Wednesday, September 26, 2012

If you're a Catholic in Germany, better pay to pray or get the hell out...

I don't even know what to say...

Posted on September 26, 2012 at 6:30 AM

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's top administrative court has ruled that Catholics who opt out of paying religious taxes must automatically leave the church as well.

The court's verdict Wednesday is a victory for the Catholic Church in Germany, which receives more than €4 billion ($5.14 billion) annually from a surcharge of up to nine percent on income tax bills of registered Catholics.

The judges at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig ruled against retired German theologian Hartmut Zapp, who wanted to leave the church as an institution but remain a member of the Catholic community.

Germany's bishops announced last week that believers who refuse to pay the tax are committing a "grave lapse" and as a result won't be able to receive the sacrament, become godparents or have a religious funeral.

Some of my best friends are Catholic so this isn't about them, it's about the church!

This is all about greed. The Catholic Church isn't the only one that's greedy but this....this is disgraceful. I have a problem with taxing people because of their religion and a much bigger problem with a religious institution turning its back on its members, banishing them from worship and sacriments just because they either can't or won't give nine percent of their income to the church. I can't imagine how anything like this got passed in Germany but then again I don't live there so I can't say.

This is why so many people despise organized religion. Religion is supposed to be about God, faith, and community. It's not supposed to be about money. Yes it takes money for a church to run but guess can run a church out of a plain block building or a thatched roof hut with mud walls if you had to. You don't need fancy churches and cathedrals, you just need a place for people to come together and worship.

I can only imagine what's going on in the heads of the powers that be at the Vatican. Happy their coffers will continue to overflow? Hmm...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Nicole Di Rocco's "PastPort to Cuba: The search for Nicolita"

I screened the documentary recently and all I can say is that it is absolutely amazing.

Growing up in Miami, Florida in the 1970s, a great number of my friends were Cuban. Our best friends across the street from us, the Guillen family, were from Cuba. Most of my childhood friends had either fled Cuba themselves or descended from others who did.  As a child I’d hear horror stories about the things Castro’s police would do to people who disagreed with his policies. Whether or not those stories were children’s exaggerations of the truth (as is common when we’re kids) or whether they were actually true, I never forgot them. As I got older I learned more about Castro’s atrocities when I served in the US Coast Guard and our boat crews rescued Cuban refugees stranded out on the ocean, at least once a week. These people fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. They tied inner tubes or homemade wooden rafts together to brave the journey from Cuba to the United States. For these reasons and more, I hold a special affection in my heart for the Cuban people.

This journey was as much about Nicole’s need to find herself--a journey of self-exploration as it was to find the face of "Nicolita" her swimwear line. It was also very important for her parents too as they received a once-in-a-lifetime gift to return to their homeland and recapture old memories and the joy of their youth. (Isn't that something we all want?)

When their plane descended into Havana, I could feel the tension and relief felt by Nicole’s mother, Thais. Imagine having to flee your home, the place of your birth, your parents and grandparents birth, and then returning half a century later?  Nobody wants to leave their home, but they had no choice, it was the only way to have a better life. I felt the same as the family strolled down the street to the house where Thais grew up. I’ve been there, felt that moment, when I reappeared on the doorstep of my childhood home and all at once it looked both the same and different and evoked incredible emotions in me. Of course, my experience doesn’t compare to Thais returning to the country of her birth fifty years after fleeing it, but nevertheless it reminded me of that ever-present need, as I get older, to reconnect to my childhood, just as she did. 

Another emotional moment was when Xavier returned to his family farm. It was a very touching moment when Xavier and his cousin reconnected.  Growing up on that farm, riding the horses, working the plantation, swimming in the lake, playing ball were an important part of his life and it made him who he is today. Returning to that farm, Xavier, no doubt felt that all his sacrifices for a better life were not in vain. I just felt it was important to him, as the man, the head of the family, to be able to go back to the place where he began his journey into manhood and reflect how far he'd come since then.

Interesting to note (and not at all surprising) is the great humility of the Cuban people. They are so willing to share what little they have with family, friends and even strangers. We saw this many times as Nicole and her family paid visits to Thais and Xavier’s childhood homes, meeting people they hadn’t seen in half a century and these people fed them huge feasts and welcomed them into their homes. I’ve always said that in the Hispanic culture, family is the most important thing and that is very evident here. It just made me feel good to see Thais and Xavier’s cousins welcome Nicole and her sister into the family as if they’d known them all their lives.

Especially interesting was Nicole’s search for “Nicolita”. She said she wanted the face of Nicolita to look like her—Cuban. However, when she arrived in Cuba, it was apparent that Cuban women come in all “colors”. Especially interesting was the contrast between the final three competitors for the title of "Nicolita": a black-skinned beautiful young woman with an afro, the dark-skinned beauty with the long straight hair and  the blondish lighter-skinned model. All three were completely different in skin and hair color and facial structure and yet they were all most definitely Cuban. I am reminded again of Cuba’s diversity. Cubans come in all colors and they are proud of it.  It is not their skin color that defines them, it is their heritage.

I particularly enjoyed Nicole's idea to show the vintage Cuba in all its glory in the photo shoots.  It seems a country stuck in time while American cities and towns have long moved forward. Despite all the political and economic turmoil, Cuba is still a beautiful country populated by equally beautiful people. Many people, me included, romanticize Cuba, enjoying the stories of the heyday of Cuba in the 1930’s through 1950’s which were decades full of prosperity and wealth.  During that time, Cuba was extremely well off with hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting every year—enjoying its beaches, nightclubs, hotels, and casinos. My mom traveled to Cuba with her parents in 1957 and many things on that island have barely changed since then.  

I love how Nicole pays homage to her ancestry by utilizing photos from the family album to help recreate the authentic backdrops for the photo shoots. I also loved the way she integrated the image of “Nicolita” into everyday life, with the old antique cars, the guys on the street playing dominoes, the baseball bat and hat, and with the cigars, all of those things being important parts of Cuban culture.  The way the backgrounds were staged, the model’s makeup and hair, were absolutely perfect and reflect the nostalgia and love Nicole feels for the people and her heritage  I’ll also add that I thought the photo shoots were sexy and tasteful. Very respectful!

This film is so amazing; it makes me more appreciative of what I have, the country I was born in, and my own family history. More than that, it has given me a renewed love and appreciation for my Cuban friends for all the hardships their families and fellow countrymen have endured over the years. They have been through so much but they are a truly remarkable and resilient people whose spirit and culture will forever be strong.

Finally, on a personal note, I can completely relate to Nicole’s search for her roots. There comes a time in our lives when we need to know more about ourselves, when who we are is defined by more than our education, our friends, and our job and the everyday life we lead. Sometimes we need more; we seek to reconnect with our past, our heritage to find out who we truly are and how we came to be. I understand and admire Nicole’s desire to find her past and reconnect with her roots. Being Cuban is an important part of who she is and there is no doubt that her journey has changed her life forever.

To Nicole, who is an absolutely lovely woman and amazing person, I say a heartfelt thank you for sharing your story with us.  ¡Gracias Nicole, es una mujer asombrosa!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

US response to Embassy attacks is a crock...

The US Embassy released this statement about the attack on the US consulate in Libya:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

Notice...not one single peep about the Americans who died during the attack on the embassy.Why is the US government apologizing for individuals exercising their free speech (even if we disagree with what's being said) while in the meantime, Americans were murdered by radicals. Why is the US government NOT condoning this?

It's about appeasement.

The Embassy's statement "We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others" is a crock of political shit.

Why? I'll tell you why. YOU CANNOT HURT SOMEONE'S RELIGIOUS BELIEFS! A religious belief, faith, is in the HEART. It is not something you can see, hear, smell, or touch. It is something you feel from within and no words or actions can take those beliefs away from you. always, Terry Jones' name comes up every time something like this happens. He may not be directly involved, but he incites it, he's like a cancer. I don't like Terry Jones, I don't like what he stands for but I also don't like murder in the name of religion....any religion. Can't we all just agree Terry Jones is an asshole and move on? Why do Muslims out there feel like they need to retaliate by killing people? What anyone thinks of Islam or the Prophet Muhammad should not take away from Muslim beliefs. Nobody can ever take away one's faith or values, and using religion as an excuse to commit murder in order to stand up for one's beliefs is just wrong. It should not and cannot be condoned, no matter what the reason for it.