Below is Fernando Ortega’s Foreword for my new book, When Donkeys Talk: Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity (Zondervan, 2013). I wrote much of the book while hymning praises to God with Fernando’s music turned up loud. Sharing beautifully of his family and faith, here’s what Fernando has to say about When Donkeys Talk:
I would like to introduce Tyler Blanski’s wonderful new book When Donkeys Talk by first telling a bit about my own family. Please have patience with this foreword. It will make sense in the end.
My grandfather, Juan Melquiades Ortega, died in 1991, just a couple months shy of his 102nd birthday. He was a Christian man whose quiet devotion to God found expression in the unlikely combination of gifts bestowed on him by the Creator – farming, weaving, story telling, and singing.
My grandfather’s farm tied him to the earth – its unpredictable seasons, the needs of his family, the phases of the moon.
His magnificent weavings (two of which belong to the Smithsonian Institution) were the products of slow, painstaking processes – the shearing of sheep, the spinning of wool, vats of dye.
The stories my grandfather told us were about long-gone distant relatives who herded sheep in Colorado, and Gypsies who camped at the edge of town in the 1930s, selling their wares – potions and pots. My favorite story was about an old witch who could turn herself into a coyote. She tried to trick some cousins of mine who were on their way to a dance. One of the cousins was named Juan, a name considered to possess spiritual power over dark forces. Juan drew a circle in the dirt around the witch and called out the names ¡Jesús, María y José! and the witch was trapped in the circle, unable to do any harm to my cousins.
These stories grounded us in our history and the past, yet they set our imaginations free to wander the llanos and riverbeds of Northern New Mexico for ourselves. They still have that same magic all these years later.
Lastly, it was the gift of song that connected my grandfather to the transcendent God he worshiped through the work of his hands. On hot summer nights he sang under the canopy of stars while he irrigated rows of chile, corn, tobacco, and melons – his voice muted by the soft earth, water, and the rhythm of a spade.
A year after my grandfather’s death, I wrote a song called Mi Abuelito that memorializes much of what I have described above. I frequently perform it in concerts to this day. Though it’s a crowd favorite, I have all too often been called to task for penning a lyric that makes no specific mention of God. I’ve given up arguing about it. In my mind, it’s one of my most God-filled songs. Herein lies my great enthusiasm for When Donkeys Talk – a terrific book by a bearded young Anglican from Minneapolis, of all places.
Tyler Blanski adores Jesus and downright loves Christianity, the historical kind. He holds his faith up like a flaming torch in the face of scientism and secularism. His book is a wild and joyous ride through coffee houses, campsites, Christmas tree lots, medieval history, and the vast expanse of the starry universe. All these places come together and find their meaning in the incarnation of Christ. My grandfather’s farm, his stories, songs, and woolen blankets find their meaning in the Bethlehem manger where God became flesh.
Tyler and I have texted and emailed back and forth these last few months in anticipation of his book release. He often begins his texts with “Hello Fernando. Christ is among us!” When Donkeys Talk is filled with that proclamation. Christ is among us when we are sick in bed with a cold (as I am now), or when we drive to work, or tell our kids a story at night. Though we may not be cognizant of it, we are participants in an eternal song which is being sung by all creation, joined by all the saints who have gone before us, and all the heavenly host who are gathered before God’s throne. Together we are proclaiming “Christ is Among us!”
Juan Fernando Ortega
October 30, 2012