A Fear of Whales

6a00e3981f1e3988330105362aa9d1970b-500wiThe other day as I was perusing the small Bible section of my large Christian Books and (Especially) Gifts Store I happened upon a tome that arrested my attention.

It was plain and unadorned. A simple red book with the title and nothing else. I was immediately offended by the cover, because it was politically correct, and didn’t say anything anyone should be offended by. And even though it was November 8th a mere 46 days until Christmas, there was no hint of green, no holly, no nativity scene. Nothing like anything else in the store.

If you are a good Christian like me, You know that between All Saints Day and Epiphany, everything in the world has to be red and green and make explicit reference to Christmas by name. It does not matter if it is at church, or in government or at the tire shop, if anyone does not say “Merry Christmas” to you it is persecution. It says so in the Bible.

But it doesn’t say so in THIS Bible.

I bought it. And I immediately took it home and read it cover to cover, because I feared that this would be a dangerous book that would hurt the fragile consumerist faith of younger weaker disciples. And I found to my horror that all my fears were confirmed. This abominable politically correct translation of the once-holy-scriptures has scrubbed any reference of the word “Christmas”, from it’s pages.

And Jesus, who Real Christians like me know, would always greet everyone he met for a third of the year with either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Birthday Me” does not breathe a word about his birthday, in four gospels full of plain, offensively inoffensive, red text.

tacky_christmas_decorations_640_16This plain red Bible makes no mention of Easter either, or Veteran’s Day, or any other Proper Church Holiday but other “Happy Holidays” and feast days are all over this book. Just none of the right ones. That’s why I call it the Holiday Bible. It mentions Sabbath, and Passover, The Day of Atonement,. There is a holiday for tents, a holiday for trumpets, a Feminist holiday for a politician I’d never heard of named “Esther” and  nothing but a footnote for Christmas among this multicultural postmodern jumble of Hippie Parties.

There are one thousand one hundred and eighty nine chapters in this book (I counted). Only one of them gives any hint of glory to the Lord of all the earth in the way everyone is required to by telling the story of a baby who was born in a manger. It’s in Luke 2. And even that chapter leaves out most of the important stuff.

The Red Book I looked at was a NIV “New International Version” but the corruption had somehow spread to every Bible on that little shelf. No “Merry Christmas” could be found on any of them except on the packaging.

I fell down and wept. I looked and looked through tear soaked eyes, but my blessed Christmas was nowhere to be found. No shopping advice, no Christmas trees. Just pages and pages of ways to do justice and give and receive mercy. They even got to Granny! I called her and checked our KJV Family bible from 1611. I could not believe my eyes.


As I drowned my sorrows in a delicious Triple Venti Starbucks™ Gingerbread Latte with extra sprinkles. I realized that my enemies had won. Sure, I had lied to them about my name to get them to say “Merry Christmas” when they gave me the cup, but one person can only lie, and shop, and manipulate so much to get something done.

It looks like whoever is responsible this crazy red book is going to have their way in society after all.

I have made a lot of posts on this blog over the years about transparency, and the importance of integrity and admitting when you are wrong. I need to model that this morning, because I accidently discovered that Ahmed’s clock is manufactured.

The story actually begins when I was a geeky 14 year-old interested in electronics. I filled my room with outdated tech and tinkered with it just like Ahmed, I took them apart and put it back together just like Ahmed, and I brought my disassembled electronics to school just like Ahmed.

My interest was less in timepieces and more in robots. BattleBots were in their heyday back then. I would take all the plastic off an RC Car and then zip tie it back together with a slightly modified (inferior) configuration and call the new creation “My Robot” which I brought to school for science fair. I didn’t realize at the time that doesn’t really count as inventing a robot.

I’m white, and I was never arrested, suspended, or discouraged from any of this in 2001.

0zgv9WlFast forward 15 years I am now less interested in electronica and more interested in making the world a better place. I am in my last year of seminary and heard a story about a nerdy kid I related to being arrested for bringing the circuits he tinkers with to school to tell his teacher. It got under my skin. Posted about the homemade clock on social media #IStandWithAhmed And I took it a step further. I brought a clock to school.

At the time no picture had been released, but a description from the police seemed to indicate that the circuits were exposed, so I took a page out of my High School Handbook and cannibalized the alarm clock in my room to make something I thought would approximate Ahmed’s clock.  (That’s My Clock Above)

The point was to demonstrate that since I am white, Nothing would happen. Nothing did

0916ahmedclockbut I accidently revealed something I did not intend to with my clock. When the photo of Ahmed’s clock was revealed, it not not look something like Ahmed’s clock, it looked nigh exactly like Ahmed’s clock in some crucial ways.

Both of our clocks feature two circuit boards, one connected to the LCD, and one with buttons. Both feature transformers and 9 volt battery sockets which prevent you from having to reset your clock if it is accidently unplugged. Both have mounts fro screws.

None of this stuff would be built into a homemade creation. This is the result of taking an existing clock apart and presenting it as a clock you built. but I must reiterate this is exactly what I did when I was his age!

I didn’t get arrested, which means I didn’t get invited to the white house or silicon valley. Which means I was not put in a position to be exposed as a fraud in the national media for something I did totally innocently, as a naive freshmen, but now surely Ahmed is going to have to answer for why the clock he “made” is a fake, when in reality it’s actually nothing more or less than what nerdy kids do.

This doesn’t change the story very much. There is still a massive problem with racism highlighted by the fact that this would never happen with a white kid, I’m proof of that. There is still a massive problem with school zero tolerance policy highlighted, perhaps even more so now that we know this is literally a clock you could buy in a store without the plastic on it. It does seem to mean that Ahmed is not the kind of genius his invitations seem to expect, and that’s tragic.

If Ahmad was a tech genius who built his own circuit boards by hand at 14 then his arrest would be unfair but ultimately societies positive response would allow him to write his own ticket to a great future. If he’s just a bright kid like me playing around both the arrest and the response will amount to stress and embarrassment he does not need. I really wish it could have been a non-issue for him.

Still I wanted to be transparent about my discovery that the “Homemade Clock” I defended was different from what I represented it to be publicly. I’m sorry too.

You may be wondering why, after my last experience with Greyhound Inc, I would ever consider patronizing their services again. Well it’s a long and a sad story, but basically I keep putting myself in positions where I believe they might be the most convenient option.

I went once again in Florida between Couchsurfing hosts with similar results not worth publishing, and now again to get to Mexico. I was given a referral that said the bus was direct, had WiFi, and went straight where it needed to for $60.

Turns out I got on a 9:30 bus at 11:30 and by 3 am I was packed into a red pickup truck in a border town being assured by someone in a Greyhound vest that this was a great idea in a language I do not understand. This had been the fourth vehicle I had been inside on my journey. Somewhere along the ride I developed Shingles, a viral infection that causes herpetic blisters.

This post really killed my momentum on the blog that I had just recovered. I feel like it needs to be written. I’m still not sure what it’s for. Whether it’s funny, or a moral lesson. It’s going to be one of my longer blogs, too long to read for many of you. Oh well. I have to get it out.

It started at the Austin Station, The Customer service reps were as disinterested as I expected, and by the time we got to the front of a long line which was incessantly cut by other patrons we were jostled back and fourth between attendants who couldn’t get the thing to scan. No problem, we left plenty of time. But as we were eventually nonchalantly informed that out ticket was “broken”, and instructed to write as much on a form we had no capacity to understand, I began to doubt that this trip would be what it was promised

We got new tickets, and held them as 9:30 came and went. No announcement was made that our bus was late, and most of the workers were concerned about another bus that had customers waiting since the early afternoon and had not yet arrived. I tried to talk to someone at the desk again and they had No idea, I was told to ask outside and finally found someone who confirmed we hadn’t missed it, it was late, and there was no ETA.

The bus station looked typical, about what I expected. It was not tiny like some I’d seen, but it was one room, so reasonably small for a city like Austin. Typical airport style seating, mostly full, a counter of outlets in the corner that offered the opportunity to recharge your phone in exchange for the privilege of sitting (pick one) and some vending machines.

I chose to seat myself on the floor, and cracked pecans to eat until our bus came several hours late. by that time I already felt tired of traveling despite literally having not left home, but I was thrilled to see the Blue Bus, perhaps things were looking up. Blue Buses have wifi and power outlets. Except the wifi was out on this one, but still! Power meant I could watch movies until San Antonio. This was the only bus that would have it.

The San Antonio station was REALLY small considering San Antonio. It did not even have slots for bus parking, the buses simply double-parked in a oversized drive through. They had a little café where I bought some overpriced chicken, and we continued on the same bus to Laredo. That’s where things got interesting.

I didn’t get to see much of Laredo, but it had the feel to me of an old west town that never really left the early 1900s. It did not seem sure whether it wanted to be in Mexico or the States. We did not go inside the bus station, instead we just shuffled straight onto a crappier bus and headed for the border. that’s where things got interesting.

This bus was empty except for a couple of older Hispanic women and one man, none of whom spoke English. It took us about a half an hour to get to the border which we might have spit on from the bus station, and we got on a line of buses to cross over. Some time passed, and then the driver started speaking in Spanish for some length of time. I followed virtually none of it.

We returned to the bus station, and piled into a white windowless van with “Grehound Inc” sharpied onto the side. I’d gathered by this boint through broken conversations with other patrons that the line of buses over the border was going to take too long, and this alternate was supposed to be faster over the border.

Nope. We took the white bus TO the border, and then walked over manually carrying our luggage. Literally thee was a bridge over the Rio Grande that we walked over with the bus driver and all. The actual border checkpoint was nothing, just a handwave, and then we piled into a dirty Mexican truck. I didn’t know if it was headed to Monterrey, or to another bus, or what.

If I thought Laredo wasn’t sure if it wanted to be in Mexico, Nuevo Laredo On the Mexican side had no apprehensions. Elotes and Tacos for sale, farmacias, and plenty of signs of crime. Exactaly where I wanted to spend the rest of my night beginning around 4am.

We pulled into a bus station, not a greyhound station, another one, and the driver hit us up for tips as some other vultures played porter with our bags. I waited in a bus station in Nuevo Laredo (the Mexican Side) for several hours after the pickup before getting on a slow buss to my destination in Monterrey. If the other stations were poor, this was distinctly worse. a large circumference trashcan was a prominent feature in the room, the toilets didn’t flush and the chairs were mostly broken. I did not dare leave it’s sanctuary until morning however.

That last bus ride was long and slow. There is a toll road to Monterrey but we did not take it. We took a slow and often unpaved path through numerous tiny pueblos. At one point we stopped inexplicably in what looked like ruins of a town that once was. I saw a horse, I wondered if this was some old town and we had arrived. But no, the bus driver has a sweet tooth and simply stopped the travel to pick up some dulces on the roadside.

Once you got used to it it wasn’t so bad, they put on Downton Abbey in Spanish and I fought to get some sleep. All in all what should have been an overnight trip, 6 hours by car, had taken the better part of 24 hours. I arrived in the Monterrey Bus Station just in time for my back to start hurting with blisters that looked like I had fallen into a mosquito nest. It was big and cosmopolitan, much more what I Had expected, but with plenty of culture and color in the form of street salesmen. I was not there long, a friend picked me up, and to this day I do not know how he happened to arrive 4 hours late to meet us on time.

But my sores, and the concern they might be contagious, meant that upon arrival in Mexico I needed to navigate the maze of the Mexican medical practice. A good system to be honest, one I’m impressed with. It allowed me to see a doctor several times for about $4 and get the prescriptions I needed that day at similarly reasonable prices. Still it was not a system I was in any way familiar with, and it required me to learn Spanish words for phrases like “Herpes Zoster” and “less of a burn, and more of an ache really” I eventually got it though, and saw some great things in Mexico.

On the return trip we resolved not to get off our bus for any any any reason. The first leg was incident free, watching most of Man of Steel in Spanish until it was inexplicably turned off. Then we arrived in that same damn Nuevo Laredo bus stop. I did NOT want to be back in that damn Nuevo Laredo bus stop.

The longest leg of the trip was the 7.5 miles from that bus station to the one in Laredo on the American side. We boarded somewhere around 10 or 11pm. The sun rose about halfway across the bridge. Long line of busses proceeded one at a time over the border. The bus driver got to the point that he would stop the bus, get up and sleep in one of the passenger seats until the bus in front of us moved. Then return to his chair, pull forward one bus length, and go to sleep again. For Hours and hours while I tried to sleep with open sores on my back and the need to take large Mexican antiviral pills every four hours (I took several courses on that bus)

When we finally got to the border everyone got out and herded into an informal cattle line to show papers one at a time, we pulled our luggage, and the bus was inspected. I recalled youth trips back when the attendant would shine a flashlight and wave us through, not so here. Everyone shows a passport or a visa to the worker. That said, the quick look at my ID and the 1 or two questions I was asked hardly justified my 6 hour wait (are we really that sure that I’m that much safer for having done that) It felt like an authentic immigration experience. Coming from Monterrey, being treated poorly. Not the White-person border crossing that is imagined when white people talk about immigration.

After that there was the negotiation with the greyhound attendant in America to get him to speak English. We arrived in the not-so-early morning, but had obviously missed our bus from the previous night. He told us our next bus to Austin was at 1, and it took some convincing that leaving on the bus to San Antonio which left immediately would be a better choice.

The bus was literally shitty. the toilet in the back smelled pungently and water spilled out into the aisle. Several women approached it and decided against it before resigning that they couldn’t hold it any more in an hour or so. The driver did not speak a word of English, and a waited with baited breath for the San Antonio stop, the flushing bathrooms, and the overpriced chicken. When we arrived he said 10 minutes.

So I peed, I got back on, and watched the mostly empty shitty bus have every seat filled with Austinites. The patchouli mostly covered the smell, and very suddenly the same driver began to speak English. It felt like a whole new bus. I spent the vast majority of the ride however trying to make sure I could get picked up straight from the station and not have to wait in another bus station ever again!

Today I am leaving for Monterrey, Mexico. People keep asking me if it’s a mission trip or a vacation. I like that they have to ask.

It’s mostly a vacation. I have a friend down there, and I live nearby, and I like tacos. But the more I think about why people keep asking me if it’s missional, the more I realize it is a part of who I am, and I can’t not bring it with me.

The last six times I have gone to Mexico it has been to serve the poor in some way as a part of a Christian Church or organization. Each time, the relative value of what I offered was pretty low compared to the value of the cultural exchange and emersion experience. Those experiences have helped form me as a person who loves other cultures. The good times I had helped encourage me towards more hard rewarding work in my life.

Now as I head in search of good times and cultural exchange, I go as a person who cares about the poor, and about Christian organizations. I can only hope that God will continue to find a way to use that attribute he has built into me, in Mexico as in Texas.