Sunday, November 13, 2011

What is the Matter with Us?

Recently I heard that the First Lady was booed at NASCAR Event promoting "Joining Forces" a program to support Military families. It seems to me that there is now no lower limit on how disrespectful we can be.

I believe that much of this disrespect stems from a common root cause. Whatever the social ill: booing the wife of a president, political gridlock, bullying, class warfare, sexual aggression, human trafficking, ethnic, religious, and racial hatred, it all stems from a lack of respect. Obviously a lack of respect for others, but less obviously, a lack of respect for ourselves. As human beings, we should recognize our common humanity, our common vulnerabilities and our need for mutual support.

We may not and most likely cannot respect all the actions of our fellow humans, but at least we can acknowledge their humanity. It amazes me how quickly that we, who consider ourselves "nice", civil, and even religious people, can so easily go from laughing with others to laughing at others. How quickly we disdain those who think differently than us, who believe differently, or who have fallen into some misfortune of circumstance or personal weakness.

For those of us who consider ourselves believers, how much more that awareness should be. In the book of Genesis, we read that human beings are "created in the Image of God". If we are believers and premise human existence on that statement, then we must accept that we and every other human being has infinite value. If each human being has infinite value, then they are entitled to respect. If we believe the "Good Book" and accept it as the explanation of our present existence and future hope, then we should take heed to the Psalm:
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers...

For those who are not religious, but otherwise consider themselves "respectable" people, then consider this quote from Immanuel Kant:
“Men are respectable only as they respect.”

It is not a great distance from occupying the "seat of mockers" to becoming the object thereof.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

One of a Kind

Moses Feliciano Ricardo Boquiren (1960 - 2011)

A friend passed away recently and not just a friend to me, but a friend to all. I could not let the end of his life pass by without comment.

I first met Moses back in 1999 at a church spaghetti dinner. My wife and I were visiting (first time visitors in fact), and we did not want to be presumptive about including ourselves in the spaghetti luncheon. We were about to leave when Moses caught us and invited us to stay. We declined and told him "go and have lunch with your church family". Moses said, "you are family" and so we stayed..... for years.

That was Moses. Radically inclusive. Radically welcoming. He was one of those very few people who was always "fully present" with you. When you were in his presence, you felt like you were the only person in the room.

Moses not only made you feel welcome, he made you laugh. He always had a joke on the tip of his tongue. He was a story teller and you found you could listen to his stories for hours. You left his presence feeling glad about the encounter.

He had a way of ingratiating himself with any person or any group. We took a trip to Ohio once and had dinner as the guests of an Amish family. The Amish children were fascinated with his Asian features. They asked him about his obviously non-Amish appearance. Moses explained that he was a "Flexican"....a Phillipino-Mexican.

At his standing-room-only funeral (which is a statement in itself), I saw so many different people, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, white collar, blue collar, and clerical collar. I heard stories about how he helped people, encouraged people, inspired people, and led people to faith.

In my estimation, Moses demonstrated living a Christian life better than most. His life and the testimonies about him have been an inspiration to me. I hope that I can learn from his example and become more inclusive, more encouraging, and more fully present with those who I encounter. By so doing I hope I can honor his life and honor the gift of God that he was to so many.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freedom from Tyranny

On this particular 4th of July (2011), I was thinking about the greatest tyranny we have ever faced.....ourselves and "our way of life." Over the past half century, we have relied on government protection, government entitlements, government assistance, and armed intervention in foreign lands to secure these "blessings of liberty" and "our way of life". The trouble is that we have consumed more of life than we were been willing to pay for at the time. And now the bill has come due.....$14,000,000,000,000.

One way to put that number in perspective is see what it would really take to pay it down compared to other nations (see Sovereign Debt Chart). To reduce our debt to only 60% of GDP by 2026 will require 94% of our GDP (our entire economic output)! That is astounding figure!

The amounts being debated in Washington are downright paltry compared to the sums needed to get ahead of the growing debt. As absurd as it is to say we are not raising the debt ceiling this year, it is equally absurd to say that taxes breaks are not going to be cut or that taxes are not going to be raised for all of us.

Before we get our righteous indignation riled up at "big government", we should ask ourselves have we ever taken our turn at the government trough? Have we ever used a government subsidized housing loan? student loan? collected SSA benefits? filed a medicare claim? eaten clean food? drank clean water? breathed clean air? advocated for involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan? Those two wars alone will account for $4 trillion of our debt.

So this fourth, let us celebrate the blessings of our liberty and our way of life as Christmas in July, but with an eye towards "February" when the credit cards come due. The greatest threat to the freedom of our nation is not some cell of terrorists. The greatest threat to freedom is insolvency.

"The borrower is servant to the lender" - Proverbs 22:7

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Son-in-Law’s Memories

Van Zissimos March 30, 1920 - March 18, 2011

I first met Van Zissimos when I started dating my wife in 1980. Two months later, I proposed. Knowing that I was marrying into a traditional Greek family, I went to my future father-in-law and asked for permission to marry his daughter. He replied “If you love her enough.” Though the reply caused me a short bout of cold feet, I soon became his son-in-law. I also gained a father-in-law…..the best father-in-law that anyone could ask for!

My Boy
Once I was in the family, I was really in. You only had to watch the “Greek Wedding” movie to understand. He fondly referred to me as “My Boy.” I was always welcome in his house as he was welcome in mine. We only lived two miles from each other, so he was a continual presence at our home. So much a presence that the conception of my children hung in the balance.

I’m Having a Problem
I was so welcomed and so included in his family, that he had no problem calling me when he had a problem. “Alex my boy” he would begin, “I’m having a problem with my…, furnace, TV, ….”. On the surface of it, it sounded like he was just asking for advice, but this was really a coded request for me to come over and fix it for him.

Coffee and Pie
Van enjoyed his pie and coffee after dinner. I often shared pie and coffee with him, usually at his kitchen table. Sometimes I would bring dessert over and sometimes he would get a pie at the grocery store, but to sit at the same table and fellowship over a pie and coffee was his joy.

Rails and Ties

You did not have to hang around my father-in-law long to learn that he was a railroad man through and through. Through the years Van taught me all there was to know about railroad switching, braking, conducting, and “humping cars”. Before you let that phrase leave a questionable mental picture in your mind, “humping cars” just means pushing rail cars to the top of the hill in the yard and then allowing the car to roll back down, using switches to route them to the train you were building.

Red Lobster
Though I now live 30 miles away, I still go to the same family dental practice near father-in-law's home. Following the afternoon appointment, I would drop by and ask him if he would like to go out to eat. Sometimes he was in a funk when I first got there, but after a while he would brighten up and say, “Alex my boy, do you want to go out to eat? How about Red Lobster?” So off we would go to Red Lobster. Rainbow Trout was his favorite. After Red Lobster, we went over to Culver’s for his favorite treat, a pineapple sundae. As an added bonus, Culvers has free Wi-Fi, so I would bring my corporate laptop along, and we would catch up on the latest pictures of his great-grandson on Facebook.

My father-in-law was always thankful for his family. He lived for holiday gatherings and meals. As patriarch of the family, he often took the lead to say grace. In fact, he took the lead no matter whose house he was in and that was OK. He never forgot how he came to this country with nothing and how God had blessed him with children and great grandchildren. I will never cease to be thankful to God for bringing him into my life that I might marry his daughter and be blessed with a family of my own.

His Faith and Hope
The most important thing you would learn about my father-in-law was his faith in Christ. It was unshakeable. Despite all the struggles he had been through, he maintained a solid faith and confidence in God, even to the last days of his life. It was a confidence that could not be faked, especially in the throes of a terminal illness.

See You When I get There
Just before he passed, I told my father-in-law that I would see him when I get to the other side. And I fully expect to. My confidence is in the same God who brought us to together. When you consider the series of coincidences that allowed the paths of Van Zissimos and Mary Cutrubus to converge at a Coney Island on the southwest side of Detroit, you realize how improbable, how unlikely it is that I have my family today. It has been said that coincidences are miracles where God chooses to remain anonymous. It was a miracle that I met my father-in-law at all. And I am confident in the miracle that will allow me to see him again.