30 June 2008

of austin and old friends

I found myself in downtown Austin for business a lot in the last couple of weeks. I have always loved downtown Austin. It is an approachable, friendly place that feels more sophisticated than it is and lets you pretend to be sophisticated in it (even though it knows as well as you do that its Austin - and Austin is as simple and humble as Texas comes).

Strangely, I found that I didn't really recognize the Austin from my college years. A building boom of condo towers, hotels, and office skyscrapers is transforming the city I once knew. The skyline is different. The buildings that used to romance me are now stubby and out of date. The new towers, gleaming glass and steel, are beautiful but aloof. We've never been introduced.

I guess it is like an seeing an old friend for the first time in years. At first, the memories come flooding back and you begin to wonder if everything could go back to the way it used to be. Then, upon further inspection, you notice that the person from your memories doesn't really resemble the person in front of you. And to really reconnect, you'd almost have to be re-introduced. You'd have to meet the person as they are now, whether they're anything like the person living in your memory or not.

I think I was a little bit mad at Austin for changing without my permission. I had to realize that I've changed too. And our relationship can still be a good one. I'll just be doing business in the offices rather than staggering around 6th Street at 3am.

Maybe we've both grown up a little bit. And maybe that's a good thing for both of us.

29 June 2008

downtown sunday - the vistana

Downtown Blog Sunday

This week, read about the newest star on the San Antonio skyline - The Vistana, a new high-rise apartment building...

The Vistana at MySA's Downtown Blog

photo from: http://thevistana.com/index.php/base/webcam

28 June 2008

life of pi

Already bought "Life of Pi"? A bunch of you have. Haven't gotten it yet? You still have a chance. It may be the only way you ever know what this week's quote actually means...

"And so it is with God."


27 June 2008

soccer 1 mugabe 0

An Op-Ed column from the New York Times spelled out an interesting new path for the world to take to try to put some pressure on the situation in Zimbabwe. South Africa has proven itself woefully inadequate in dealing with their despotic neighbor. Read the column by clicking the link above or reading it below.

Soccer 1, Mugabe 0

Published: June 24, 2008

IN these last few weeks, the full nature of Robert Mugabe’s repressive regime in Zimbabwe has been cruelly exposed. With his increasingly brazen resort to torture and hit squads to terrorize his own people, Mr. Mugabe has crossed a moral line. Some United Nations lawyers now say there is enough evidence to charge him with crimes against humanity.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change and Mr. Mugabe’s opponent in Friday’s runoff presidential election, had little choice but to pull out of the race. (Mr. Tsvangirai has taken refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare.) Proceeding with elections would have ensured the murder of even more of his supporters. Any middle ground in this conflict has disappeared.

Standing amid the ruins of Zimbabwe looms the vacillating, dithering, morally compromised figure of Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa — hitherto the point man in the region — who was supposed to help ensure a free and fair outcome in the Zimbabwean election. Even at this late stage, with death squads on the move, Mr. Mbeki is still trying to persuade the Movement for Democratic Change to participate as a junior partner in some sort of Kenya-style unity government.

Mr. Tsvangirai and his followers — who have remained nonviolent, participated in three rigged elections and tried to inhabit “democratic space” as it diminished to a sliver — are understandably loath to join in an administration with the very people who have been attacking them. What’s more, joining would only reward Mr. Mugabe for his violent repression. The solution for Zimbabwe is simple: a free and fair election.

The international community has no choice but to delegitimize Mr. Mugabe’s regime. For a start, the “results” of Friday’s election should not be recognized. In effect, the world should no longer acknowledge Mr. Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s president. And should the opposition set up a government in exile, the West should move to deal with that government instead, based on the results of the March election, in which Mr. Tsvangirai drew more votes than Mr. Mugabe.

Of course, South Africa could use its economic power to draw Mr. Mugabe’s rule to an end in weeks rather than months. Yet Mr. Mbeki has steadfastly refused to act, providing a protective cloak for Mr. Mugabe’s repression. And just a few weeks ago, even as opposition members were being tortured, Mr. Mbeki visited Zimbabwe, allowing himself to be garlanded at the airport and displayed on state-run TV with a broadly grinning Mr. Mugabe. In the United Nations Security Council, where South Africa currently has a seat, Mr. Mbeki has opposed attempts to put the political situation in Zimbabwe on the agenda.

If Mr. Mbeki’s cost-benefit calculus has been such that he hasn’t seen it necessary to take tougher action, perhaps it’s time to change that calculus. Perhaps, for example, now is not the time for you to book a safari to South Africa. Or for you, or any institution that manages your funds, to make new investments in the country.

Most important, there is the FIFA soccer World Cup, for which South Africa is to act as host in 2010. That may seem like a long way off, but South Africa is already investing huge amounts both financially and politically, for what is supposed to be its triumphal coming-out party. Maybe Zimbabwe should become to the South Africa-hosted World Cup what Tibet has been to the Beijing Olympics — the pungent albatross that spoils every press conference and mars every presentation with its insistent odor.

Perhaps it’s time to share the Zimbabweans’ pain, to help persuade Mr. Mbeki to bear down on its source by threatening to grab the world’s soccer ball and take our games elsewhere.

Peter Godwin is the author of “When a Crocodile Eats the Sun.”

26 June 2008

coozies, breadmakers, and our irrationality

Free stuff makes us completely crazy. Discounts may be even more dangerous.

I spent a little bit of time at a professional association convention over the last few days and the way that people fawn over the logo-emblazoned pens, totes, coozies, and other assorted crap is beyond astounding.

How many of us have signed up for a credit card in order to get a free Spurs beach towel or Cubs blanket? We love free stuff even when we have no need for it at all.

Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational looked at the freebie phenomenon and concluded that people's desire for a good economic deal often completely overwhelmed rational, logical behavior. What we fail to do in these situations is measure the amount of increased joy we might get in a product. We get too caught up in getting something free (or at a discount) to ever wonder if the product will even improve our lives one iota.

Now this whole thing is pretty silly when discussing coozies and golf tees, but what if this same irrationality bled into our more important decisions. Evidence suggests that it does. Many of us drive "more" car than we intended to, simply because the dealer made us a great deal. It happens all of the time, sometimes in the most subtle ways.

For instance, upmarket homeware purveyor Williams-Sonoma was having trouble selling a $295 breadmaker. They solved the problem not by dropping the price of the breadmaker, but by introducing a $450 breadmaker to display next to the slow-selling model. Consumers, sensing that the $295 breadmaker was a great deal, snapped them up in record numbers. Looking for evidence - how many of us have dusty breadmakers in the cupboard? The evidence of our irrationality lays quietly gathering dust next to the food processor and the juicer.

Now if anyone needs a tote-bag full of crud, you know where to find me.

25 June 2008

anyone out there shacking up?

I'm getting a lot of people telling me about "The Shack", a new book that some are calling "Christian fiction" and that many (many, many) people are apparently reading (and either vehemently telling me to read or avoid).

(Just so you know, if I were a writer I would hate people calling my book "Christian" fiction - it is just fiction, whether it has themes related to a religion or not...ugh.)

Anyway, there has been an enormous amount of discussion about it around and I don't really know what to think. I am busy proudly weeping my way through "The Road", so I haven't read "The Shack". Anyone who has read it care to fill me in? Is it heretical, harmless, incredible, or just simple fiction?

23 June 2008

our mezuzah

Stef and I have this beautiful friend who got us one of the most thoughtful housewarming presents: a mezuzah from Jerusalem.

What is a mezuzah, you ask?

Well, the Wikipedia tells us that
"A mezuzah (Hebrew: מזוזה‎ "doorpost") (plural: mezuzot (מזוזות)) is a piece of parchment (usually contained in a decorative case) inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21). These verses comprise the Jewish prayer "Shema Yisrael," and begins with the phrase "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One."

A mezuzah is affixed to the doorframe of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to inscribe the words of the Shema "on the doorposts of your house."(Deuteronomy 6:9) Many families place a mezuzah on the front door only, but observant Jews fix one on every doorway in the home apart from bathrooms, and closets too small to qualify as rooms.[1] The parchment is prepared by a qualified scribe (a "sofer stam") who has undergone many years of meticulous training, and the verses are written in indelible black ink with a special quill pen. The parchment is then rolled up and placed inside the case."

Our prayer will be that we might live the words on the scroll...

21 June 2008

on our bicycles

Pastor Willie has this little phrase he likes to use.

“We’re on our bicycles.”

He uses it whenever he needs a snack and the phone won’t stop ringing. He simply shouts out something about taking a message or holding his calls, grabs his keys and announces, “We’re on our bicycles.”

Among my favorite phrases in the world, “on our bicycles” is halfway to a cappuccino and miles away from the stress of running a third world church.

And I smile every time I think about the phrase, partly because I love Willie so much and partly because the mental image of him speeding away on a bicycle is too much for me to be able to keep a straight face.

20 June 2008

leave it behind

Considering yesterday’s post about hanging onto the past and the value of sentimentality, the same words kept ringing in my brain. “You’ve got to leave it behind…” They came from a familiar voice from a familiar band, and a favorite song.

We have to leave it behind. Or at least be willing to.

When Stef and I moved to Africa, we didn’t know how long we would be gone. We sold our stuff and gave away our dog. Walking away from the dog was much harder than the couch. But we had to leave it behind. There were more important things awaiting us. There were more beautiful moments ahead, more rewarding relationships. And the hardest part of the whole thing was trusting in that truth and walking away from all that was comfortable. We ended up walking into all that was incredible. And we are forever changed.

Whatever it is…a building, a relationship, a resentment, a dream….maybe it's time to leave it behind.

19 June 2008

of sentiment and development

Update: MySa's Downtown Blog has a great report on the status of the Hedrick Building (mentioned below)...Check it out here.

Can sentimentality wreck our good judgment?

I can imagine that it might. I can imagine someone lingering in a relationship for nothing more than sentimental reasons…and I can imagine that many relationships like that have caused more pain than necessary for the people involved.

I can imagine a well-meaning person hanging on to knick-knacks and little bits of this and that until the memories and tidbits become so overwhelming that one must be dug out of their now clutter-inundated hovel. Sometimes even those things with sentimental value are best placed by the curb. Their value is not lessened. It just isn’t in the garage anymore.

Now imagine with me that beautiful downtown San Antonio had an open piece of land on the RiverWalk. Imagine that it had a couple of crumbling, 80-year-old, vacant, graffiti-laced, boarded-up buildings. Now, imagine the city saying that they couldn’t be demolished to make way for new development because of someone’s objective view of historic significance. Well, that’s what has happened.

San Antonio’s HDRC (Historic and Design Review Commission) called the Hedrick Building historic and denied an application to demolish it. I’ve actually only known the building as the “RTD Kills” building – as that seems to be the favorite scrawling of graffiti-artists who, throughout the years, have busted out windows or hung over the roof to tag every reachable square inch of the property.

Maybe it has some value. In fact, I am sure it does. But is this another case where sentimental value has clouded our perception of the true worth of something? I mean, this isn’t the Alamo we’re talking about. This is a grey-brick, 10-story office building from the 20s. It looks just like old 10-story office buildings from Des Moines, Midland, Duluth, and a hundred other towns in America.

And yet we hang on for sentimental reasons. We long to recapture the glory of its heyday. Like we do with that old relationship, the knick-knacks from that 1984 trip to the Smoky Mountains, or our grimy basketball practice jersey from high school.

I have to believe that these things are not just simple clutter. They can become dangerous…roadblocks on the path to the better things that lie ahead of us.

18 June 2008

infectious everything

Everything is infectious.

Yes, diseases are infectious. But that isn't what we're thinking of today.

Ever worked at a company where no one liked their job? Whether that was your attitude when you started, it would have been before too long.

Ever been at a party where everyone is laughing? Whether you get the jokes or not, you smile.

Traffic police in Thailand (or Singapore or somewhere I can't remember) go through laugh practice in an effort to infect themselves with positivity before a very arduous shift.

It is a proven fact that seeing someone yawn, hearing someone yawn, or even reading the word yawn can make you yawn. Most of you yawned at some point in the last sentence. Its OK. Admit it. Yaaaaawn.

We've had the opportunity to spend some time with people we had never spent time with before. They are faithful, positive, hopeful, and generally enjoyable people. And Stef and I have found our own attitudes reflecting just a little bit more of those qualities recently. We've been infected.

Considering that, maybe we could all consciously seek to infect others with those things we value. Maybe we laugh a little easier, smile a little more, and grace when wrath seems logical. Maybe the world can be cured from all that ails it - if we would only make the effort to infect it.

17 June 2008

the relationship between salvation and donation

San Antonio artist Ray Lynch crafted this piece, a look at "the relationship between salvation and donation."

No matter what your faith leanings, this can certainly bring pause...

Found at MySa's great new Downtown Blog...Check it out.

16 June 2008

where whites draw the line

Where Whites Draw the Line

A black leader must play down the wounds of race and keep the comfort level high. Barack Obama’s biography is, in part, an immigrant’s narrative. That helps.

A thought-provoking piece from Sunday's New York Times takes a look at Barack Obama's candidacy and asks the question, "How black is too black?" Race is still an issue in America today, whether we like to acknowledge it or not. One of the telling stories of the November election will be whether white voters (especially those over 40) will feel comfortable voting for a black man.

Read the story here: The Link: Where Whites Draw the Line

12 June 2008

my hero and my hope - i miss pastor willie

I miss Willie Dengler.

There is no more incredible human being on this planet. Flawed, yes. Incredible, definitely. His love for the poor, selflessness, and absolute fearless pursuit of hope and salvation for all make him the man I most admire.

Pastor Willie is my South African pastor. He is also the only man I've ever known who turned a home invasion into a opportunity to spread the love of Christ - and eventually had one of the men who was burglarizing his home serving as one of the elders of his church. I've seen him embrace the most ruthless murderers and I've seen him chase down dangerous criminals - with no intention of "bringing them to justice", but simply to tell them that they are loved and cared for and welcome in his church.

Willie has a small, poor church in inner-city Johannesburg, which he's been the pastor of for 35 years. He is the entire pastoral staff. He runs a feeding program for squatter children. He runs a prison ministry that has over 12,000 men and women doing a discipleship program behind bars. He oversees orphanages in Kenya and a Mission House in South Africa. He has a wife, lots of kids, and an entire community that really would cease to function without him.

Pastor Willie is my hero, my hope, and one of my truest friends. I wish everyone could know him. I wish everyone could see Jesus so clearly.

Grace Point Church in San Antonio has made giving to Pastor Willie's ministry in South Africa possible through their online giving platform. Tax deductible, no admin fees...just our dollars feeding AIDS orphans and providing hope and comfort to the sick and incarcerated. If you know Willie (or wish you did) and would like to give towards the work there, follow these instructions:

1. Click Here to go to the Online Giving site...
2. Fill in the form, selecting "OTHER" when you are directing your funds and specifying "PASTOR WILLIE DENGLER/SOUTH AFRICA" in the appropriate box.
3. Complete the forms and submit.

Thanks. Pray for Willie, for Africa, and that these few dollars might fill a whole lot of empty bellies.


my awesome wife, the 520, and the 93

I am so in love with my wife.

She is generally great (and great for me) but recently I have found an entirely new reason to love her. My wife is riding the bus to work.

My tiny, pregnant, middle-class, white wife rides the VIA bus.

Stefani walks two blocks to the corner of Zarzamora and Huisache where she boards the 520. She transfers at Crossroads to the 93. She hops off at her stop 15 minutes later and she walks a couple more blocks. She is then at work. I love my wife.

In the era of $4 gas, a 32 mile roundtrip costs us $3.

If she can ride the bus, you can ride the bus.

What would you do with the extra time on your commute?

Since you're not driving in traffic, you could read. Or, since you are saving money on gas (or in our case avoiding a second car altogether), you could afford the little luxuries that otherwise are unattainable. How many car payments does a new TV cost? A Kindle? A vacation?

In San Antonio alone, bus ridership has increased 11% since last year. You can do it too. Try it once. You never know...

High gas prices lead to surge in mass transit

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's standing-room-only on many commuter buses from Washington's suburbs. Rail systems from Boston to Los Angeles are begging passengers to shift their travel to non-peak hours. And some seats have been removed from San Francisco's subway cars to allow more people to cram in.

Around the country, high gas prices are pushing more people to leave their cars at home and crowd onto trains, buses and subways.

And while that's usually good news for transit agencies, some are struggling to accommodate new riders at a time when tight budgets are making local and state governments reluctant to put more money toward public transportation.

"I began last month taking the public bus to work because of the gas prices," said Tammy Vega of Austin, Texas, who also takes mass transit when she is on business trips. "Whether I'm in town or out of town, public transportation is going to be the way to go for now."

In the first three months of 2008, 2.6 billion trips were taken on public transportation in the U.S., a 3 percent increase over the first quarter of 2007, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Among the cities registering big increases in the first quarter were Baltimore, where light rail ridership was up 17 percent from the same period a year ago; Seattle, which saw a 28 percent jump in commuter rail passengers; Boston, where subway ridership rose 9 percent; and San Antonio, where the number of bus riders climbed 11 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of miles driven on American roads fell slightly last year — from 3.014 trillion to 3.003 trillion, according to the Federal Highway Administration. It was the first time since 1980 that the figure had not increased. The drop has continued this year.

"We were always clearly a bargain, but we're becoming even more starkly, clearly the wise economic choice," said Daniel Grabauskas, general manager of Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Many big transit systems already have expansion plans that were in the works long before the run-up in gas prices. In New York City, for example, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in the middle of a $21.2 billion capital program that includes the biggest subway expansion since the system was completed in the early 1940s.

In Washington, Metro has been receiving additional subway cars, ordered long ago. The new cars have enabled the subway to lengthen many of its rush-hour trains from six to eight cars — the longest that will fit in the stations.

But the agency is also working on contingency plans prompted by high gas prices. Among the ideas: having certain lanes declared "bus only" on an emergency basis, and encouraging employers to stagger workers' schedules to ease rush-hour crowding.

Similarly, Boston's transit agency and Southern California's Metrolink commuter rail system are urging people to spread out their commutes.

Metrolink plans to add 107 rail cars to its fleet of 155, but it will take at least a year for the order to arrive, spokeswoman Denise Tyrell said. The agency has been leasing cars from other transit agencies, including those in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area. But now some of those agencies want their cars back, she said.

In Philadelphia, where ridership on buses, subways, trolleys and commuter trains is up 5 percent in the first 10 months of the fiscal year from the same period a year earlier, the transit agency is switching to some longer buses.

Many transit systems can't afford to expand.

Cynthia Staab, assistant general manager of Tulsa Transit in Oklahoma, said demand is at record levels, but there is no money for more buses. "The city of Tulsa just has a lot of needs," she said. "We compete with police and fire in the general fund."

Also, transit agencies' operating costs are going up for the same reason commuters are leaving their cars home — rising gas prices. In response, many transit agencies are looking at fare increases. And some are even cutting service despite the higher demand, said spokeswoman Virginia Miller, a spokeswoman for the mass transit association.

Still, many transit officials look at high gas prices as a great opportunity to change people's attitudes about public transportation.

"You've had this great resource in your community," said Jawauna Greene, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transit Administration, "and you've driven right by it in your big ol' SUV."
From: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gZIdarM-w5cHE3JfVlifDmW0COcQD912QT7G1

11 June 2008

upside-down lattes

Have you ever had an upside-down latte?

It's basically a normal latte, except that the shots of espresso are added last, dropped on top of the otherwise finished product. It looks a lot like the drink in the photo, which happens to be iced.

Almost every time I've ordered it recently, I encounter a bewildered look from my barista. I then take about 10 seconds to explain what it is I'm looking for and why I want it that way and something clicks and they say, "Ohhh, Ok".

Its like they just needed to know the context to understand. They just needed to have that common ground established.

I think so many of our efforts to change (and be the change to) this world get derailed when we fail to establish the commonality between conflicting ideas. Whatever our ideas are - world peace, alternative fuels, a faith journey - we fail to gain traction with our audience because we fail to meet them at that comfortable place to take them to the next, much less comfortable, level of understanding. To say it another way, we end up trying to catapult them to the mountaintop when they haven't even bought their climbing gear.

Remember, the barista looks confused until I explain that its just a latte with shots on top.

Maybe we should live like upside-down lattes. Same ingredients, different order. Enough change to stir the imagination of others...enough commonality to allow them the freedom to try it for themselves.

10 June 2008

aids: getting the message

Good news on treatment. Bad news on propaganda.

For those interested, a link to an in-depth story on the newest frontiers in the battle against AIDS, including the argument from those who suggest that we spend too much on AIDS and should cut back...

AIDS: Getting the Message (from The Economist)

09 June 2008

life of pi: your summer reading assignment

Do you remember high school reading assignments? Every year your English (or Literature) teacher would give you the name of the book that you needed to read and have a report on by the first day of the next school year.

Usually, it was some laborious read, something that was the furthest thing from sun, sand, and the ocean. It was like all of the English teachers got together and decided to pick books that were the polar opposite of everything summer was supposed to be about, things like fun and sun and freedom and whimsy.

Well, I will be playing your English teacher this year. And I am going to ask you to read a book this summer. It, unlike the books I was forcefed in high school, is full of sun and ocean and imagination. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful, amazing, and altogether unforgettable pieces of fiction I have ever read...

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

So, grab a copy and head to the beach, the office breakroom, or the bathroom (you know who you are). Trust me on this one. Read this book and thank me later.

07 June 2008


Imagine being a 15 year-old aspiring athlete, dreaming of one day playing professionally. Imagine being the average Texas high school kid, dreaming of playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Now imagine that a TV show (like American Idol for sports) came along and gave you that chance. It happened. The story should remind us all that dreams still come true...

From TV to M.L.S., One Mexican Teen’s Soccer Dream - NYT

CARSON, Calif. — To describe how Jorge Flores ended up here — an unknown teenager traveling to South America and Europe to play for his country after emerging quite literally from a cast of thousands to win a tryout with Chivas USA — a word is worth a thousand pictures.


It is the Spanish term for dream. It is also the key word in the title of the “American Idol”-like tryout he won on Spanish-language television, “Sueño MLS.” Mostly, though, it is an apt description of the head-spinning path his life has taken in the last year.

No wonder it has become a sobriquet.

“People say Jorge Flores,” said his teammate Sasha Kljestan, a quizzical look on his face. “Who? Everybody knows him as Sueño.”

A lot more people are coming to know Flores, an 18-year-old, left-footed midfielder who had scored three goals in three games for Chivas before Thursday night’s 1-0 loss against the Red Bulls in East Rutherford, N.J. The most recent goal — a left-footed volley he ripped into the side netting against Columbus — was the type of dead-perfect shot any player dreams about hitting.

Not that it was his longest shot.

That came in February 2007, when his uncle signed him up for “Sueño MLS,” in which the winner would receive a tryout with Chivas USA. For several weeks, the contestants were followed in 10-minute segments on Univision’s “Republica Deportiva,” a sports program on the Spanish-language channel.

Flores did not gain one of the 2,000 original spots, but after seeking permission from his stepfather — for whom he worked on weekends doing maintenance work at a church — Flores showed up hoping to be selected from among the 4,000 applicants who were put on a waiting list. He was.

“I went because my uncle wanted to take me there,” Flores, speaking through an interpreter, said with a laugh. “I missed that day of work, but my reward has come. I tried my best to see if something would happen. If it wasn’t for Sueño, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

Still, Flores does not seem the least bit overwhelmed by his journey. Teammates and coaches say he is fearless on the field, and they use words like shy, polite and innocent to describe him away from it. It is easy to be grounded when you are living at home and have a salary of $17,700. Flores is often reminded by teammates of his good fortune.

“I told him to buy lottery tickets,” Ante Razov, the veteran forward, said Saturday night after Flores’s latest goal.

A moment later, Claudio Suarez, the former Mexican national team captain, walked by Flores in the locker room and noticed several reporters and cameramen interviewing him. “Sueño,” he said. “They’re going to make a movie out of you.”

Behind the good-natured gibes is healthy admiration. Not for the three goals Flores has contributed, but the way he works each day in practice. Several teammates say he is the hardest-working player on the team, no small distinction with a coach, Preki, who last year cut the high-profile Amado Guevara for lack of effort.

“Imagine being a guy who wins a TV show and coming into a professional soccer team and trying to earn respect,” the Chivas captain, Jesse Marsch, said. “At first, it was kind of a joke. But the way he came in and worked every day made everybody realize that he was here and he was for real and he wasn’t just a contest winner. He was real serious about becoming a professional soccer player.”

Flores said he was not much different from most youngsters he grew up with in the central Mexico state of Guanajuato; he wanted to be a professional soccer player. Flores was born in Anaheim, Calif., but moved to Mexico with his mother, Juanita, when he was a year old. She returned to the United States when Jorge was 5, but he stayed behind, living with an aunt and grandmother. Juanita, who worked at a textile factory, would send money home.

When Flores was 15, he came to live with his mother, who had married. Knowing no English — he still prefers to answer questions in Spanish — and having no friends, the transition was difficult, academically and socially. But in soccer, he thrived. He was the most valuable player for his team at Anaheim High and played for a club team in nearby Santa Ana. But he was not on the radar of any colleges or professional teams.

One of the longstanding criticisms of soccer in the United States is that too many Latinos fall through the cracks and do not make it into the talent pool of national team programs. Academics are often a hurdle for college, money is an obstacle in playing for clubs, and sometimes outside influences — gangs, the need to work, becoming a teen parent — soften a player’s desire. The United States federation has taken steps recently to diversify its youth programs, and M.L.S. clubs have begun to look beyond colleges for home-grown talent, but the subject is a hot-button one in the soccer community.

“There’s far less of those guys than people think,” said Columbus Coach Sigi Schmid, a longtime Los Angeles resident and former coach for U.C.L.A. and the Los Angeles Galaxy. “My son coaches a club team in Orange County, and they’re constantly in Santa Ana and Norwalk looking for players. It’s not like it used to be.”

Chivas USA has several players on the books — including Flores — who have played for United States youth national teams. Sasha van der Most, who coaches Chivas’s under-19 team, said there were more like them.

“Everybody knows there’s a lot of talent out there, but not all of it is being exposed,” van der Most said. “If you give them a chance and the exposure, they’re right there.”

For Flores, Sueño proved to be his chance. It gave him an opportunity to train with the under-19 team; he was its youngest player. He showed enough in three months to earn a spot on the squad that was taken to Guadalajara last June for a tournament that included reserve teams from Mexican first-division clubs. Flores scored three goals in three games; upon his return, he earned a tryout and then a developmental contract with Chivas USA.

He was soon selected for the United States under-20 squad. He has traveled with the team to Argentina, Uruguay, Portugal and England, where he assisted on a goal in a victory over Manchester United’s reserve team last month. He has also been the team’s captain.

Flores’s mother and stepfather pondered this unlikely journey last Saturday night as they sat in their seats at the Home Depot Center. It was the first time they had seen him start as a professional and were thrilled by his goal.

“It’s an incredible emotion,” Juanita said in Spanish, beaming. “It’s something I can’t describe. It’s like a dream for us.”

Later, after Flores had showered and finished several interviews, he took care of a final bit of housekeeping and straightened up his locker. Neatly arranged on the top shelf, toes facing the wall, were three pairs of shoes. Included were the ones he wore that night, the pair with clear, see-through heels. For the moment, they look just like glass slippers.

06 June 2008

bono on religion, elvis, and discipleship

"Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship."

- Bono

As with a lot of Bono quotes, I tend to think that his words need no explanation. Simply: This is not to say that organization of faith or belief (formal church) cannot work, only that it becomes dangerous where it becomes more about the institution and less about the faith itself.

05 June 2008

placebo, junior?

From NPR:

A new pill is going on sale this week, and it's marketed for times when kids need a little more than a kiss to make an "owie" go away. It's just a placebo as Tuesday's New York Times reports, a sugar pill. This non-medication is called Obecalp, or placebo spelled backwards. The pills are the brainchild of a mother who lives in Maryland, and they're being sold as a dietary supplement.

The Commentary from Dr. Douglas Kamerow:

There are so many issues here, I don't know where to begin. But first, let me tell you a story about placebos from my medical internship.

It was at a big urban county hospital, which took care of a mainly indigent population. Our pharmacy stocked two "special" painkilling drugs, available by a doctor's prescription only. One came in a brilliant red capsule and the other was deep purple. The interns were instructed that these pills were for people who abused pain medications and were to be dispensed with care — and with a good story. It turned out that the red one was aspirin and the purple one was Tylenol, although you couldn't find those exact words anywhere on the labels. And sure enough, I had a number of patients who said to me that they had to have that red pill, or that purple one, that it was the only thing that took their pain away.

If it's ever ethical to use a placebo — and I'm not sure that it is — this is a good example of when it might be appropriate: helping people with a chronic problem, using a real medicine, one that is not too dangerous and has some efficacy of its own. And not lying about what's in it.

Contrast this with today's story about the new children's sugar pill. First, who are we treating here? Children or their parents? If placebos are to work, the patients need to believe in them. Are we going to deceive the parents too, or is it just their job to deceive their children? And what will happen when the children grow up and find out that they were being sold a pill of goods, so to speak?

Second, what are we teaching the kids? That pills are the answer for all our aches and pains? And perhaps all our other problems, too? Not advisable. Third, what makes us think that kids want medicine? If all children are like my three kids, who are now all teenagers, they won't take medicine when they are little and they don't want it when they are big either.

And I don't buy the argument that a placebo pill is just like putting a "Band-Aid on a boo-boo." We know it doesn't make any difference, but we tell the kids that it does. Sure, there are kids who end up wanting a Band-Aid for every possible problem, but I have never seen an adult Band-Aid addict. I have seen lots of adults who want a pill for every ill.

When I told my wife about this new sugar pill for children, her concise response was: "That's sick." And while I might not go that far, I do think that this is a deeply bad idea, however well intentioned. Kids who are in pain or sick but don't require real medicine need someone to give them a hug, or a kiss, or if a treat is indicated, maybe a lollipop. But they don't need a sugar pill, and they certainly don't need to be deceived into thinking that it's the pill's magic, not Mom's or Dad's, that helped them feel better.

Family physician Douglas Kamerow, a former Assistant Surgeon General, is a health services researcher at RTI International. He lives in Maryland.

04 June 2008

the baker and the dough

Maybe God is a beautiful baker.

He rolls the ingredients of this experience, this life, into our very being. A pinch of laughter with a tablespoon of weeping...Mourning, dancing…Seeking and giving up…Tearing and mending, silence and uproarious noise…love, hate…war, peace…gathering and scattering…embraces and longing glances…crumbling walls and built bridges…killing, healing…planting and inevitable uprooting…

Amidst all of these ingredients, He mixes in a time to be born and a time to die.

And we struggle and thrash about, unaware that it has all been designed just so. We imagine that the whole story revolves around us when it is completely the opposite. We revolve around the story, completely ancillary to its existence.

We fight off the ingredients He mixes into our lives, attempting to choose which and at what portion. And yet, grief comes relentlessly with brokenness and pain. And it is eventually met with redemption and hope, with new life and joy. And it cycles through again, as the hands of the Almighty knead us into submission.

I like to think that eventually we begin to understand that this journey we’re on is not toward perfection, but completion. After all, birthed in the reaction between one chemical and another, and grown and formed by the ingredients that shape our days, we are eventually removed from the oven, finally feeling finished. We are beginning to understand that all of the ingredients made us just who we needed to be after all, that the sorrow was as important as the joy. The warmth that has welled up inside of us begins to cool and our assurance of place is again shaken – as we are consumed back into the center of the source that created us in the first place…

03 June 2008

twinkie, deconstructed and christ-likeness

I read Twinkie, Deconstructed recently hoping to get a better understanding of the processed foods that are ubiquitous in our society.

Unknowingly, I stumbled into a book that was as much about my own faith journey as anything. No, the book doesn't have anything to do with faith. I just realized that I am more like a Twinkie than I ever knew. I strive for this thing called "Christ-likeness" and yet I couldn't define that for all the money in the world. Christ-likeness, like xanthum gum or high fructose corn syrup, is just a catch-all term that is vague enough to keep me from digging too deep, from ever really knowing whether I'd reached what I was striving for.

Well, digging deeper, one finds that there are ingredients and processes that are painfully involved in creating both Twinkies and the faithful. It is in our willingness to discover these things in which our ultimate hope truly lies.

02 June 2008

"team lift" and male idiocy

What is it about the “team lift” logo on large boxes and assembly directions that makes me such a knucklehead?

I mean, they show two guys lifting the box, using their legs by bending their knees…and it doesn’t inspire me to call a friend or grab a neighbor to help me. I, the male idiot, decide that its not a warning, its a challenge. I think of the two knee-bending jerks on the assembly directions of my IKEA purchase and I start thinking derisive thoughts of them. Wusses. Fairies. I mean, why doesn’t one of them grab a pair of cold ones while the other guy grunts and lifts it by himself.

And this is alarming because it isn’t like me. I like lattes and Gore Vidal. I drink hot tea and I like NPR not NASCAR. I don’t know where anything is at Lowe’s (much less at East Asheville Hardware) and the people there know that I don’t. Those red-vested workers almost laugh at me as I try to explain what I need. So why does every ounce of machismo well up within me when I am encouraged to “team lift”? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m done putting furniture together for awhile – and my back really hurts.