Mexican Coke and Cultural Difference


If you’ve wondered why I haven’t posted anything in a while it’s because I just got back from a 10 day missions trip in Mexico. It was absolutely amazing!

I used to play the ‘two truths and a lie’ game in elementary school where we had to write down two truths and one lie about yourself and let your partner guess which one was the lie. I always wrote “I’ve been to Mexico,” as my lie because I knew they would think that one had to be true since I’m Mexican! Even though I didn’t speak a word of Spanish and knew almost nothing of Mexican culture it worked every time. Now I can no longer use that for that game.

Before going on this trip I was told how different everything will be when we go there. I was told the food was going to taste better, the people were going to be more holistic; oh and they said the Mexican Coca-Cola—it’s to die for.

I’ve always heard many go on and on about the wonders of Mexican Coke and how much better tasting it is compared to American Coke, for its more ‘natural flavor’. Mexican Coke still uses sugar cane in its recipe while American Coke chose to go the way of high-fructose corn syrup decades ago.

Interestingly, before I left to Mexico I was given a similar impression about the Mexican people. I was told how different their culture is from ours and how Americans tend to compartmentalize while Mexicans have a more holistic approach to spirituality. I understood all this to mean that us corrupt-minded Americans were going to go to Mexico to see what real spirituality was about by interacting with Mexican Christians who may have a better grasp on spirituality and free-flowing ministry. I was given the impression that Mexican Christians are more spiritual in the same way I was told that Mexican Coke tasted more natural.

This missions trip was not about “us flourishing Americans” going down to make Mexicans like us. I think we can all agree that that approach is wrong. However I was afraid that we were teetering on the other extreme of us Americans being the messed up ones going to see how things should really be done.

We mainly helped minister at different churches in Tijuana and Rosarito and the more people I met the more I realized that these people are actually not that different. I talked and joked around with a group of Mexican youth that had learned English and the more we interacted the more similarities I found.

Is it possible that we all struggle with the same large issues, fear the same problems, share the same joys, have the same passions, and seek after the same exact God no matter where we are in the world?

Again and again I found that answer to be YES as the trip progressed.

And I actually tried Mexican Coke. And it wasn’t that different. Of course there are slight differences in taste, but overall it pretty much tasted the same to me.

And as I laughed, ate, prayed and worshipped with people who grew up in a different culture than I did I looked around and realized there aren’t many differences there either.

  • Americans compartmentalize; Mexicans compartmentalize.
  • Americans rival with other churches; Mexicans rival with other churches.
  • Americans lose track of God in their work; Mexicans lose track of God in their work.
  • But Americans also seek to bring this God to the poor and marginalized; Mexicans seek to bring this God to the poor and marginalized.
  • Americans seek church reformation and new methods for a changing culture; Mexicans seek church reformation and new methods for a changing culture.
  • Americans seek to reach out to the growing number of youth who have left the church; and Mexicans seek to reach out to the growing number of youth who have left the church.

Even though we have differences and some Americans may be upset about ‘Americanized corrupted brains’ the same way some are upset about the high fructose corn syrup in American Coke, there’s really not that many differences when you stop looking for them.

As a Mexican who grew up not feeling Mexican I always wondered what the point of my ethnicity was. I don’t speak Spanish, my parents don’t speak Spanish and the majority of my friends are white. It just didn’t make much sense to me.

On the fifth day of the trip I was prayed over by the pastor of the church we stayed at. He told me that it is not an accident that I have ancestors who are Mexican, and that God is giving me a heart for the people of Mexico and the entire Latin American community.

I felt like this was God telling me “I made you who you are for a reason. And it’s bigger than you think so just wait and see what I’m really going to do through you.”

Sounds good to me.

Better Than Magic: The Everyday Revival


There was a point when I was around 7 years old where I loved church because it was the closest thing to magic that I was able to get to. Being forced to not watch anything with magic on TV, I took anything I could get. And if the Jesus was doing the same things that the kid on TV with a wand and a speech in gibberish was doing, then maybe I could get away with this type of magic.

At the time, a man and his wife came to visit our church. As a member of the children’s church, they suddenly started incorporating us with the adults’ services when this happened. We heard something big was happening. We heard the word “revival” all around us but none of us knew what it meant. None of us wanted to be caught clueless though. At that age we all pretended we knew exactly what we were talking about out of fear of being made fun of. So we either talked a lot or hardly spoke. I was one of the ones that hardly spoke.

According to what I was able to perceive, a revival was when everyone in the church was getting “slain in the spirit”. According to my perspective at the time, it would always happen at the end of the service when everyone would start praying and worshiping  Then the elders and leaders and pastors of the church would stand in the front, open for anyone to come and receive prayer. The prayer usually contained countless fighting metaphors and strong terms like “breaking”, “binding”, and “moving”.

Then it happened.

An adult would stand behind you as you were being prayed over, waiting for the moment. As the prayer got louder, the more you shook because you knew what was about to happen to you. Since you saw all the big people doing it as you waited in line to get up there, it was bound to happen. As the prayer reached its climax and he pushed on your forehead, you fell back into the catcher’s arms and were gently laid on the floor. I used to look to the side of me and smile at my friends on the floor around me. I waited a while longer and then ran to the back of the line to get slain again. Why? Because you were cool if you got slain!

I remember talking to my friends in kids’ church and we would go back and forth every week saying, “I got slain four times,” and “I’ve gotten slain seven times!” The more times you were slain, the cooler you were; especially by the guy in the suit who wasn’t even a member of our church. He was a prophet and when he left we all assumed he was off to another church to slay some more kids.

The first definition of ‘slay’ on is “to kill by violence”. With what I was taught, that makes sense because when we were “slain in the spirit” we definitely did feel a part of us die; the part that you were trying to kill but weren’t strong enough to kill before The Revival I guess; the part that lied to my parents and cheated on my homework of course. And so I became a newer and newer person the more I got slain and it gave me the awareness that my sins do not define me; again, according to what I was taught. The “old me” was killed; ‘slain to death’. When the prophet left and my parents confirmed that The Revival was over I inevitably continued lying to my parents and cheating on my homework, as one would do. Because of this, I questioned whether the slaying did any good like I thought it did at the time.

The fourth and informal definition of Slay is “to impress strongly; overwhelm.” Reading the fourth and informal definition makes me remember a lot of moments with my friends and family. If I were to take that definition, then I would say I get slain almost every day.

The Spirit of God is everywhere.

There are times where you can sit and dwell in a moment with your friends and come to the understanding that there is something more going on around you. You feel the overwhelming sense that the connection you found with these people wasn’t formed by coincidence. You sense the deep pulling of souls from one person to another and began to understand that what you’re experiencing isn’t one homosapien having a simple barter of words with another. And you begin to understand slaying.

The realization and recognition of The Spirit that is already constantly trying to work in you is what slaying really is. The more you come to understand everything The Spirit is in, the more slayings you witness.

During these moments, there is something bigger than us happening. A reminder of the most honest truth I’ve come across and it was spoken from the mouth of God: “It is not good for man to be alone.” I know this was said to man before he was given a wife but the instruction given to the man and woman was to be fruitful and multiply. I’m starting to see that the answer to fixing things isn’t trying to fix things on my own. When you try to do things on your own, you’re devolving back to being “alone”.

I can relate with that truth as a person who reverts to isolation when things around me get confusing. With isolation comes affirmation of oneself. With isolation I am able to convince myself that everyone else is the problem and I can justify any wrongdoing I happen to shed.

I believe that is why it is so easy to forget those moments of being slain by The Spirit. When I have no friends around me to encourage me or correct me, I affirm myself. The same thing happens when I don’t allow God to encourage me or correct me. Once The Revival is over and I stop seeing God blatantly in my midst as I smile at my slain friends lying beside me, I revert back to isolation. I revert back to my old self. The one who I thought was ‘slain to death’.

Today this self that I am trying to stray away from isn’t just a little kid who lies to his parents and cheats on his homework anymore. It’s someone who constantly shows himself to be selfish, judgmental, unforgiving, pretentious, and insecure. Of course there are actions and wrongs I commit off these characteristics that I won’t go into but these are what they stem from. Even the most disturbing sins all stem from something. And whether you’re a Christian or not, I know you understand this isn’t a person I should grow as.

If I am simply trying to strictly fix things on my own, I will falsely affirm myself. And if I simply let others affirm me one moment and then revert back to what I hate during the next then I am not living the way I am claiming that I am.

The Spirit shows us that there is something else going on here; an overwhelming sense that you are not alone and that God has come to affirm you even with all your junk. And he created us to live a life free of isolation and full of overwhelming wonder, together. And that is better than magic.

Give me feedback! According to the ‘impress strongly; overwhelm’ definition of slay, when was the last time you felt ‘slain in the Spirit’?

Seeing What We Want To See [Part 4]: The Fourth Wall


I wanted to properly wrap up a blog series I started about a month ago called Seeing What We Want To See: a series about how we use people in our lives as human mirrors, tipping and turning them to reflect what we want to see so that we don’t have to face up to ourselves.

Read the past posts here:

Seeing What We Want To See [Part 1]: White Rabbit

Seeing What We Want To See [Part 2]: Summer Finn

Seeing What We Want To See [Part 3]: Biblical Heroes

The American version of the TV Show, The Office is in its 9th and final season and lately they’ve been really playing with the documentary format that they use to film in a very different way than they ever have.

In the previous episode entitled Promos the characters are elated to find that promos for their upcoming documentary that this film crew has been working on for nine years are finally starting to premiere on youtube. However, as they watch more clips they discover that the film crew had been filming them even when they had no idea they were filming. Even when they turned off their microphone packs and snuck away, the film crew still captured it for the show that was about to air for the world to see. The moment they realized their lives weren’t as private as they thought they had been for the last decade they turn to the film crew with horrified looks (as you see in the picture above).

Since The Office is filmed documentary style it has always broken the fourth wall in every single episode. ‘The fourth wall’ is originally a theater term referring to the imaginary barrier between the characters and the audience. When the character directly addresses or speaks to the audience in a play, movie TV Show, etc. it is referred to as ‘breaking the fourth wall’.

What’s interesting and sometimes pretty uncomfortable about these moments is the fictional story we cast ourselves into is disrupted and we are forced to question the reality of it all. We are forced to either a.) Break the fiction of the story and explain that the character shifted into his actor self, or b.) We do something even more uncomfortable and become fictional characters with them, in order for the illusion of the story to continue.

These characters in the Office constantly broke the fourth wall in their talking head interviews in every episode spilling their dirtiest secrets and personal stories, unaware that they would one day be exposed to the world. Suddenly this fourth wall has become somewhat of the antagonist.

This whole time they had treated this fourth wall as sort of mirror that they can use as an outlet to confront their problems. These characters had constant issues with each other throughout the entire show but hardly ever confronted one another on them. They always confessed views of a person to the fourth wall instead.

Now the fourth wall has suddenly been exposed as a global audience for these characters and they are in deep trouble. Now these people have to confront their issues and their secrets from their past. They have quickly learned that what they thought were forgotten dirty secrets will be now be unearthed as a cause of trying to bury them.

But we all have dirty secrets that we hope will never be unveiled and secret hatred for people we are too afraid to confront on issues that bother us. All we want to do is run away from these issues of ours so a lot of us seem to think the solution is to bury them and run away. But I’ve seen time and time again that the act of stuffing things away and attempting to run is the very thing that causes these deep and dark issues to weigh us down. I believe the best thing to do is the most painful thing to do, and that is confronting them.

Just like in the lives of these characters I believe the proper move is to not only break the fourth wall by admitting it is there but break it by embracing it, confronting it and stepping right through it, therefore destroying the imaginary barrier we put up between us and our problems.

We see Alfonso Ribeiro’s character Carlton Banks do this in the end of an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which was filmed in front a live studio audience. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air usually tended to play with the rules of breaking the fourth wall with Will Smith’s classic looks to the camera and clever one-liners at times, but in this scene Carlton completely destroys the fourth wall by running all around the set, exposing the story as fiction and then running off stage and into the audience. I’ve always liked this scene for some reason. I think it’s because of how free Carlton seemed to be even though he was freaking out the whole time. Watch the clip HERE! (The uploader disabled embedding.)

Skip to 1:12 if you don’t want to watch the build up to the scene.

Even though we don’t see Carlton find out Will was just playing a joke on him this resolution is just fine because by Alfonso Ribeiro destroying the fourth wall the character, Carlton’s problem is destroyed as well. And how does he destroy it? He runs straight through it.

And that’s been the point of this whole series. We need to stop treating people as human mirrors and putting expectations on them that will never be met. And as Jeff from Community puts it “We can’t keep going to each other until we learn to go to ourselves.” So let’s stop burying our issues under false images of security and let’s stop trying to run away from our problems. Let’s destroy the fourth wall and destroy the unjust expectations we put on others and try to learn how to love ourselves first; even with all our junk.

My hope in breaking these mirrors we create is to find ourselves underneath them. You are imperfect. We all are. And that’s why you’re lovely. So instead of trying to fake a persona trying to force ourselves into, let’s strip away all these expectations. Even if we’re exposed as flawed and broken that’s okay, because now you can grow from that.