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January 3rd, 2014

Back in December of 2003, about a month before I travelled to South Africa to work in schools as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years, I found myself watching Malcolm X…, Spike Lee’s fantastic 3-hour biopic on the civil rights leader. Much to my surprise, the end of the film cut from a scene in an American classroom with a teacher and her students to a classroom in South Africa, filled with young learners, and helmed by none other than (former at the time of my viewing, future at the time of the film’s original 1992 release date,) President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. I was a little shocked to see this great man standing in the middle of a classroom that looked nearly identical to ones I would be spending

January 2nd, 2014

“I’m no beauty. I’m no genius. I can’t sing. I can’t dance,” Marcia Wallace said years ago at a speaking engagement in Indiana, “But, it was clear to me early on that I had a couple of things that have held me in very good stead as I have approached life’s challenges, that is tenacity… and a sense of humor.”
Bellowing that unforgettable “Ha!” trademarked in both of her major character roles, this self-possessed, big-haired and big-eyed wag proudly sprung from Creston, Iowa, taught us to believe in the healing and motivating power of laughter.
She celebrated an enduring career in television that spanned more than 60 years and bravely…

January 1st, 2014

Music has always been an integral part of my life. My brother, father and I all sing. Growing up, my parents had me listening to everyone from Queen to Frank Sinatra. I have been lucky to have so much laughter, joy and music in my life. When the television show Glee premiered in 2009, I was intrigued by the characters, the comedy and, of course, the music. Cory Monteith played Finn Hudson on the show, a football player who was goofy and gullible. He was so genuine and sang with such power, that you often forgot his many shortcomings. His love interest on the show, Rachel Berry, played by Lea Michelle, was Cory’s real life girlfriend.
In the tribute episode to Cory, it is not Rachel you see but Lea, distraught over the loss…

December 31st, 2013

Crush-worthy actors are everywhere to be seen in Southern California, where I live and work in the entertainment industry. Let’s be real: The guys out here with “boy next door” good looks tend to be much more attractive than most people’s next-door neighbors! That was certainly true of the late Paul Walker, best known for starring in the Fast & Furious films.
Don’t forget he also played a succession of studs in fan faves like The Young and the Restless, Pleasantville, Varsity Blues and Joy Ride. Walker’s classic movie-idol perfection came complete with surfer blond hair, cerulean blue eyes, and a gregarious smile that conveyed both sexiness and likability. Before he died, the 40-year-old…

December 27th, 2013

“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”… (Mark 10:15)
It is often said that children are closest to God; that through their wonder at the world, care for others and genuine joy, we are reminded of the way God wants us to view His creation and treat each other. For many of us, the movies and television we watched when we were little can be a powerful gateway back to our own childhood — things like Sesame Street and The Muppets in particular have the power to bring us back to the way we saw the world back then. Muppets of all kinds are more than pervasive in my home— from summer trips to Sesame Place with my 7-year-old little sister (and my 14-year-old little

December 27th, 2013

Many figures in pop culture are simply blips on our radar — people we acknowledge for a moment and then forget about. A select few, however, rise above the rest and take on the status of heroes. For me, Roger Ebert is in the latter category.
I discovered Ebert as an impressionable 10-year-old, already dazzled by the magic of the movies. Watching him debate the merits of new films with his partner, Richard Roeper, on “Ebert & Roeper,” I gained a deeper understanding of how movies were made and how to think critically about them.
With the advent of YouTube, I was able to watch classic clips of Ebert and his original foil, Gene Siskel, discussing the movies of the 1980s and 1990s. This enabled me to discover…

January 10th, 2013

“It’s hard for men to be friends with attractive women,” he said. I wondered if I qualified as “attractive.” In that moment, sitting across from him at a cafe, I decided to let go of my high school beliefs and declare myself as such. Now I could personally relate to what he was saying.
He continued on explaining that when a man is “just friends” with an attractive woman people — himself included — wonder why he wouldn’t want something more with her. And there it was again. The age-old debate (well, for single thirty-somethings) of “Can men and women be friends?”
Up until nine months ago, the answer to that question was a definitive “No”…

January 9th, 2013

If I ascend to the heavens,
you are there.
If I fly with the wings of the dawn
and alight beyond the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand hold me fast.
Psalm 139: 8a-10…
In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. At a press conference on the eve of her historic flight, reporters asked her what effect space travel would have on her reproductive organs and whether she was prone to weeping when things didn’t go according to plan. I find it difficult (OK, actually incredibly amusing) to imagine the same questions being posed to Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin. Ride handled these questions — the content of which ranged from insultingly silly to profoundly sexist — with grace,

January 7th, 2013

Anyone who was in college in the 90s remembers the powder keg that was the Los Angeles riots. Sparked by the acquittal of police officers who brutally beat Rodney King, Los Angeles saw some of the worst violence that we could imagine.
And one voice rose above the violence that day. It wasn’t a president or a pope calling for peace, but rather it was the man who had been beaten within an inch of his life, the one man who was wronged by the jury’s decision that day — Rodney King.
“Can we all get along?” King said after watching the violence erupt. He was a black man, victimized by white cops, who now stood up for white people who were being attacked simply for being white and being in the wrong area of Los Angeles at…

January 5th, 2013

When I was younger, the worst day of the summer was invariably the day that the required reading list came in the mail. I had just finished school, so why were my teachers giving me more work?! It was so demanding too — not one, not two, but five books. In my opinion, that was a lot to ask of an 11-year-old. It also did not help that I hated reading. I would always choose to read the smaller books with the big… fonts during those tough middle school summers.
With high school came an entirely different literary experience. I was very lucky. My English teachers were terrific. They exposed me to classic works that took me by the hand, and I was entirely engaged. I went on a literary journey that started in Verona, Italy, and

January 3rd, 2013

I’m hurtling down New York City’s West Side Highway, being driven to high school. A very cool song with a very cool drum intro starts to play. I’d heard it before, but this time everything is different. I hear it anew because just a few weeks prior to that moment I had received a trap drum kit and a video from the Dave Weckl “Back To Basics” series as a gift from my parents, and I’d begun to teach myself how to play drums.
When I get home that day, I dig out the Dave Brubeck LP Time Out… from my parents’ vinyl collection and listen to “Take Five.” My mother, a singer and lifelong musician herself, asks me if perhaps I’m biting off a little more than I can chew. She knows the technical complexity of this

January 1st, 2013

She was the beauty that was once revered for having the most beautiful voice in the world, garnering such an impressive array of recognition for her talents that she held the Guinness Book of World Records title for most awarded female act of all time in 2009. While the social legacy of Whitney Houston is still under construction as the entire world wrestles with the tension of the troubled and struggling woman who sang the songs of our lives and touched millions of hearts, my mind is made up.
Whitney Houston’s remade version of “The Greatest Love of All” hit the charts in 1986, the year I graduated high school. Though it wasn’t the song our school choir sang, it was the “unofficial official” theme song of…

December 30th, 2012

Three years ago, I spent my pastoral year of seminary training in Austin, Texas. At the same time a certain MTV program about my home state came on the air: Jersey Shore. For the next few months, parishioners peppered me with questions about the likes of JWoww, Snooki and The Situation as if I knew them. But just as I began to get indignant about the unfair prejudices lobbed against my beloved Garden State, I realized that I too had my own …television-influenced biases regarding the Lone Star State. Up until that point, everything I knew about Texas I learned from J. R. Ewing.
There are overlaps between these characters from our respective home states. They were the center of attention for American TV viewers, and they

December 28th, 2012

This is not the article that I intended to write. I was putting the finishing touches on the first draft while watching my 3-year-old niece emphatically demonstrate her defiant hold on “terrible-twoness” when my cell phone alerted me to the news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Turning on the TV, my shock moved from horror to sadness to fear to anger and round again within minutes. I instinctively picked up my niece and hugged her despite her loud protests. She was not just being my niece whose moodiness I’d gladly prefer to nothing at all; she was also a representation of every child who perished in that massacre and all our babies who have fallen innocently out of our hands.…

December 26th, 2012

To the world, he was known as “Macho” Camacho, but to my family, he was Héctor Camacho, just another member of the Camacho clan.
Héctor “Macho” Camacho was a Puerto Rican professional boxer with a career spanning more than 30 years. In the 80s and 90s, he held championships in super featherweight, lightweight and junior welterweight divisions — the first boxer to be recognized as a septuple champion. His finesse and bravado in the ring were what made him unique; he was a spectacle in his own right.
Héctor Camacho was not only a boxer, but also a prominent personality. In the Puerto Rican community, especially, Camacho was an icon. He appeared on Spanish language television…

January 1st, 2012
(1915-2011)

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Lately I’ve been thinking about the Beatitudes, as well as the Corporal Works of Mercy, thinking that if I could just grasp and follow these fundamentals of the faith, I could actually live the Christian life and truly do what Jesus asks of us. It should be simple enough to care for those less fortunate, but it always seems so difficult when you get down to the practicalities of it: I work 40 hours a week, my commute to and from work takes a lot of time, I need to keep up my social life, friend and family time, my movie watching, and I should probably try and fit exercise somewhere in there — so where’s the time to try to take

December 31st, 2011
(1942 – 2011)

When Clarence Clemons joined the E Street Band in October 1972, I was six months old. He was just beginning his musical partnership in a New Jersey shore town that was recovering from a race riot that had destroyed the city and I was just beginning my life in a suburban New Jersey town 60 miles away, whose last major disturbance was the arrival of George Washington’s troops at Jockey Hollow. For the most part, the major shocks of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s were settling down into a very long hangover in which the following generations — mine included — would have to learn how to bridge the divides and the injustices of the past by simply learning how to live with one another.
But growing up…

December 30th, 2011

For most of the public history of alcoholism and drug addiction all the way back to Noah, the general impression has been that it is something that happens to men. Women might have gotten “in trouble” with prescription drugs or white wine, but it was men who were drunks. Men were sent to prison; women were sent to mental hospitals. Of course women were drinking and drugging and some of them were getting in serious trouble, just like men. But mostly it was happening behind closed doors. It just wasn’t proper.
In a groundbreaking 1954 article in Good Housekeeping…, “Letter To A Woman Alcoholic,” writer Margaret Lee Runbeck appealed to female readers who were struggling with addiction

December 28th, 2011
(1955-2011)

Steve Jobs was never a corporate man. The early personal computer industry was an outgrowth of the radical back-to-the-land ethos and even the name “Apple” was intentionally folksy and home-brewed. For Jobs, the personal computer wasn’t a way to bring work home or improve the productivity and accountability of employees. His goal was always computer as appliance, computer as an empowering tool for regular people. He pointed to Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog…, which I grew up poring through, as a key inspiration. The story of Apple’s products is a story of getting closer and closer to that vision. The infamous 1984 Superbowl ad set up Apple as the opposite of IBM’s (Microsoft’s)

December 27th, 2011
(1932-2011)

Could there have been anyone more gorgeous, more sumptuous, and more glamorous to a girl growing up in the ‘50s and 60s than Elizabeth Taylor, or “Liz,” as we called her? The very shortening of her name to “Liz” is a clue to how we took her to our hearts. She wasn’t distant or far away; she was approachable, loveable. From the fresh young girl with the impossible violet eyes in National Velvet, to the sultry woman attired only in a slip in Butterfield 8, to the raucous and angry wife in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf…, Liz never played it safe. She took risks.
Her wide-eyed stare into the loving eye of the camera did not just spell out her beauty; it announced, “I am who I am —

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