El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

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Any post that I re-read and say to myself, “That’s good, I wonder who wrote it.”

Why There Are, By Definition, NO Atheists in Foxholes

Yes, I know. Atheists are offended by that. Let me taunt you again. If you disagree with that statement, you are NOT an atheist.

Let me set you up with a bit of background. Perhaps we can agree on this, no? Would you say that as an atheist, God is no more "real" than say, Zeus, or Odin, or the Flying Spagetti Monster? Yes, you say?

Okay good. We shall continue.

Would you also say that religion, belief in an afterlife, or plain old "fear of God" stuff is just right out. Let’s face it, as an atheist, you don’t believe in that crap. Life is biological. When you’re gone, you’re gone. There is no higher calling than living your life to the fullest, not like a jerk, but fullest, being a good and productive human. It just makes good sense.

You also hate it when people say that without religion there would be no morals. Why not, you ask?

You reply, leaping forth from the fuente of Kantian thought, only that which can be applied universally is truly moral. You understand that the concept of universal morality and the golden rule are practical and lead to a good and solid foundation. Without this practical morality your own lifetime would have been marred with warring and fighting and disease and misery. Pay if forward, you say. Morals make good sense. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now there’s a moral framework you can get behind.

One more thing, and this is important, so pay attention. You say that life is more precious for you than it is for a "believer," because, to an atheist, there is nothing after. Life is the greatest gift, the only gift you will truly ever receive. Life is all that you will ever have, and death takes away EVERYTHING.

Are you still with me? Do I have it mostly nailed down? I don’t want a straw man here. I want an atheist that can stand up and take it. But you know the strangest thing?

I agree with you.

But I still say there are no atheists in foxholes.

What?! Haven’t I been listening? Bear with me here, I’m going to spell it out. Here it is:

If life is all that you have and all that you will ever have, what the hell are you doing dying in a foxhole? I ask you, atheist, what is so important that you would be willing to give your life for it? I’m baffled. You profess to no god. You patently disavow any sort of celestial reward. You cast off the yoke of religious dogma, superstition, and tradition. For what do you die? Are you stupid? Crazy? Crazy like a foxhole, maybe. I’m on to you though.

A steadfastly rational practical atheist might reply that he is risking his life for a stable future, for enlightenment, for an end to suffering. I shoot back, but YOU aren’t going to be around?  What would the point be?

Maybe he will talk to me of acceptable risk and potential reward.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, he would say. Don’t kid yourself. There is no acceptable risk in war. Why sacrifice yourself for oblivion then?

Nobody will live this life as well as you, for you are you and no one else. No one else will enjoy it like you. No one will smell it, taste it, touch it like you. No one can live it as you live it, experience consciousness as you experience it. This fact is not selfish, it is reality, the only reality you will ever know.

But why do you die in this foxhole, atheist? May I dare offer an explanation?

Perhaps, there are no atheists in foxholes, because by the very fact that you are willing to die for something you believe in, something bigger than yourself, you nullify your atheism.

You’ve already proven yourself a practical maverick thinker, not prone to group-think. You’ve shown yourself to be a rational being of the first order. You have seen through all the veils the world has pulled over the eyes of your brothers. You’re the only one that actually sees the truth.

Why are you in the foxhole, then? Perhaps you are not only NOT an atheist, but the most pious of us all. By giving your life in a foxhole, you are faithful to your fellows. You make a commitment knowing the outcome is uncertain. That is faith, my friend. You have faith. Perhaps "true-believers" are not even fit to tie your sandal strap. You are such the atheist that you may as well wrap around and come out the other side transfigured and clothed in divine white.

So I ask you:

Do you believe in justice? Is absolute justice worth dying for? Do you believe in love? Is absolute love worth dying for? Ultimate empathy? I submit, dear atheist, that you are nothing of the sort. Not only are you not an atheist, but you are as the righteous of history, a hero of the first order, a savior of mankind.

Amen I say to you, brother.

Who Really Answers your Prayers

Host: We’ve got a nice show lined up today. Jesus’s publicist informed us that he’s looking to get the word out on the nature of prayer. Seeing as how so many of us pray and how little we understand of His will, we’re looking forward to him revealing something… anything today.

Host: Before we get to that, though, let’s take a break. We’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere. When we come back, Jesus will reveal the intricacies and nature of prayer.

*Commercial break*

Host: Welcome back everyone. Before I bring out Jesus, he requested a little exercise. He said, ‘I want everyone to pray I come out today.’ So, folks, fold your hands and bow your heads. Pray that Jesus comes out of the green room to join us today.

*hush falls over crowd*

Host: Let’s get some help from home too. Come on everyone, let’s get this prayer circle going.

*Jesus comes bouncing out from backstage with a gallop*

Jesus: Here I am. That was nice. I’m feeling pretty spry today. *jogs in place* Feelin’ good. It’s a beautiful day. Everybody’s focused. Nice.

Host: Okay, everyone, He’s here. You can stop praying now.

Jesus: No don’t stop on my account. You go right ahead, keep it up. What is it that you envision? What do you want? What is it that you want to make manifest?

Host: Um, Jesus, you’re already here.

Jesus: I know, but it feels good. Let a guy bask for a bit. Okay, ya’ll can stop praying now for a little bit and listen. First – and this is a big one – I want to tell you all what prayer isn’t. But first, I’d like to address something that’s been kicking around for bit in my mind.

Jesus: Some of you have asked yourselves and others, why it is that God hates amputees. Yeah, that’s right, amputees. Kinda arbitrary, no? How come in the history of creation no person has ever had a limb grow back? People pray for it, right? Even lots of people at a time pray for it? "Please, Jesus, give back my son’s arm." These are noble prayers. Look, they say, it’s not for me, even. Give back my son’s arm to him. That’s a powerful sentiment, for sure. If there was ever a prayer that I could answer it would that one.

Jesus: Problem is, I can’t

Crowd: *murmurs*

Jesus: Look, grumble all you want, but I don’t answer prayers the way you think I do.

Jesus: Ask yourself this: How come the miracles that happen, or the prayers that get answered, with regard to sickness are always internal medicine? Cancer? You all say, "His cancer’s in remission! praise Jesus, our prayers were answered." Does that mean I killed the vast majority who do, indeed, die? I don’t work like that. It’s not a lottery, a look, "I got 2 get out of death cards here, and whoever prays the hardest will get them." Bah! It don’t work like that, folks.

Jesus: No, so called, "miracles" and "answered prayers" are always about something that science doesn’t understand fully yet. It seems magical because you don’t understand it. The cancer is gone – praise Jesus! I say to you, the cancer is gone, get on with your life. Use it!

Jesus: And prayers? Your prayers were answered the moment the doctors and nurses went about trying to treat you. Yes, you heard that right – answered. Your prayers are always answered. Who answers them?

Host: Well?

Jesus: Haha, I was hoping someone in the audience would finish that thought *winks*. I was waiting too. Okay, moving on.

Jesus: What is prayer? Let me ask the audience directly. Anybody care to give it a shot. You, you there on my right, you look like you have something to say. Go ahead and stand up and tell us your name, where you’re from, and what you think prayer is.

Guest: *stands up* Um, my name is, uh Carl, and I’m from Baltimore. I, uh, think that prayer is a conversation with God. Prayer is, um, when you pray? You’re looking for some, um, direction, um, some help with something?

Jesus: Sounds good to me. You’re right to a point, but there is something missing there. When you say conversation, you’re saying dialog, right? Has God ever talked back to you?

Carl: Yes, God reveals himself to me through my prayer.

Jesus: You sound pretty sure about yourself Carl. What does he say? Frankly, I can’t get two words out of the guy. He’s been pretty surly ever since the whole Inquisition thing. Okay, I’m gonna ask some more questions. How many? That depends on you guys.

Jesus: What is a church or congregation? When people speak of the body of the church, what are they talking about?

Jesus: *pause*

Jesus: *whispers* You! You are the body. The Bible mentions this body all the time. The body of Christ, the body of the church, two arms two legs comprising one body, etc. etc. etc. You’ve got that, right? Well, what do bodies do?

Jesus: *pause*

Jesus: *whispers* They take action. The body is the vehicle of action. Nothing happens if the body doesn’t get out of bed and heave its lazy-ass self down to breakfast and get out the door *kicks at the air*. Get moving body!

Jesus: So what do we have now? We have a body that is sitting around in silent meditation, praying for some sort of intervention but not doing anything. So again, what is prayer? WHAT IS PRAYER!

Jesus: *stops, sighs* Look, did you guys eat breakfast this morning? Me, I like to get some nice eggs and bacon…(don’t tell mom about the pork) really gets me going… Ya’ll need to wake up… but I digress.

Jesus: I’ll tell you what it is. It is a call to action. Prayer is a call to right wrongs, to make manifest dreams, to inspire, to act. When you pray, and you can pray for sure, you are concentrating on making manifest a dream. You are perhaps inspiring others to make it manifest. You are spreading an idea. You are inviting change. You are infecting others and yourself with your desire.

Jesus: And who answers these prayers? Anyone? Who is it that answers prayers. There is only one person that answers prayers. There is only one end to a prayer. WHO!?

Jesus: Wake up, People!

Jesus: You.

Jesus: You are the answer to the prayer. You are all the answer, my answer, each one individually. You answer the prayers, because you are my body. You are my arms. You are my legs. You are my sole force of action and goodness in this world. If you don’t do it, nobody will, if you don’t get out off your asses and make something happen, nothing happens. Nobody will grow those limbs, nobody will save that child, nobody will cry for justice. You say that God is an angry God, that God doesn’t care, that how could a person believe in a God that could allow such misery and suffering in this world, that the horrible arbitrary things that happen in this world are just that… horrible and arbitrary. What a cruel fate, to have been cast out into all this misery. Oh boo-hoo, get over the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s easy to criticize – hardest thing to do in the world is to create.

Jesus: *whispering* But, my brothers and sisters*, you have the power. You have the ability to ease suffering. You have the ability to right the injustices. You have it. You see, prayer isn’t an end in and of itself. Prayer is simply a beginning. Prayer is call to action. I’m praying for you all now. I’m praying that one of you will find a way to grow back an amputated limb.

Jesus: Oh will you look at that, my leg fell asleep. *stomps it on the floor* Oo, that smarts. Needles.

My Talent is Selling Drugs

Tuesday’s prison session was good in a way that made it different, left me hopeful. I sat with two young men, Yadiel and Gabriel. Yadiel, un vacilón, an easy going jokester, and Gabriel, smart serious earnest were both happy to get out of their confinement for a time.

"Why did you come down?" I asked.

"To get out of the module."

"Really?"

"Yeah, oh yeah, I mean, we came to hear the Word, but whew, it’s great to get out."

I smiled. I look for small victories. I have already eased their suffering by being a vehicle by which they receive a short respite from being locked up. "Cool," I said.

Gabriel, seemed a little embarrassed, as if he had offended me by his remark. "No, but we came down because we wanted to hear about Jesus."

Such a caring kid. His exuberance had revealed that he just wanted a bit of freedom, but his empathy caused him to rephrase it considering me.

We talked a bit about some of their favorite things, what they wanted out of life. I lead them through the little exercise where I put them in an MTV Cribs home.

"So let’s say tomorrow, you’re out of here. I give you each a million dollars, a home on the beach with a pool too. It’s a big house with a Lexus and a Cadillac Escalade in the garage."

Their eyes got big.

"You’ve got your fridge stocked with refreshments. You’ve got a killer sound system, a DJ mixing table with all the hot tunes. You’ve got all the hot ladies at your party. And they look fine. You have everything you’ve ever wanted." I paused. "Now What?"

"Enjoy it." they both responded.

"So that’s what it’s all about? Get some stuff and enjoy it? You guys know how some of these reggeaton artists lose all their money, right? They spend it and it’s all gone. They think wealth is an end in and of itself, that the goal is wealth. You’ve got to have a plan for your wealth.

Listen," I continued, "Try to think of wealth like a businessmen thinks of wealth, as capital, a resource. Money is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself. Most poor folks think of the goal as money, but money is just a means to an end. What do you want do? I’ll tell you, spending money will be over before you know it if you don’t have a plan. So, what do you do?"

They sat there a little confused, searching for the answer to the question.

"You might use that money to start a business?" I offered.

"Yeah," they agreed.

"What business would you start?" I asked. "What are you good at? What do you like to do?"

Gabriel thought for a while, searching for something he was good at. He paused and hesitantly offered, "Selling drugs?"

I smiled. I loved that answer. Gabriel was right where I wanted him. "That’s great, Gabriel, don’t be ashamed of that. It’s a skill you have and you did it well. But let me ask you something. What is the most important part of that skill? Does it matter what you sell as much as your ability to sell?"

Gabriel nodded.

"So let’s cross off the ‘drugs’ portion. Let me ask you, Gabriel, what are some of the skills required to sell well?"

"You have to keep the numbers straight."

"Like a CPA, no? And you’re on the street with no computer to keep track of it all."

Gabriel smiled. I am positive that no one had ever congratulated him on his one skill, the one thing in his short life that he had excelled at and been incarcerated for. Instead of simply saying what he did was wrong and throwing it all away – along with him, I turned his talent on its head and gave him a slap on the back. Good job with the selling, but let’s try selling something else, okay?

"You have to create trust with your clients, no?" I asked.

"Yeah," and he smiled. "Trust is important."

"You have to create a trust relationship. They have to trust you and you have to trust them. If there are problems, you have to be able to handle them. That’s customer service. I’ll bet you gave better customer service than a government office, right? Quality product? You have to have a quality product that you believe in, no? If not, you can’t sell it."

Gabriel was nodding vigorously. He seemed to being saying, yeah, man, you got it. You got it. I’d never thought about it like that.

We continued talking and inventing businesses where he could apply his talents, mapping out a plan for his life that rolled in a more positive direction.

When it all finished, I was left, as I always am, with such a hopeful outlook on life. As I complain about sleepy people, entitled people, self-absorbed small petty little people, I come to prison and I am left more hopeful. It’s insane, I know, but sometimes outside, I see the worst of people and within the walls of the prison system, I see such talent, raw un-utilized talent.

Outside, where the sleepy people lie, they have no idea that there is a better way of being, that their lives are anything but perfect, exemplary, normal, tranquil, and pious. On the inside, though, with the sinners, those who have fallen, those who know there is something missing, I see a yearning for a better life. I see people looking to make a change in themselves and who know they are hungry.

Will they make a change? That remains to be seen, but I’d say they are already well beyond those that continue to stuff their fat little faces at the banquet, gluttonous in their excess, and never ever considering that the hunger they feel isn’t in their bellies.

Jesus and Santa Claus Walk into a Bar

Host (talking over applause): Welcome back to our show.  Jesus popped in just a few minutes ago, so we dropped everything and decided to give him some air time. He seems hot to talk to us, so let’s hear what he has to say.

Jesus: Dude! Long time no see. How’s it been going?

Host: It’s been going okay. We’ve been fielding a lot, and I mean a ton, of questions about belief, faith, do you exist, etc. Are you some sort of CGI character or a slick video edit?

J: Hmmm, I could be, but you know it really doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter at all.

H: Okay, as always, you’ve got our attention. (audience buzzes with concern, whispers).

J: I’ll explain, don’t worry. Let me give you a heads up with what I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of months. And I’ll list them.

  1. How is believing in Santa Claus any different from believing in me?
  2. Does God answer prayers?

It’s kinda daunting when I put it like that, huh? I know, I know. You people sometimes think you’ve got me. Look, Jesus is like Santa Claus. I get it. I really do.

There are millions and millions of words written about why prayer doesn’t work, why miracles don’t happen, and why the breath of the universe has abandoned you on this insignificant blue world in the middle of nowhere.

I know it. I really do.

So, let me ask someone in the audience. Why am I different from Santa Claus?

Man (man gingerly raises hand): Hi, my name’s John, and you are different from Santa Claus because I can actually see you sitting there and you have saved me.

J: It’s nice to be recognized, John, but how do you know I’m me? I could just be a guy in flip flops in off the street from the local soup kitchen looking for some audience swag. How do you know who I am?

Man: You have a photo ID?

J: Nope. Let me help you guys out. You don’t. You won’t know it’s me. You can’t know it’s me. And you know what? It’s all right. Nobody expects you to. The short answer to the question: Why am I different from Santa Claus, is I’m not. We’re no different.

Host (palpable silence from the audience): Um, we’ve done enough of these to know you’ve got something up your sleeve… what is it, Jesus? Santa Claus doesn’t exist. How can you be no different from that?

Jesus: I’m just not. Look, let’s wade right into it, into that place you all fear to go. When we listen to those that would try to derail your faith, or explain away their own by saying that prayer doesn’t work, that the things for which you hope don’t come true, that miracles don’t happen, you will notice a pattern in their logic.

Want to know what it is?

H: YES YES YES… tell, us Lord!

J: Whoa, fella. It’s not that special. The straw man here is that everybody atheists and believers alike are looking for magic. You’re both looking at the same sweat stain of the Virgin Mary or weeping crucifix and saying alternatingly, ‘It’s proof that God exists’ or ‘It’s a hoax therefore God doesn’t exist’, and then there’re the fish eyes. Yikes, the depths to which you will all sink just to hold onto plausible deniability.

You’re all missing the point.

There is no magic. There are only knowns and unknowns, laws of the physical universe that you understand and those that you don’t. There is no Santa Claus. There is no God. Once you can throw out those two things, you can start to see the truth, see past the hoax, clear the fog and see for miles and miles and miles.

Once your mind is cleared from looking for me in the wrong places, you will be truly free. Miracles happen, if you look closely enough. Divinity is all around, in the smallest places, in the greatest places. Someday I promise you that spinal cords will be repaired. Someday I promise you that you will be able to grow back limbs, cure the blind the deaf. In fact, you’re already light years beyond where we were 2000 years ago.

It’s a miracle I tell you.

You have cars, efficient agriculture, civilized society (although you still have a ways to go), airplanes, space travel… the list goes on and on. I mean – get this – you people are actually considering plans to nudge asteroids on probable courses with your planet! It totally blows my mind. Do you know what a miracle that would be, and you’re starting to think about it!

Yeah, sure God doesn’t answer prayers, like Emeril, "BAM!" you’ve got new car. Congratulations. If you want that, get your ass to the Price is Right.

No, prayer, is more of a dream. If you dream something hard enough, you’ll get off your ass and make it happen, or talking about it will inspire someone else to do something. Or if you’re just around the hole enough, one day you’ll sink a hole in one.

Magic is either nowhere or everywhere. I know I just said magic doesn’t exist, but I had to kill it before I brought it back to life (little technique I like to use). Is it magic when a baby is born, when a flower blooms, when a cloud bursts? Just because you understand how something works, doesn’t mean that it is not special or mysterious. If you understand absolutely everything about a thing… you understand it so well that you find yourself contemptuous of it, take a step back and look with new eyes.

So here we are full circle. I wager no one in the audience would say they believe in Santa Claus. 

Except me.  I believe in Santa Claus.  I see him all the time in the mall. I see a ton of Santa Clauses, men who spend months perfecting their beards, honing their Santa Claus skills just to bring some joy to children at Christmas time. You adults know perfectly well where the presents come from, right? You’ve abandoned your simplistic view of Santa Claus, the guy with the flying reindeer who shoots up and down chimneys on Christmas Eve.  Why won’t you let your belief grow with your minds?  Santa Claus is alive and well.  I swear.  I know him.

Santa Claus is everywhere and he’s spreading. He started out as just a good man or a bunch of good men, they were real people who grew into legends who inspired others who then took that spirit, drank it in, imbibed it and became him.

And he’s here, alive in this room with us today. He died, but he’s here.  He came back.  And his love is everlasting.

Peace my brothers and sisters.

Who Owns Your Rights?

From the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

From the Declaration of Independence of the United States

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Why do I bring this up?  Recently the debate has been raging about what rights are afforded to undocumented workers or illegal immigrants, sometimes inhumanely referred to as “illegals.”  The heart of the debate, if it can be said to have one at all, is that only citizens are afforded the rights protected by the Constitution.

If you are not a citizen, then you are out of luck.

The power of the Constitution comes neither from the government itself nor the People.  James Madison seems to agree with me.

“Because if . . . [An Unalienable Natural Right of Free Men] . . . be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: It is limited with regard to the coordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires, not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained: but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the greater Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The people who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are Slaves — James Madison, June 1785.

What he is saying is that the People are capricious, and since the government is an extension of the people then it too is capricious.  It [the government] cannot be trusted with our most important gifts of creation.

I think some clue to the whole puzzle of where our rights come from, how they apply, and to whom they apply is contained in the Declaration of Independence.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”  Unalienable: non-transferable, unable to destroy, eradicate, or remove.  That is to say, if you are human you have these rights whether you want them or not and no one can legally take them away.  Of course if someone uses force to subject you, no legal order gives them authority, and we the People of the United States with the authority of the Constitution, shall protect you and restore to you your proper rights.

The Declaration of Independence, in my mind, can be seen as the spirit under which was formed the whole of our union.  It was the mission statement, frame of reference, or inspiration from which all the founding documents flowed.

These rights we have as a person are in all ways incontrovertible.  The mention of a Creator, I believe, is simply an acknowledgment of “other than the ways of men.”  It could have easily said, “You, by the fact of your birth in the Universe, have the following rights, none of which is granted to you by us, our representatives, or their agents.”  We the government are not the authority giving  you these rights, we the government of the people simply acknowledge them and pledge to protect them from others that would seek to subvert these rights.

In short, we didn’t invent these rights, we just protect them.

It bears mentioning again.  The government IS NOT the authority for your rights as a human being.  It took a while, but the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution is the part that finally spelled it out.  We’d spent nearly a century assuming, but no longer, the XIV was going to nail it down with railroad spikes.  Let there by no doubt.  “…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

There is no distinction there for citizen/non-citizen.  We the people of the United States recognize that the rights of man are not beholden to the whimsy of the public or the government.  The People and by its extension, the government, have no authority to grant, rescind, or amend these rights.

Again, the Constitution and the government and its laws protect these rights but neither grant them nor bestow them.

The next time you hear some shill talking about the Constitution not protecting illegal immigrants or granting to us something it does not grant to them, be wary, for if the Constitution has the power to NOT grant rights to those other people, than from where does the authority for your rights come?  The Constitution?  I don’t think so.

To keep these rights from illegal immigrants is to subvert your own rights.  I don’t know about you, but MY rights do not come from the Constitution.  The Constitution simply exhorts you/us to protect these rights that are bestowed upon us by “other than man.”  You have them because you exist.

To fight for the rights of illegal immigrants is to fight for your very own rights.  I, for one, have no interest in granting authority for my liberty to the US Government.  I hold it on my own as a person.  The People have pledged to protect those rights whether you be natural born or an alien, for it is the people we are, a people who love liberty, a people who wish for none to be subjugated under the unlawful heel of tyranny or injustice.

Unalienable rights apply everywhere in the world in all nations, but it is only within our borders that they are protected by the Consitution.  It is only here where we have the authority to enforce these rights as a people.  The day that we apply a different standard to visitors, tourists, people of other nations living in working in America than we apply to our own citizens is the day that we subvert the true intent of the Constitution.

Organized Religion and Cookies

We’re back in a new chat with Jesus. Welcome back everyone, and Jesus – how have you been?

J: Not good, not good at all. I’m a bit distressed with this organized religion thing.

I: What do you mean? I thought that was an invention of yours.

J: *looks askance at interviewer*

I: *defensively* What?

J: Look, I was the original anti-established organized religion guy. Geez, I came here to tear down the temple, remember? My goal was to tear it all down and – well not so much tear it down as re-purpose it – wait.. let me think for a bit.

Okay, here’s a good analogy. Let’s try this on for size.

Let’s talk about warm chocolate chip cookies, shall we?

I: Oookay… I’m listening

J: Good, let’s think of the institution of the Church as a big warm chocolate chip cookie. Let’s think of them all, all the churches like that – all big warm chocolate chip cookies. The Catholic church, the biggest Christian denomination founded in my name has this huge honking warm gooey chocolate chip cookie and it’s going stale. They’ve stirred and baked this enormous cookie and what do they do with it?

I: I’m kinda lost with the whole cookie thing.

J: Sigh, cookies? Cookies are love, dude. Cookies are love. You’re killing me.

So you’ve got this huge cookie. What are you going to do with it? I’ll tell you what I did with it. I starting breaking off pieces and handing them out to people.

Breaking – it – apart. You got that?

Every time I went to temple, I’d shove some pieces of it in my pockets to take to the sick, outcast, and the forgotten. The tough thing about it was, I couldn’t sneak much out, but to some of the people living on the outermost fringes of society, a crumb of the stuff was pure gold. It made me feel really good to be able to brighten their days and bring them some morsels from time to time.

I: Did they really have cookies back your day?

J: Again, love, dude – love. Cookies are metaphors for love. The church is supposed to be a manifestation of love, therefore it’s like a cookie, best eaten with a glass of warm milk.

So I’m all, ‘Tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days’, but that’s not what I said. I said to tear it down and feed it to my hungry brothers and sisters, then we would return and rebuild it in three days. It’s another metaphor. Love and cookies work best when shared freely. Cookies, when kept to yourself, just get moldy and nasty. It gets stale and old and rotten, then you spend all your time trying to keep it from getting nastier, preserving it, putting it in the freezer, protecting it from harm. If you’d just eaten it when it was warm you would have always had fresh cookies. You see it’s not ABOUT the cookie, it’s about sharing the cookie, using the cookie.

The problem was that when I spoke about these things, you all whipped out your little notebooks and wrote down: "Must make cookies. Cookies are sacred. Cookies are the key to everlasting salvation." And you all went off and made little cookie shrines in my name (like I hadn’t seen that before, sheez). Look, it’s for e-a-t-i-n-g. *mimes putting a cookie in mouth, chewing*

But when my hungry brothers and sisters came to taste the cookie, you brushed them off saying, "No, no, no, you mustn’t touch the sacred cookie. That’s one of the blessed mysteries of the church and you went back to the fabrication of more cookies on display under glass."

You can see how it’s a little frustrating. I was the original destroyer of organized religion. I’m not for it. I wasn’t for it. I was a disruptive force, a sacrilege, a heretic, and a subversive influence.

I like to think I was the mad subversive cookie baker.

And I’d hoped you’d all get giddy with cookie baking and serving and just go crazy dishing them out to the corners of the world. Some of you did, God bless you, you got it, but there’s a whole bunch of you who didn’t. I hoped that you’d search out the most lost, the most hungry, the most unloved and offer them a piece of your cookie, and say, "You look hungry, here’s a plate of warm cookies and milk. Best eaten now. We can always make more. Don’t waste your time preserving them."

Get to it man, get to it!

Ezequiel Wants to Paint Cars

“How do you call yourself?” I asked extending my hand.

He mumbled something.  I couldn’t make it out.

“Could you say that again?”

“Escgael,” he said again as I leaned in.

“Eh?  What was that again?”

“Esdasel.”

“Could you write it down please?”  I handed him a pen and paper.  I watched him write out E-Z-E-Q-U-I-E-L. “Ah, from the Bible – the Jewish prophet.  Interesting.  Cool.”

He smiled.

“Okay, now that we have that out of the way, I’m James o Jaime en español.  Pleased to meet you.  So, Ezequiel, first I want to ask you why you came down today?”

“I always come down.”

“Okay, did you come down for a particular reason?”  I always ask this because I’m not sure if a particular inmate is coming to the session for religious study, general chit chat, or just to get out of the general population for a respite.  I can go all religious if need be, but I prefer to weave it all together in a more secular way.  But really, it’s all the same to me.  Me da igual.

“I’d… like to look for… Jesus.”

“Why?”

He shrugged.  Look I don’t know, maybe.  Maybe I felt I was supposed to say that.  Or maybe I was trained to say that.  Or maybe it felt good to say that.  Or maybe I’d like… I dunno.

“What do you want to do?” I asked him.  “What would you rather be doing right now?”

“I’d like to be out of here.”

“Yeah, but if you were out of here, what would you be doing?  What do you like to do.  What would you like to do with your time?”

“Paint cars.”

“You mean like in an auto shop?  Hmmm, that’s interesting.”

We talked, or rather, I talked/asked him about painting cars and his talents and what he liked to do.  He was a quiet kid.  He didn’t say much.

“Hey, you ever see that show on MTV, ‘Pimp My Ride’?  It’s this show where they take an old beat up car and turn it into a work of art.  New seats, new rims, tires, interior, rugs, sound system, televisions, computers, new dash etc.  They always put a super fine paint job on it too.  You want to do something like that?”

“Yeah.”  He smiled his eyes twinkling.  He was still a kid of few words, but he had these twinkling eyes.  I’d have to pay attention to his eyes for clues to his thoughts.

“So, how might you paint these cars?  What would you paint?”

“I don’t know.”

“How about some clouds, and ‘Mi bendición’ with a Puerto Rican flag with a cool metallic ice?”

“Yeah.”  His eyes got wide again.  It’s like I could read his thoughts before he even knew he had them.  I could see him dreaming about his beautiful paint job.  I watched reflections in his eyes of some big aluminium rims, sweet Pirellis, neon in the undercarriage, an awesome fade on the side panels with a Puerto Rican flag waving in the cool tropical breeze.  It was like a big piece of sweet candy and I could see it tasted good to him.

“It’s like art, you know?” I offered.  “One of the things that we share with God is the need to create.  It’s one of the things that takes us back to the divine, compartimos ese rasgo con Dios.  He was sitting there all alone and he had this big nothing, but a lot of love.  He could do no other thing than create… everything.  So great was his love, he created us.  That’s what it’s like when we create.  When we create we are doing the same thing that God did.  We are fulfilling the same need.  We are sharing in the divine.”

Ezequiel nodded.

“So, guess what,” I added. “Lots of famous painters throughout history created paintings on all kinds of places, walls, poles, town squares, floors, ceilings, carriages, you name it.  They painted everything.  Maybe you do this painting on the car that says, Jesus es el salvador or mi salvación, Jesus.  Whatever.”  I thought maybe I was getting corny now.  I pictured in my mind a typical heavily modded import with a rosary and crucifix hanging on the rear view mirror.  Painted on the exterior I saw a big mural of La Señora de la Providencia, an image of the Virgin Mary, with an infant Jesus resting on her lap painted big and fat on the hood.  I saw chrome, lights, a crucified Christ on the door, and a cloud-like father figure emerging from a heavenly scene.

It’s not my taste, for certain, but I loved it.  I see some of the graffiti here and I must say I am in awe of the talent of these kids.  While I wouldn’t own a Jesus-pimped car, I have to say I’d love to look at it.  I’d love to drink it in, enjoy the art, appreciate the expression.  I would stand in awe of such a creation.

I shook Ezequiel’s hand before we left.  It was a pleasure to meet you, I said.  I told him that I dreamed of the car he would paint.  I told him I dreamed the dream as if it was my own.  I wished I could paint that car the way I dreamed it.  But, I told him, I’d probably screw it up.

It was up to him to do it right, because the world needs that car.

Jesus on Steroids

I: Welcome back everyone.  We’re here with Jesus in our studio for our continued discussion on topics of the day.  He’s agreed to speak candidly with us on a variety of subjects.  So, without any other introduction, let’s begin shall well?

J: Sounds good to me.  Lovely to be back.

I: Lots of things have changed since back in the day.

J: Yeah, why back in my day, we didn’t have all this stuff that you have today.

I: Do you think the nature of sin has changed much?  I mean, are we tripping over the same stuff that we tripped over before.

J: Well, sin hasn’t changed at all, not one bit.  In reality sin is just a missed opportunity.  I’ll leave it there for now, because I think we have sin scheduled for a later show, right?

I: Yeah, that’s next I believe.  Really looking forward to it.

J: But no, sin has not changed just the stuff you trip over.  You could say the vocabulary is different, but not much else.

I: Okay, then one of our viewers wrote in with the following question: “Dear Jesus, I think you are the bomb.  Yo.  I am a high school student and I play football.  I have been pressured to use steroids.  I told them I wouldn’t do that stuff, but I’m not very big, and everyone else is doing it.  What should I do?”  Travis from Ft. Worth, TX.

J: Oh, man, dude, that sucks.  I really feel for you.   I know how Texans love their football.  Well, you know my advice is to not do the ‘roids.  That’s an easy one.  But how do you justify it?  “Why?” is the bigger and more important question.  Let me pull out the tactic of one of the guys with whom I had/have the most fun, Socrates, and begin with another question.  Why do you play football?  And since Travis isn’t here, I’ll direct the question to our studio audience.  Why do you play football, baseball, or any game?

I: Okay, you there sir, in the back.  Stand up and say your name and where you’re from.

Guy:  I’m Steve from Orange County.  In the words of Vince Lombardi, you play to win.  That’s it.

J: Steve, you are right, Vince did say that and you know I always hate to disagree or directly contradict any of my children, but in this case, there’s no way around it.  Vince was wrong, and so are you.  Sure, winning is fun.  When you compete in a sport, winning feels better than losing, sure.  I know that.  But my question, was, why do you play football? Err, sorry, emphasis should be on the word “play.”  Why do you engage in the activity of football.

Steve: Hmm, I’m not sure I understand the question.

J: Not many people do, Steve, not many people do.  Let me do my best to communicate what the point of all this is, what the point of all games, competitions, jobs, roles, anything and everything that you could possibly do in your life.

Let me re-ask the question.  What is the point of playing baseball?  The correct answer is the simplest.  “To be the best baseball player I can be.”  What is the point of playing football?  “To be the best possible football player I can be.”

So, what does that entail.  Does that entail taking steroids?  Are steroids prescribed by the commissioner of baseball (well, he sorta did, but I’m not gonna go there).  They are not part and parcel to the sport of baseball, not part of the public persona, not an acceptable part of being a baseball player.  If you take steroids, you must hide it.  You can’t owe your home runs to HGH, or whatever.  You can’t say, my league leading sacks were a result of the extra pure steroids that I got from my pharmaceutical company.  Thank you Jesus, and thank you Pfizer, for making me this year’s home run king.  You don’t wear their logos on your uniforms proudly detailing all your drug enhancements.  Now, would you all agree that that’s not acceptable?

So, what do we have then?  Baseball and football players who are hiding who they are, lying to be better at a sport that they have no interest in truly playing, that they have no true interest in being.  They want to be winners or rich or superstars, not baseball or football players.  Let’s be clear about that.

It is as stupid a question to ask: What is the point of the game of baseball? and answer “winning” as it is to ask: What is the point of life? and answer it with “dying.”  Dying is not the point of life, but it will come to you.  Winning or losing is not the point of baseball.  But they will come to you.  Forget about death.  Forget about winning or losing.  They are all limiting, irrelevant conclusions to that thing which you do and do with gusto.

What is the point of life? What is the point of being born?

The point, my friends… wait for it, wait for it – is to be fully alive.  To be what you were meant to be, and be it, fully and completely and wholly.  If you are gifted with the talent and determination to play baseball, be it.  Play baseball, be that player that practices his heart out, that runs out the infield grounders every time, to be at second base before that outfield fly is caught, to hustle, and play every out whether it’s the beginning or the end of the game, whether you’re behind or not.  The purpose of being a baseball player is to play. If you lose your way and believe that winning, or earning, or spending, or getting, or beating, or any other -ing that isn’t being is the point, then my friend, you’ve lost your way, and you will not find fulfillment in anything you do.  It saddens me, for sure, when I see Rafael Palmero losing a few steps and resort to steroids.  It saddens me when he forgets he’s a ballplayer I loved to watch.  I’m there at every game, by the way.  I love baseball, which is why I’m answering Travis’ question with baseball instead of football.  Sorry, I’m a baseball fan, and if you have any doubt about it, I have only two things to say.  Red Sox.  White Sox.  My own little brand of humor.

Anyway, I love to see and feel the joy of you doing what you do.  I came to see ballplayers playing ball, and it saddens me when I only find winners or losers or Yankees…*chuckle*  I’m kidding, I’m kidding.  I love the Yankees too, but they need some ballplayers for sure.

You’re all winners to me when you’re doing what you were meant to do.

So steroid use? Yeah, sure there’s nothing inherently wrong with steroids or that stuff, but I have to ask you:  Why don’t you love the game of baseball?  If you think that you have to cheat on a test to get ahead in school, or because everyone else is doing it, I ask:  Why don’t you love learning?  If you think that you have to fudge the numbers on your sales report to impress the boss and get a raise, I ask: Why don’t you love your job?  If you steal or cheat or lie or any of the multitude of small things you can do to get a leg up on your competition, I ask you:  Why don’t you love your life?  What have you got against being fully alive?

It’s okay, really, my only true wish for everyone is for them to be truly, madly, stunningly, deeply, passionately, and crazy in love with what they do.  Don’t do something for the result you might get out of it.  Don’t do something because you want to win.  Do that thing because, and only because, you love doing it.

The outcome will take care of itself.

Peace out, my brothers and sisters.

Glass Half Empty, Cows Deny Production Problems

glass.pngIt was reported today in a small Midwestern town that a glass of milk was found to be half empty. 

"There was so little milk," said 12 year old Timmy after immersing his chocolate chip cookie only halfway.  "You see, it’s all good on this side, but this other.  It’s mighty dry, I’d say."

News crews and emergency workers were dispatched to the area to investigate.

"I’ve never seen anything like it.  Half empty?  Why when I was young, it was half full.  What is this world coming to?"

Cows are denying production problems, but sources close to the industry, have noted cows always deny any problems exist.  A spokescow, had this, "I can’t speak for Timmy, but we have not had any issues with production.  I can’t speak for the glass in question either, but perhaps the glass size has increased.  We’ve noticed that the glassware syndicate has been slowly increasing size for years.  I mean, you can’t blame cows for an increase in glass size.  Can you?"

There you have it; is a trade war brewing between cows and glassware manufacturers? 

A researcher with the local university, confirming part of this story, had this, "We’ve been studying the relationship between volumetric content and receptacle utilization for some time.  Our studies have shown great promise, but Federal grants in this field have left us underfunded and overburdened, I’m afraid, just as we were to make some sense of this tragedy.  Let me just say this:  there is something going on, and someone doesn’t want us to find the truth.  Think about it.  George Bush’s father, owns stock in a company that supplies butane gas to run warehouse equipment.  This very same equipment is sometimes used to cart around boxes of glassware… even loading them on trucks to be brought right to your door.  They’re hiding something, I know it."

Can we trust our government?  Is there a conflict of interest?  Why are they cutting funding in this important area that affects the public health and our children?  What about the children?

These are all profound questions, questions that this reporter will investigate until the truth is revealed.  We will work around the clock to get to the bottom of this.

Why is the glass half empty?

Songs of my Youth

Yesterday was a weird day to say the least, an odd confluence of events that left me feeling nostalgic. 

I had been following the Michael Jackson trial with a combination of revulsion, sadness, and hope; revulsion because of how far he’s fallen, how weird and repulsive he has become, sadness for a broken man, broken lives, and an uncertain future, and hope that a beloved figure from my youth wouldn’t end up being a total lie.  

You see, I didn’t want Michael Jackson to be guilty.  I didn’t want that man who made such great songs throughout his life to be something so horrible as to make his entire life a lie.  I didn’t want my youth to be trashed.  He’s gotten weirder and weirder throughout his career, but it’s been in discrete steps.  I can deal with that.  Okay, between "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" he got a nose job.  That’s okay, I guess.  Between "Thriller" and "Bad" he became white.  Okay, nose job, white, maybe something else.  It’s weird, but okay.  And it went from there, little by little the man that was Michael Jackson became someone else… but slowly.

I still liked his music.  That was the one thing that remained constant.  It was always great stuff.

The accusations of pedophilia had been mounting throughout the 90’s, and I remember many a conversation with fellow Jackson fan and friend, John, "Do you think it’s true?"

"Nah, you see it’s – " And on we would go, justifying Michael’s behavior, weirdness, and a media and populace eager to tear down stars, thirsty for bloodsport only too common in our society of idol worship.

It reminded me of conversations that I had with friends in the latter half of the 70’s and on into the 80’s throughout the unrolling of George Lucas’s Star Wars. 

"Do you think Darth Vader is Luke’s father?" We would ask each other.

"Naw, man, no way.  Darth Vader is evil." And our eyes would go wide at the possibilities.  We would debate it for hours.  It consumed us as we waited what seemed an eternity for Return of the Jedi.  Three years is an eternity to a 10 year old. 

I guess in some ways yesterday was too bizarre for words.  I silently cheered that Michael Jackson was declared Not Guilty.  My heart beat in fear before the verdict was read, not for Michael Jackson, but for my youth, my ten year old self, for pureness, passion, and love.  If Michael was just another sick twisted bastard, what can a child believe in?  Are we all to become jaded, cynical, and empty at such a young age?  Is there any place for a child to find refuge in the pure and the clean? Does everything always have to soiled with the muck and sludge of our failures, our inadequacies?  Is there anything pure and noble left for which to strive?

Laura, Olaia and I watched Return of the Jedi last night.  Laura and I had finally gone to see Revenge of the Sith and afterward had undertaken the trek through the first three movies.  It was weird watching them again, blasts from the past.  Olaia watched them with us, full of questions about who was bad, why they were bad, who was good, why that guy was trying to kill that guy etc. 

So we were watching Return of the Jedi last night and Yoda was on his deathbed.  I looked over at Olaia and she was crying.  Tears were welling up in her eyes as Yoda lay dying.  "Daddy, why does Yoda have to die?"

"Because he is old, Olaia.  It’s okay, Yoda is going to be Luke’s guardian angel." She focused on that and seemed to be take heart.

When the movie was over, she came to me and gave me a hug.  "Daddy, I loved that we watched that movie together.  I really liked it."

"You are the sweetest little girl in the whole world.  I’m glad too."

And I basked in the warmth and glow of my daughter’s innocence, her pureness, her faith. 

I sit here reflecting on my own.  Maybe, just maybe I have retained a portion of my youth today, or if not real, at least I have plausible deniability, and I’m gonna go with that.

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