Nevada Series: Coffee and Neon Signs

Downtown Elko, NV. (Photo: Matt Valdez)

Neon signs and cold nights go hand in hand—coffee from a street side café simply completes the whole deal. When I was a single man, I sat solitary in a corner booth or at the bar in such establishments. I sat with a black cup of coffee in a ceramic cup resting on the table or counter, spending the evening with my books. Biographies on James Chalmers, Henry Martyn and other Evangelical Protestant missionaries kept me company. I embodied that old country song, by Tim Spencer, which says in part:

Cigarettes, whiskey and wild, wild women

They’ll drive you crazy, they’ll drive you insane.

Except for the cigarettes, whiskey and wild, wild women, or not so wild, wild women, or wild, or any woman, my life then was exactly like that song. It was Spartan—simple, uncomplicated, and boring. Now I got me a fine woman. When we aren’t raising our children, we go raise cane all over this land. With our children tagging along. The photo above was taken on a family night out on the town, during a parade last Christmas time in Elko.

Elko Town has many neon signs, and a few coffee joints. A lot of casinos and some burlesque houses. We just settled for checking out the parade floats with our bundled up children.

Downtown Elko, NV. (Photo: Matt Valdez)

Nevada’s Neon Roadside Museum Pieces

Nevada has some eclectic old neon signs tucked away in small towns scattered about the high desert. Some signs still operate, glowing and beckoning road weary travelers to stop. Others have ceased working but still stand, reminding the stray passersby of the once vibrant businesses. The post-war period of the 1950s was a hay day for road side diners and motels along Nevada’s now almost forgotten highways. Now, these buildings and signs are fixtures to the lonely stretches of roads, like pieces of furniture, they accentuate the uninhabited places, providing visual markers to sight-seers and vacationers. The old neon signs are roadside museum pieces, accompanied by dirt lots, old brick buildings and rusting horseless carriages out back.

I’m thinking about making a series about neon signs in Nevada, but I also think about a lot of things (some to fruition and some to the back burner of my mind). This year my wife and I plan on getting out there and exploring Nevada, so I am sure neon signs and ghost towns will find their way in later blog posts.

Veldez, a blog, is layman literature which includes observations about family life, vocation, books, music, the outdoors, and life as it is. Written from the perspective of a twenty-something husband and father of five, a Christian worldview is the common thread throughout.

What Saeed Abedini’s Imprisonment is Teaching Me

Saeed Abedini

On our refrigerator door is a magnet bearing this image of Saeed Abedini with his family with a brief reminder to pray for them. Many of you know of Abedini’s ongoing incarceration and resulting deterioration of health in Iran; I, too, am aware and somewhat informed as well as any casual reader of the news. I open my refrigerator door pretty much every day, unless I’m working over the road. Everytime I reach in and grab the plastic milk jug or lunch meat, there’s Abedini’s face stuck to the door. He’s in prison for his unabashed association with Jesus and I’m throwing a ham sandwich together.

For those who are interested, here is a short run down–information one can easily find on countless web pages. In the early 2000s, Saeed Abedini, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity, participated in ministry in Iran, prompting the government authorities to arrest and threaten him with death unless he cease his involvement in Christian endeavors. He signed an agreement to cease his involvement and was released. Signing the agreement not only spared his life but allowed Abedini to operate in “non-sectarian” activities. Having married his wife, Naghmeh, an American citizen, the Abedinis moved back to the U.S.

In July 2012, on his ninth trip to Iran to build an orphanage in the city of Rasht, Abedini was arrested by Islamic Revolutionary Guards. That September he was imprisoned in Evin Prison, located in Northwestern Tehran. Then, in November 2013, officials transferred him to Rajai Shahr Prison, located in Karaj, where he remains today. He has a wife and two children back home in Boise, Idaho.

He has suffered interrogation and beatings at various times throughout his time in prison, which has caused his health to suffer. At the urging of prison doctors, Abedini was moved to a non-prison hospital for treatment but was ultimately not permitted to receive complete treatment as recommended by medical staff.

What Abedini’s situation stirs up within me

Off and on since 2012, I have glanced and read stray blog posts and Facebook links regarding Saeed Abedini. Coupled with other Christians who have been suppressed around the world and the recent murder of Twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS, I have been compelled to weigh my own faith in Christ. In general, we in the United States are both empowered and encumbered by our liberties afforded us in our Constitution which recognizes that these liberties are not bestowed by men but by God. As such, I am also in that “general” category.

I have unhindered access to a Bible, limitless Christian resources on the web, and I can attend my local church without an objective fear of Elko County officials storming the building an dragging women and children out by their hair and executing the men firing-squad style in the street. The presence of practical liberty is a good thing; however, it comes with a hidden cost. Abedini wrote an Easter message during his permitted treatment at a non-prison hospital a while back. In it he said he was praying for Christians around the world. He went on:

What the Holy Spirit revealed to me in prayer was that there are many dead faiths in the midst of Christians today. That Christians all over the world are not able to fully reach their spiritual potential that has been given to them as a gift by God so that in reaching that potential, the curtain can be removed and the Glory of God would be revealed. Some times we want to experience the Glory and resurrection with Jesus without experiencing death with Him.

Christian mediocrity is what is I am personally mulling over and desiring to cast off. I gratefully enjoy the freedom of religion here where I was born and raised, where only the whispers of hardship and oppression abroad are heard. We know of the oppressive circumstances around the globe in places like Iran, North Korea, certain African countries, and elsewhere, but we go on eating our dinner without having to worry more about them. To the non-Christian in the audience, Christianity may be misrepresented by partisan talking points on conservative talk radio or the ever sensational Fox News. What you may not have seen is the Christianity of the Bible. In abject contradiction to the materialism and cynicism of its time, Christians, facing no little threat of harm, are willing to follow in the footsteps of Christ, giving up their comforts and guarantee of security in order to live out the reality of their faith.

I am challenged by Hebrews chapter eleven over and over again. In part of verse thirty-five and into thirty-six, in the context of those faithful to God, preceding Christ’s incarnation, the writer tells us, “…Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment” (ESV). They did this in faith, not seeing the glorious work of Christ in redemptive history. I have God’s Word on ink and paper, but what am I doing with it? I pray that I can live out my faith in Christ not out of a sense of fear or obligation but out of grateful knowledge He has taken my penalty and replaced it with His righteousness.That’s something to not cower in comfort and false security; it’s good news to declare and be unashamed of in the face of a world bent on suppressing it’s truth.

I can easily imagine Saeed Abedini and the countless other faithful Christians out of the spotlight, who echo the Apostle Paul’s words from Colossians 4:18:

“…Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”

For further reading and action, check out Be Heard Project-Saeed

Veldez, a blog, is layman literature which includes observations about family life, vocation, books, music, the outdoors, and life as it is. Written from the perspective of a twenty-something husband and father of five, a Christian worldview is the common thread throughout.

The Gospel, the Milky Way, and BuzzFeed

Milky Way Galaxy Image

I read another viral BuzzFeed post last night, “26 Pictures Will Make You Re-Evaluate Your Entire Existence”. The post contained some astronomical photos and scale diagrams to show you and me how miniscule and small our galaxy, our Sun, our planet– and by extension, how cosmically small we are.

The comments on this particular BuzzFeed post are so vast one could stretch them to our Moon and back forty-seven times!

Like all things Internet these days, we are easily wowed for three minutes before we’re bored and begin ranting about the wackos who believe our “entire existence” was created. I enjoyed the twenty-six photos in said viral post, but when it comes to re-evaluating anything, I’m pretty sure that was hyperbolic language designed to snag as many viewers as possible. In the end, what really grabs one’s attention is the ocean of comments below the post. Merge back on to the Facebook highway and you’ll find more of the same comments. In my completely fabricated calculation, the comments on this particular BuzzFeed post are so vast one could stretch them to our Moon and back forty-seven times!

To paraphrase one Facebooker, Christians are arrogant because of their belief in God Almighty’s choice, out of all the countless galactic quadrants, to care about humanity. Let’s camp out on this viewpoint, breaking it down clause by clause.

Christians are arrogant…

Yes, we can be arrogant. Dead eighteenth century Enlightenment philosophers do not have the corner on pompous bilge. The deviation from a gospel-centered, Christ-centered worldview is where we err. We Christians do a disservice to the rest of the Church and to the world when we place the Word of God on the shelf or nightstand to adopt a Fox News attitude or similar worldview. Christians are less than persuasive when acting as armchair pundits than when we daily labor to humbly reflect Christ to our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. We need less simplistic tracts and more gospel living coupled with a strong emphasis on time spent in studying the Bible and listening to sound, biblical exegetical preaching.

The Apostle Paul, who had almost every laudable credential one could have in his time and culture, wrote that he “count[ed] everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:8). Whatever was of worth to Paul became like trash compared to gaining a relationship with Christ. There is a profound humility in the

…because of their belief in God Almighty’s choice, out of all the countless galactic quadrants, to care about humanity…

Again, it’s apparently arrogant to assert that this universe we live in was created, but much more that it was created and is held together by God. I’m not trying to build a straw man here because that’s not why I’m spending my evening time. In fact, no amount of evidence from one end of our universe to the other can satisfy or convince the committed skeptic. I am simply dwelling on one assertion, namely, whether it is snobbery to believe in God’s attention when we’re only one insignificant planet among perhaps innumerable planets among vast amounts of solar systems in an incomprehensibly vast cosmos.

That depends on one’s perspective. Such a belief would be arrogant and lunacy if it were paired with the idea that mankind can do something to gain God’s attention. In the first place, a humanistic philosophy has no place for God in its dogma; by definition, humanism places man at the center of existence, deferring any meaning at all to depend on whatever man makes of it. So I am with the humanist if he thinks Christians are arrogant based on the idea that we believe we can be great enough to attract his gaze.

The gospel…refutes the idea that man in his depraved state could ever be rock star enough to gain God’s attention, love or saving grace

The gospel (εὐαγγέλιον in the Greek, transliterated as euangelion, meaning “good news”), by it’s name and in the biblical context of God becoming man to atone for the sins of those he created, refutes the idea that man in his depraved state could ever be rock star enough to gain God’s attention, love or saving grace. We who profess the name of Christ and him crucified and resurrected hold fast to the clear teaching of scripture which states:

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:3; cf. Romans 3:10-11, ESV)

The gospel, in a nutshell, and really the entire Bible, speaks of how messed up we are on our own account and how pitifully incapable we are to rectify our folly. If anything the gospel would be our epitaph instead of a proclamation of life if it was not for God’s grace. The attention God has given the human race is laughable to the godless because they say in their hearts, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). The mercy of God is unfathomable to the broken soul who knows he or she is inherently evil and has maligned God over and over. There is more pride in the former than than latter.

Isaac Watts knew of God’s holiness, justice and grace. In one particular well known hymn, Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?, the words of a broken, humble, and thankful soul sings:

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?


Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.

Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed? byIsaac Watts

Why I Identify with WALL•E’s Awkwardness

My wife and I recently had a discussion about two movies we own and how I like to watch them over and over again. The two movies are Dan in Real Life and WALL•E. What I find appealing about these two films in particular is the awkward way in which the protagonist in each engages his love interest.

In Dan in Real Life, Steve Carell is a widower with three girls, who meets a woman and hits it off with her while on a weekend in Rhode Island only to discover she is his brother’s new girlfriend- a fact he would have learned if he didn’t do all the talking. Throughout the movie, Carell shines, in all his comic glory, as his character deals with the complicated situation, fighting off (to no avail) falling in love with a woman who is in a relationship.

In WALL•E, the protagonist is a robot, whose name is an acronym (“Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth Class”). He appears to be the last moving thing on a waste-covered Earth- other than a cockroach. When a spaceship lands and deploys EVE (“Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator”), a female robot and love interest to WALL•E, he becomes smitten. The montage sequence when he tries to get close to and woo her is classic.

My whole point in blogging about this is I was an awkward mess when I first became “smitten” with my wife. I was twenty years old and she was nineteen when we met; I had zero skills except being my strange self. Bumbling and stumbling, that was my game. I have to admit, there are those gents who seem to be suave and los capitanes de amor, but they still are awkward in their own right. As far as courtship goes, I think God made men to be generally awkward at first in order to humble the proud and give game to the humble.  The guy who can laugh at his own eccentricities can work with his opposite-of-suaveness. The fellow who thinks he’s a balling vaquero will sooner or later become the former… or die lonely and macho.


[Postscript: Me and my E.V.E. have been married for over seven years and have  four children with one due in February. Awkwardness is good.]

Robin Williams, Hook, and What I Retrospectively Learned About Fatherhood From My Favorite Peter Pan

The 1991 Spielberg movie, Hook, with Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, probably is one of the first movies I can remember thinking of as a “favorite”. I am discrediting and dating myself in the same sentence when I say that I was five years old and some change when this flick came out. I probably actually first watched it a few years later, but regardless of that irrelevancy, I will admit here and now that I can say Hook is one of those movies that left it’s cultural mark on me.

Parenthetically, it is no new thing for people, famous or not, who we have become accustomed to having around, whether in our normal everyday lives or on the silver screen, to shake us out of a stupor when they die. I count myself with the uncountable when I say I was shaken out of my personal attitude of taking one for granted today when I heard the news about Robin Williams’ death. The relevancy of this man’s life is not measured in how funny he was (he was very funny), or how famous he was (he was that, too), but the fact that he existed at all. He mattered.

When I first watched Hook, I watched it as a young kid who could pick up on the plot line of a workaholic lawyer, a husband and father of two, who also happened to be the grown up version of the boy Peter Pan. I watched how this man in the movie’s first act couldn’t arrive to his son’s baseball game on time, and how his priorities were swayed more towards being successful in his career than as husband and dad. Also, by the third act, I can remember the triumph over shame in Peter being there for his kids when they needed him the most.

Williams’ acting, in my opinion, was perfectly tuned to the attitude many of us, men or women, gear ourselves towards. Be successful, stand out in our profession, gain commendation from our peers, and, naturally, make lots of money. All well and good, but not so much if it’s all at the expense of the reasons why those strivings matter in the first place.

As a boy, I can remember my dad working and doing his best to be the best in his field. I salute him for doing so. But I can remember that I didn’t care if he was the best at what he did; I cared about him and the time spent with him. In the movie, I believe, that family element was touched upon via Peter rescuing his kids as well as making his office as Dad more important than his career.

As a dad now myself, the impact of that basic lesson hits me again, this time as a father learning the lesson every day. This is what I find ultimately valuable from watching this adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: Williams’ character struggled with very real everyman obstacles in a fantastical setting. The domestic problems he had in the real, everyday, normal world were made drastically and painfully more urgent in Neverland. In the former, he unwittingly ignored his family in order to succeed (and oddly enough provide for said ignored family). In the latter, his children had been captured by Captain Hook and hauled off to Neverland, and their lives were clearly in peril by outside influence (or walking the plank, or semi-dead crocodile).

Williams’ character, like all of us, faced choices. Ultimately, in the face of very clear consequences, he chose to do what was right and place others’ before himself. Any good story has that elemental truth in it, whether or not the protagonist opts for the good or not. As a Robin Williams fan, I can enjoy his finest work. As a fan of the movie, Hook, I will draw from it’s enjoyable and entertaining tale. As a husband and father of four (soon to be five), I will draw all that I can from sources which do not shy away from presenting stark truths. As a Christian, to paraphrase C.H. Spurgeon, I can draw from many sources, but I live in the Bible.

To me, Hook is a great film. I was and still am a Peter Pan fan. Also, I find all the early ’90s idiosyncrasies nostalgic as well as humorous. The cell phone with the retractable antenna and Rufio’s hair adds up to limitless laughs. The “Gandhi ate more than this” quote during the food fight scene is probably one of my favorite comedic moments in the film. All in all, culturally, looking back on this movie brings back part of my childhood. Also, I can’t ignore the truths found in its script either.

And, yes, I cannot mention this movie without saying this: I, too, will miss Robin Williams.




Mistaken Identity: Valdez is Coming!

Whenever I meet new acquaintances, fairly often they are surprised by my last name. (Yes, a random topic I pulled out of a rhetorical, imaginary hat.) “Valdez, really?” “No, really, what’s your real last name?” Or sometimes there’s simply a momentary pause, followed by a quiet nod. This happens in both instances where the other person is either white or is blessed to heartily enjoy the more exotic fair from the taco truck’s menu. In the case of the latter, I get, “¿Verdad?” or “But you are white.”

Once, on my first day of a new job, I was waiting to be picked up by the crew on the way out to our job. I was waiting outside my motel at four in the morning with my hard hat and lunch box, when a three quarter ton Dodge Ram with the company logo on the side pulled up. I could see the puzzled looks on their faces. Then, still not sure if they were relieved or disappointed, they smirked as I began walking up to get in and go. It all worked itself out from there.

I enjoy getting junk mail in not-my-first-language. It’s like a free mini language course. You know it’s junk mail, as opposed to something legit, when the words, “¡Todo es gratis!” grace the front of the envelope in a bold, zesty font.

Back to acquaintances. Every once in a while, after the cordial exchanges are through, the guy I just shook hands with moments before will ask me a question. It’s happened enough that I anticipate the question. It goes something like this:

“Have you ever watched that movie, Valdez is Coming?”

“Oh, the one with Burt Lancaster?” I’ll reply.

“Yeah! That’s the one!”

“You know, I really haven’t.” And then we get on to talk about other things.

I really hope that it’s a good movie, or at the very least be Burt Lancaster’s best movie. With a title like Valdez is Coming, there’s too much anticipation to be a complete and total bomb. Someday I will take the time to track it down and watch it so I can form an opinion and thereby enrich later conversations. Or the polite exchange will go something like this:

“Valdez? Really?”

“Hard to believe, I know. But I really am an albino guy from Zacateca.”