templa la vida

living this life in the light of jesus christ

What’s a Cubano?

So I’m walking through the labyrinthine library last night that is Powell’s City of Books in Portland, tall bookcases rising with books packed in, and wafting to me among the smell of aging paper and glue and wood, was the distinct aroma of coffee. And it was growing stronger.

I followed my nose to the cafe in the store and stood staring at the hanging chalkboard menus. Cubano. Now there’s an item I don’t remember ever seeing on a cafe or coffee shop menu.

“What’s a Cubano,” I asked the barista.

“It’s an espresso shot pulled with raw sugar.”

Whoa. Sold.

“That I’ve got to have.”

The Cubano is probably to coffee what the Cuban is to cigars. The black, pungent elixir is rich and thick and sweet and comes in far too small a serving. A good double is probably enough, physiologically speaking, but it’s likely you’ll be just getting into it when the cup runs dry.

image: Jura


Why Don’t You Take a Picture

If I could take a picture, I mean any picture, it would be of the dark, wet, mornings, bone-chilling and early, along 51st Street eastward toward Western Avenue on Chicago’s south side where the arteries cross and red lights, green lights, and the brief amber ones glow and bounce toward me off the shiny pavement. No one stirs. It is 30 years ago, which doesn’t matter, because it could be now.

I would wake before anyone in the house to a small round Westclox alarm clock, the kind with the wind-up armature on the back, and be very careful not to rouse anyone, my passed-out father, my exhausted  mother. I would dress near the warmth of the old painted radiator in my bedroom and venture outside in the quiet damp dark to deliver the Chicago Daily News to Polish families in an adjacent neighborhood, people I would never meet but who would weekly shove a dollar fifteen out the door at me when I collected their bill.

When the Chicago Daily News went under I was given a Sun-Times route. It kept me in money and the neighborhood was closer, but the Sunday Sun-Times was a huge thing, stuffed with coupons and flyers and funnies — and the sports section, which I never cared about, except how it inexplicably made me feel older when I read it, like the man I was supposed to become. And they were quite large, the Sunday ones — a wheel-barrow-full weighed almost as much as my own slight teenaged body.

I don’t choose the memory of those times in particular because it is the best one or the most formative of my years or anything like that. The memory is simply rich in a way I can’t explain. The deep black of the sky seemed to mean something or provide some explanation. Sometimes the clouds over the sleeping city caught the endless grid of streetlights and it was lit up like day. I can see it now in my bones.

I would walk with my load of words and pictures and coupons and flyers in the wet dark, cars hissing past every few minutes, and that’s the picture that I would take because I remember it so clearly. I can taste that walk, the taste of sleep still in my mouth, the taste of breads from the corner bakery and the ink and paper. The taste of the wet street, and the taste retreating rain still hanging in the air.

This rich bliss reaches out to me even now and I move down those sidewalks all these years removed like it was today and will be again tomorrow. I am fourteen and scared and dutiful and proud and the early morning dark wet street reflects the signals. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. With no one there but me to care.

Watching My Mouth

I just received my weekly e-mail from 43 Things, a reminder I set up myself to “speak peace into others lives.” I set that thing up a few months ago, and it has been reminding me weekly. James, in chapter 3 of his epistle:

“With (our tongue) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

You can’t be one thing AND the other. Out of your heart comes you, right off your tongue. My attempt to speak peace into people’s lives really means exploring my heart to see if there is anything evil in me, then rooting it out. Everything’s already broken. Why should I contribute to that, when the One who died for me has invited me to take up my cross and follow Him? In Him my heart should be dedicated to shalom, or the knitted-together peace in which God first intended for this world to be suspended.

Hunger Strike

Jeremy:  Just finished 3 ounces of tuna and 9 crackers for lunch and I feel like Paris Hilton’s chihuahua.

John B:  Damn, I eat more than that in samples on one lap of the mall food court.

Jeremy:  OK, that’s it. Tomorrow for lunch: Paris Hilton’s chihuahua!

I Can’t Wait To See This Movie

Understanding Genesis 3

I was challenged recently to try to understand the full implications of The Fall of Man. Pastor Mark has said that it’s unlikely anyone could ever really understand Genesis 3. Delivering a message of fearsome truth that is almost impossible to comprehend, the story of The Fall can only be understood through the eyes of billions of suffering souls and the heart of one grieved God.

The short answer may be this: The highest high that is the holy love of God, the death-for-sin trade-off, the atonement — to that there is a correspondingly fathomless low in The Fall. We tend to measure our ascent to Restoration from a baseline of deceived apathetic human contentment. But our actual starting point is infinitely lower. Do mountains exist without valleys? No. How high the peak! And woe, how deep the depths!

In the expression of gravity there is not only a transit along a pathway to the center of mass, but, inevitably, an immovable object at the end of the journey. We are all falling a 100-story fall, all heading for the same concrete sidewalk. It’s Jesus who, after the impact, in an unlikely breach of natural effects, reaches out and plucks our ruptured, fractured bodies off the pavement and shakes His life back into us and hands us over to the Father, where we are reunited with Him. I agree with Pastor Mark. Understanding the Fall would be like living with full awareness on that bloody, bone-spattered sidewalk. The Lord Jesus Christ averts my heart to hope.

“Why are you always talking about Jesus?”

Last night in our community group gathering, 11 believers, in a ring around the living room, discussed two sections of Scripture that encourage people to talk about God, about Jesus, and the Spirit. Talking about Christ can be difficult for some. Maybe you’re a newcomer to Christ. Maybe your heart is into the relationship, but your head is not, so you lack the skill or experience in putting your heart into words.

Whatever the case, the discussion last evening had us in a few different places. For example, in 1 Peter 2:9, Peter says we are a people chosen to “proclaim” (ESV) God’s excellencies. We have good reason, he adds: “once we were not a people, now we are God’s people; once we had not received mercy, now we have received mercy.”

This comparison of who we are does give us good reasons to talk about, or “proclaim,” all the ways we find God to be good. And we’re told these are the very reasons (or are among the reasons) we were chosen.

Furthermore, Matthew 28 tells the story of Jesus instructing his followers to go and make disciples, or learners, of all nations. Another pretty clear message. Go and make disciples.

Our discussion was good last night. The question we camped on, for the most part, was kind of like, “What is it that keeps us from talking to people about the Kingdom, the Gospel, the Christ?”, or something like that. Because you know, as “saved” as we might feel, there is in most humans a powerful desire to not be judged. So rather than put ourselves out there, maybe we ignore the admonishment a little and don’t say anything about Jesus in certain circles, or maybe ever.

I have two dear friends in Corpus Christi, Texas, who, when we spent a couple of years together in Alaska, pretty much always talked about Jesus to me; to everyone, really — as if they would suffocate if they didn’t regularly refer to Jesus. That was a rich time, and sometimes I feel like I will suffocate if I don’t hear my friends’ voices telling me how much they appreciate Jesus the Creator, or even the Created world given to us as a gift. Sometimes I feel as if I’m gasping for it.

Their near-constant acknowledgment of  the presence and preeminence of Christ was a way, whether they knew it or not, of immersing me in the Gospel. In a sense — and I don’t want to underplay the literal meaning of this — they were baptizing me in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I was certainly a learner in their midst; and in being there, was submerged in the Word of God.

As I relive our discussion from last night I, my heart is roused. Whether it’s a neighbor in a meltdown, a homeless guy at the bus stop, a colleague who is clueless, or just a group of the usual suspects, I pray that I would just find the time to be available to the world and possessed of a ready word about the One who saves.

Best Records of 2008

Music has been a huge part of my life. I’ve written about this fact previously, in direct and indirect ways. Of all the albums I listened to that were released in 2008, are admittedly there weren’t a ton, these six records are stand-outs in my book.

  • Dual Hawks by South San Gabriel and Centro-Matic
  • Carried to Dust by Calexico
  • Modern Guilt by Beck
  • Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit
  • Invisible Cinema by Aaron Parks
  • Tell-Tale Signs by Bob Dylan

Other artists and their songs figure largely into my aural experience last year, including:

Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Stan Getz, Derek Webb, The Damnwells, E-Pop, Jack Johnson, Sam Lane, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Steve Hackett, Tord Gustavsen Trio, Mat Kearney, Robbie Seay Band, Liam Finn, Alexandre Desplat, Aaron Spiro, Gustavo Santaolalla, Pete Yorn, and Snow Patrol.

Now Hear This!

I’ll be rocking a new set of Sennheiser in-ear headphones soon. I’ve wasted untold hours looking for a set of headphones that I can use with my 3G iPhone; that is, a set that features a mic and a button-switch for answering calls, pausing the music, etc., like the set that comes with the iPhone. I’m getting a new set to replace the ones that came with the phone. They’re decent, but I gave mine up to my son, Mike, who lost his.

This in-ear-with-button style is handy. It allows me to listen to music; pause, play, or change songs; answer my iPhone, hold a conversation, and hang it up without touching the phone itself — handy when the thing is in your pocket or when you’re driving in a state where a hands-free device is required.

While a few manufacturers have jumped at the chance to have a dog in the iPhone fight, headphones with mics and iPhone buttons — especially headphones with decent sound reproduction — aren’t readily available to try on. Thus, I spent many hours on the interwebs trying to determine whose marketing prowess to trust. And more hours wondering why I even bothered to read the sometimes-helpful-usually-not customer reviews.

It seems like no product in the category I’ve been poring over — whether it costs $29 or $529 (yes, there are headphones that cost that much … and more. Yikes!) is worthy of universal love. Even headphones that most users gush about have one errant hater screaming in all caps, “DON’T EVR BY THEEZ!”

Finally, with props to Sennheiser, makers of the most-lauded lightweight over-the-ear headphones for under $100, the PX-100s, which I own, I ordered sight-unseen a pair of the new MM50 iP in-ears for the iPhone.

Imagine my tickledness when today I stumbled upon a review of the set on headphoneinfo.com. I think I had been to nearly every website except this one. Most sites have the same grainy photo and a few lines of marketing copy from the company. Not so at headphoninfo.com

HPI has a multipage teardown of products, including audio tests and comparisons to other products. Completely thorough. They LOVE the MM50 iPs, which really makes me glad I picked them.

So check out headphoneinfo.com if you’re ever in the need for new cans.

UDPATE: Very happy with these new headphones. I’ll put them to the test tomorrow morning while off work and this weekend on the ferry crossing to Victoria B.C.

Humanity and Grace

I spent my third day ever working on a Habitat for Humanity project today. Brandon, a young church planter and pastor who is involved in our community group encouraged us back in November to sign up to help a guy named Mohamed and his family with their house. As it turns out they;re doing four house at once in this phase of the project, which is actually a complete neighborhood with about a dozen houses. In November I took down Mohamed’s cell number because his new baby, Solomon, just three days old, was having some complications and we wanted to pray and follow up about how the little guy was doing.

Today I put up a bunch of Tyvek with some dudes I didn’t know, then did some tidying up before one of the local Catholic churches, St. Mike’s, brought sandwiches, cookies, and coffee. I had never put up Tyvek before, but then every day that I’m faced with a house project, whether it’s my own house or one of these Habitat homes, I’m charting new ground.

I think my new friend Mohamed is a Muslim. He is certainly middle-eastern-seeming enough to pass for, or be mistaken for, a Muslim. Who knows, he may not claim any particular faith. He’s been in America for almost 30 years, coming here to Pacific Lutheran University as an exchange student from Libya back in the 1970s. He spends his days behind the dashboard of a car with his clipboard while nervous, inexperienced drivers take their tests and pray he will give them good marks and that the unthinkable will not happen. He is a brave man. And he’s amiable and considerate.

Today, while we were all working in the cold, half of us newbies and the other half fully ripe contractors, a guy who is, like, second in command kept saying this thing that shocked me. Jeff is his name, kept saying to Mohamed, “I’m not a pilot.” At first I’m thinking to myself, “What does he mean.” Then Jeff said, “Sorry. That a bad joke I know,” and looked sheepishly at everyone. When he said it a second time I put two and two together. Which made four.

So we’re using contractor’s knives to cut these long Tyvek sheets. A lot of people refer to these tools as “box cutters.” So the thing comes full circle to me. Jeff, and obviously American-looking dude, sees Mohamed with one of these tools, its blade glinting in the morning sun. Their feet are planted firmly on the ground. But Jeff makes the joke. “Mohamed. I’m not a pilot.” His sheepish apology means nothing, as he says the line again and again. Probably seven or eight times, he says it.

At first Mohamed seems to react like I did, 9/11 being so far removed that we don’t really get the “joke.” Mohamed starts teasing Jeff pretty hard, about his work, which is a little slow and not exactly graceful. I get the idea, and later, alone, Mohamed and I are winding up a 100-foot extension cord and he says, “Jeff is a funny guy.” One thing we agree on is that Jeff means no ill will toward Mohamed.

I know Mohamed is grateful to everyone who is out there, working hard so that he can own a home, a roof over his family’s head. His wife, his little girl, his baby boy Solomon. In Libya, the average man works his entire life with the hope that on day he will be able to own an apartment that in the United States might cost  $30,000. Most don’t achieve it early on, Mohamed says. It takes time. Mohamed went back to Libya several years ago at the urging of some aunts and uncles who have never left the country. He was promised a “future” by an influential uncle. Within two weeks, Mohamed had a business of his own, and an apartment — a situation most Libyan men work decades to achieve. Within the same  two weeks he was bullied by some well-dressed secret-service types for criticizing out loud the local newspaper, filled with meaningless prattle from the country’s dictator.

So when a guy volunteering to do some work on Mohamed’s house makes a tasteless joke, thoughtlessly and mindlessly casting the evils of an empire upon this hard-working middle-eastern-looking guy with the accent of one who grew up speaking Arabic, he just lets it go. And why not. He has chosen to pursue the American dream. Good job, a home to raise his family, and the rest. I told Mohamed apologetically that the joke was unnecessary and unfunny. Together we looked at the ground. He, gracious and thankful. Me, contrite for the belligerent America I know that we can be.