, thank you), but I have been pulling it off until now. My son would hang around around pilots, firemen, safety technicians, bulldozer drivers and so many genuine cool people. What chance did I have? So ended the dream. The best I could hope for now would be “use to be cool” Dad. More likely, the gig was up. Tito would realize his dad was terribly and always a dork. I was praying to avoid dorky dad for a few more years. Oh, well… such is life.

So, off we went, my wife as beautiful as always, dorky dad carting the camera (think Chevy Chase only not as graceful) and my son in his brand-new flight suit. Mjr. Higgins had dropped off the flight suit earlier in the week. Already, Tito at 4 years old had bettered his dad in coolness. Yeah, I know, pretty easy to do. (Really, I got my dorkiness, thank you) Tito is so cool in his flight suit.

We were met at the front gate by Higgins, Leslie of Make a Wish and Cpt Miguel, a real life pilot. They had the whole day planned for my son. Safety demonstrations, touring a large plane, seeing Fairchild’s construction equipment up close, touring a Blackhawk Helicopter, lunch, playing in a flight simulator, touring the base’s fire department and finally, a ceremony to present him with his wings. Higgins and Miguel worried if they planned too much for my son and about tiring him. They might have planned too much, as both Higgins and Miguel surely looked pooped at the end of the day. My son, however, still looked as though he could go on another five hours, which he did. Operating and flying sophisticate equipment is one thing, chasing a fully alive 4-year-old is quite another. I had my dorky dad revenge.

My 4-year-old being so excited around cool and awesome equipment, and cooler and more awesome people would rev up for days after. Tito had so much fun sitting in a Blackhawk, bulldozer, refueling air planes, fire trucks and playing in flight simulator. Higgins and Miguel ran like a marathon trying to keep up. I captured it all on my digital camera. If I now had to play the dorky dad, I decided to play it to the hilt.

The day was filled with so many lifetime memories, and even I got some great photos. My family does extend an apology for my son crashing the flight simulator. Tito just loves pushing strange red buttons. A special thanks to the fireman that drew the short straw and was Sparky at the Fire Station. That Dalmatian costume really looked hot, and we appreciate your dehydration in the line of duty. We also understand your future accident (accident, wink, wink) of leaving the Sparky costume in the plane of your next practice fire. It would be a darn same.

I know that gratitude is a spiritual practice. Saying thank you is hard for us humans. It means for us that we are weak, but the truth is that we do need each other. Throughout the day Tito’s comrades of 141st warmly embraced him as did everyone at Fairchild AFB, from the fireman to the civil engineers. They even tolerated the bumbling old dad getting in the way. If you see any of these people going about town, salute them as they are the coolest people around. Truly, America’s finest.

I knew it was only a matter of time before my son figured out his father was an uncool buffoon. If he had to learn it soon or later, I am glad he learned it from such cool pilots. My family is eternally grateful and my ego will get over it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Church Lock-ins and Growing Faith

You wonder about the inventor of Church lock-ins. What fool, I mean genius, put down the ingredients of a church lock-in and then thought, yes this will be good. Let’s start with a bunch of kids ranging in age of 7 to raging hormones completely out of control. For those not verse in the current scientific literature, raging hormones completely out of control is the official name for the American teenager. If one peruse many technical journals, one can find technical papers with titled like Internet Habits of Raging Hormones Completely Out Controls, The Effects of Raging Hormones Out of Controls on the Life Span of the Typical Suburban Parents and many other fun titles, but that is for another day.

Back to the ingredients for that just perfect Church lock-in. Now, add sugar and caffeine and plenty of it, in the form of pop and candy. This is important for the whole experience, the amount should be equivalent to the amount of sugar that would make you average dentist question his career choice. Any less won’t due. Add a healthy dose of pepperoni pizza. Finally, lock them all in at the church from the dark to sunrise. Let the fun begin and what fun.

I almost forgot the most important element, adult volunteers that the kids can completely ignore for the evening. These volunteers should be Christ centered and followers of Jesus. They will need to be as around eleven at night these poor souls will be down on their knees praying to God for survival. Also, it is best that these volunteers have never been to a Church lock-in. Any experience with one will make them all that harder to recruit. In many cases just announcing upcoming church lock-in will be good to chase away the experience adults making the innocent adults easier to pick off, I mean offer the opportunity to volunteer to shepherd the little dears toward Christ.

I remember my first lock-in. It took years of therapy, but I recovered from the Spiritual awakening that lock-ins provide. The nightly flashbacks faded for the years. I remember the other volunteers barricading on that night as the ragging battle around us. The screams, the yelling, the humanity of it all. As an experience it drew me closer to Jesus, a lot closer to Jesus. The prayer that night, “Help me, help me, Dear Jesus, Help me.”

When the light hit the stain glass and I knew that I and the other volunteers had survived, I praised my God for life. I wondered who though lock-ins. I want to meet the man. It had to be a man, as few mom would be stupid—I mean visionary enough to think such a lovely way to spend a night. So, next you need to fill closer to God, I am sure a local church can use you at their next lock-in.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

If The Shoe Fits, Eat it

I had a friend who after the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church’s annual Greek Fest, wanted change his faith from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodox. They had better food, he said, smiling. Of course, he had yet to find out about the Eastern Orthodox Lenten Fast. I think you are allowed to chew on an old shoe during the 40 days to remember Jesus, though don’t quote me. Actually, it is no meat, dairy, fish or oil, which pretty much leaves only an old shoe in my pantry. My shoes are made from genuine artificial leather and no animals were harmed in their making, which makes them OK to gnaw on while remembering Jesus. The bonus is the old shoe laces operate like built in floss. Bon appetite.
Anyway, I know many of you are condemning my friend for choosing his church based on something so shallow as culinary delights, rather than some more substantial and theological like the church has upbeat music or its Pastor gives non-boring sermons like Mark Driscoll, but trust me when I say my friend took his conversion seriously. He learned the difference between his beloved Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. He could recite the delicate details of the Filioque controversy. He talked to the Orthodox priest and took classes on theology. In the end he remained with the Catholic Church, but gained a respect for the Orthodox tradition. I am not going to speculate on if he found out about the Lenten Fast, though I have a lot of old shoes he could borrow if he changes his mind.
I too have to admit an attraction to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Theosis, or their doctrine, that all of life has been made holy by the Incarnation, because where God has walked, God has made holy makes sense to me. Since Jesus partook in human life, all human life is holy. Eating, singing and dancing all can become forms of prayers since Jesus ate, sang and danced with us. So why not chose a church because they have great food? I mean have you ever tried the Baklava at the Greek Fest? It is to die for.  Not to mention the souvlaki. Even joking and laughing are holy and a form of prayer. Anyone who thinks that God doesn’t joke hasn’t seen a platypus. What happened when a beaver, duck, and otter all walk into a bar? Platypus.  
Anyway, the last time we went to the Greek Fest, we took my 3-year-old. He was transfixed by the young dancers from Holy Trinity. The circle dances made him pause and soak in the beauty. The children in turn accepted him after the performance and danced with him. Within their circle I saw God being with them. The joy on the children’s face taught me Jesus is still with us and even gnawing on a shoe or two has its benefits. Theosis also means that eating food, dancing and the smile of my child are Holy.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Eric Snowden, Big Data, The Feds and Facebook

Our False Sense of Privacy

See Our Doors are locked, which means no one can see in. Right! 


Should the Government be allowed to use Big Data or should Big Data be limited to corporations who want sell us things like potato chips that will lead to our early deaths? After all, these corporations have our best interest at heart and really don't worry only about their bottom line. I say no, but for different reasons than the ones usually cited. The Feds will have to just learn about us like the rest of us, through the goodness of corporations. 

Remember those privacy statements you agreed to for Apple, Google, Verizon, Foursquare, McDonalds, your carpet cleaner, the guy mowing your lawn, and soon to be released app, ISpyforFun&Profit? Well now people are shocked, literaly shocked, that the Government has gotten in line behind all those corporate clients and knows almost (ALMOST) as much about you as Facebook sells to marketers on any given day. Speaking of Facebook, why do most of us think so highly of our priviacy that we overshare every burp and fleeting thought, then wonder how companies and the feds know our every burp and fleeting thought?

Remember that story of the poor shelp who was the last to know this 16-year-old daughter was pregnant?  The first to know was his local Target which was quick to try and sell her prenatal vitamins. That was Target not Google. The fact the Google know more about me than I do is accepted as a given, after all they promise to “Do no Evil.” You trust Google, don’t you? I think the time will come soon when I can Google what my own tastes really are. During the last election, the story was how one side used big data to win and how the side is lacking and had to close the big data divide. During the 2004, it was the other way around with Carl Rove bragging about his mad skills with big data.

So if big data genie is out of the bottle, why I am saying we should try to stuff to back in the digital bottle. Simply, I feel for that poor NSA agent that gets my information. Imagine the death by boredom that this poor guy has to goes through. Think of the guy shouting, “NO! NO! Not another online sermon. This Tito guy has to be the most boring guy in the world.”  I imagine my files are mark, “for use during bouts of insomnia.” or use for integrations. “I will tell you anything, just stop showing me this guys life.” The reality is that we have long drawn open the digital curtain on our lives, and those who are shocked haven been paying attention to those forms Apple, Facebook and Verizon makes us sign for service or our very real lack of privacy. Like it or not, ths is the world we live in. Heck, I think Target knew it was a boy before even the 16-year old's doctor.

Photo used by CC Commons Michael Button michaeljohnbuttonfound at

First Published on

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Church potlucks in the Age of the Internet

There is really nothing funny about church potlucks. Okay, there is. Jell-O. Actually, the great purple Jell-O wave of the 50s,  60s, 70s and 80s has faded into nothing but a joke about predominance of Jell-O at church potlucks. Jell-O is harder to find at today’s church potluck than finding a person who is happy with the direction of the church. Jell-O has been reduce to VBS and the occasional nostalgic dish of the hip mom doing the retro recipe she found on the cool retro mom’s blog.

Fed on diet of the Food Channel, Martha Stewart, and O living, and all those foodie sites, the modern day potluck can be a cornucopia of exotica and cuteness. Desserts like baked pound cake cut in strips looking suspiciously like french fries and  topped with raspberry sauce and served in a McDonald’s Fries container make hard to know what to do. Eat it or admire its cleverness. Of course I ate the foo-foo fries without the proper admiration, to the dread of my wife for her uncouth husband. They were cute, but they were tasty. For men, taste trumps cute.

Then, there are the leftovers extravaganza casseroles. Everything in the fridge is thrown into a dish and topped with lots of cheese and cream. It is important with these dishes to make sure to tell people that it was grandma’s or a beloved aunt’s recipe. This keeps any unChrist like critic from setting you free with some unwanted pesky truth.

For the most part the open potluck becomes a contest of taste. Many people feel the anxiety of cooking for them and the anxiety of having to sampling all the dishes while at them, less you insult someone by not tasting their culinary concoction. We all admire the bachelor who brings a bucket of fried chicken he pick up on the way in. If it were only that easy. I remember a particularly good hunter bringing his various kills in the form of wild game chili. The challenge was real men eat moose, elk and deer in a mixture of beans and spices. It was good, but buried in spices, all that game tasted liked chicken.

Churches understand the nature of competition and the drive to outdo your beloved neighbors and friends, so they use a technique of targeted potlucks. Pick a theme like soup, Mexican, pasta, or chili and you can at least control the culinary adventures. But people, armed with Google, are ever more clever. Homemade churros, a delicate pesto gnocchi or an exotic chili from a small town in the Guatemala famed for its Mayan green chili sauce suddenly find their way to the themed potluck.

Being Mexican, when Mexican is chosen, I feel the pressure. So when Mexican was chosen in our recent potluck, I found my grandmother’s empanada recipe online. At least I hope that the recipe was like my grandmother's. It seemed like something she would make. I made my own Dulce de Leche, sautéed apples and made the cream cheese dough. My wife love the condition of the kitchen after my Googling adventure, but that’s another story. At the potluck, I was relieved that they turned out just like grandmother’s, or at least like the ones I hope I remembered she made. I got the compliments. No one saw the kitchen I left at home, no doubt. Yet, somehow the past connected to my present. Is that what potlucks are about?

Was the wedding in Canna a potluck? I like to think so. Water to wine, I wonder I I can Google that?

This humor first published with Spokane Favs at :

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I love Winnie Cooper

Actually, I don't love Winnie Cooper, but I thought the writing of this post on the New Yorker was so good that I had to share. The bitter sugar of nostalgia mixed with a longing. What Winnie represented is possibility in the promise of the future. We all grew up with our own Winnie Coopers.

From the post:

Winnie Cooper, the object of Kevin Arnold’s affection, was the paragon of innocent boyish yearning. Her brown hair was long and straight, and always managed, when she shook it out, to improbably catch the best light. And her bright smile, made charming by her buckish front teeth, finely complimented her olive complexion. But the looks were really just the manifestation of her disposition, which was sweet and polite, with a hint of fragility behind her big doe eyes. It didn’t suggest she could go to pieces at any moment, like a damsel in distress, but rather that she had absorbed some blows—her parents were at odds—and was, as a result, a tad older and smarter than her actual years. Yet the smartness, thankfully, wasn’t expressed in absurdly pithy quips, which always draw attention to the artifice of adolescent dialogue. Instead, she had what my grandfather would have called “dignity,” as if she were waiting patiently for all those silly boys to grow up. Winnie Cooper was too good for Kevin Arnold, but she gave him attention anyway, and provided hope for the rest of us in the process. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Charles Bukowski, Poet of the Loveless

His name materialized out of the breath of a Christian who I respect and love. It caught me by surprise, as I had not heard this poet's name in a long time. Charles Bukowski, what a strange name to come from such a committed Christian. My friend, a bother in Christ, said someone mentioned Bukowski to him and he had never heard of the poet. He knew I was a poet, and asked if I knew him.

Bukowski, mailman, poet, short story writer, novelist, self-proclaimed unrecognized genius, chronicler of the underside of American life and reprobate; what writer coming of age in the 1980s did not know Bukowski? None of our teachers taught him, rather he was the dark secret that we striving poets and writers passed around. A writer who also shared how he got free pizza introduced me to that darkness. It seems that if you go to Pizza Hut after the lunch rush, people leave left over pieces on their plates and the staff is too busy cleaning up to notice you chowing down; A perfect gross starving artist story, even this friend could afford to buy the pizza. Was it the titillation of doing the forbidden and getting meat lovers pizza to boot? I never asked and I did not take the writer’s pizza advice, but I did read Bukowski.

Bukowski is an effective writer. You don’t get to have Mickey Rourke play you in a Hollywood movie, Barfly, without moving people. When I read him, his elicit scenes were honey to the lost soul I was. He feed in me the feeling that the world did not understand. My feeling that I was unrecognized genius and his frankness about his own physical ugliness appealed to my vanity. I was blind in one eye and permanently crossed eyed, ugly to the world.  But then the overall mode of his writing started to appear and harden. When it did, all appeal of his writing vaporized and was replace by a deep sadness. His writing documents the despair that a loveless life can bring. Eric Jong, Michel Houellebecq, Henry Miller and so many others follow this road to this truth: a life led through titillation will eventually dry out the spirit into the cracked ground of a long dead river.

Between the curses, booze and the crazy adventures, imagined or real, Bukowski never found a home. He remained lost. When the alcohol wore off, the sunlight only brought pain to his eyes and the dust of room couldn’t cover the stench on his loveless existence. His writing moved more and more into a curse at life with each new hangover. While I never bowed to the Goddess of Booze like Charles, I went looking something to fill my emptiness.

When Jesus found me in my desperation a decade later after another failed romantic love, all I could feel for Bukowski is a sense of deep sadness and compassion. There is love in the world. It had found me. He chronicled how life had become Hell for him without love, but I was found and never looked back for fear of the pillar of salt I once was. My only regret was not being better at pointing out where to find this living water.

*A version of this first appeared on

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Shaping Love beyond Legalism

 Her eyes clouded ash gray as she told her story. A deep sadness would invade her spirit; a melancholy could command her for days. She was a mother and a wife of a successful doctor. All her needs were met, but some days the darkness descended upon her. Her church, one of the Spokane’s prominent warehouse church known for their great music and topical sermons, offered little help. Lost in midst of numbers, she did share her struggles with her small group only to find questions about what part of her life was not right with God. How was she the cause of her own suffering? For them, lacking in theological reflection or a developed awareness of Job or New Testament, her suffering must come from her failure to follow God completely.

 Of course her pastor, a good and respected man of the Gospel, would have told her differently, but he was buried in building new and larger churches. She quickly found that what was demanded of her was smiling all the time, spirituality as pretense. She stop speaking of the darkness that showered upon her as she knew few could walk with her. I met her at a birthday party of mutual friend, and as my wife and I heard her story, we wanted to tell her that Jesus was with her even in her darkest hour for that is the Gospel. Jesus does not leave us alone in our darkness.

Follow the rules; get the goodies. And if ones does have the goodies, they must be defective. Such is many of the seductive promises of society. St Paul knew this was not the Gospel and through most of his letter to the Romans, he argued that the Gospel was accepting that nothing--not sadness, not other’s indifference, not anything in all of creation could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We, Christians, say in principle that is correct. Yet, while few openly embrace works earning love, the subtext of many ministries is practically: follow the rules get the love.

 Many Christians find that they can’t be open within their church for fear of what others might say, creating a double face, one for the mirror and a sunday best face we put on church. Neither face the full face of humanity that Jesus promises. I have another friend who love Jesus, but accept some of modern science. He has been told that they no longer belong. While it would be easy to blame the church, I started to look at it from a wider lens. Low and behold this idea of following the rules to get the goodies goes beyond the church. Secular business, academia, law, this is the legalism that humans build their world on. Follow the rules and get the goodies.

If you don't have the goodies, the problem is you. If my new friend suffering from depression admitted this to her secular friends about her struggles with depression, she would get similar responses: What was she doing to cause the depression. Go to the doctor and get a pill to fix it.

Again, she would find it hard to find someone to walk with her and say to her she was not alone. She would go the same route of two faces, one for home and one for going out in public. Neither the fully humanity she needs. Follow the rules, get the goodies leas to life as pretense. Nothing I say here is particularly new.

It does show how radical the Gospel truly is. Rather than trusting the rules, God first trusts love. God will walk with us, being with us through all of our lives. This love being so powerful as to shape us. Following Jesus is not about getting the right answers, but simply about being loved and letting that love teach us how to love.. Jesus, God incarnate, shapes us into real living beyond follow the rules and get the goodies.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

God rides the Bus

The wiring vines of our bus routes unite Spokane. These are the branches by which our poor move through our town for their business. My eyesight and lack of depth perception has had me traveling through these vines for years in journeys from work to home.

Walking and riding a city’s mass transit system gives one a close view of a city and provides an MRI view of the spirit of our city. The fruit pluck from these trips, I spend over two hours on these buses, spans from ripe sweetness to bitter hard. Men rebuilding after jail time, commuters going to their downtown professional jobs, high achieving teenage students already attending Eastern Washington, mothers young and old struggling with strollers, car seats and little ones crying or excited to be on the bus.

Children are always animated on the bus, for the still have an eye for the preciousness of real life. I have wondered if this is the view of God in his presence throughout unfolding of the human condition. Lovers spats are surrounded by the music of tried indifferent professionals, while young men pretend tough to avoid admitting how terrified they really are. Throughout all of the drama, the dullness, the funny events, God love us, God is with us. Sad how little there is left of these places where we can see life as it goes by. We settle for the pale imitation on TV and the internet. The real thing seems unrecognizable when we encounter it.