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Friday, December 11, 2009

Scars, The Past and The Future

The other day as I watched Criminal Minds I heard a noteworthy quote: "Scars reminds us where we've been, but they don't have to dictate where we are going." At the moment I thought it was great, and it is, if you have the context where it was told. But the more I thought about it, the more it made me think that it is not that great. Let me give you the context. A girl was abducted by a delusional killer. At the end he is caught and the girl is set free by FBI agents. One of the female agents says she will be all right but that she will always remember and deal with the event. Then comes the quote. So it makes sense. My thoughts.
Scars are either physical or emotional. They do come from our experiences. Physical and emotional ones leave scars. Some are self-inflicted but for the most part they are not. Physical scars often affect our emotions and our emotional scars affect our physical well-being, thus they are intertwined. They go hand in hand. Both are hard to deal with. The second part of the quote is the part that I find myself not agreeing with totally. Yes, in the context of where it was told, scars or those bad experiences should not let the person be controlled by them forever. The fact is all scars affect us and they do dictate where we are going. If we are willing to deal with them then they will dictate a better future. They can even continue to affect us. They will remind us what we've experienced but they won't cripple us and keep us from moving on. Our scars can dictate a future that we never thought of by ourselves. They can help us relate better with others by having empathy because we know how our scars have caused us pain. They can lead us to opportunities where we can help others as well. So our scars do dictate where we are going. Of course, they don't have to, but they do. But they should not dictate a future filled with bad memories and emotional turmoil. They will take time to heal and the pain will be tolerable but they will never go away. They will affect our future. We have to deal with them to make sure they dictate a better path. A path of healing. A path of empathy. A path of hope. We will always be people walking with scars. They will remind us of our past. But by sharing our pain and dealing with it we will find healing.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Who I am by Misael Galdámez

Last night my son finished this college essay. We discussed how to write it and in the end he did quite good. There's a lot I could say. But let him say it. Here it is:

I have always loved ribs. From the first day my mom took out her recipe book and oven baked ribs, I was fascinated. Fascinated to the point where I became an expert on ribs; I discovered the secret.

The secret to perfect ribs is the perfect dry rub. It must maintain an equilibrium of taste sensations; not too sweet, but not too spicy. The sugar acts as a foundation for the other spices, ensuring that they all blend to form the perfect taste sensation.

Like the rub for my special ribs, I am built on a solid foundation, a constant flavor – my family.

Yes, my parents were disadvantaged immigrants, but their status is not what has shaped who I am. What is distinguishable and influential about my parents is their contentment. No matter where we have been emotionally or economically, my parents have been content. When our family’s dine-outs were $1 whoppers and water, they were content. When four-star restaurants became affordable to our family, they were content.

However, complacency is not to be mistaken for contentment. My parents always strove to better themselves in every way possible; whether going to seminary to become a minister or working hard to receive that pay bonus, they drove forward.

Of course, every rub needs some heat to give it fire. Without spice, people lack passion. My spice? Plain and simple: my values.

I am old fashioned; I always will be. I believe in being a gentleman and in chivalry. I believe in the sanctity of life and responsibility. I believe that without a code of ethics, one is nothing.

But I didn’t develop a code of ethics on my own. My values came from observation, from discussions with my parents, from reason. I was taught what my parents believed from an early age, taught right from wrong. I was raised in a Christian home, taught the value of people; taught that there was one God. The decision was ultimately mine, whether to embrace or reject everything. I chose to embrace it.

Mix sweet and spicy and you have yourself the balance for your rub. A balance of tastes.

That’s what my goal is. To be a balanced individual. Someone who has values, passion and is content; someone who is always driving forward.

Like my ribs, I want to be a variety of flavors; Flavors so good, you can’t help but lick your fingers.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Country Music Philosophy for Living

“The characteristic of Pains and Pleasures is that they are unmistakably real, and therefore,

as far as they go, give the man who feels them a touchstone of reality.” The Screwtape Letters, Letter XIII

I have been listening to a lot of country music lately. I’ve always liked it but I am now becoming a fan. I like the stories in the songs. They are often simple much like America used to be. It doesn’t try to be poetic like some pop music which in the end makes no sense. A recent song has taught me a bit of philosophy. A song from Billy Currington People Are Crazy tells a story of how two men, presumably Billy and someone else, are in a bar just talking about life and drinking beer. The man doing the talking is older, a Veteran of two wars, who has had his shares of difficulties in life. Unbeknown to the listener, the Veteran is a millionaire. He eventually dies but not before leaving him all of his wealth. The chorus of the song summarized the Veteran’s life philosophy: “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.” Simple, yet he articulated his view of God, himself and people. Many people have a hard time explaining their beliefs but here we have a country song that gives as much as we may need to know to live a simple, good, life. First, his view of God. He is Great! He didn’t complain about him for all the troubles He had let him go through. He’s just Great. Second, his view of self. He likes beer. For some this is anathema. Beer cannot be good. Or some may say he is just a Hedonist, someone who only seeks pleasure. But remember, God is great. He enjoys the simple things. Interestingly enough I have been listening to the dramatized version of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and letter 13 deals with the issue of pleasure. Screwtape, the experienced demon advises his nephew to not let his patient enjoy small pleasures such as walking, drinking cocoa, things that “have nothing of virtue in them; but there is sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them that I distrust.” He distrusts them because they deal with reality and this can lead him in the direction of God. The goal of demons, according to Screwtape is to keep people detached from reality. The song also articulates a view of mankind: people are crazy. In Theology we would say that man is depraved, meaning that he is capable of much evil. And of course, craziness in the colloquial expression has this sense. We live in a crazy world. That’s why we need God, we need to understand who He is, who we are and the way people are. Simple life philosophy for living.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why I Love Children

“The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop”

Mark Twain

Ever since I was young I have found that I enjoy been around children. Children are special to me for many reasons. I love children's innocence. It is not my intention here to discuss wether human nature is intrinsically predisposed for evil or a tabula rasa as John Locke described in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. What I refer to here is children's ability to perceive the world without preconceived notions. Their eyes see everything with "new" eyes. They want to know, they want to learn. They like to discover things, things that we as adults take for granted. Children also have a forgiving heart. So many times I have seen how children after a moment of discord with an adult or another child, will forget everything and start over as if nothing happened. Not so, with us adults. We may forgive but we seldom forget. Children also have faith. I remember the stories I told 5th graders at dinner time at a camp. They were ridiculous stories about pink elephants, yet they heard them and even believed them. If it sounds convincing, they believe. It is no wonder that Jesus used children as an example of the type of people that would enter Heaven. He saw their faith. That's not so with us. We doubt first, believe second but only if we are factually convinced. Children love. They don't establish conditions for loving, they just do. Their affection is not guided by prejudice, socioeconomic conditions or color of skin. How different it is with us.

Ten years ago, I wrote a poem which encapsulates why I love children.

Through They Eyes of A Child

I wish I could see life thru the eyes of a child.

To them life is so simple and mild.

Play and game is what matters and makes time so worth while.

How untrue this is for me,

So many pressures and preoccupations that make myself so wild.

They don't worry about tomorrow,

The future or even today,

It's the moment they seize that makes like so ok.

They sing, they laugh, they pretend.

Life is not serious to them.

How easy it is for them to believe what they are told.

Unlike adults who question, doubt, and reason so bold.

What can they fear? They are happy, satisfied and assured.

But we have so many things to make us insecure.

So if we plan our life to endure.

Let us learn to be pure.

Through the eyes of a child.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


There is no Death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Resignation

Lord, make me to know my end.
And what is the extent of my days.
Let me know how transient I am.
Behold, Thou hast made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight.
Surely every man at his best is a mere breath.
~ Psalm 39: 4-5
Mortality has been on my mind since 9/11. Watching the videos and the people whose lives ended on that day always makes me think about our mortality. It is one of those questions that has always baffled me. It is hard to grasp. First, I think of the randomness of it. I know that Christians are not supposed to believe in randomness. God is sovereign we say and he determines our fate. But it is not as simple as it looks. The evidence just doesn't appear evident. I imagine all those people that just went to work that day and never came back. I imagine those that jumped out of the towers. Was this random or planned? I am reading a book on the Spanish Conquest of Mexico and the killing that went on on both sides just seems so random. Again, some would argue that God was involved. They will try to defend God's sovereignty. I personally don't know how or if God is involved. I tend to believe is not an either/or proposition.Second, our mortality, whether we can understand it or not leads us to think what's behind it. When I was a child I had dreams of death and would leave me thinking what was after. I had a hard time believing there was nothing. Last week I saw a documentary where a scientist asserted with full confidence that after death there was nothing. We cease to exist, he said and he was perfectly fine with it. I just can't believe that! So no matter how much I struggle with understanding our mortality I still have faith. Faith in life after death. A life without the randomness that this one appears to have. I cannot conceive our mortality ending in nothingness. That's just too much to believe.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thoughts on Genesis 9:18-29

Thoughts on Genesis 9:18-29
What caused Noah to get drunk? Did he get carried away? Was he experiencing
distress? Many times complacency comes after a great experience and we become prone to temptation. Noah had a long history in his relationship with God yet he failed after such a high. It is hard to believe this but we are all human. What really gets me is that there's no consequence for his action. Nothing is mentioned. Is it possible his relationship with Ham was estranged after this? I believe so. Even with such event, Noah's reputation as a man of faith is preserved in the Bible (see Hebrews 11). As for the punishment for Ham, it seems unjust. Something appears to be missing? It appears that respect and honor of parents above their weaknesses. I read a commentary by Louis T. Talbot (for which Talbot Seminary is named) and he calls Ham's sin a perversion but no real proof is offered. God sees more in Ham, his heart. I don't know what God saw but we know for a fact that Ham's descendants the Canaanites were really bad. Noah's prophecy almost seems that no mercy is available for Ham. Does
God predestine some for doom without giving them a chance? This is a hard question to answer that only God knows. I certainly will not answer it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Where I have trodden

This past week and a half has been full of action. We spent a week in Puerto Vallarta México and I have ingrained some of the experiences. I remember Hector the travel agency salesman who got us to attend a sales pitch. We didn’t buy anything but we got some trips out of it and almost got to eat with him dinner at his house but he wasn’t there when we visited. We have his phone number and he invited us to call him so we can have dinner with him and his family, if we go again. Some other things were shocking, like my first run along the coast on Sunday morning. Towards the end of Nuevo Puerto Vallarta I saw death. A young man was laying dead on the beach being watched by people and two policeman keeping others away. I later found out it was a crime of passion. It showed me how frail life is in this world. I remember our conversations with all the taxi drivers and the tips that they gave us as we asked about where to find certain things. Never have I had more conversations with taxi drivers like in this trip. I remember the couple with their little daughter from Veracruz that we befriended on a boat tour of Vallarta. I wonder if we our paths will ever cross. Our layover in Mexico City was just as interesting. I’m thankful for they young man who kindly led us to the Metro and gave us directions so that we could spend five hours in el Zócalo, the heart of México City. I remember the poor peasant ladies selling their merchandize and just felt so much compassion for them. Then our trip with my son and many other young people to San Antonio lake for a three-day adventure. Mixed with feelings of inadequacy but at the end experiencing a rekindling of my faith and love for young people. They all have made a permanent mark in my life. They’ve begun to turn my life in a different direction. I just don’t know where but I’m moving.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

E's to live by

For the most part, I don’t like clichés. Most of us have heard the following “God, Family and Country” or whatever order it is usually said. It’s a good cliché but it means very little unless each one is defined. I do think, however, that we need to have some basic principles to live by. I’ve thought of some. They are not new and everyone has probably heard them before. But they work for me. They are in the form of an alliteration. I call them “The E’s to live by.”
The first principle is edify. This simply means to build others up. How do we build up others? Not by giving them clichés or the usual pop psychology. But we need to encourage them. Encourage them in their goals and pursuits. Everyone is unique and thus can contribute in a unique way. Yet, we need others to do it. Encouragement plays a big role. Human nature is prone to judge others before encouraging. Judging only leads to people becoming isolated from us. But encouragement goes a long way. We should also build others up by easing up their lives through service. Little things we do for others, insignificant at they may be, can alleviate the frustration and stress that so many of us carry from day to day. Sometimes a simple “hello” or a smile goes a long way. There are things that are easy for us to do but aren’t for others. It’s an opportunity to serve others. We should never be too busy to help others. Anything we invest in others is never lost. Investing in people’s lives is the best we can do in a culture that is consumed with self.
The second principle is to examine our lives. Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He had a point. Living our lives without evaluating who we are, what we believe, where we are going, and what we are doing is not worth living. When we examine we evaluate where we are and what we are doing in our lives and see if this is a reflection of who we are and what we believe. Many times we do certain things out of boredom or necessity. We evaluate whether a decision is right or wrong for us. Once we do this then we should enjoy our life. We enjoy our lives within the parameters we have set when we evaluate ourselves. Sometimes we don’t enjoy our lives because we are doing something that is not part of who we are. We enjoy who we are, what we have, and who we have with us.

In a nutshell here are my E’s for living a good life:
Edify others by encouraging them and by easing their lives through service.
Examine your life by evaluating and enjoying it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Going Deep: The God Narrative

Today we heard a message on Genesis 4. Some things mentioned were: effects of sin: murder, polygamy ( concept of marriage), life without God (notice v 26). But I want to focus on the God narrative. God's story that he begins to write down for us. It is the story of God reaching out to men because men is incapable of having a permanent relationship with Him without His help.
It is interesting that verse 25 says: At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD,
After 140 years, Seth is born and her offspring Enosh (born on 105th birthday) calls the name of the Lord. In such little time the
God narrative is lost. Here the narrative begins to be restored. Men seek God. The simplicity found here makes me think how it was then and how it is now. Today, there is so much we add to the concept of seeking God that it becomes convoluted with man-made institutional ideas. Here we find God's narrative (next chapter shows the genealogy from where the Messiah would be born) been written because man is incapable of finding God all on his own because of sin. I wonder what Adam passed on to his generations. What narrative? Did Adam ever had contact with Cain? What did Cain share with his children? Apparently he shared his disgrace (see v. 23, 24 where Lamech boasts about killing a man and refers to Cain's killing of Abel) but did he share how it was to be in the presence of God? Maybe he did but it was distorted by the effect of sin. It makes me think what are passing on to our children. Of course not everything will be good but the God narrative is the most important to pass on. Our children need to know God is there and they can have a relationship with Him. They can also call on the name of the Lord. It's that simple.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Going Deep: Reflecting on the Sermon Cain and Abel

I've meaning to reflect on the Sunday Sermons and I get all these thoughts while I am sitting at church and while driving home with my family. We often discuss them in the car with my family. I have often thought it would be appropriate to have a Sunday school class after the service to discuss the sermon. This is often an element missing in our churches. We are left with all this information and thoughts but with no one to digest them with. Well, here is an attempt to do that here.

Recently our pastor started a series on the book of Genesis called "God of Wonders." Over all, the sermons are great but always leave me thinking. Now, having earned my Masters in Divinity over ten years ago, I think, gives me an edge. However, I often wonder why are we not asking these questions to our members. Why aren't we challenging to go deep. But let me get on with it. Before I start though, I begin with a presupposition that the bible is historical accurate and that the events are to be interpreted literally unless otherwise stated or the immediate or remote context indicates to be the case (these are basic interpretation-hermeneutical-principles).

We all know the story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis 4. Both were born to Adam and Eve after the Fall. Both were brothers. Cain whose name means "the man" was the firstborn. He was a farmer. Abel whose name means "breath" was a shepherd. Both were probably adults by the time this takes place. They probably had more brothers and sisters since Adam lived 930 years. We don't know what transpired when they were growing up. But we know that both came before God and presented their offerings. Abel brought fat from his firstborn animals and it pleased God. Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil and God was displeased with him. Why? Here's is where we begin to speculate. Some say that Abel brought the best while Cain did not. Others say that Abel had faith (see Hebrews 11:4) whereas Cain did not. Our pastor said today that it was how they worshipped God. He gave applications related to our worship. But I think it goes deeper than that. All this might be true but what we are told is that it was related to sin or his actions (see 1 John 3:12). How did Cain sin? Was he a man without faith?

Immediately after this Cain becomes angry and downcast. What was going through his mind? Why was he so angry, especially toward Abel. I am going to assume that this is not the first time that they both presented their offerings to God. Maybe this happened over and over to the point where Cain became jealous of Abel. I really don't think that a single event would cause him to become so angry to the point of murdering his brother in a premeditated way. I think Cain had become so bitter towards Abel (and God of course) that it dominated his life (thus God says, "sin desires to have you or control you"). Did he get plenty of warnings from God? I think so. God must have told him to be righteous. But he had become so blinded by his own bitterness that he could no longer respond to truth. There are powerful lessons learned here. Think.

We know what happened next. We don't know the details but we read that he killed Abel. God called him and asked where his brother was. He answers by saying he is not his brother's keeper. He actually was, being the firstborn, but he denies it. God knew what happened but he asks him first. I can hear some asking questions about God's sovereignty. Why didn't God stop him? Why did he allow the first murder? I am afraid we can't answer this question just like we can't answer why he allowed Adam and Even to eat of the forbidden fruit. All I can say here is that man is capable of much evil even in the presence of God himself.

Cain is punished by being sent out of the presence of God. The land will no longer give him what he wants and he is a marked man so that no one is killed. Cain leaves and marries (obviously someone from his own lineage but who knows how old he was) and has children. Very little to we know about him after this. We don't know how long he lived or how he died.

Did Cain ever repent of what he did to Abel? We don't know. All we know is that he lamented the punishment he received from God.

To me, this event goes deep into the problem of man. Sin. Evil. It will control us if we let it. It comes in various forms. It makes us insensitive to truth. It leads to bondage of the will. It leads to destruction. It doesn't have to control us. Let's learn from Abel. Abel was sensitive to God. He listened. He had faith in God. He was a righteous man. He speaks even though he is dead.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Muddling God’s Will

I recently read an article by iMonk on the issue of God’s will. It says what I have come to believe for some time now. This topic is so misunderstood and has caused many problems for Christians, both theologically and philosophically.
Deists believe that God created the world and left to run its course. I guess in this situation, there isn’t any God’s will, or at least it is not evident. We create our own will without direct intervention from God. This would be the extreme view for not believing in God’s will. Others have argued that there are several types of wills. There is God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. God’s perfect will, is like, plan A. Then plan B, is God’s permissive will, everything God allows you to do.

Early on in my Christian walk I was taught that I had to find God’s will for my life (Plan A) otherwise I would follow my own plan (Plan B). I went to seminars that gave me steps to find will. It sounded like a treasure map. Find the clues from God and you will find God’s will. I wasn’t quite satisfied. When I had intentions on getting married many in the church wondered whether the person I chose was God’s will for me. Many didn’t think so. How they concluded beats me. Some went even further. Some said God had to choose for me. Somehow or someway I would know God’s will. They often used the example of Isaac finding a wife as if this was normative. A particular pastor even said publicly that the woman he married was not God’s will for him. God’s will was plan A. He chose plan B and God had no choice but to go with it. I wondered why God would be so involved in matchmaking.

I believe that in the issue of God’s will, Christians have become mystics. We say we believe objective truth found in the Bible but guide our lives subjectively following clues that will prove that what we do is God’s will. This creates so many problems. First, we misunderstand who God is and become prone to judging everything based on God’s will. Many Christians make God the Evil Genius Capricious Puppeteer that manipulates everyone and everything with strings. Everything must be part of his plan. If a death or an unfortunate event happens we either say that it is God’s will or we blame it on the Devil. Everything is either black or white. We cannot feel good if we say that some things just happen as a result of our own actions or of nature. To say that God is not involved in everything is anathema. After all, we are not Deists. Second, we presume to know God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty means that there are things that I don’t understand but that ultimately God knows how it fits in his ultimate purpose. I don’t have the right to explain everything that happens because I don’t understand God’s sovereignty. Third, we become arbiters of God’s will. So many Christians have been hurt by others saying that it was God’s will for them to experience a tragedy or that everything will turn out for good. What a tragedy! Who are we to say that!

I have come to believe that I really don’t know what God’s will is for everything in my life. Honestly, I don’t think I have to explain them in such terms. God’s will for humanity is revealed in his objective truth, the Bible. It is not person-specific. They are general principles that we must apply and live by. The application varies from person to person. That’s all I have to worry about. Besides this, I cannot be certain what God’s will is. Furthermore, I don’t think that we should categorize everything in what is God’s will and what is not because we simply do not have enough information from God to do this. We are foolish if we think that we can know with certainty God’s will in every circumstance. We don’t have to say anything theological when bad things happen. We just say they happened. How is God involved? We don’t know. We are part of a play, we are the actors but we don’t know how everything will play out. The Master will reveal someday, maybe, He doesn’t have to (i.e. read the book of Job). All we need to know is that someday what happens to us won’t matter because we will be in His presence.

Note: Here are two books I recommend on this topic:
1. Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View (a lengthy but comprehensive book) by Gary Friesen
2. Decision Making and Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. (a short new book) by Kevin DeYoung

Monday, July 06, 2009

Goals - 8 weeks after

In a previous post close to the beginning of the year I stated I didn't believe in resolutions and I gave my reasons. I do however, believe in goals. Goals are meant to be measurable and reachable. Many times we are unrealistic about our goals that they almost become wishes. Once a goal is made we should develop a plan and stick to it. It should also be flexible enough to adjust if things aren't going the way they should. I made some goals at the beginning of the year. One of my goals was losing some added pounds. I have always done exercise but when I got married I just ate too much and wasn't consistent with my exercise. I tried many different products to try to lose some pounds. I joined 24 hour fitness and I was able to go from 180 to 175. Then I decided to just do weight training at home. I gained almost 10 pounds. I thought it was all muscle, but it wasn't so. At this point my wife and I decided to start watching our calories. We both used "Lose it" on our iphone to track our calories. I also started biking for about a half an hour a day. I did this for about three weeks then I decided I wanted to run. I started running 3 miles the first day and I have moved to an average of 5 miles a day, six days a week. I also do some light weight training. I keep track of my weight every day and I get tips and encouragement from people at Calorie Count. In fact here is what I wrote in my journal there:

"Last week I ran 10 miles in 1 hour and 52 mins. I feel proud of this accomplishment. It hasn't been easy. I have experienced some physical ailments that I've never felt before. I am suffering from headaches on my right side but they are not too bad. My knee on my right leg tends to hurt but I have minimized the pain by putting a bandage around it. The neck area become stiff but I have been massaging it after each run. I am not fast but I am building resistance and slowly building speed. I'm enjoying this. This is the longest I've ran since I did cross-country in Jr. High. For a 38 year it's not bad. My goal is to run a marathon but I want to be ready first. Next week I am going to work on passing the 10 miles. I will keep running 5 miles, five days a week and one day I'll do a long run. I rest one day.

As far as my weight, I am getting closer to my goal of 175. My ultimate goal is 165 which where I should be. I sticking to my diet by keeping track of my calories intake using Lose It on my iphone. So far so good. This hasn't been easy either. Many nights I feel hungry and I wake up hungry. I know thought, that eventually I will get used to it and this will become part of my life and won't need to keep count of my calories."

After eight weeks of keeping count of the calories I ingest and after five weeks of running these are my results. They are not surprising but I've made growth and I quite satisfied. But I press on. Oh, I forgot to mention a book I began reading: "Born to Run." I recommend this book to anyone interested in running or who is interested in cultures. It deals with the Tahumaras in Mexico's who are considered the best runners in the world. It's more of a narrative about them and not so much a how to book on running.

As a note, I also say that my wife has lost at least 5 pounds by keeping track of her calories. She also has began running with me some days even thought she says she hates running. I also have to say that without her help, especially in the food area, I would not be making this progress. She makes sure that we all eat right. We measure and weigh food. We encourage each other. We are making a lifestyle change for the well-being of our family.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Short Review of the movie "Sin Nombre"

I just posted a short review of the movie "Sin Nombre" on Flickster on Facebook and thought it would be a good idea to post it here too. There are two intertwined plots: a gangster among Mara Salvatrucha and a teenager traveling from Honduras to the US. It's a very realistic portrayal of both. It's not a very hopeful movie but its depiction is very real. Being from El Salvador I experienced traveling from El Salvador to Mexico by bus to cross the border in Tijuana. I can say I was able to empathize with the immigrants even though I didn't experience much of what they did. But watching this movie revived my feelings. It is sad to see what many of those who are Salvadoreans like me, have done with their gang life. This movie makes it real. It will not make you feel happy after watching the movie but it will surely show you the "world" we don't often see. The movie is very violent, has a sexual scene and uses strong language. If you understand Spanish you will get all the nuances. Definately not a movie for everyone. Only for those who are mature to understand (or want) the societal aspects surrounding gang life and the immigration dilemma.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Closer to the truth: The X-Files meet God (sort of) or what the movie Knowing reveals about God, faith, Human Nature and the End of Mankind

My family and I just watched the movie Knowing. I don’t want to get into the plot and ruin the movie from anyone who hasn’t watched it. I don’t often recommend people watching a movie but this one is a must especially for those of the Christian faith. Instead I want to share some of the things that we Christians know that are evident in the movie and can serve as a point of discussion with others. In fact, I even thought it could serve as preview of a series of sermons on the End times. So this is a call for all preachers.
The movie is a mixture of a plot from the X-files with answers from the Bible. In fact, the basic premise is based on the passage in Ezekiel 1. Even thought this passage has nothing to do with the End times, it is used in the movie to support the idea of a higher power (i.e. the Sun) that eventually brings forth judgment to humanity. Read it before you watch the movie.]
Here are some concepts presented in the movie that are inline with Christianity:
1. Humanity has become evil and needs a new beginning. The movie shows how most humans when faced with tragedy behave like animals. It shows their basic selfish nature. We Christians agree with this clearly.
2. Humanity is incorrigible. No matter how many “signs” or warnings they get, they are unwilling or incapable to change on their own.
3. Humanity is not the result of chaos and chance but is the result of order. The main character in the movie, a scientist, believes in randomness until he gets the message from the Higher Power. It takes sometime though, and he even tries to disprove it but he ends up accepting it and in the end becomes convinced that there is purpose and meaning to life.
4. Those who are of faith or have been changed accept that death is not the end but the beginning. This is the case in the movie. It is interesting to note that the main character’s dad was a pastor. Both of them have been estranged due to the disagreements of beliefs. The son saw him as weird for his beliefs until he himself understands his fate. They both are reconciled. For once, Christians are portrayed as confident in contrast to those outside who until the end act like animals when faced with tragedy (e.g. Noah’s Ark).
5. There is a Higher Power. The movie is convoluted. We are led to believe aliens are the power behind everything (X-Files connection) but then we see it is The Sun but leaves us wondering (thus God is sort of). But for us Christians it is clear.

Having mentioned some truths revealed here are some misconceptions presented in the movie that can be used as a point of discussion with others (like I did with my family)

1. God is not the Sun or vice versa. He is not an impersonal force. After watching the movie I went back and read Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 19-20. It is interesting to note how fire, light and the sun is used in relation to God.
2. Humanity cannot have a new beginning by changing the environment. The person has to be changed from within (Redemption) and not from without. The tree of life cannot guarantee a perfect world (e.g. Genesis 1-3) Even if it was possible, procreation would bring the possibility of evil arising again (e.g. Revelation 20).
3. There aren’t any innocent beings. In the movie there are selected few (the children) who are chosen to start over. Christians believe that human nature is essentially predisposed to do evil. No one is innocent.
The movie ends with hope. We Christians believe in Hope. And this movie gives an opportunity to share it clearly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The End of Evangelicalism

Up till now, I have been hesitant to speak about what I believe will happen to the Evangelical movement. Evangelicals are all of those who believe in certain essentials among the most important is the belief that salvation is by faith alone. I often refer them to as the Church. I have been a Christian for over 20 years and have seen the evangelical church progress (or regress) to a state where I believe that it will be irrelevant. The more I visit churches, talk to supposed Christians and study the trend I have become more convinced that the Church or Evangelicals will fade away in the vast sea of our culture. Church members are almost indistinguishable from those outside the church in their daily living. Many confess to be Christians but in reality there is no essential difference. They are ignorant of their beliefs (see Barna's Report here) and are unable to explain why they believe what they believe. Churches no longer teach; they entertain. They teach pop psychology. They make you feel good but that is about it. And those churches that do have solid teaching have become fat. They have become dogmatic, judgmental and isolated. Their beliefs will die with them because they haven't learned how to confront the culture in a relevant way. Our young people are not being taught how to live out their faith in a post-modern society. The culture has become a powerful force influencing all of their lives and the Church does very little to counter act it. What is the future of Evangelicals? Today I read this article and found myself agreeing with Michael Spencer in almost everything he says. He writes: "I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century."
I also believe it is the Third World Church will bring a rebirth to America's Christianity. Just like Michael Spencer, I'm not a prophet. I may be totally wrong. I really hope so.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Mind Over Emotions

We are emotional beings. We are rational beings. Both are powerful. Both can work with each other. Both can work against each other. Both can be in harmony.
I have often been seen as someone who lacks emotion due to the fact that I don’t often show publicly what I am feeling. But those who are close to me know that I do have emotions. They are there. I just don’t feel compelled to show them; it makes me uncomfortable. It might be a guy thing. Yet, as I the years have passed I have felt the growth of emotions to the point where it is not hard to feel the tears in my eyes when I am watching a movie or I am speaking to someone who I care deeply. Why is this so? I am sure there is a logical explanation, but that’s not what I want to talk about here.
I want to talk about the importance of putting mind over emotions. Personally, this hasn’t been hard for me. I’ve always been a logical person always weighing my decisions on reason and not emotion. I remember how I decided that I wanted to marry my wife. It took intensive rational thinking and after three days I was ready to propose. Of course I felt emotions. I was enveloped in them. But I made a choice guided by reason as well.
But I have observed so many times how people make decisions based on what they feel. They sacrifice what they believe for what they feel. They put emotion over principle. They put emotions over mind. This is dangerous. Letting emotions guide us and control us lead us to make decisions that we may later regret. I remember giving counsel to a young woman about the spiritual abuse her church was imposing on her and others and how she rejected what I said based on her close association to the pastor only to later realize that her emotions had blinded her. Her emotions were put over her reason and it led her and others astray. Emotions are dangerous when given free will. They must be guided by reason.
When we don’t put our mind over emotions, we run the risk of being manipulated by others. It’s easy. A few weeks ago I was sitting in church listening a sermon on the prodigal son. I though the interpretation of the parable did not do justice to the text. But even worse, we saw a video that modernized the parable. As I watched it I felt more contempt until the music started playing. Then I started to feel like I wanted to cry. Some tears felt from my eyes. Many around me were crying even men! For a moment I forgot what I “thought” about the sermon and gave in to my emotions. They are powerful. They can blind us from reason. They can justify anything. That’s why it’s important to balance them with our reason.

Have you heard the expression “Common Sense”? Well, our sense is derived from our reason. But these days it means very little. We need some Enlightenment. But it can only come when we put mind over emotions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ethics No More: Why Moral Absolutes Matter

The title of this blog seems to have an apparent contradiction but it does not. Let me explain. The first part is what I believe is our current condition as a society in the United States, whether you are religious or not. Ethics, what is right and wrong has become obfuscated in the vast sea of moral relativism. Expediency has become the norm and not the moral absolute. In colloquial terms, it is what “makes me happy” that matters ultimately and not what I “ought” to do. Everything I do is not guided by any moral compass, except that which is relative to my circumstances. There is no hierarchy of values that guide my life just a selection of choices all at equal level. Only those that benefit me the most are valuable for a period of time. But nothing is absolute. This is where I think we are now. I don’t really have to prove this, just watch the news, observe people and see how they make their choices.
The second part of the title is what I think we need. We need to understand the basics of moral absolutes. Moral absolutes derive from a source. That source is a Being that is transcendent and who has literally put a moral compass inside each one of us (I think C. S. Lewis has a more thorough examination of this concept in Mere Christianity ; audio here (in parts)). Whenever, we make a wrong or right choice, our conscience convicts us or confirms that we have done what is right or what is wrong. I also believe that our choices have a hierarchy. In other words, there are some absolutes that are above others. In the hierarchy of ethics, life is at the top. Life is God’s basic gift to all of us no matter what our part is in the creation of it. Thus, I believe that killing another life whether it is through abortion and/or euthanasia is morally wrong and should be at the top of the list of the things that are wrong. Any justification to end life in such cases, I believe, is morally reprehensible. Our duty as ethical beings is to protect life no matter what the cost may be or how much it may cause us to be uncomfortable. Anything that conflicts with protecting a life should be relegated to a secondary position for the option of protecting it. Out of this basic principle everything emanates.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Fictional Theodicy: A Review of the Shack

I finally finished the book The Shack by William Young , the book that has remained on the top ten books on Amazon and has taken Christians captive. When I started the book I had a lot more enthusiasm but half way through I stopped reading it. I did not get why this book was being called the new Pilgrims Progress. I saw no parallel. I pushed myself and finished the book and here are a few thoughts. Before getting to the book, I have to say a few things. First, I believe that America lives in fiction. Fiction books are best sellers. Stores are packed with fictional volumes that take most of the space. I have come to believe that most Americans live in this fictional world. Second, I think the Church in America is one that lacks discernment and biblical literacy.  The Church has become part of the world and it is no surprise that many Christians live no different that non-Christians. So it is no surprise that a book like The Shack would be so popular among Christians.

Now to the book. The basic plot revolves around Mackenzie Allen Philips' daughter abduction and killing and how Mackenzie deals with what the author calls “The Great Sadness.” Mackenzie gets a note that apparently comes from God to meet him in a shack. It is in the Shack that Mackenzie meets God or Papa who anthropomorphically appears as an African American woman, Jesus who is a typical Middle Eastern guy and the Holy Spirit, Sarayu, who is of Asian background. It is during this weekend with the “trinity” that Mack learns that God is not the author of evil but is a loving aunt Jemima who understands his pain. Papa shows Mack that he was present with his daughter Missy during the abduction and killing. She shows him “heaven” where Missy is now enjoying her company. Mack is able to see her but is unable to speak to her, but through God himself, lets him know that she loves him. In the end, Mack is able to forgive the man who killed his daughter and acknowledge God’s sovereignty. He finds closure and the Great Sadness disappears. The end has a twist that leaves the reader thinking if it was only a dream but the author shows that it actually happened. Mack is changed forever and becomes a fervent believer sharing God’s goodness to everyone he knows.

The book itself is a theodicy, a defense for the goodness of God (in other words God is too good to condemn anyone) and strong critique of many institutions, including the Church. In its fictional characterization of God, it deviates from the “orthodox” view. It has a created a lot of controversy over it. But the bottom line is that this is a work of fiction. There is much that can be disputed biblically, but it begs the question. Why would we want to do this when we know the book is a work of fiction, which reflects the author’s view of God? To argue more only gives more credibility to this fictional theodicy. Christians who take it as theology are just proving my point that Christians are biblically illiterate and are virtually indistinguishable from non-Christians.

If you are interested in the discussion around this book, just Google it or read the reviews at Amazon. If you want good fiction dealing with God’s character, this may not be the book to start with. Try C.S. Lewis or even John Bunyan. You’ll get more bang for your buck.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Every Man's Death Diminishes...But A Friend Even More

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee" John Donne Meditation XVII (see link above for full text) and here for the book form.

Recently I lost a friend who I knew for over 20 years. Even though we weren't close in distance for a long time, a few months before his death we got in touch through Facebook. He posted his last message to me three days before his passing. Interestingly enough, I had been thinking and talking to my son about the influence he had in my life the weekend before. I don't believe it was chance. What John Donne wrote centuries ago comes true. We are not an island ourselves. We don't live in isolation. We are only a part and so is everyone else. Thus, when we lose someone through death it also affects us. It "diminishes" us in some way. We are not the same, we never will. It also reminds us of our own mortality. When John Donne wrote the Meditation, he was close to death, and likely sent people to ring the bell announcing his death. He survived his sickness but he became aware that the when bells of the church sound when a person dies, it is for us. We are mortal beings, books that won't disappear, but will be changed into a better translation. But until then, we live our lives with the recognition that we are interconnected and anyone's death affect us and changes us for ever.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Why I don't Believe in New Year Resolutions!

New Year resolutions are like diets, they both don't work. I don't believe in neither. I remember when I was a true believer of resolutions and wrote them down at the beginning of each year. Then at the end of the year, I would check the ones that I had accomplished. There weren't that many checked off! It became a ritual for me each that I could not allow to pass.

 As the years passed and I matured in my thinking, I realized that they really didn't work. They created added stress that didn't produce the results that I desired. They were like a diet. You start very anxious and try really hard at the beginning but as the days, weeks and months pass it becomes too hard to follow and is eventually given up. That's the way we start our resolutions. Having said this I have to tell what I believe. But before I say this, I have to state that I don't believe in fatalism. I don't believe everything is ruled by chance. I do believe that Providence works behind the scenes in ways that I am not aware. I believe in having goals, both immediate goals and future goals. They require some degree of planning but they are not set in stone. They are based on what I think I need to develop in my life or that I think I want to accomplish. Some involve other people like my family. Most of them are realistic but I am aware that there are factors that might affect the outcome. I don't write them down and I don't beat myself up for not accomplishing them.

 I also believe that some goals should not have a time frame, they should be part of my life forever and have to be developed with discipline. I put healthy living and exercise in this category . For many years now I have worked slowly in developing good eating habits and doing some weight lifting. This year I want to add a cardio component to my exercise routine. I am not a maniac but I have consistency. And this is key in anything you plan. Don't try to do everything in giant leaps, take "baby steps" but be consistent. I learned this from a movie called "What About Bob?" Watch it!

Whatever you plan to do this year, think about it carefully, develop a simple plan, take baby steps, be consistent. At the end of the year if you did it, great! If you didn't, think of something that's simpler and try it. Don't give up what's important for you. Keep at it. Remember the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare? I think you do!