Sunday, April 24, 2005

Mama mia, Godfather II

It had been so long I forgot most of the film. So I took advantage of an off Sunday (Diana and Judah joined Jo to drive Willie and Amber back to Massachusetts this morning) and watched Godfather II (after church, go figure) this afternoon. My feelings about this movie are almost exactly the opposite as Motorcycle Diaries (see below). As a movie, incredible. It's amazing how fast 3 and a half hours can go when a film (even a fairly slow paced one) is so well-made. But to watch such a brilliant character as Michael Corleone self-destruct from greed and ruthless ambition is ridiculously depressing.

Motorcycle Diaries

I finally got around to watching Motorcyle Diaries this weekend, after anticipating it since last summer. On the whole, I was disappointed with the movie, as a movie, because of a pace that d-r-a-g-g-e-d at parts, and the inclusion of too many "roadtrip" cliches. But the point of the film I loved, even though Ernesto "Che" Guevara the man, on whose memoirs the film is based, is a controversial figure to many in our country.

Politicized Che is referenced only briefly in postscripts at the end of the film, which instead focuses on a six-month exploration of Latin America by 23-year-old Che and his friend Alberto Granado. Along the way, they experience the universality of suffering, the capacity of injustice to transcend national borders, and the truth of Christ's words: "The poor will always be with you." The journey changes them, heigtening their sensitivities to the marginalized and dispossessed, and calling them to action. One scene in particular stands out. During a visit to a leper cololony in Peru's Amazon region, the presiding doctor requested that Che and Alberto wear plastic gloves according to custom. Che confirmed that leprosy was not contagious by touch, then refused to wear the gloves and instead greeted lepers with a gloveless handshake. He was similarly insulted that the colony's medical staff segregated themselved on one side of the river, while the patients lived on the other. His last night in the village, he swam across the river, over the objections of Alberto and the staff, to celebrate his birthday with the lepers. Che has become an icon whose face adorns t-shirts and coffee mugs and computer screens to the collective dismay of those who despise communism and Fidel Castro's reign of terror. But to attribute Che's enduring legacy to his role as Comandante in Cuba's communist revolt, or as a political agitator elsewhere in Latin America, is to miss the point and oversimplify the person. The icon that is 21st century Che is neither political nor ideological. Che's legacy endures because he gave his life for the idea that those Christ called "the least of these" have dignity worth fighting to protect and preserve. Christ said loving them means loving Him; serving them means serving Him; touching them, even when their bodies have been disfigured by leprosy, means touching Him. That's a revolution worth dying for. Consider the following, plublished by Time when it called Che one of the 100 great heroes of the 20th century:

Even though I have come to be wary of dead heroes and the overwhelming burden their martyrdom imposes on the living, I will allow myself a prophecy. Or maybe it is a warning. More than 3 billion human beings on this planet right now live on less than $2 a day. And every day that breaks, 40,000 children — more than one every second! — succumb to diseases linked to chronic hunger. They are there, always there, the terrifying conditions of injustice and inequality that led Che many decades ago to start his journey toward that bullet and that photo awaiting him in Bolivia. (Time 100, Heroes and Icons: Che Guevara, by Ariel Dorfman)

This message and the images inspired by it are timeless.

Someone has an agenda

"Porn is just another form of entertainment now." At least, that's what the L.A. Times apparently would have you believe. Check out this sobering article Rudy references about S-E-X.

Friday, April 22, 2005

From our friends at the Coalition re. Billy Graham

62 days until the Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade (June 24-26). 63 days until Get Real concert (June 25). ... If 5 million young people in the tri-state area are truly going to have a credible opportunity to experience God's anointing through Billy Graham, we need to spread the word. Please forward this email to anyone you know with an interest in youth ministry. Action Items

- Christian Life and Witness Courses begin in 27 locations around Greater New York on MONDAY! Bring your students. For location and schedule, go here. - Preview the Get Real artwork and show it to your students.

- Consider how many Get Real invitations your ministry is going to need. Instructions here.

- For more on what the Get Real invitations consist of, go here.

For the most current information, check out the Coalition's blog.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


[This post represents the first ever poll at this blog.]
Please reply Yes/No (plus or minus any comments).

Are evangelicals/charismatics overloaded on conferences?

[BIAS ALERT -- If you want to avoid any undue influence in how you reply to the question, stop reading now, submit your reply, then proceed with the rest of the post.] I'm all for teaching, education, and training (and in fact do a fair amount of it myself), which conferences theoretically promote. But in practice, many of the Christian conferences I've experienced seem like the spiritual equivalent of all you can eat buffets. They're great places for engorging oneself on comfort food. But they hardly promote a lean and fit spiritual lifestyle. We need more boot camp style learning environments where we get the information, but are forced to practice it till we puke (pardon the crassness) so we know that we know how to apply it in everyday lives. That's why I love Matt's Chain Reaction experiences so much (without the crassness).
Bonus poll question (Yes/No):
Would you consider participating in an experiential and relational-based learning "anti-conference"?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Preview Get Real artwork

Meet the Get Real characters here. Preview the playbill here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Judah broke wood today ...

with one punch at his tae kwon do class ... after just 7 classes. He's only four! Kids his age aren't supposed to do that.

Let's get viral

What do Hush Puppies shoes and declining crime in East New York have in common? More importantly, why should we care? According to Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, they're both "textbook examples of epidemics in action," and epidemics are what make "the unexpected become expected, where radical change is more than a possibility .... a certainty." As one passionate for revolution, I'm digging this so far. In the early 90s, Hush Puppies went from a fashion dinosaur to fashion forward apparently overnight, while crime in East New York dropped precipitously to record-low levels. In both instances, Gladwell argues, ideas -- that Hush Puppies were somehow cool again and that crime was bad -- spread virally after "infecting" a critical mass of people. Ideas that change the world (and products and messages and behaviors, for that matter) "spread just like viruses do," Gladwell contends. They are contagious; embrace the power of exponential growth; and welcome sudden, dramatic change. They function according to three principles he calls the "Law of the Few," the "Stickiness Factor," and the "Power of Context." I didn't intend to write a book review here (and my wife is telling me she needs the computer anyway, so it's about time for me to log off), but rather to say simply that Tipping Point is an immensely provocative read (and I'm only through the introduction and first chapter). Thanks, Matt, for giving me a copy.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Primal prayer

"How are you?" I said, not really expecting a reply. All my neighbor Morris ever did was grunt at me.
From "Loving New Yorkers Through Prayer," by Diana's uncle, Roger McPhail, in Decision magazine here.


Today is bittersweet for the Vecchione clan. Nonna is being released from the hospital after surviving several life scares last week -- the good news. But she returns home with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis and the textbook prognosis of 0-6 months to live. The impact of the news gripped me last Thursday. Hearing the MercyMe song "I Can only Imagine" at a highway rest stop of all places, I was inspired to play it in my car. Those lyrics at this time made me all weepy.

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all I can only imagine ...

It's not that Nonna isn't prepared to go. She's lived a remarkably full life, was vibrant and healthy past her eightieth birthday, and loves God passionately. Still the news is sudden, and the deterioration in the last two weeks has been so rapid. Plus, for me, she's one of the few living links to my own grandparents. Both of my mom's parents, Simon and Helen Vikse, died when I was very young. My grandmother passed away on a day she was supposed to babysit me. In fact, my understanding is she was returning home from buying me Dunkin Donuts when she pulled the car over before suffering a fatal stroke. I answered the knock on the door when the police officer came to deliver the news to my uncle. My grandfather passed on shortly after my fifth birthday, so I have just a few memories of him. But Nonna helped keep those memories vivid, not just because of her age, or the fact that she knew them. What made their relationship so special is the fact that my grandfather introduced Nonna and her descendants, one of whom I married, to Christ. In the early seventies, before the era of televangelists, Simon Vikse was one of a group of Full Gospel Business Men who sponsored what was, at the time, a radically progressive form of outreach -- an evangelistic television show that aired at midnight on Saturdays. Among the regular viewers was a disillusioned Brooklyn matriarch. After watching religiously for several weeks, Giovanina finally called the number at the bottom of the screen. The prayer counselor who answered the phone was Simon Vikse. He referred her to a church in her neighborhood, but when she realized he lived in the city, she only wanted to go to his church. She attended the following Sunday with her three daughters, including my future mother-in-law, and all four received Jesus that afternoon. For nearly a decade Simon discipled Jennie and her husband Richard, who received Jesus a few months after his wife. While we're praying for a miracle, it seems likely that Jennie will be reunited with her husband and my grandparents very soon. "Surrounded by His glory ... I can only imagine ..."

Monday, April 11, 2005

Please pray for Nonna

It was just a month and a half ago that we celebrated Diana's grandmother's 80th birthday with a surprise party (pics here). A few days before Easter, Nonna began feeling ill, and she visited her doctor a couple of days after the holiday. The doctor found evidence of a possible mass on her liver. Last week he admitted her to the hospital for a series of additional tests including a biopsy. This morning, Nonna's physical condition deteriorated rapidly to the point where she had a seizure and began drifting in and out of consciousness. Preliminary biopsy results confirmed that the mass is cancerous, and also show evidence of multiple tumors in her liver, pancreas, and possibly elsewhere as well. Her condition was stabilized as of this evening, but she is scheduled for additional tests tomorrow and Wednesday. Please pray.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Race baiter?

Check out Rudy's reflections, and the comments that follow, on race relations at a Christian college. Looks like we're still "Losing Races."

Why not fruit salad?

A youth ministry friend of mine has become something of a muse for me recently. He inspired this article last month, and now this post after a series of emails about the nature of partnerships. He made a great point about how difficult it is to prioritize working with groups whose missions contrast with our own as "apples and oranges." He got me thinking ... What if Kingdom ministry is like fruit salad? Not something one eats every day (even fruit salad could get redundant), but perfect for special occassions? Like summer barbeques and family picnics? Or to borrow Paul's metaphor, why shouldn't different members of the same body function in concert once in a while?

His dreams are golden

Ronnell McFadden, 19, won the silver medal (178 Pound-Novicee division) at last night's Golden Gloves boxing championships at Madison Square Garden. Ronnell attends Infinity New York church, pastored by my ministry partner and friend, Dimas Salaberrios.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Martial Arts Boy

Brute strength (and charm, brilliance, and spiritual maturity) is not enough. Judah's now studying tae kwon do to add quickness and agility to his repertoire. Check out photos of our martial artist son here.

Biopsy today

Please pray for 4-year old Samuel C. Originally diagnosed with leukemia in July, it went into remission in August. Now, after several weeks of poor blood levels, he's going in for another biopsy today.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

R.I.P. Holy Father

Three things have struck me about the passing of Pope John Paul II on Saturday. First, the extraordinary love Catholics and nonCatholics worldwide feel for this man. The concensus of those he touched on a personal level seems to be that he genuinely cared about them and wasn't afraid to meet them on their terms. This authenticity came through and attracted millions to him as a "Father," not just a figurehead. Second, the centrality of Christ to his life. Say what you want about theological disagreements between Protestants and Catholics, one thing on which we can agree with this Pope: Jesus Christ alone provides meaning and redeems man through His death, burial, and resurrection. Third, his legacy will endure because young people mattered to him. By all accounts, the Pope connected with youth in unprecedented ways, igniting a return to faith in generations to come because he made them a priority. He followed his own advice and was not afraid to break conventions to reach them. Rest in peace, John Paul the Great.

I'm still a sucker ...

... for "One Shining Moment," CBS Sports' annual tribute to college basketball's March Madness. The drama. Energy. Emotion. Great job again last night. And that Luther Vandross sure can sing. (Will we ever hear him sing live again? Where is he in his recovery?) As for the game, congratulations, North Carolina, on a classic victory, and Illinois, for living up to your name as fighters. It's not often that we get to enjoy a 1-2 championship matchup, and it's even rarer that the game lives up to the hype, but last night offered both. Thanks.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Their Sox are Red with blood

(And it's not Curt Schilling's!) On opening day of the 2005 baseball season, the Yanks reminded Boston why they lead the championship race 26-1 since 1918. "Let's go, Yankees."

A journey or a destination?

Jesus invited the disciples to, "Come, follow me." He never really said where, just spoke vaguely about the Kingdom of Heaven. God told Abraham to leave Ur and "Go," but, again, refused to say where exactly. Moses followed a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, but after 400 years of Egyptian slavery, no one knew for sure how to actually get to the "Promised Land." What do these and dozens of other Scriptural anecdotes tell us about "salvation"? It's a journey, not a destination. A New Kind of Christian masterfully captures the nature of the trek. (I know. I know, I keep promising more ... maybe this week.)

Much love to The Life Christian Church

What a great weekend! The Life Christian Church hosted my family and me across the river in West Orange, where I had the privilege of preaching at their first ever youth emphasis weekend (and my first opportunity to preach the same general message three times. I have a newfound respect for all you multi-service pastors out there!) A teen rock band ("iWitness") led worship (including original songs Jesus, Just You and Meaningless), an R&B group sang Lovely Day, and a rap group (2 brothers and a Jewish point guard) caused the pastor to shout, "Woop, woop," even though he "hates this kind of music." While the weekend was sure to frighten off a few religious folk, it was a great example of a "new wineskin" approach to enaging unchurched teens on their terms, without compromising the integrity of the message. Further, it was a wonderful opportunity for youth to experience the joy and confidence that comes from living up to the Apostle Paul's charge: "Let no one look down on you because you're young, but be an example to the believer." The message title: "Streams in the Wasteland." Scripture texts: Luke 10:25-28, Romans 12:1-3, and Isaiah 43:1-2, 18-19. If any members of TLCC happen to find this, please accept my gratitude.

To Pastor and Mrs. Smith and the TLCC family: Thank you again for your graciousness and hospitality this weekend. My family and I received your kindness with much love and appreciation and look forward to nurturing our newfound friendships with you. Thanks also to your young people who embraced the challenge of hosting a youth emphasis weekend with such vigor. Despite torrential downpours, power surges, and daylight savings time, they ushered the congregation into the presence of God and prepared the table for His Word to come forth. It was a privilege to be there to support (and hopefully challenge) them. In His Service, Jeremy and Diana