Saturday Sounds: Michael Jackson

The King of Pop

The King of Pop

We were sitting at lunch over steaming bowls of ramen, trading story ideas, when “Thriller” came on over the restaurant’s speakers.

“Were you…um…born when this song came out?” I asked.

The young reporter seated across from me, just a couple years past college graduation, smiled and shook her head.

Damn. Still just 23, this Emma Stone lookalike was born in 1991, nine years after Michael Jackson released what became — and still is — the best-selling album of all time. “Thriller” sold more than 65 million records sold worldwide and won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984, including Album of the Year. Seven singles released from the album all made the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. (Thanks. Wikipedia.)

Indisputably, that 1982 album cemented Michael Jackson’s status as the King of Pop. A singer, songwriter, dancer and all-around entertainer without peer.

Was he weird? Eccentric? A little creepy? Sure. (And I won’t go into his background here, other than to say he seemed like a boy in a man’s body, warped by the experience of going from child prodigy to the biggest pop music star on the planet.)

Was he talented? Incredibly, breathtakingly so.

Amazingly, November 1982 will mark 33 years since “Thriller” debuted. Songs like “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Human Nature,” “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and, most of all, “Billie Jean” still sound as fresh today as when I first heard them.

When Michael Jackson died in June 2009, at age 50, the world mourned. It was an amazing thing to witness, a deeply felt and spontaneous reaction to the loss of the most talented individual performer of our times. And when I say “our” I guess I can include my young reporting colleague. After all, Jackson went on to record four more albums after “Thriller”  — 11 in all — en route to becoming a global icon with crossover, multigenerational appeal.

He was the King of Pop, for sure.

Photograph: fanpop.com

Bonus video: 1984 Grammy Awards — “The Way You Make Me Feel” / “Man in the Mirror”

Catching up with Oscar

Who will take home the gold-plated statuettes on February 22?

Who will take home the gold-plated statuettes on February 22?

We’re a little more than three weeks away from the 2015 Academy Awards, so Lori and I find ourselves scrambling to as many of the Oscar-nominated films for Best Picture and Best Actor and Actress. I’m well aware of the academy’s blind spot when it comes to recognizing people of color in the leading categories, including Best Director — not just this year, but historically.

Yet I’m drawn, like a moth to the light, to these three major categories because I want to see for myself who is most deserving. So far, we’ve seen five of the Best Picture nominees, with three more to go.

My take so far:

fiction-imitates-fact“The Imitation Game.” Loved it. Knew nothing whatsoever about the story going in — the tale of a brilliant British mathematician, Alan Turing, who led a team of cryptologists in breaking the Nazi code regarding ship and troop movements in World War II, thus shortening the war and saving millions of lives. The film pivots around four men and a woman who are thrown together to solve a seemingly impossible riddle, exposing conflicting personalities, loyalties and methodologies. it’s reminiscent of “A Beautiful Mind” (a 2002 film starringh Russell Crowe) and very well done.

Benedict Cumberbacht was a revelation, since I’d only seen him once before in a minor role in “12 Years A Slave.” He gives a thoroughly believable performance in a role that projects brilliance, eccentricity and sensitivity. Keira Knightley was surprisingly strong in a supporting role, though I think a plainer-looking woman might have been a better choice.

birdman“Birdman.” Dazzling. Michael Keaton has never been better. Director Alejandro AmeriG. Iñárritu does a fabulous job of creating an electric tension as he takes us behind the scenes of a Broadway production, starring an actor attempting a major comeback after building his career as an action-movie hero.

Keaton is manic and vulnerable. Edward Norton, as a rival actor, and Emma Stone, as Keaton’s daughter, are superb. Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis are solid in lesser roles. The film’s pace is dizzying and at times jolting it snaps back and forth between reality and fantasy. I came away with a better sense of how quickly actors slip in and out of character, and with a deeper appreciation of Keaton’s range.

308555id1i_TheJudge_FinalRated_27x40_1Sheet.indd“American Sniper.” A difficult film to watch, but one that raises important issues. Much discussion has centered, almost too simplistically, about whether snipers are heroes or cowards. I don’t think it’s that black-and-white. Of course there are moral questions involved in killing people invisibly, from great distance with powerful weaponry that didn’t exist years ago. But there are no simple answers, either, when the choice is kill or be killed within the larger context of war.

Bradley Cooper is excellent as Navy Seal Chris Kyle in a role where he personifies the military ethic of serving with and for your fellow service members, yet has trouble transitioning to domestic life between tours. For all the machismo that the real-life role demands, there is another aspect that bears consideration and demands better understanding — that of the husband and father who finds himself drifting away from his wife and children, unable to leave the war behind.

boyhood“Boyhood.” Captivating. Saw this film months ago and was impressed, to say the least, by the idea of filming the story over a period of several years. Seeing the lead character (Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane) literally grow up before our eyes — and witnessing his parents and sister also age — gave this film an authenticity you couldn’t create.

It’s a coming-of-age film, to be sure, as we see Mason navigate all the familiar situations and stages as he moves from young boy to adolescent to teenager. Peer pressure, girls, sex, alcohol and drugs, family relationships — they’re all here and they all ring true for this father of two boys. Richard Linklater wrote and directed the film, and his vision of years-long storytelling is to be celebrated.

grand-budapest-hotel“The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Quirky. What else would you call a film conceived and directed by Wes Anderson? When you’ve got a guy who’s done “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” you expect to be amused, surprised and. most of all, entertained. With an all-star cast including Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson and many, many more, it’s hard to keep up with the characters whose lives intersect at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars.

To be honest — and i really have no explanation for this — I was drowsy the night we saw this and (horrors!) actually nodded off during part of it. I enjoyed much of what I saw, but there was a gap in the plot (understandably). Tobe fair, I really should see the movie again. But that’s unlikely to happen before the Oscars.

If all goes well, we will see “Selma” and “The Theory of Everything” this weekend. That will leave only “Whiplash” among the Best Picture contenders. We’ll see if there’s time to get to them all..

I suspect we’ll do some more catching up after the Oscars to see a handful of films where Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress nominees appeared in movies not nominated for Best Picture.

Photograph: The Huffington Post

Signs of change

The University Station post office is being demolished so that nearby St. Mary's Academy can expand.

The University Station post office is being demolished so that nearby St. Mary’s Academy can expand.

Change happens. I get that. But it’s seldom easy and it often intrudes on our routines and our sense of history.

I’m still processing what happened when I was running an errand one morning last week.

I rolled up to the intersection of Southwest Broadway and Clay Street and saw in an instant how downtown Portland was changing yet again.

The former post office where I mailed so many letters and purchased countless stamps was being leveled.  Vandals had already broken windows on the north side of the building, which occupies an entire block. But that damage was like a mere paper cut compared to the rubble accumulating beneath the crane operator slamming a wrecking ball into the old, tired building.

I knew this was coming. St. Mary’s Academy, the all-girls Catholic high school one block south, purchased the land and building more than a year ago for a cool $7.6 million to enable expansion of the 660-student school.

I passed through the intersection, drove around the block and parked in front of the credit union. I put a dime and nickel in the hooded parking meter (probably one of two left in the entire downtown) and went inside.

A single teller greeted me, the only visible employee in the place preparing to wait on the only customer. Approaching the counter, I noticed a sign that said this branch — where I’ve done my banking for nearly 30 years — would be closing at the end of February. Two Portland branches would remain open, along with several other locations in the suburbs.

I deposited my check, thanked the teller, and stepped out onto the sidewalk. In an instant, several thoughts flashed through my head:

— Demolition of the post office is evidence of the transition from snail mail to electronic mail, as well as consumers’ increasing preference for online shopping — which, of course, means a lot of business for FedEx, UPS and DHL.

Closure of the Oregonians Credit Union is the end result of a similar shift to electronic banking. Anyone who’s been in a bank or credit union in recent years no doubt has noticed the dwindling resources devoted to customer service. Staffs are cut, assistant managers wear a dozen hats, and you’re lucky to see the same teller two months (or two visits) in a row. Here, there used to be a branch manager, a loan officer and four tellers.

— Gazing up Broadway, I could see the exterior of the building that formerly housed The Oregonian’s newsroom and business operations. That building, too, sold last year for more than $14 million to a Seattle real estate firm that plans an extensive renovation. Since 1960, generations of journalists, ad salespeople and others had walked out those front doors one block to this credit union, now slated to close in a matter of weeks.

Sale of The Oregonian building was a no-brainer, though no less wrenching, for a media company looking to shed an outdated asset and move into new, smaller, sleeker quarters befitting a 21st-century digital-first newsroom.

Oregonians Credit Union plans to close its oldest and formerly busiest branch on Feb. 28.

Oregonians Credit Union plans to close its oldest and formerly busiest branch on Feb. 28.

As if all these signs of change weren’t enough, two more things — little things, to be sure, but still rife with meaning — jumped out at me when I got to the new office and prepared to settle in.

One, I gazed at the surface of my desk, which for so many years had been laden with file folders, notebooks, newspaper clippings and a collection of reference books — phone books, a dictionary, an AP Stylebook, etc. And now? I looked at the tangle of cords that I would plug into the laptop computer that I pulled out of my shoulder bag. Reference books? Ha! Everything is accessible on the computer.

Two, I overheard the reporter next to me talking earnestly to someone who evidently was having a service issue with her home-delivered newspaper. He got off the phone and just shook his head. The woman on the other end of the line had been on hold for 45 minutes — with whom, I don’t know. Somehow the call was transferred to him (his extension is similar to that for the circulation department) and he did his best to help her, promising he would give her contact information to a manager.

“I feel sorry for people,” the reporter said. “Can you imagine trying to get hold of someone when you don’t know how to deal with all these telephone prompts?”

Yes, I could imagine. You’d feel frustrated, powerless, resentful.

Though I understand the imperative to reduce labor costs by automating as many tasks as possible (something companies in all industries have been doing for years), it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Even now, I’m having major issues trying to get a human response from an airline company and awaiting an email reply from a magazine publisher.

But change is inexorable. It doesn’t wait for people to catch up and acquire the basic technical skills to navigate the modern world, where cash is out of favor and debit cards are the customary form of currency. Where texts replace conversation and fingers tapping on a tiny keypad enable you to buy a product, order a meal or find your way around an unfamiliar city.

At times, change does more than intrude on our sense of routine and our sense of history. It disrupts us. It angers us. It leaves us flummoxed.

I don’t say all or any of this as a personal rant. I know we can’t turn back the clock or hold onto the old way of doing things simply because we don’t want to change. Hell, where would I be if I hadn’t adapted to the changing expectations in the newsroom?

There's a way Oregonian Media Group, which publishes The Oregonian and  OregonLive, moved to a new office building in July 2014.

Oregonian Media Group, which publishes The Oregonian and OregonLive, moved to a new office building in July 2014.

I do think it’s instructive, though, to pause for a moment and realize how changes in the physical landscape are the product of invisible forces.

— That old post office is being replaced because people have new, cheaper ways of communicating, paying their bills and shopping. A new building of some type will replace it to accommodate the growth of a well-regarded school that’s been operating near the same site since 1859 — the same year Oregon became a state.

— That old credit union branch is closing because too few customers, like me, still walk into a branch to cash or deposit a check. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve had direct deposit for years, but I still enjoy the banter that comes with the occasional person-to-person transaction.

— And that old newspaper up the street? At some point, it became way too big for our needs.  The triple whammy of a recession, the emergence of Craigslist and readers’ preference for news delivered to their computer or mobile device made it crystal clear that something had to change.

Next time I drive through that intersection at Broadway and Clay, I don’t expect to see much, if any, of the remains of the old post office building. And it’s just a matter of time before the familiar brick building housing the credit union will sprout a For Sale or For Lease sign in the windows.

Signs of change, indeed.

Oregonian Media Group photograph: Elliot Njus

Taye Diggs is following me

Taye Diggs

Taye Diggs

So there I am, minding my own business when a notification pops up in my email: Taye Diggs (@TayeDiggs) is now following you on Twitter!

Really?

You may know Taye Diggs as one handsome actor who has performed on the stage (“Rent”), in motion pictures (“How Stella Got Her Groove Back”) and on television (“Private Practice” and “Ally McBeal”).

But why would a Hollywood celebrity be following me? Especially one describing himself as “I’m serious chocolate and don’t get it twisted.”

A quick Google search turned up a Gawker story that provided the answer: A social media expert made him do it.

Read the amusing backstory in “Embarrassed Taye Diggs Explains Why He Followed Everyone on Twitter.

Last June, when that story posted (and obviously escaped my attention), Diggs was following roughly 45,500 people.

Today, he’s following 270,000 people (so much for making me feel special for a moment) and he’s followed by 436,000 people.

Me? I’m following 474 people and have 810 following me. Pretty small potatoes.

This morning, I see that several more people have discovered they’re being followed by Diggs. And then there’s the guy who observes: “It’s 2015 and Taye Diggs still hasn’t followed me yet, mew.”

As for Taye himself, here’s what he put on his Twitter feed early today:

Carry on.

Photograph: People.com

 

Breakfast with Kyndall

Brunch at Olympic Provision with Kyndall Mason

Brunch at Olympic Provisions with Kyndall Mason

A week ago, I redeemed my last birthday present — a gift certificate for brunch at a place of my choice, courtesy of “your gayest daughter-in-law.”

Who else but Kyndall would have thought to combine an appeal to my tastebuds with a humorous reference to the new relationship we mutually celebrate.

Kyndall became my daughter-in-law last August. But she won my heart long before that. As I said in my post-wedding speech at the reception hall, “Nothing makes me happier than knowing you make my daughter happy.” Or something like that.

I knew she and Simone would someday marry, having visited them when they lived in Pittsburgh for two years and seeing them navigate life together upon their return to Portland in 2012.

But as I was saying…

It was just the two of us last Sunday. We went to Olympic Provisions, a gem of a place I’d heard much about but had never been to in Southeast Portland. It’s on the ground floor of a restored warehouse building in the Central Eastside Industrial District, the kind of place you’d find only if you knew where to look.

The food was fabulous. I’d heard their Eggs Benedict were possibly the best in town. After plowing through a mini-mountain of sweetheart ham, the dish certainly made my top 5 list.

But the delicious meal was secondary. I appreciated the one-on-one time with Kyndall, who so often is at the center of a conversation in just about any group of people. That’s not by accident. She’s smart, funny, opinionated, frequently profane and has a way of drawing people to her — gay and straight, young and old, longtime friends and people she’s just met.

Kyndall: my newest, gayest daughter-in-law

Kyndall: my newest, gayest daughter-in-law

Kyndall was born in Mississippi and raised there and in Washington state. She majored in politics at Western Washington University, works from Portland for a Pittsburgh labor organization, and likes to hit the neighborhood watering holes to watch sports. She plays futsal, rides a motorcycle, knows her way around a set of tools, and co-parents two dogs. She also stands a few inches taller than me.

I’m totally comfortable around Kyndall, knowing we share a similar worldview based on progressive politics, as well as shared interests in food, movies and sports. It’s a stretch to say we have similar musical tastes. Though I credit her for introducing me to Florence and the Machine, I’m pretty certain she’ll never be an Alison Krauss fan.

Our conversation touched on work, movies we have recently seen and home improvement projects. She and Simone bought a house last spring and they’ve poured a lot of time and energy into painting, decorating and other tasks.

One thing Kyndall asked me made me think. It was something along the lines of, “Did you think your 21-year-old self would be surprised at where you are in life? And what would that younger self think of what you are doing and where you are living?”

I love open-ended questions like that. They give you something to chew on, figuratively, between bites of breakfast.

Before we left, I took a moment to tell Kyndall I “treasure” the fact that she is my daughter-in-law.*  I was gratified to hear she feels the same way about me.

* Of course, I also deeply appreciate the relationships I have with Jamie Lynn, the wife of our younger son, Jordan, and Sara, the girlfriend of our older son, Nathan.

Saturday sounds: B.B. King

Realistically, he probably won’t be us with much longer, but when he passes from this realm, he will be remembered forever as the “King of the Blues.”

B.B. King was born Sept. 16, 1925, and I hope he makes it to his 90th birthday. During his decades of performing, he and his guitar Lucille have become known around the world for a readily identifiable sound and soulful singing that defines a whole genre of music.

According to his website, he is resting at his home these days after canceling the last eight shows of his tour last year. Up to that point, he had done 70 performances. Seventy. Amazing.

Rolling Stone magazine in its 2003 list ranked him at No.3 on its list of the “100 greatest guitarists of all time.” Deservedly so, considering the man began pumping out a string of hits in the early ’50s — classics like “Everyday I Have The Blues” “You Upset Me Baby” and “Sweet Little Angel” — and has come to be appreciated by multiple generations of fans.

He is, of course, best known for “The Thrill is Gone,” which won a Grammy Award and in my teenage years became one of my favorite songs.

As a college student in the Bay Area, I saw him perform at Winterland in San Francisco, just a few feet from the stage, and shook his hand after his set.

In the twilight of his career, B.B. has collaborated with so many bands and musicians — everyone from U2 (“When Love Comes To Town”) to Eric Clapton, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks — there are too many to list.

When I pause to consider that this man was born in a cabin on a cotton plantation in Mississippi, I’m in awe of the distance he’s traveled to become the American music icon he is.

Poker night with the ladies

Card sharks, from left: Erin, Beth, Ellie and Lori

Card sharks, from left: Erin, Beth, Ellie and Lori

Once a month on a Thursday night, my wife gets together with three friends for board games, snacks and wine.

Somehow the idea of playing poker – or, rather, learning to play poker – came up and I was drafted as the one to teach them how.

Poker? On a weeknight? With Lori and three wonderful ladies I’ve known from years of bowling together?

Damn right I said yes.

And so it was that Ellie, Beth and Erin – all members of our former Broken Taco Shells team – came over last night for some cards and trash talk.

It was totally fun. But I do have to say there are some differences from playing with my regular poker buddies.

No. 1, the food. We typically go through a couple of pizzas, assorted munchies (some not so good for you) and a fair quantity of beer. Last night, we had a pre-game meal of homemade chicken pot pie, roasted butternut squash casserole and spinach salad with pecans, followed by some chocolate cake left over from my birthday.

No. 2, the décor. Guys don’t play with a small vase of roses in the middle of the table. Those had to go. We also normally don’t have valentine hearts hanging in the windows. Those stayed. (Lori likes to decorate early for holidays.)

No. 3, the hours. We normally play until midnight, and sometimes an hour or two beyond if Lori is out of town. Last night’s game broke up a little after 9.

poker7-19-14All that said, Thursday night poker went well. Erin already knew her way around a deck of cards, so together we schooled the others on how to play and how to bet.

Learning the hierarchy of hands was made easier with a palm-sized cheat sheet. Learning the principles of smart betting sank in as pots were won and lost, with real money at stake. Real money as in $5 worth of chips each. Big-time stakes.

We started with 5-card draw, progressed to 5-card stud, 7-card stud – with and without wild cards and split pots (depending on your high or low spade, face down) – and wrapped it up with lowball, an easy-to-grasp 3-card game.

Early on, I found myself reminding them of these key points:

— Pay attention to how many cards your opponents discard.

— You need four cards, not five, to make a straight or flush.

— And most important… don’t squeal when you get a good hand.

The ladies were quick learners. Erin was the big winner; I was the big loser.

Next time? I’ll teach ‘em Anaconda. They won’t have a chance.

Q&A with Charlotte

Charlotte: always ready for action.

Charlotte: always ready for action.

Taking my cue from Esquire magazine’s “What I’ve Learned” feature, I give you this…

CHARLOTTE REDE | SPITFIRE, 2 YEARS OLD, PORTLAND, OREGON |
Interviewed by George Rede | Photographs by Lori and George Rede

It’s been about three months or so since Lori and George adopted me. They took me in on a “fostering” basis but was there any doubt? I mean, really, look at this face. Who wouldn’t want me in their home?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful. After running the streets for so long, and doing it for a time with my kid, I really appreciate the domestic life. Regular feedings of kibble, countless snacks, rec time and, best of all, a big pillow in front of the faux fireplace. Heaven.

The biggest adjustment? Well, as you can imagine, I was used to doing what I wanted whenever I wanted. Know what I’m sayin’ ? Now, I only go outdoors when they say so – whenever I’m about to pee myself or, if they’re thinking ahead, before it gets to that point. I’d rather run free but, hey, I can put up with the leash and harness.

It’s a pink harness, if you need to know. George calls it my “bra.” Whatever.

People see it on me, they assume correctly that I’m female. And they assume I’m docile and approachable. Which I am, mostly.

Big pillow in front of the fireplace: Heaven

Big pillow in front of the fireplace: Heaven

I don’t like other dogs. There, I’ve said it. There’s a lot of woofin’ going on in the neighborhood but if you’d been through what I’ve been through – basically survival mode for more months than I care to remember – you might have a chip on your shoulder, too.

My kid? Honestly, I don’t know. That’s a terrible thing for a mother to say, but we were separated at some point between our being picked up by the county animal shelter and sent to The Pixie Project, the nonprofit organization that placed me with the Redes. I can only assume my puppy was fostered and adopted, too. I really wasn’t ready to be a mother. Too young.

Yes, I took a behavior class at the Humane Society. It was for beginners. My buddy, Templeton, was there. She’s also an adoptee. Belongs to Simone and Kyndall. She’s pretty chill. But like I say, I’m not much into other dogs, so I wound up getting one-on-one time after the class was done. And you’ll be pleased to know I did get a diploma.

Otto is the bomb. I gotta say, he is the best brother I could ask for. Lets me jump all over him in the morning. You know, give him a wake-up call. Nip at his ankles. Bite him on the neck. Beat him at tug-of-war with the play toys. Sucker doesn’t have a chance cuz I’m so much quicker. But, like I say, he’s the best.

Sleepless nights? Oh, so you heard about those, huh? Yeah, I was having a tough time settling down. I felt bad that one or the other of them had to get up at 2 am to walk me, but things are OK now. They got me a soft-fabric kennel, put it up in their bedroom and it works just fine. I like being in the same room when the lights go down. Not that I’m needy or anything.

My motto? Play hard. Sleep hard.

My motto? Play hard. Sleep hard.

How do I describe myself? Energetic. Lively. Fun. I’m all about the fun.

How do others describe me? Oh, I’ve been called lots of things. Feisty. Adorable. Smart. Cute. I think they all fit, don’t you?

Nicknames? George calls me “Carlotta” and, lately, “Bronco.” Lori calls me “Pipsqueaker.” Again, whatever.

Resolutions? Uh, not really. I suppose I should try to behave better on the leash but that’s not gonna happen overnight. It just isn’t.

The best thing about living with the Redes? They really do like me. No, it’s stronger than that. They love me. I’m glad they’ve given me a chance to get off the streets and into a stable home. I don’t take it for granted.

Read a previous interview with Otto (“The fourth child”)

 

Faith, Spirituality and Religion: Guest blogger

Gil Rubio: dynamic musician, devoted follower

Gil Rubio: dynamic musician, devoted follower

Editor’s note: Gil Rubio is my cousin, the youngest of three children born to my Aunt Lupe, my godmother and oldest sister of my late mother, Theresa. He is someone I admire for his devotion to family (and by that I mean everyone in the extended Flores family), his musical talent and the goodwill he radiates. Look for more guest bloggers throughout the year.

By Gil Rubio

My friend and co-worker often sneezes at work, to which I promptly reply “Bless you” … to no response.

Silence.

It came up in casual conversation one day that he is agnostic, one who believes it impossible to know if God exists.

“Is that why you don’t say thank you when I say bless you?”

He just looked at me.

I told him that he doesn’t have to believe as I do to accept a blessing from a friend.

What is the harm in the blessing, or saying thank you?

Again he just looked at me.

It’s kind of like the guy who doesn’t wave “thank you” after you let him cut in front of you in heavy traffic. Except, I may not let that guy in again … but I will continue to bless my friend whether he responds or not.

Why do we have such difficulty believing in a Higher Power, a Greater Spiritual Being, a Creator … God.

Is it because we want to believe we can do no wrong?

Or is it because we fear the consequences of being wrong?

If there is no such thing as God, then why has Man throughout the ages had a need to create Him or them?

**

Somehow it makes people nervous and uncomfortable to think of God or Jesus.

Yet we readily believe in Jason or Freddy Krueger who raised from the dead to do evil.

We shy away from mentioning God or Jesus, yet we say “Oh, my God”, and curse using His name. We sing countless popular and famous songs and don’t notice that they not only mention God or Jesus, but are deeply spiritual in their message.

I think the problem lies in confusing Faith, Spirituality and Religion.

Faith is the belief in the unseen.

Religion seeks to explain Faith.

Spirituality is the understanding that some things are sacred and Science seeks to explain the inexplicable.

It is entirely possible to have Faith without Religion, and, as we have seen, it is possible to have Religion without Faith. Religion is man-made, and much like the Laws of the Land, can be well-written and well-intentioned, but it is the people who interpret it and “enforce” it that ruin it. Like the Laws of the Land, Religion needs to change with the times to be relevant to the age we live in.

Faith and Spirituality come from within.

Although my Faith is born of the Catholic Church, I don’t believe in the entire doctrine of the church, but my Foundation of Faith remains.

My Foundation has cracks in it, and yet it supports my “house,” which has seen the furniture changed and rearranged. In fact, I have remodeled my “home” with a different floor plan.

Yet the Foundation of Faith remains the same and is with me always … with or without the church… or the building.

The air is unseen and yet we have Faith that it exists and will be there for us every moment of everyday. We can’t give it away, keep it from someone else, buy it, sell it, put it in our pocket, or even hold it or see it.

Yet we believe in it.

It is Life itself.

Spirituality tells us that Life is Sacred.

It is a gift from God.

Science will explain it with something like the “Big Bang Theory.”

But if we were to keep incessantly asking like a child, “Where did that come from?”…

What would the final answer be?

***

Gil Rubio, far left, leads a bilingual choir at the Catholic Church he has attended since boyhood.

Gil Rubio, far left, leads a bilingual choir at the Catholic Church he has attended since boyhood.

Do we really need to know the answer to everything?

Why is it so hard to believe that God created the World?

Why can’t we believe He created the atom to have a “Big Bang” and develop life as we know it?

To a Supreme Being, maybe 700 Million Years is but 7 Days!

Is it that hard to believe we have been blessed with life, it is sacred and we should be grateful?

Is it really that hard to believe that we should respect and love each other as Brothers and Sisters?

Is it really that hard to believe that we should protect the One Planet we all inhabit?

I know that I’ve been given more chances than I deserve, and for some reason, I’m still here.

I’m not foolish enough to think that I am invincible or that I have tricked fate.

No, instead, my survival has only humbled me to the majesty of The Lord, …The Great Spirit, …The Creator.

How can I be anything but grateful?

I don’t expect anyone to believe the way I do, and I could be totally wrong.

But when I leave this physical plane, with what face would I greet The Lord?

I hope that I can look upon His beautiful face with nothing but gratitude in my heart, rather than hang my head in shame as if I didn’t know.

Because I believe in God and all His gifts and blessings, and that life is sacred …

That is why I wish His blessings on others.

As I write this, my dear sweet cousin has given birth to a baby boy after a difficult labor, and a dear old family friend has passed away…

Even though none of them believe as I do, I know they will all graciously accept my wish for God’s blessing upon them.

Perhaps that is as it should be.

***

Gil Rubio lives in Seaside, California. He is operations manager at a printing business in nearby Monterey.  He teaches 5th grade catechism, serves as an English lector and leads a bilingual choir at the church he grew up in. He is also the leader of Red Beans & Rice, a blues-inspired, New Orleans-influenced band in its 22nd year with 6 CD releases to its credit.

He says: “The loss of many loved ones and the near loss of everything I’ve ever worked for, all in a very short period of time humbled me into reexamining what I believe … and subsequently finding my faith again after many years.”

***

Copyright photograph: Fred Arellano

 

 

One on one with Nathan

Nathan at the Moda Center.

Nathan at the Moda Center.

A day after Christmas, I had an early birthday celebration with Jordan, my youngest son. We went out for burgers and beer, then saw the Blazers crush the Philadelphia 76ers, the team with the worst record in the NBA.

Last night, I had a belated birthday celebration with Nathan, my oldest son. We went to a hipster bar at happy hour, then saw the Blazers squeeze out a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, the glamour team that’s fallen on hard times.

Two father-and-son outings 10 days apart, affording one-on-one time with each of my boys. Good grub, light conversation and pro basketball. What more could I wish for? Other than to do this every month…

Seeing the Lakers with Kobe Bryant is one thing. He is, after all, one of the two biggest stars in the league along with LeBron James.

Seeing the Lakers without Kobe Bryant is another thing entirely. Without him to root against as the visiting villain, you actually feel a little sorry for his overmatched teammates. The Lakers came into the game with 11 wins and 23 losses and with their injured superstar unable to play, they left Portland with their 24th loss.

The Blazers’ two All-Stars carried the team, with Damian Lillard exploding for 39 points and LaMarcus Aldridge chipping in  21. The two scored Portland’s final 24 points as the Blazers pulled out a 98-94 win.

Damian Lillard, left, and LaMarcus Aldridge carry the Blazers to another victory.

Damian Lillard, left, and LaMarcus Aldridge carry the Blazers to another victory.

The game was the icing on the cake, however.

Time with our first-born child was the real treat.

Even though Nathan lives just 10 miles away, we don’t see him as often as you might think. He’s got a lot going on as a café cook and a DJ, and with his girlfriend Sara, he leads a busy social life.

Just last week, he was in Seattle to DJ a ’90s dance night on New Year’s Eve. This weekend, he and Sara are off to Phoenix to spend some time with her parents and sister, joining in a belated Christmas celebration.

The mandatory selfie.

The mandatory selfie.

We talked about our resolutions for the new year, both involving a desire to slow down a little to nurture friendships, and found common ground last night in exercising restraint on our menu choices. No double-patty burgers for us. Just a couple of small salads, shared orders of sliders and a single basket of fries. That was in keeping with another resolution of mine to practice portion control.

Nathan will turn 35 this year. It makes me happy to see him gainfully employed, in a relationship with a woman we love, and to have him living in the same city as us. All the better to enjoy his company on an evening where we could leave work behind and just chill.

Blazers photograph: Bruce Ely, The Oregonian