Thursday, May 8, 2014

Culture Shift

Is Facebook becoming irrelevant? The teenagers I have worked with this past year have presented me with a dilemma and it is one of relevancy. Facebook is no longer a teenager's choice of social media. The teenagers I worked with in Maricopa, AZ preferred Instagram and the teenagers I work with here in Peoria prefer Twitter. Both groups expressed that Facebook was not accepted as a main form of communication because their parents, grandparents and even their dogs were on Facebook.  It is a problem of privacy that teenagers are seeking. They don't want to be monitored. What they are saying is they want a place free from adult supervision. They want to be adults and the way they perceive being an adult is to not have an adult in the to speak.  This is not a new idea by any means, this is the nature and essence of being a teenager. Twitter and Instagram might be the new Facebook which was the new MySpace, but the symptoms are still there.

Teenagers have a problem of a split personality. Who they are in person is not who they are in their tweets, posts and hashtags. Even at a Christian school, students don't think they have a reason to influence their peers for Christ and forget that their social media presence is where their integrity starts.  If you wouldn't stand on a microphone in front of your parents, teachers and peers in an assembly and say to them your comment  from the night before then it is no different then when you utter words of shame from your phone for the sake of a laugh from afar.

A real man will say in person what you post online and won't hide behind the facad of digital space as a disguise. Maybe we simply need more positive role models around, not just real ones but invisible ones leading from a distance. It isn't enough to avoid a place of darkness, those of us who are called to minister to teenagers need to be fearless and on the front lines of this smart device, digital, wireless, 4G generation. Maybe when we let them into our daily lives as we retweet God's goodness that we will find it stick in their hearts more then the pain they hide.

This post is for my current and future students, may you find a beacon of hope from a leader who is trying to point the way. I don't want to "monitor" you unless you force me to, I more want you to see the way I live my life and what it looks like to live with a higher calling and purpose. Not that I'm perfect or have it all together but I understand now that you don't just need me in the classroom, you need me on your twitter feed. You need examples and reminders of how to pick yourself back up and continue to move forward even when your mistakes seem too great. I welcome you to follow me and see my life through my own eyes. Through my blogs, posts, tweets and pics come and see the world through my eyes and I hope you find yourself there. After all that is what the obscured path is all about.

Blessings my students and friends,
Mr. Diaz

P.S. Facebook isn't going anywhere just because you left it. I'm sure your children someday will laugh at a thing called a tweet.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Packed and Unsettled

Image by Hans Kylberg
Have you ever felt unsettled?  Either figuratively, literally or even sometimes both?  There are times when you return from vacation and decide not to unpack and a week goes by when you find you are still living out of your suitcase on the ground in your bedroom.  Opposite of this is the other end of your vacation when you have packed up too early and find that you still need your toothbrush the next day but you placed your suitcase in the car at the bottom of a several unnecessary things.  The point here is that in preparation for the journey ahead you sometimes forget that you haven't left yet and there are still some essential items needed for the current circumstances.

Back to the original point about the unpacked suitcase, I wonder if putting it off has something to do with not wanting to be home.  Maybe we don't want to accept the truth of the matter that the vacation is over and it is back to reality.  I won't dismiss the possibility of laziness, but on an existential level it can reveal the attitude of the heart.  Remaining unpacked from a period of packing reveals the desire to not want to stay in the current circumstance.  Likewise, packing too early can reveal this same desire to not want to be in the same time and place. Maybe we just need to be honest about our desire to not stay? 

This idea can be applied to a much larger scale, it has to do with one moving from place to place.  When my family packed up our house and moved from Flagstaff to Phoenix, we sold a large portion of our stuff and put the rest in boxes.  We moved in with my parents and begin the great hunt for the game of work.  We lived out of suitcases for the better part of a couple of months.  Once I landed a job that would provide we started looking for a house to "unpack" and "settle" into.  We realized the timing needed to purchase a house was too long and getting our son settled in school was a higher priority.  Even renting a house was proving time consuming therefore we settled for an apartment that took a total of two hours to sign a lease.

Once we moved in I had this notion that I didn't want to unpack.  I knew deep down, this is not where I wanted to stay.  This job was maybe for a year maybe two but this apartment was not the home we had dreamed of growing into.  Why unpack and settle into a temporary home when we could just as well be repacking the moment we open that last box?  So...we got out the essentials and unpacked the toys and everything else remained in a box.  We were unsettled but hopeful that this was not the final end to our journey.  Looking back I think it was providence that kept us unsettled, a perfect balance of contentment and expectation was the key.  There came a time when a quick decision was needed and we were prepared to not stay where we were.  The state of staying packed and unsettled proved beneficial for this period in our life and allowed us to, when called, respond with great ease.  We now find ourselves in a place that is home, with the house we dream of growing into and where our kids' memories will form.  It is safe now to unpack and safe to settle in, our guard has been dropped and our hearts have been stilled. Thank you Jesus for the perspective you have given my family; that home really is where we make it, so in reality we have been home all along.

the novelty section

My Million Dollar Ideas: The Buffalo Wing Brush (© Matthew J Diaz 2014)

The idea: If you have ever purchased a pair of hair clippers or beard trimmers you usually get a set of accessory items.  One of them is the world's tinniest brush for cleaning the clipper blades.  I'm not sure how much it costs to make these since only one is included, but hopefully there is a cheap way to manufacture these by the hundreds of thousands.

The Restaurant: This idea could be best implemented by creating an entire restaurant devoted to serving buffalo wings and a gazillion dipping sauces.  The catch is that we don't toss our wings in sauce, instead you get an assortment of sauces in a little paper cup (like the ones used for ketchup, the mini ones though) and you coat your own wings.  You take these tiny brushes and lather your own wing up with a sauce with however much or little you want.

-you can have multiple flavors with just a dozen wings
-you control how much sauce you want with each bite
-you won't get your fingers dirty with tossed wings or dipping
-by limiting the number and amount of sauce you can actually conserve it
-you are in control of your own buffalo wing eating destiny

Image above by Hans Kylberg (click name find image source) and the creative commons license info can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

the Spirit's path

Perhaps it is the word that most often creates a feeling of spontaneity.  The very description of it gives the imagery of translucency with an impermanent essence.  It can't be touched, contained or seen.  It can leave as quickly as is comes and its power is immeasurable.  It appears that it can't be predicted and when you follow it you are left to wait.  However there is something misunderstood about the Spirit's movement, it is a fallacy to attribute it's work to a last minute decision.  It is our culture that defines how and what we think about  the Spirit, we read books and see shows about what a thing like that can do.  Perhaps because it has no body, we assume it must only be a feeling.  We can't tell exactly what it does or will do  in the future, therefor we believe we can only sense it through the patterns of our hearts.  These feelings we get we attribute it to the Spirit, and when the feeling is absent so to does our assumption of its presence.  Waiting then becomes a game, a game of a feeling where we wait for the signal that we felt during the previous encounter.  How else can we take commands from an invisible force except with our invisible selves, our emotions and feelings?  It is here that we find the problem, assuming that this is the only part of us that is unseen.
image by Laurel Barickman

There remains the other invisible half of us that the Spirit can use.  Our mind, our will our decisions that guide us. Even when we don't feel like we want to make decisions, deciding not to make it is a decision in itself. We can't escape that there are things that we do that are contrary to our feelings or mood of the day.  This is the part of the Spirit that is missed, we can take commands from it that are separated from our emotions.  We can know what it wants through the revelations it has given us and it is through these devices of scripture and Jesus he most often gives direction.  We can meet with the Spirit at times of great solace but we must not forget it is still there in the silence.  Taking the Spirit's path might not seem clear or set in stone but when you look back it was perfectly and precisely constructed.  More often then not, when faced with obscurity, to stop and go nowhere prevents the Spirit from taking you to a place that is somewhere.  Sometimes the point of the path being unclear is to test if you trust enough to travel only with one step in front of you.

This is where my story begins, now that I have described my method of how and the reason why I must now begin to place some details in writing. The Spirit lead me from a place of security, where my comfort was easy and my calling was complacent.  A thought crept into my mind that maybe through venturing to the unknown and placing myself on a path of uncertainty that I would come to a place where I would be refined by fire.  A feeling of unrest was the first of the Spirit's calling to align with him on a new path for my life.  I began to look around me and observe the place I was in and the main problem I saw was that I had nothing to compare my experience to.  The Spirit's unrest was one of a need for greater understanding.   With this thought my family began a new journey that would require us to leave our location and vocation in order to move by faith to a place of growth.

the novelty section

Recipe of the day: The Pizzatilla

This is an ancient family recipe created in our childhood and is still used even to this day.  I believe we have my step-dad to thank or maybe one of the sisters I am not certain. Either way, I can live off of this staple diet.

Ingredients: Two large tortillas, pizza sauce (or a tomato based spaghetti sauce), Colby-Jack cheese (or any cheese you like on pizza) and pepperoni slices.

Step 1: spread the pizza sauce across the tortilla as if it were pizza dough.
Step 2: spread the cheese to cover the pizza sauce
Step 3: spread pepperoni slices over the cheese
Step 4: place your second tortilla over the top of the ingredients

Cooking Instructions:

Place a large enough pan for the size of your tortilla on your stove top and place the heat on medium.  After it has preheated for 5 minutes, carefully place the pizzatilla in the pan as to not loose any of the ingredients in the middle.  After 5 minutes, check the bottom for that magical golden brown coating, if complete, turn the pizzatilla over with a spatula in one quick motion (If the ingredients have not had time to start melting, they might fly out during the flipping action).  Once it has been turned over, cover the stove with a lid as to finalize the melting process of the oooey gooey cheese.  After another 5 minutes, check to see if the second size has become golden brown.  Remove from stove, let cool for a couple minutes and use a pizza slicer to cut the pizzatilla into 8 perfect slices (Feeds 1 person, or 1/2 person, if said person is hungry for more).

image credits: Laurel Barickman (Click name for link)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hannah's Path

This Saturday it will be three months since my sister made it to the arms of her savior.  This is a transcript of my opening message at her funeral service...may it both bless you and challenge you!

November 22, 2013:

Thank you for coming, on behalf of my brother and sisters, and my mom and step dad, Hannah's dad...we cannot express how much it means to us and to Hannah. Hannah's deepest desire was to not just make an impact but to be noticed and accepted by all of us and we are doing that today.

We want this time to be honoring of Hannah and in order to do that it took the creativity of the six of us left to match the creativity of her.

You will hear from my sisters, Alex, dad and Pastor Tim, who you will see why, was Hannah's favorite pastor to date.   Each of us wants to describe Hannah for you and paint a picture of what her life was about and what she stood for.

In order to begin this time I need to explain to you Hannah's theology and how it has changed over the years. Theology is the study of God and his relations to the world.   Simply put, it is our beliefs about God.

You might be like Hannah 5 or so years ago...her belief about God is that he sent Jesus to fix her.   Jesus, her savior, was sent to be this magical pill that if she took it...her life would be perfect.

Hannah found out over the years that Jesus wasn't fixing her pain. In fact this might be preventing many of you from believing in Jesus today because you feel like God abandoned you and didn't fix the problems in your life.

Her theology then changed to the merit system. That maybe she needed to earn Jesus' healing grace. 

Maybe all she had to do was worship him enough...pray enough...go on enough trips and be at church every Sunday for Jesus to take her pain away.  

Hannah found out that you could not earn Jesus fixing you.   Many of you are still trying to earn Jesus fixing you.   You believe that if you do these things and follow these rules that Jesus will bless you and take your pain away.

She then came back to Arizona and began the final transformation of her theology.   A thought crept into her life...maybe Jesus is not supposed to fix me. Maybe it's not about being perfect in this life but what you do in spite of your imperfection.

It reminds me what Jesus said in the book of John, "In this world you will have troubles, but take heart I have overcome the world." If I could paraphrase this for Hannah, in this world you will have pain...but Jesus has overcome the world...meaning the pain in the world doesn't win in the end...but you have to endure the pain until you get to the end.

Jesus then became her aim, her journey, her great adventure in life. Jesus was at the end of a road she traveled and no matter how many times she fell, tripped, stopped or went the other way...all she needed to do was keep walking toward Jesus. The goal was not to be made perfect the goal was the journey and Jesus was walking along side her.

This was shown in her life by her love for the outcast and her love for children in this past year here at Cornerstone.  It is this theology that I believe is the most important lesson Hannah can teach us here today.  

If you don't believe in Jesus because he

hasn't fixed you or you believe in Jesus but are trying to earn his grace let Hannah correct your theology...Jesus is the journey and the destination and all you have to do is to start walking.

Hannah, even when the world was against you, with your heart aching and your mind in kept walking toward Jesus and now you have made it...into the arms of your savior.

You have fought the good fight...your have run the race...your have kept the faith...your theology....May we be as bold and fearless as just keep walking.

Or if you are a just keep swimming...just keep swimming...just keep swimming swimming swimming.

Let's pray!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

deconstructing and exegeting: part two of two


How do you know the true meaning of a book?  If someone told you they read the first chapter and proceeded to give you its value, would you believe them? It is of little use to pull a sentence from a hat and say the piece of literature I have here means the whole work is debunked.  Our society tends to take sentences out of context, whether it is tabloids, the news or the latest Gallup poll released.  It is within the same realm of stereotypes and prejudices.  What is meant by this is that we have the tendency to find the quickest answer, the easiest explanation or the most efficient way to catalog information in our brain.  Stereotypes or not always inaccurate, it is when they bleed into our actions that a prejudice results.  It is the same with taking something from literature out of context.  The true meaning is missed and an opportunity lost.  That small fragment might be useful for simple compartmentalizing in one's thoughts; but there is so much more to be gleaned when the fragment is restored with the whole.  Exegesis is the process theologians and biblical scholars use to put phrases and beliefs back into their original state.  Traditionally, tradition trumps truth but proper exegesis of scripture reveals the original truth that preceded tradition.  Not taking scripture out of context is the key, with proper exegesis and study, the authors meaning can be seen.

It is with this notion that I hope to exegete my own path; to put things into context and find God's original intent with my life.  I have allowed people and things to dictate my purpose but when I exegete my story I'm allowing the Author of my life to speak for himself.  It is not I who has written my story thus far, something higher than me that has both written from afar and brought it to life very close.  This paradox of both distant and close is something most people miss when reflecting on God; and it is something I hope to continue to explain.  Exegeting my life is an important step of finding the spiritual meaning of past hurts, pains and pleasures.  It is a term I am using to remind me to always put things into context first. A term that signifies when something spiritual has occurred and there exists a truth that needs to be uncovered.

Old City of Jerusalem 2008
© Image by Matthew J Diaz

The Grossest Game Ever:

During my twelve years in youth ministry, I came across a lot of games, as you can imagine.  It was my own goal to never play a game that forced me to eat something that would make me gag.  You would think the grossest game ever would come from some concoction of blended food. However, it is not the case.  The game I want to describe will probably give you some kind of disease and I am shocked that we ever attempted to play this game.  The youth pastor who decided to play this games didn't want to subject "minors" to it so we picked a couple of adult leaders. I fortunately was not one of them.

Items needed:
  • As many pennies as players
How you play:
  • Make a starting line and a finish line on a cement surface
  • the longer the more terrible
  • place the penny on the ground
  • each player must move the penny, with their tongue, to the finish line 
  • The penny must stay on the ground
I'm almost certain the leaders that played contracted Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV).  I'm surprised it wasn't worse.  I do not recommend anyone playing this game, I simply share it to admit to the world what some youth pastors will put their leaders through.  Everyone thinks it is the youth pastor who should get all the accolades when in fact it is the volunteer leaders who put up with the most.  Thank you volunteers!

Monday, January 27, 2014

deconstructing and exegeting: part one of two


Image by Jam Project
{link to}

How do we know the events of the past, when one person discovers a place that another already has? Historians realize it isn't always about being the first to find facts; it isn't a race to find this or that. It's not about a new discovery but about a change in perspective. When observing the past we must undergo the process of deconstruction, to place one's self in that time, place or setting. A historian's task is to become one with their study.  By this we mean the best way to observe history is to understand how those people observed themselves. It is of little use to place our cultural norms on the past; would we want the past to place their norms on us now? Historians by trade, try not to place moral judgments on the objects of their study, they simply wish to know the choices that have gotten us to the present. Cause and effect is the puzzle that is followed, a maze of questions and answers through time, space and matter. With the past we can learn from it, we can study it, we can try not to repeat it but the truth of the matter is we can't control people. The only device or artifact we can control is ourselves and with humility pass on the wisdom to the souls who succeed us. Deconstructing historically comes with a weight of postmodern philosophy; it's not accepted by all and not meant to be infallible. A term that promotes no absolutes can be a tautological problem. Therefore the point here is not to argue about the proper definition or practice, but to express how this blogger intends to put it to action.

It is with this notion that I hope to deconstruct my own life, I share with you my experiences based on my observations about myself.  I intend to piece together the events that caused and affected me.  How great is it that I get to do this job for myself instead of leaving the interpretation up to someone else based off of things that would otherwise not have been written.  In summary of part one, deconstructing my life is the process through which I will begin to analyze the obscure path I have been on through my current understanding.  Historically speaking, I am writing the primary source for my life.  When someone looks back to learn who I was, they need only to look to my writings.  It is through writing that history is recorded either through shapes on a wall or a well structured system.  I want to provide my own record of my life, not just a record but an interpretation of facts.

the novelty section

Game/Recipe of the day: Boggle Soup

Items needed:
  • 1 can of Alphabet Soup (Or make your own as suggested by Shannon at Cozy Country Living)
  • 2 competitive people
How to play:

With a slotted spoon, scoop up 25 letters out of the bowl.  Flatten the letters out on a clean table surface and arrange the letters in a 5x5 grid and set a timer for 1 minute.  Following traditional Boggle rules, write down as many words you can find.  After tallying the points based on word length, decide who wins.  The loser has to lick, slurp or suck the noodle letters off of the table.  Continue making the grid and playing more rounds until the noodles are gone.  Whoever has either won the most rounds, or has the highest overall score (make this decision clear and be sure to argue about it for an hour before playing) has to chug and chew the remainder of the soup in 1 minute.  Have fun playing an overly complicated game that I think I invented but I'm sure someone else has thought of.

Image Credits: Jam Project,
Recipe Credit: Shannon at Country Cozy Living,

Thursday, January 23, 2014

exposition of sorts

The pictures and paintings my eyes are drawn toward contain a common and similar feature.  Though the angle of this feature might be different, there is one that wins my attention the most.  This man made geographical construct can be created by design or something that develops over time.  In these observed pictures I find a path of any making will suffice, but the most important aspect is that you must be able to imagine yourself as the creator of the piece who was there in that moment capturing a dream.  I long to stand in observation of a trail I can wander down where the end is uncertain and the danger is unclear.  These inevitable bumps in the road are not seen here, but if one starts walking, it is these obstacles that will be there.  I know the way is not always easy, but the imagined destination is what my mind creates.  I see these pictures that I find myself in, on a road, trail, path, dock or walkway but the end is obscure. Sometimes the path gets smaller giving the perception of distance, and at other times it ends over the horizon or a new undiscovered plain.  Whether the path disappears or abruptly comes to a halt, the way must still be passable either by man or by machine.  The greatest hindrance to imagination or pursuit is an impassable wall.

All this to say I can observe a captured moment of a noun and find the intended meaning and purpose; however these moments of thought don't last more than a feeling.  Contrastingly, it is the tease of a journey which stays with me for a life time.  It is these pictures of paths that spark the vision for my life and provide the needed self reflection of the distance I have gone.  The path makes it possible for my mind to project my presence within a moment. The place evokes the feelings I can identify with; whether it is tropical, desert, mountainous or wooded, the environment elicits my mood.  It is the path's end which provides the hope that I am in search of, to find a purpose worth moving toward and something my mind is left to complete the picture.  These kinds of pictures might seem simple but observing this art is more than the obvious.  These pictures tell a story and it is up to the observer to place the meaning that can be found.  If no meaning is found, it isn't the pictures fault so don't blame the art.  Be open to perspective when I propose a postcard with a dirt path through an empty field is meaningful.

As Robert Frost wrote in his poem, The Road Not Taken, he took the road less traveled and it made all the difference.1 If a road is hardly traveled, then the thing that makes it a road is not clear.  Namely the boundaries of where to step and not step have not been sorted out by others.  This path can be treacherous, confusing and full of wounds but as you walk you will find it is worth every step.  This blog is my attempt at describing that path that is obscured both ahead of me and behind me.  I hope you laugh with me, empathize with me and learn with me. I hope when I describe the picture I am standing in, the layout of the land and the place I am heading that you might find yourself standing in a picture of your own.
Image by Peter Alfred Hess {link to}

Recipe of the day: (As requested by my sister-in-law)

Ants on a log aka "the ants have a journey too." The longer the piece of celery, the more peanut butter and ants there are to consume.

Here is what you need:
  • 1 extra long piece of celery
  • creamy peanut butter
  • ants/raisins/small pebbles if you are a 2 year old
Here is what you do:
  • Put the peanut butter in the crevice of the celery, place the ants on top of the peanut butter, then proceed to press your tongue into the above mentioned celery crevice and scoop up the pb & ants into your mouth in one foul swoop.  I'm really not sure of the purpose of the celery other then being the log portion of this analogous treat.  Who would want to eat a log anyway?

1 First published December 1995; published July 1999 by; © Copyright, Inc. (Terms of Use).

Image Credits: Peter Alfred Hess,