Punk Rock Advent: A Time to Bring Down the American Jesus

Bad Religion has officially brought me into the spirit of advent this season. I have my friends Wes and Tyler to thank for this. We have an emo and pop punk text thread called “Suckers for anything acoustic.” Tyler shared a Christmas playlist with us and on it was Bad Religion’s cover of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I have never head banged to that song before, and it was everything!

This led me to listen to the whole album by Bad Religion called “Christmas Songs.” I was quite taken with the last song on that album called “American Jesus.” In that song, they portray a Jesus that has been hijacked by an American nationalism that we most often associate with the Evangelical Right.

“I don’t need to be a global citizen
Because I’m blessed by nationality
I’m a member of a growing populace
We enforce our popularity…

We’ve got the American Jesus
He helped build the president’s estate…

I feel sorry for the earth’s population
‘Cause so few live in the U.S.A.
At least the foreigners can copy our morality
They can visit but they cannot stay”

You would think that Bad Religion wrote these lyrics for today, but this song came out in 1993! This was a reminder that this nationalist Jesus is not something new. Rather, this is something that has been deep into our system for a long time.

Since this was the last song on the album, after the song was over, Spotify decided to play a random song from the same artist. The next song was the 2002 jam, “Sorrow.”  I love this song. Although Bad Religion would most likely disagree, there is a line there that accurately describes an aspect of Christian hope for me.

When all soldiers lay there weapons down
Or when all kings and all queens relinquish their crowns
Or when the only true messiah rescues us from ourselves
It’s easy to imagine

There will be sorrow
Yeah there will be sorrow
And there will be sorrow no more

I decided to listen to these two songs again, back to back. In it I found this message of advent. During the season of advent, for those in the Christian community, we celebrate the coming of Jesus into this world, and wait with anticipation for Christ’s return. We wait for a time “when there will be sorrow no more.” We wait and hope for the one who is to come because there are things in this world that are not right.

So yes, we wait for Jesus to return. We wait for that time when sorrow will be no more, but in the meantime, we are called to work for a better time and place.

Bad Religion reminded me that, in this advent season, I need to participate in bringing down the American Jesus. The American Jesus that comes in the disguise of nationalism, white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia & transphobia, and hatred & fear of the other. That is not my Jesus.

The Jesus I see in the gospel stories is one that comes in weakness. It is a Jesus that is a poor refugee. It is a Christ that comes humbly to deconstruct the systems of power in order to bring up the lowly.

I was reminded that I must do my part in this as we wait for the coming of Christ, by speaking out against what is not right, by donating to organizations who are doing the work in the trenches (and when called, I must also jump into the trenches with them).

You can join me if you’d like, but right this second, I’m gonna go head bang to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” again in protest of the American Jesus.

Celebrating 25 Years of the Ramirez Family in the USA… Even If Your Candidate Would’ve Deported Us, We’re Here.

Today marks 25 years since my parents, my sister, and I immigrated to the United States from Guatemala. My parents have constantly stood up for the marginalized, and when one stands up for justice, injustice gets pissed. Their efforts got them in danger and in August of 1991 they made a tough and spontaneous decision to move us to the US to keep us all safe.

25 years later we are still here, and I believe that both this country and my family are better for it. My parents are still an inspiration and continue to show many people what God’s love looks like through their generosity, compassion, and willingness to serve. They have continuously worked diligently and faithfully to provide for their family and others, and still find time to volunteer with the children’s program at church, assist with the books for non-profits, and walk to their church each night (holding hands) to make sure the doors are locked.  My sister works at a hospital and she makes sure that patients remain healthy with a good meal and a constant smile. And in her spare time, she volunteers with Long Beach Young Life as she mentors many students in the Long Beach community.

Our time in the US has not always been easy as it’s tough to be a minority in this country, but we are extremely grateful to be here.

There are people (some who are even running for office) who would have liked to send us back long ago. Yet, there are many of you who have gotten to know us and our story, and the story of MANY families like us. We are forever grateful to all our family, friends, and strangers who have welcomed us with love, jobs, housing, and an all around great 25 years. We could not have done this alone.

There are many more “Ramirez’s” in this country — people like my parents and sister who are saints to their community. I implore you, do not let fear keep you from welcoming them.

How Allstate, The Woman’s World Cup, and Major League Soccer Changed My Life.

With the Women’s World Cup approaching this summer, I was reminded of how Allstate, the Women’s World Cup, and Major League Soccer help changed my life sixteen years ago. The scene was June 24th 1999, Soldier Field in Chicago where the US Women’s National Team took on Nigeria in a group stage match of the Women’s World Cup.

I was a thirteen year old Guatemalan kid raised in Long Beach, CA. I’ve been in love with the LA Galaxy since its inaugural season in 1996. I was used to signing up for random contests at LA Galaxy matches before the games because I got free stuff out of it. One particular game, Allstate was giving out a key chain that I had to have. I did not have any keys, but of course I wanted an LA Galaxy key chain! I signed up for Allstate’s One Million Dollar Kick with no intention of actually winning; I just wanted that key chain. A few weeks later my phone rang and they asked for Werner Ramirez. My dad’s name is also Werner Ramirez, and whenever anyone asked for Werner Ramirez I would say, “junior or senior?” This was funny because they never actually wanted me, but still I had to ask. This time they said, “junior.” I was shocked, and with hesitancy I told them that it was me. They reminded me that I had signed up for a contest and then revealed that I had won. My parents thought it was a hoax, but I knew it was the real deal.

Sure enough I had won the opportunity to kick for a million dollars at the Women’s World Cup USA vs. Nigeria match in Chicago. Before leaving for Chicago, I was interviewed by local media and they introduced me to my favorite player Cobi Jones. He gave me tips I couldn’t remember; I just couldn’t believe people took time to arrange for me to meet him. The next day I was to have a new coach, Alexi Lalas.

My whole family flew out to Chicago, courtesy of Allstate. There I got to meet and be interviewed live by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. My thirteen year old mind could not believe what was happening. Then it hit me, that night I would be kicking for one million dollars live on ESPN and in front of over 60,000 people. I remember thinking, “people leave at half time for drinks and to go to the bathroom.” But when I walked out on the field and I looked up at the seats, I swear nobody left the stadium. All eyes were on me!

My time came to kick. I remember that Alexi Lalas told me that he thought I could make it. I said a little prayer, I kicked… and it went wide left. I did not make the million dollar kick. Allstate did give me a $25,000 consolation prize though—not too shabby for a thirteen year old kid.

Fast forward to 2003—I was a senior in high school. My family and I had been legal residents of the USA for a very long time. We came to the United States in 1991 because my Dad was receiving death threats during the Guatemalan Civil War. We were denied asylum, but through some glitch in the system we were able to stay legally. But in 2003 we got a letter saying that we would no longer be receiving work permits and that we would be getting deportation letters soon. Here I was, a 17 year old who barely remembered Guatemala, and my sister, an eighth grader who barely spoke Spanish. In the mean time we were in the process of applying for our Green Cards through my Aunt as our sponsor. A lawyer said we could speed up that process so that we wouldn’t get deported, but that it would be expensive. My parents with complete humility and vulnerability asked me if they could borrow that money I had won four years earlier. I could not let them borrow that money—I knew that I had won that money for a reason, and that reason was for our family to stay in this country. Allstate, the Women’s World Cup, and my love for the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer helped my family and I get our green cards.

I currently live in Princeton, NJ where I am in the midst of getting my Masters in Divinity after being a youth pastor for 5 years in Los Alamitos, CA. And, yes, I took the youth group to many LA Galaxy games! My love for the game is still strong. This past summer two friends and I cheered on the US Men’s National Team on the trip of lifetime in Brazil. This past December when the Galaxy made it to MLS Cup my friends pitched in to fly me home and get me a ticket to the game.

The beautiful game and its sponsorships changed my life, and I will forever be grateful  .IMG_0178 IMG_0179