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Cleveland Indians: 1915-2021

I knew this day was coming sooner rather than later. But now it’s official: After this season, the Indians are no more. Starting with the 2022 season, they will officially be known as the Cleveland Guardians. I don’t really know what I feel other than sadness. The changing of the team name signifies so much more than just “moving forward” to me. Even though I wasn’t an Indians fan as long as other people, the changing of the name represents the wiping out of nostalgic memories many have shared at the ballpark with their families and friends.

If I go to a “Guardians” game in the future, I won’t be reminded of past nostalgic and fun memories of my team, the Cleveland Indians. I will instead be reminded of the sweeping wave of political correctness that has this country in an iron grip. Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland Indians were just another pair of inevitable casualties. They were small speed bumps on the road to progressive wokeness. This was merely done so a small, powerful, vocal group of people can feed into their false moral superiority complex. They need to feel better about themselves without really having solved any serious existential problem.

Am I bashing everyone in support of the name change? Absolutely not. I’m sure everyone has their own reason for supporting it, and I completely respect their opinions. But I know this was driven by people far above simple protests at the ballpark. It’s simply a small instance of hollow political correctness winning out amidst a huge worldwide agenda. For that reason, I bristle at the name change. I chafe at it.

The second reason I am against the name change was a voiceover Tom Hanks did for the new Guardians name. I greatly respect his abilities as an actor, and I would hope he’s a decent human being when the cameras aren’t rolling. But as the time has passed, in my mind he has become inextricably tied to the Hollywood machine. He’s not even remotely a Clevelander or Ohioan. He briefly lived here as an up and coming actor. He’s part of a group of elites who look down upon those of us who don’t share their worldview. I’m a prime example of the people they preach and pontificate to. Yes, I did go to a left leaning college at Kent State. And I am more clearly able to see and understand left-wing points of thinking, whether I agree with them or not. But after all of my formative experiences, I am still me: A farmboy who absolutely cannot stand those who talk down to everyone else. Arrogance is my number one pet peeve.

The voiceover also seemed like a weakly veiled attempt by Indians/Guardians owner Paul Dolan to convince those of us who are unhappy or angry that this is for the best. And he’s appealing to the Hollywood machine to do so. This is a purely political move, and the man isn’t brave enough to say so, even though I’m sure he knows what’s going on. He’s wrong, but he ain’t stupid. After all, he was squeezed by MLB to get rid of Chief Wahoo ahead of the 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland, and he caved. This is simply more of the same.

I guess what upsets me the most isn’t that the name is changing. It’s why it’s changing, and what it represents. The name change is merely a tiny drop in the ocean of a disingenuous agenda. The whole thing seems insincere and phony to me. The agenda may seem benevolent on the surface. After all, who could possibly be against social justice, inclusion and progress, right? But if the name change, and other things like it are truly done in the name of those ideals, how come when people are upset, they’re coldly told to “get over it” or to “get on the right side of history”? Responses like that reek of a superiority complex to me. And treating people like that only makes those who are upset or angry dig their heels in and fight harder.

We have so many other problems as a nation. Shady voting practices. A true border crisis. Higher ups in education teaching kids what to think instead of how to think. An administration slowly killing this country by spending trillions of dollars in just six months. Washington cracking down on speech they don’t like on social media. And divisiveness and hatred like I’ve never seen before in my life. Not one of those problems has been fixed. Not one iota. But we can feel fantastic as a nation for removing supposedly offensive team names.

Forgive the dark example folks, but I don’t know how else to put it. Removing a team name is like trying to cover a stab wound or bullet hole with a Band-Aid. Our country is being slowly killed with so many very real problems that we’ve done absolutely nothing about. Yet we slap on the Band-Aid in this particular situation, so we can feel good about ourselves for having done something surface-level and symbolic. Yes, racism is a real problem in this country and all over the world. But this isn’t even remotely how to fix it.

In the meantime, I may or may not follow the “Guardians” next season. If everyone else wants to, great! Go for it! But it’s gonna take me a while to get used to this one. It’s much deeper than a name change for me and many others. The Cleveland Indians are always going to be my baseball team. Go Tribe.

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Midway: High-Flying Thriller!

A few days ago, I watched Midway for the first time. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But now after watching it for the third time in less than a week, I can definitely say it’s one of my new favorite history movies along with Downfall and Darkest Hour.

I’ve never really given much thought to what it must’ve been like to fly a Dauntless, Wildcat or P-51 Mustang during World War II. But Roland Emmerich was a master at not only putting the audience in the pilot’s seat, he also did a great job at capturing the feel of how intense and dangerous the combat was, along with what the mood was among many American fighter pilots during the war.

At the start of the film, the recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor definitely woke me up. I couldn’t imagine being a sailor on deck that Sunday morning in Oahu. They were minding their own business with their shipmates and friends, enjoying the beginning of what they thought was going to be a peaceful December day. They must’ve thought the huge squadron of planes heading toward them was friendly…until they started divebombing and torpedoing everything in sight!

I understand this is a movie, and creative liberties were probably taken at certain points to enhance the gravity or weight of everything. But in my case watching it, it definitely did what it was probably supposed to do: Make me remember the nearly 3,500 American sailors wounded and killed that day, and set the stage for a group of young fighter pilots eager to do what the entire country wanted to do at that time: Get revenge on Japan.

The Key Players

The portrayal of the pilots and sailors we get to know throughout the movie was another strong point of Midway. Ed Skrein heads a solid cast. He portrays Richard Halsey “Dick” Best, a divebomber from New Jersey. He’s loud, brash, funny at times, yet tough as nails when he has to be. Not to mention he’s got antifreeze in his veins. But I suppose bomber pilots had to be that way…especially when they’re flying into a hail of bullets from Japanese AA guns while bombing ships up close and personal!

Other important figures portrayed in the movie include:

  • Clarence Dickinson (Luke Kleintank), Dick Best’s friend and fellow bomber.
  • Wade McCluskey (Luke Evans), a flight instructor and fighter pilot. One of Best’s superiors.
  • Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas), Machinist Mate First Class.
  • William “Bull” Halsey (Dennis Quaid), Fleet Admiral.
  • Chester W. Nimitz (Woody Harrelson), Fleet Admiral and Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
  • James Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart), fighter pilot, known for the famous “Doolittle Raid” where he led a mission to bomb Tokyo.
  • Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), a U.S. Pacific Fleet Intelligence officer who worked to crack Japanese naval codes.
  • Joseph Rochefort (Brennan Brown), a Radio Analyst who works with Layton to crack Japanese naval codes.

Midway was really strong in not only showing the distinct personalities of these men, but also showing the role they had to play in our eventual victory in World War II. Roland Emmerich constructed everything in such a way that the movie fit together like a puzzle. What one key player did directly affected, or helped the other key players to do their jobs. Midway definitely showed the teamwork involved in winning the war in the Pacific. Plus every key personality was fleshed out enough that I feel like the actors could reprise their roles in spinoff movies. They were that good, in my opinion!

I know Midway likely won’t get any spinoffs or sequels. But if the studio had wanted to, they could’ve made spinoffs to Midway. Perhaps one showing the Doolittle Raid, another showing more of Nimitz’s and Halsey’s leadership within our Navy, and one showing Layton and Rochefort cracking the Japanese naval codes along with other intelligence operatives. If a movie was ever made similar to the style of Midway, but with Layton and Rochefort as the stars, I imagine it as kind of like a Zero Dark Thirty film with a World War II twist. I’m sure the intelligence work was extremely interesting!

Tireless and tenacious intelligence work often gets overlooked in the midst of huge ground, naval or air victories. Generals, Admirals and Commanders get the glory for winning battles and wars. They should. They should always be honored along with their troops. But without top notch intelligence, every big military operation in history would’ve stayed stuck in neutral. Nothing would go anywhere.

“This is for Pearl!”

My favorite scene in the entire film though, had to be this one:

Everything about this scene was just awesome. The tense music, the chaos of the battle, and Dick Best letting out a primal scream after dropping the bomb to sink a Japanese carrier. How much more badass can it get?! The scene definitely seems Hollywood-ized, but that’s not the point of it. I think this scene was used to show how Dick Best and so many others felt about Pearl Harbor, which I completely understand and agree with. I felt the same way after 9/11.

No matter how fractured our country seems at times, if we’re shocked or shaken by a common enemy that wakes us up like with Pearl Harbor or 9/11, we take a second or two to let it register. Then we get angry and all unholy hell breaks loose once the sleeping American Giant wakes up. Like one of my favorite songs says: “We may have done a little bit of fighting amongst ourselves. But you outside people best leave us alone!”

Overall, I thought Midway was fantastic! I’ve definitely gotten into the habit of watching war movies lately. Maybe I should check out Fury, 1917, or Dunkirk next? But I would definitely recommend Midway to anyone who likes action movies, and is a student of history. Jump into the copilot’s seat with Dick Best and the others. You won’t regret it!

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Parable of the Tenants: A warning to the world

For those of you who have followed my blog from the beginning: Thank you. You know I don’t write unless I feel truly moved to do so. This is definitely one of those times. I just finished listening to The Parable of the Tenants in Chapter 12 of Mark, and was instantly jerked awake. I literally got chills, and felt that God was trying to tell me something. The Parable of the Tenants, not to be confused with The Parable of the Talents, is in Mark 12:1-12. Before reading more of this post, take a moment and read the parable here.

Before I listened to this parable, I genuinely asked God in my heart to help me see whatever it is that He wants me to see, if anything. And boy did He! Usually I listen to or read chapters of Scripture expecting to learn, or write something down to remember. But every once in a while, God smacks me in the face! Most of the time, those rare “Godsmacked” moments are joyful, peaceful and deeply profound. They sometimes even move me to tears!

This time though, God’s message to me seemed ominous. Like He was not only warning me, but the rest of the world. Especially when we ridicule, mock, hurt or kill those who tell the truth that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Right away, I understood that the vineyard owner in the parable was God. Next, I understood each servant the vineyard owner sent to the tenants, to be any voice of truth that preaches the Gospel. These voices were the Old Testament Prophets, Jesus Himself, and any true Christian who walks the Earth today.

In the parable, what is the reaction to each of the servants the vineyard owner sends? They’re beaten or killed. What is the reaction to the son of the vineyard owner? He’s beaten and killed. To me, this represents what happens when the world receives a person who tells the truth that Jesus preached, taught, and literally embodied while He walked this Earth.

The world hates the truth. It doesn’t want to hear it. Or if it does, it only wants to hear the sunshine and rainbow, peaches and cream parts that it likes. This was as true in first century Judea, as it is in our 21st century world. The world likes the “Buddy version of Jesus” as long as he doesn’t rock the boat. Society likes the timid, agreeable Jesus that can easily be shuffled into the background if he offends somebody. The “Jesus” they know apologizes and meekly saunters away into a quiet corner. Their “make believe Jesus” is only allowed to step out of that corner when they want to hear something that makes them feel good. I don’t know who THAT “Jesus” is, but he’s certainly not the Jesus I know and love with all my heart. Society’s “Jesus” is a weak, spineless imposter!

What happens if someone shares the real, authentic Jesus? If they share the radical, sometimes fiery and controversial man who seems to delight in stepping on toes and stirring the pot, our secular, largely godless society puts its fingers in its ears when exposed to Him. As a result, when someone tells the whole truth of the Gospel, they may lose friends, be openly mocked, physically hurt or killed.

At the end of the parable, a chilling warning is given: What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture:

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes”?

We often scoff at the truth. I certainly have at times. It’s not always easy for us to hear and obey what God tells us through Jesus. The world often brands the people who share the Gospel as “crazy,” or “dumb.”

But the day where the vineyard owner finally returns to settle things with His tenants is coming sooner than you think. It will be upon us all without warning. Which group of tenants will you find yourself in on the last day? Will you be among the righteous ones who have done the will of the vineyard owner, or in league with the bad tenants who have rejected the truth of Jesus? Choose wisely!

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Darkest Hour: Bringing Churchill to life

I have always been a student of history. Something has always fascinated me about the subject. I was fascinated by it as a child and teenager, and I have come to love and respect it as a grown man. I believe we need to know both history’s greatest triumphs and darkest tragedies, and take their lessons to heart. For if we know how things have played out in the past, it’ll help us make good decisions which will lead to a bright and prosperous future for ourselves, and our children after us.

I have also been inspired by a great number of historical figures for their courage and determination in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. Few seem to embody that courage, grit, stubbornness and never say die attitude as much as Sir Winston Churchill. I don’t know if he would appreciate me calling him this, but I always call him the British Bulldog. When everyone around him was ready to throw in the towel and negotiate for peace with Hitler in May 1940, he relentlessly stood his ground, he dug in and was stubborn like a bulldog! Gary Oldman was absolutely superb in bringing him to life in Darkest Hour, one of my new favorite historical movies!

Who was Winston Churchill?

Before I watched this movie, I admittedly did not know much about Winston Churchill beyond what I was taught in history class, in that he was our country’s greatest ally and friend in wartime once we joined the fight in December 1941.

But now after having seen Darkest Hour, I have a whole new level of respect and appreciation for him that just wasn’t there before. That’s not to say I didn’t respect him before. I always have respected him. But Gary Oldman brought out his humanity, and that really resonated with me. Winston Churchill was more than just the top-hat-wearing, cigar-chomping, whiskey-drinking man we see in the history book. If this movie is historically accurate and true to who he was as a person, Winston Churchill was a passionate, emotional man who deeply loved his home country in the same way I passionately love my country!

He also resonates with me because of his kindness to the people, and his sense of humor. Particularly when dealing with pesky reporters constantly hounding him for any updates on the war effort. When one reporter kept badgering him about whether or not he thought Britain was losing the war, he abruptly stopped walking, wheeled around to face the man, and gave him a “backwards peace sign” that instantly offended him. After that, it was all over the front page of the newspapers!

This scene taught me a new cultural thing, and had me busting out laughing! Apparently the “backwards peace sign” is the British equivalent of flipping somebody the bird? Learn something new every day! But that’s not even the funniest part. I bet Winston did know what the gesture meant, and he did it anyway! That would fit into his sense of humor. From what I know of Churchill before and after seeing the movie, he strikes me as a man who wasn’t politically correct. At all. And he didn’t seem afraid to rankle a few people or ruffle their feathers if he felt they needed it, with humor or otherwise πŸ˜‰

Qualities of a True Leader

In addition to showing Churchill’s humor, Gary Oldman was also an absolute master at conveying his mindset when it came to making tough decisions. It seems to me like he often felt alone in facing Hitler. After all, his people were terrified, and nearly every politician in his cabinet was more than willing to back down and bow to Hitler. It took balls for Churchill to truly stand up for what he felt was right. And history did eventually prove that he WAS right in not backing down.

But the most important thing with that part of the film, is that Gary Oldman nailed portraying Churchill in such a way, that I felt as if I were there with him during the times he was outnumbered. I empathized with him. I felt as if I were there in person, watching him spar with Lord Halifax and other members of his cabinet, over whether or not to give in to Hitler or continue fighting.

It also became clear to me that Winston Churchill was often the wisest and most aware person whenever he was in the room with his advisors. When they wanted to sue for peace, and truly believed that Hitler would be merciful and reasonable, he knew what kind of man he was REALLY dealing with. He saw what no one else could see. He saw the giant 800 pound “Nazi gorilla” in the room when everyone else either couldn’t see it, or willfully looked away.

“You cannot reason with a tiger, when your head is in its mouth!”

There were several sparring matches like this, with Winston often going against the others alone, until former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain joined him, once Chamberlain realized that peace with Hitler was impossible. I couldn’t imagine the stress Churchill was under. He saw the Battle of Britain coming before it happened, and he probably felt like no one was trying to help him. At one point in the film, he is on the verge of tears while he is at home. He feels hopeless, scared of the oncoming battle, and frustrated at the lack of help he’s getting. But his wife, Clementine Churchill comforts him. After that, he seems reinvigorated and ready to go. Ready to stand his ground and protect his people. He did indeed stand his ground. Because of it, history smiles on him as a hero. He was a bulwark for the British people and the rest of the world against arguably the most evil man in history.

Man of the People

Lastly Churchill’s love for his people was shown in a powerful scene near the end of the film. From all I have heard, the scene itself is fictional. It supposedly never happened. But there is an element of truth in it. Apparently, Churchill would often disappear from the sight of his bodyguards or the people he was with…only to be found later, talking with the common person, and listening to their views whether he agreed with them or not. That is a leader. That is a true servant of the people. Something the politicians in Washington have not done in decades! The world needs more people like that!

Overall, I thought this movie was extremely well done! Darkest Hour has also inspired me to learn more about who Winston Churchill really was. Our society seems like it could use more people like him in leadership positions. He certainly was not perfect. He was a human being like the rest of us and made plenty of mistakes. But he was there when his country and the world needed him the most, said what everyone needed to hear whether they liked it or not, and he didn’t rest until Hitler and the Nazis were no more.

God Bless Winston Churchill!

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Downfall: A Tragic Classic

I have always been interested in studying history of any kind. But I’m particularly fascinated with political and military history. How certain people acquire power, the rise and fall of once mighty empires, and the strategies used by brilliant generals to defeat their enemies, has always been extremely interesting to me.

However I think many of us often don’t understand what it’s like living in the middle of all these things. It’s easy to be interested in something and study it when it’s years, decades or centuries in the past. The film titled Downfall, rips away any of that by placing viewers squarely in Berlin, Germany in the closing days of World War II. Most people may know Downfall from when the “Hitler meltdown parodies” were the biggest thing on YouTube back in the day.

But now after watching the film, I find it hard to laugh at any of those videos anymore. Downfall is a gritty, nasty, realistic film that should be watched only by people who think they can stomach it. I’m glad I watched it to be able to truly get a sense of what things were like back in 1945 Berlin. But it’s also one of those rare movies that left me feeling emotionally drained after watching it. It’s a brilliant film by director Oliver Hirschbiegel that was nominated for an Oscar, but I’m not exactly itching to watch it again anytime soon. Downfall attempted to recreate the final days of one of the darkest chapters in human history, and did so better than almost any film I’ve ever seen.

There were several things that struck me in the opening minutes of the film. I was awestruck by the absolute carnage in Berlin, and this is even before the Soviet army shows up to capture the city. Buildings were smoldering. The screaming whistle and explosion of Allied artillery was practically constant in the movie’s opening scenes. And there were more civilians preparing to fight the Soviets in the streets, than there were commissioned officers. Some of these people were teenagers and young children! While Hitler and his inner circle were hiding in an underground bunker like the cowards that they were, they left everyone to fend for themselves!

Another thing that struck me, was how Eva Braun was portrayed by German actress Juliane Kohler. At certain times throughout the film, Eva Braun often strikes me as disconnected from reality. But then again, she had to be disconnected from reality, and at least somewhat insane if she was romantically involved with one of the most evil men in history. The war is all but lost and the Soviets are slowly tightening their grip on Berlin by shelling the city day and night, yet she swing dances, parties, smokes, and seems to be enjoying herself. The crazy thing? I truly think that Eva Braun, Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Magda Goebbels, and the other high-ranking Nazis in the bunker, thought they were going to be saved by some miraculous breakthrough.

What happens when they finally realize that nobody is coming to help them though, is an interesting study in human psychology and what the breakdown of the mind looks like. When the realization that they’ll all soon be dead finally dawns on them, they turn on each other like a bunch of piranhas. They eat each other. Hitler points the finger at his most trusted followers and brands them as traitors. Several generals begin fighting amongst themselves. The original scene of Hitler’s meltdown shows the moment when he finally realizes everything is over. It’s age-restricted but still available on YouTube. You can go to it from here.

Traudl Junge

What happened in Berlin in late April 1945 is a powerful story by itself. But when historical people are portrayed by incredibly skilled actors, they bring an extra layer of weight and realism to what happened. German-Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara plays Gertraud “Traudl” Junge, Hitler’s personal secretary who was responsible for typing many of his messages and pieces of propaganda to the German people. She was brilliant in portraying Junge’s mindset during the film.

Alexandra Maria Lara as Traudl Junge

She originally was happy to serve Hitler when he first hired her as his secretary in 1942. She originally saw being his secretary as just a job. But towards the end of the film, we see her eventually start to come to terms with what she has done by helping him. She realizes that while yes, she wasn’t directly responsible for perpetrating suffering and death upon millions like many of the Nazi soldiers, she did contribute to a bunch of anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi propaganda that encouraged others to do those things. In the film’s closing credits, we see the real-life Traudl Junge admit that she should’ve known right from wrong back then, even at 22 years old. Traudl Junge seemed haunted by everything until her death in 2002.

Joseph and Magda Goebbels: The Couple From Hell

While Alexandra Maria Lara was brilliant as Traudl Junge, the portrayals of Joseph and Magda Goebbels by Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch, hit me harder emotionally. The portrayal delivered by Matthes and Harfouch showed me just what radical, blind devotion to evil looked like. Nothing came before their devotion to Hitler. Not morality. Not logic. Not reason. And especially not their six little children.

Goebbels Family in Downfall

I’m rarely shocked by anything I see in movies or TV nowadays. I’m probably desensitized to many things, since it’s the nature of American television, unfortunately. But watching the scene where Magda sedates her young children to knock them unconscious, and then having them bite down on cyanide pills, is one of the most gut wrenching things I have ever seen. I did not cry. I was too shocked to do anything but watch. It’s one of those things where you know what happens, but you hope beyond hope that it doesn’t. Seeing something like that just ate at me. It would eat at even the most hardened person. Little children are so innocent, happy and pure. They haven’t been changed or dirtied by an evil world. Joseph and Magda’s children never really got the chance to be children. They had no chance at a happy life when they were raised by a pair of murderers!

Magda’s coldness with which she murdered her own children, and Joseph’s demonic, near-skeletal look have forever been seared into my brain after watching Downfall. They were evil personified. They weren’t far off from the man they blindly devoted their lives to.

Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler: A Masterpiece

I wasn’t exactly sure what to think when I first started watching the film. Hitler’s story has been done so many times, and quite a few men have portrayed him onscreen. But Swiss actor Bruno Ganz blows them all away. His portrayal of Hitler was unsettling, jarring and scary at times. It’s like he’s a ticking time bomb. Prone to blowing up at any small thing said or done by anybody.

Bruno Ganz as Hitler

But aside from that, Ganz also portrayed Hitler as a very charming, charismatic man who could be nice to others when he wanted something. He was a master manipulator. But he was also an enormous hypocrite and the world’s biggest coward. Several times throughout Downfall, Hitler’s generals beg him to order an evacuation of Berlin so the people caught in the middle of everything can get out. What’s his response? “They deserve to die. We’re about to lose Berlin and the war because they didn’t fight hard enough.”

So much for truly loving one’s country and people. What Hitler believed and did was as wrong as wrong could possibly be. But I would’ve had at least a miniscule measure of respect for the man if he had taken up a gun, stood next to everyone else and died fighting. But he didn’t even have the balls to back up what he believed in with action!

It takes a special actor to play one of history’s most evil people. And not only to portray him, but to portray him accurately. I also saw an eye-opening quote from Bruno Ganz himself when I found out he portrayed Hitler in the movie, “I couldn’t get to the heart of who Hitler was, because there was none.” Wow…

Bruno Ganz is no longer around, since he died on February 16, 2019 from intestinal cancer. But I will always believe he deserved an Oscar for this film.

A new perspective after watching Downfall

It may have been 3-4 days since I’ve seen Downfall. But it’s a movie I won’t soon forget. And with it, I have developed a new perspective. I realize just how truly horrible war is, and how utterly devastating World War II was. Anywhere from 50-73 million people were wiped off the face of the earth from 1939-1945. Including six million Jews, along with millions of other people the Nazis saw as “inferior” or “undesirable.” If I had lived in Europe or Nazi Germany back then, I would’ve been one of them. I would’ve been sent to the gas chamber for having Cerebral Palsy.

Along with this sobering look at everything, a new kind of anger has awakened inside me. Not at the Nazis, or the Holocaust deniers (although I AM angry at them). No, after watching Downfall, I realize just how clueless, heartless, and downright stupid people are when they call Trump “Hitler.” Or when they brand Conservatives “Racist” or “Nazis.” I dare every single person in that group to watch Downfall all the way through without looking away, and say those things with a straight face afterward. That is if they have the stones to even watch the film. I guarantee you they don’t!

The amount of hatred someone has to have in their heart to label someone else a “Nazi” is staggering. And it’s probably not far off from the level of hatred shown by the REAL Nazis back then! Every time these terms are tossed around like they mean nothing, they’re an insult. They’re an insult to good, sensible people. The people using them don’t realize just how dark history was back then. And every time they use those terms, they’re slapping every Holocaust survivor in the face, and pissing on the graves of those who weren’t fortunate enough to make it out alive!

I recommend that everyone see Downfall all the way through at least once in their life. Yes it’s dark, ugly and depressing. But I believe if more people saw it, they would do everything in their power to make sure nothing as dark as Nazi Germany ever happened again!

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Living and Loving Sacrificially

It’s probably all too easy for all of us to forget to love sacrificially at times. Human intent naturally seems to be selfish. Living for numero uno comes naturally to us. But the Bible verse I was shown this morning reminded me that I need to live the opposite way. Hebrews 13:16 says:

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

I like when Bible verses or passages make me think of how I can apply them, or put them into action in my life. I get legitimately excited when I can DO something and live an active faith! I love learning wisdom from the Bible that I can commit to memory, but I love even more when I can put something I learn into action. Take a few seconds to think of ways you already live sacrificially, or think of ways you can live sacrificially. We are all busy people. But no one is ever too busy to show the sacrificial love of Jesus with acts of kindness.

Two ways I try to live sacrificially in my own life situation, is by donating either my time or money to the local homeless shelter here where I live, or by taking the time to write blog posts such as this, so others can hear of the Good News of Jesus. I enjoy doing it for all of you, but it takes a little time and energy to put these out. On days like today where I know He wants me to say something, I listen to Him. I choose to let myself be an instrument through which He can speak if He chooses to. I’m just a tool though. Nobody special. I also enjoy living sacrificially when I do something nice for others as a surprise just to see the smile on their face! Their happiness is enough πŸ™‚

A Mother’s Sacrificial Love

But my examples are just small, everyday examples. They are insignificant compared to the sacrificial love a mother shows her children. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this particular Bible verse showed up the day after Mother’s Day, the day we celebrate all that our mothers do for us. I think God wanted me to speak on this. A lot of the celebration of Mother’s Day honors and recognizes deep, sacrificial love. Selfless love. A love only a mother knows. My mother Stacy Wickiser, is a great example of what it means to live and love sacrificially!

I can only imagine how much love and selflessness it takes from a mother to raise a physically normal child. Let alone one born with Cerebral Palsy. But that was the situation my mom found herself in 30 years ago. She, like Dad, was definitely scared and uncertain once I was diagnosed with my condition. She could’ve treated me differently. She could’ve seen me as a burden. She could’ve given up on me in any number of ways. But she did not think of any of that for a second! All that mattered to her was giving me the best quality of life she could possibly give me. And she still thinks this way even now!

My Mother, Stacy

She worried about me as a baby, like any good mother would. When I was a toddler and little boy, she took me to therapy to learn how to walk and live with my condition. 90 minutes a day driving me there and back, along with hours of watching over me as the therapists worked with me to improve how I was doing.

As I grew from a young boy into a teenager, there were two surgeries on my legs so I’d be able to walk properly. And both times, she was there for me while I was in pretty rough pain during 6-8 weeks of recovery. If the pain got so bad I cried, she was extra gentle with me. When the time came for me to return to school, she went out of her way to make sure all my classes were accessible while I recovered in my wheelchair, and so I could see my classmates and friends.

As I grew from a teenager into a man, there were countless times where she’d drive me up to Kent State and back, or do my laundry on the weekends I was home. She asked for nothing. And later on she worked as a housekeeper at the University of Findlay, so I could pursue a Master’s Degree that was virtually free because she’s a University employee. I know children like to brag that their mothers are the best. But I have yet to find a greater example of sacrificial love in my own life than my Mom.

Mom, if you’re reading this, thank you. Thank you for living a sacrificial life for Christy and I. I apologize for the times I have lost sight of all you’ve done and for when I have been ungrateful. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for your love and guidance. I love you always, no matter what!

The Greatest Sacrifice

There is only one greater example of sacrificial love than that of a mother for her children: The love Jesus Christ showed for us all when He willingly went to the Cross to pay the price for our sins with His own blood. It’s the greatest example of sacrificial love in all of history, past, present and future. Forevermore.

Jesus sacrificed everything. He sacrificed more time in Heaven with God. He left the comfortable, unimaginably beautiful Paradise where He had lived with His Father and countless angels. He came to this sinful world as a helpless baby, and grew up poor in the tiny little town of Nazareth. As a grown man, He endured 40 days of temptation from the Devil in the desert. He could’ve thrown in the towel then, gave up, and said “You know what, screw this I’m going home! It’s too hard!” But He didn’t do that. He endured His trials.

He knew He would make enemies with the religious authorities of His day, and with the Romans. But He sacrificed there too. He sacrificed the comfortable life He could’ve had as a wise rabbi with a wife and children if He had kept quiet and didn’t rock the boat. But He chose to live as the only truly holy and sinless example of grace, love, fearlessness, and absolute truth there has ever been in human history. And then He willingly endured the most painful death imaginable on a Roman cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He did all this out of a sacrificial love that cannot be measured, and never will be measurable by our human standards!

In today’s selfish society, I will strive to remember that I should live selflessly and sacrificially, and then look for ways to live like this. I encourage you all to do the same in your own lives. For if we do this, we become just a little bit more like the Lord. And hopefully He smiles on us πŸ™‚

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Leprosy and a Miracle

I’ve slowed down reading Scripture a little bit compared to the pace I started with. I’m just gonna say it: food regulations, rules for sacrifices, and rules on cleanliness aren’t as interesting as the story of Joseph or Moses. But the Bible is from God, and in order to know Him better, I have kept going as best as I can, even though the middle of Leviticus is very dry and repetitive. But boy am I glad I kept reading!

Leviticus 13 describes how a priest examines people for skin diseases, and what a person who has leprosy, a sign of uncleanness, must do. I tried to focus on reading the chapter as best as I could, but you know what I thought of the whole time? Jesus healing the leper. I meditated on His miracle as I read the chapter and what it meant.

As I got to the end of the chapter, the last two verses broke my heart. Leviticus 13:45-46 says:

“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone. They must live outside the camp.”

I tried to put myself in the shoes of a leper. Imagine being separated from your family, friends and loved ones, with no hope of ever being accepted back into society. That would be an awfully hard, lonely life. Plus I’m sure the stigma of leprosy also caused the people in the days of the Israelites to view lepers as cursed by God. And if a leper shouted “Unclean! Unclean!” as they walked along, it was probably an invitation to be made fun of or ridiculed. Knowing this, it made the miracle Jesus performed nearly 1,500 years later, that much more powerful and beautiful. Although I’ve seen several versions of the miracle portrayed, this is my favorite one:

That scene always has me choked up or in tears. Imagine how lonely that man must’ve been before he met Jesus. He may have wandered alone for days, weeks, months, or years. And at the same time imagine his indescribable joy after he was healed! Jesus showed how radical and unending His love is. He was willing to go to a person society considered the lowest of the low, and not only heal him completely, but restore his place among the people.

Things to learn from Jesus’ miracle

After reading Leviticus 13, and connecting it to Matthew 8 (which is where the above scene in The Chosen is taken from), I definitely had questions. I wrestled with what it meant other than Jesus loved the leper enough to heal him. Those who aren’t Christians but well versed in the Bible and the Torah will say that Jesus violated a Levitical law on cleanness by healing the leper, which is committing a sin.

But Jesus did not violate any law, nor did He sin. Rather, He revealed God’s character in that instance: That He loves the people who society shuns and looks down upon. I still struggle mentally with reading Leviticus 13 and then Matthew 8, because they seem contradictory. Why would God give these laws on cleanliness, and then heal a leper 1,500 years later? I still don’t entirely know the answer to that one, and I am not going to claim that I do. This is where faith comes in πŸ™‚

This is just my take, so take it with a grain of salt. But I believe this was an instance of God teaching us that we should have a heart like His, rather than be legalistic. And He shows us this several more times throughout the New Testament. By healing the leper, Jesus fulfilled the heart of God’s law rather than the letter of it. The heart of God’s law is love.

Jesus also did two other things by healing the leper: Reward the leper’s faith, and provide a MASSIVE clue to His ultimate identity as the Messiah. The leper had never personally met Jesus before. He had no reason to believe He was a miracle worker. He had only heard from somebody else about Him. But yet he had enough faith in his heart to say, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” He addressed Jesus as Lord because in his heart, the leper knew who He was. The leper had faith and trusted in Him.

Which brings me to the last thing I learned: By this miracle, Jesus showed in just one of many ways that He is the Messiah and God incarnate in the flesh. This was just one in a series of seven major miracles He performed that are recorded in the New Testament. They’re big flashing neon signs pointing right to Jesus as if He’s saying, “I’M RIGHT HERE! YOU CAN’T MISS ME!”

I also see the healing of the leper in another way. We are all spiritual lepers. Our souls are infected with the spiritual leprosy of sin. But just as Jesus rewarded the faith of the leper, He rewards us when we have faith in Him to forgive us of our sins, and to trust in Him. And just as Jesus embraced the leper after healing Him, He will one day embrace us in the Kingdom of Heaven if we allow His sacrifice to make us clean.

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Matthew 6:1-4

Well this has been an interesting post to write…

I don’t often block people, or get blocked myself on Facebook. I’ve only ever blocked maybe three people, and been blocked four times including this morning. But I guess when you speak truth, people don’t like to hear it. Whether that’s someone you thought was a friend, or a world-famous Catholic priest!

Yep. I was blocked from commenting on a post by Father Jim Sichko, a priest out of Lexington, Kentucky. He’s known as the “Missionary of Mercy” on social media circles. He’s met the Pope, several celebrities, and has done all sorts of things for the poor and disadvantaged. I think overall he seems to be a very good man. He seems like a nice guy and is a very powerful preacher! He came to my home church in Carey, Ohio once and gave an absolutely FANTASTIC homily (sermon) on why showing respect by staying during the whole Mass and participating in it is so important. He was like a breath of fresh air. He woke us up!

But for all of the good things he does, there’s one thing I can’t stand: Every time he does something good for somebody else, he posts about it on social media. Not occasionally like a normal human being. ALL. THE TIME. I’m not jealous of him or envious that he’s being seen by others. I would honestly hate that kind of attention most of the time. People do need to see good things being done in our broken, dark world. But where I have a problem, is that he could do all the things he does with the money he has, entirely in secret. He doesn’t need to toot his own horn. If he does nice things, and is recognized by the people he helped, great! People need to see Christlike love more often! But drawing attention to oneself reminds me of Matthew 6:1-4, in which Jesus is warning people not to be like the Pharisees. He says:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Here’s a screenshot of the post that got me blocked. I apologize for the blurry photo. But you can probably still read what it says: Father Sichko talks about giving to others by helping bury the father of the two kids in the picture, and then buying their steers and donating the meat to charity.

I’ve been quiet in the past and just scrolled on by when he does stuff like this, occasionally rolling my eyes at it. But I couldn’t stand by anymore. Something got into me last night. Perhaps it was the tone with which he posted it, like “look at me! See all the good I am doing for others?” Or maybe it was the fact that everyone was praising him, and nobody was politely calling him out for clearly going against what Jesus says. Perhaps it was also the way he seemed to brag about helping pay for another person’s funeral? Who does that? If I had the money to help pay for a funeral, I wouldn’t be telling anyone I paid for it. Let alone blast it all over social media! Humility and some respect for the dead and their family is more important than getting a pat on the back over social media!

I rarely call people out. Mostly because I know I am a sinner too, and somebody somewhere could definitely remind me of a time I was far, far less than Christlike. There have been loads of those times where I haven’t been acting or living like a Christian. I am often wrong, stubborn, sinful, and human rather than like Jesus.

But every once in a long while, I think I discover what it means to be righteously angry, and that not following or respecting Jesus needs called out in society. And anyone can and should be called out. Even famous people in positions of authority. People need to be held accountable.

So after I saw Father Sichko’s post, I calmed myself and politely was like, “Father Jim, what you do for people is great πŸ™‚ But do you think Jesus would be happy with how you’re going about it? Reread Matthew 6:1-4. I want your take on it.”

I was nervous after I posted it. After all, the mob on Facebook doesn’t take too kindly to some average Joe from Ohio challenging a famous person. Let alone a priest who should be and probably is, far more well-versed in Scripture than I am. But I felt it needed to be said. So I went to bed after posting that, nervous that I had opened a massive can of worms.

I checked my Facebook notifications this morning, bracing myself for the onslaught of angry, indignant comments. “How dare you criticize a priest?! He does so much more good for others than you can, or will ever do!” But as I checked it, I didn’t see any angry responses. I actually saw two likes from a couple people who agreed with me. So I was relieved. But then something very interesting happened. Father Jim responded to my post. But unfortunately when I checked to see what he said, I saw this:

Yep. He went there. Instead of having a dialogue with me on whether or not my thinking was correct, or answering my question, Father Jim made it so I couldn’t go back and forth with him on his post. It may be a small instance on Facebook. But that told me a LOT about a bunch of things: His character, whether or not I was right in calling him out, and just how much the Catholic Church worries about threats to good PR, or somebody making them look bad. I understand that I am a nobody in the grand scheme of things. Nobody’s going to put the entire Church on notice with one simple Facebook comment, and I am not a threat to the Church. I’m one man. But if I’m not a threat and Father Jim was following Jesus, he should’ve responded to me and allowed me to do so as well. I would still gladly welcome a conversation with him! But unfortunately he’s made it so I can only like or share his posts, and not comment on them.

Which brings me to a larger point: The Catholic Church needs called out on hypocrisy and held accountable for when they don’t follow Jesus. I am not here to destroy Catholicism. I actually think it’s a very beautiful part of the Christian faith when practiced right. And thank God for my Dad, Mom, and Grandma for all guiding me and raising me in my faith as a Christian. Their love for the Roman Catholic faith has deeply influenced my own walk with Jesus, and the man I am today. They’ve passed that love on to me.

Although truly loving one’s faith does not always mean being happy with what those in leadership positions are doing. Sometimes there needs to be someone who’s like “Wait a minute, where did Jesus say to do that or act like that?” And sometimes there needs to also be righteous anger that comes from a place of love. The same sort of anger that Jesus showed when He drove the money changers out of the Temple. I cannot know His mind obviously, but something tells me that Jesus deeply, deeply loved His Jewish faith and being at the Temple. So you can imagine how horrified, shocked and downright livid He was when He saw people selling animals and making money in a holy place like that!

But when Jesus went off, what did the Pharisees do? They were simply like, “Who are you, to tell us this?!” Which is what I imagine Father Jim saying to me if I had been allowed to respond to correcting him with Scripture. After all, he’s the wise priest who spent years in seminary. And I’m just the farmboy who struggles to be a good man while still feeling like a relative baby in my walk with Jesus.

But that’s where the thinking needs to change. Nobody in authority should be above being corrected. Especially those who claim to represent God as His people on Earth. And the Catholic Church needs to focus more on helping others in secret. Without having to blast their good deeds all over cyberspace.

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Chronicles of Brothers, Book 3: Son of Perdition

She did it again. Wendy Alec is an absolute master at writing great books! Son of Perdition, the third book in the Chronicles of Brothers series was full of suspense, government conspiracies, and it ended in the Summer of 2025, just before the start of the Tribulation described in the Book of Revelation.

In the whole timeline of the series, we’re 2,000 years past the events of Messiah: The First Judgment. It’s 1981, Lucifer has found a way back to Earth in spite of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross destroying his complete hold on humanity. And he has devised a plan to sway humanity back to his rebellion against God: the birth of his own dark messiah. The Antichrist.

As I read through the book, it became clear to me just how much Lucifer twists good or holy things, and creates his own warped version of them. To mirror Jesus, he oversees the birth of the Antichrist. He also distorts and warps the miracle of life created by God, and in its place, has his chief sorcerers and scientists create all sorts of twisted, grotesque creatures that are a mockery of the natural order of things.

Lucifer also heads his own “unholy trinity.” As a counter to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, there’s Lucifer, the Antichrist, and one of Lucifer’s chief generals, a fallen angel named Charsoc assuming the role of the False Prophet described in the Book of Revelation.

One particular quote said by Lucifer in the book gave me chills. Just as he’s anointing the Antichrist near the end of the book, he says these words, a dark and twisted version of the most beautiful verse in the Bible, John 3:16:

“For I so loved the world, that I sent my only begotten son, that whosoever take the Mark and follows him shall perish and forfeit eternal life. For mine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, forever and ever Amen!”

Not only does Lucifer twist and warp holy and good things, he also shows his absolute ruthlessness in pursuit of achieving his main goal: The total destruction of humanity by any means necessary. To him, everybody is a pawn in his game against God. Everybody is expendable. So many in his inner circles loyally serve him, But once the Antichrist is ready to assume full power over the world, they will all die by various means. No exceptions.

The Illuminati: The Power Behind the Suits

I don’t often consider myself a conspiracy theorist. I probably scoff at 90% of the conspiracy theories I’ve heard in my lifetime. But every once in a while, I hear one that not only seems believable in my mind, but likely. For example, I do not believe Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in his prison cell. Not for a nanosecond. He was murdered by some very powerful people who didn’t want to be exposed for their evil. Nobody will ever change my mind on that one.

Another one that I have in my mind falls similarly in line with what Wendy Alec talks about in Son of Perdition: A One World Government. The book opens on 9/11, with one of the flights crashing into the World Trade Center. But that’s only a small part in the grand plan of things. Because right after the crash we see Lucifer (in his human disguise as a Jesuit priest), and a boardroom full of bankers, stock brokers, diplomats and dignitaries, discussing and mapping out several future events at that time. They talk about the invasion of Afghanistan, the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the 2008 Recession, plans for World War III, and the eventual peace treaty that is to be signed in the Middle East.

Hypothetical World Government Symbol

Now, I do not believe world history is literally being shaped by demons disguised as humans. But I do believe there are puppet masters FAR higher than any world government pulling the strings. Truly evil people who have not been brought to justice yet, and may never be. Yes, our government in Washington is incredibly corrupt. But I have always believed they answer to some higher authority. Big Tech. World Banks. Multinational mass media companies. The ladder of world corruption probably climbs higher than any of us can imagine. This is the angle Wendy Alec takes. In Son of Perdition, every war, economic collapse and election is merely a move forward on the path to Armageddon.

From Hope to Fear and Anxiety

Son of Perdition has a polar opposite feel and tone compared to the book that preceded it. In Messiah: The First Judgment, the whole book shows the love that Jesus treats everyone with. His life and miracles are described in powerful, vivid detail. In some cases I misted up or cried! Yes there are dark moments in the book, such as when Jesus encounters demons guarding the tomb of Lazarus, the overall mood surrounding the Crucifixion and the gloomy atmosphere of Hell that Jesus encounters on Holy Saturday after His death and before His Resurrection. But overall, Messiah: The First Judgment is a hopeful book, because it shows the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice. He also frees all of the righteous dead from Hell, while imprisoning Lucifer there for the next 2,000 years.

Pale Horseman of the Apocalypse

In Son of Perdition, there is no such hopeful mood. From the get go, its like you’re going through the story waiting for a ticking time bomb to explode. Every act in the story leads to something bigger and even more sinister. This book is a thriller but also scary! And at certain times in the book, astronomers and scientists see an ominous, hooded figure on a pale horse appear in the sky. This is the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death. The Four Horsemen themselves haven’t shown up to wreak havoc. Yet. But when the Pale Horseman appears in the sky, it’s a warning that the end of the world, and the Second Coming of Jesus isn’t far off. Considering how the fourth book in the series is titled A Pale Horse, something tells me it won’t be long before Death, Pestilence, War and Famine team up to bring humanity to its knees!

An Unexpected Encounter

There is one hopeful aspect to the book though. Redemption for one of its main characters. Throughout the series, readers become more and more well acquainted with the De Vere brothers: Nick, Adrian and Jason. They were all born into a wealthy English family. Jason becomes a multibillionaire media mogul, basically controlling most of the world’s major media outlets through his business deals. Middle brother Adrian rises through the political ranks, first becoming the British Prime Minister, and then the President of the European Union. He’s more powerful than the President of the United States, who answers to him. He’s the most powerful person in the world.

Nick De Vere on the other hand, is the playboy of the three brothers. He’s the youngest of the three. The baby of the family. He doesn’t see any need to do anything other than enjoy himself. Unfortunately at some point before the beginning of the series, Nick’s hard-partying, drug-fueled, sex-crazed lifestyle catches up to him. He contracts HIV from a dirty heroin needle, which eventually progresses into full blown AIDS. With a looming death sentence hanging over his head, he becomes bitter, angry, reclusive, and a hardline atheist.

One night however, he stumbles across several artifacts on an archaeological dig in Petra, an ancient city in Jordan. One of these artifacts is a small carved wooden Cross, reportedly carved for the Nabatean King Aretas by Jesus when He was three years old. Even though he’s a militant atheist, Nick grabs the Cross, aware of the stories of its supposed miraculous healing powers. When his disease isn’t healed by the Cross, Nick scoffs at it.

Just then, he hears a voice behind him telling him that Petra is a holy place, and sees a figure cloaked in a deep purple robe. As Nick starts to sarcastically converse with the hooded figure, the cave he’s in grows more and more bright with white light. When the light eventually becomes too painful to bear, the figure removes the hood. It’s none other than the man Nick had been mocking: Jesus Christ Himself! Jesus is then described by Wendy Alec similarly to how John describes Him in the Book of Revelation: So majestic, beautiful, glowing, and too painful and bright to look at directly. Guys, the way she described Jesus immediately made may hair stand on end! I GOT CHILLS! No book has ever given me goosebumps. It was so beautiful, yet terrifying at the same time!

I immediately put myself in Nick’s shoes. How would I react if Jesus suddenly appeared in front of me, glowing so bright I couldn’t look at Him directly? I’d definitely be face first on the floor crying and begging for mercy! Nick does exactly that. But surprisingly Jesus isn’t vengeful toward him. Instead, Nick can feel Jesus’ love for him radiating outward. He’s healed of his disease completely, his soul is saved, and he slowly falls unconscious. Three days later, Nick awakens at his uncle’s house thinking the whole thing was some sort of fantastical dream. But once he realizes it was no dream, and sees that he’s completely healed, he just breaks down and sobs for fifteen straight minutes while his uncle holds him! Can any of you imagine that kind of peace and joy?! Oh my goodness!

Now that he is healed, Nick’s eyes are opened to the fact that his oldest brother Jason needs to be warned about the true identity of their brother, Adrian. Adrian isn’t the loving, caring brother they both have grown up to love. No. He’s the Antichrist! A cold, calculating creature created by Lucifer who replaced their real brother, who was murdered shortly after his birth.

The book ends with Nick, Jason and Adrian’s mother being murdered in a hospital by Adrian himself. The fact that he took his own mother’s life so coldly shows just how evil he really is. He won’t have any problem bringing pain, suffering and death to billions of people down the road.

The next step down that road? Book 4 of the Chronicles of Brothers series: A Pale Horse. Can’t wait to check that one out! Yes, the series is getting dark. Armageddon is looming. But considering we all know what’s supposed to happen at the end of everything, I’m comforted. And I have to keep reading! Catch ya later everybody! πŸ™‚

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Reflecting on Good Friday

I will be the first to admit that I don’t often fully understand what Jesus did for us on this day. My mind often doesn’t fully register what went on. But the one thing I always do know? He died for me because He loves me. Here I often feel like Peter: I’m all in with my love and enthusiasm, but I’m usually slow to fully understand whatever it is that God wants to teach me.

But thankfully my mind is more clear today. On this day, Good Friday, Jesus took our place. He was punished by God for all of humanity’s sins on the Cross. I’ll go into a deeper explanation of just what this means later in this post, so others who may not fully understand it, can appreciate the true beauty of His sacrifice and love for them.

Whenever I am meditating on something, I try to imagine being there. At the time I’m writing this paragraph, it’s just past 9 AM. Which means Jesus probably wasn’t on the Cross yet, but may have been undergoing sentencing before Pilate and the Jewish people, with Barabbas opposite Him. Or perhaps He was being questioned by Herod.

But as the day goes on, I also remember other things, like the scourging at the pillar, where Jesus was severely beaten with reed sticks, whips, and the flagellum, a NASTY, cruel weapon of torture that was basically a cat o’ nine tails style whip. A whip with many strands, each lined with lead balls, pieces of broken glass and animal bone. This whip was designed to shred flesh and cause as much pain and bleeding as possible. If people were scourged with this whip repeatedly, they often did not survive long enough to make it to crucifixion due to blood loss.

But Jesus did survive. And afterward, he was crowned with the Crown of Thorns: A crown woven out of inch-long thorns that was jammed onto His head and beaten into His scalp. I cannot imagine how much pain He was in. And this was even before His Crucifixion. But He still carried on. For us. He could’ve quit and given out at any time, but He didn’t. He had to finish what He had come to Earth to do.

Sometime before noon on that first Good Friday, He began to carry his Crossbeam (or full Cross, depending on what you believe), on His shredded back roughly 600 yards to the outskirts of Jerusalem. At this point, not only was Jesus suffering serious blood loss due to the scourging and the Crown of Thorns on His head, He also was carrying either a crossbeam on his back that weighed roughly 100 pounds, or dragging a full cross weighing up to 300 pounds. And this went on as Jesus struggled through Jerusalem along what’s now known the Via Dolorosa or Way of Suffering. Along His way to Golgotha, Jesus has His face wiped by a cloth carried by the woman who would one day be known as Saint Veronica, He mourns for the women of Jerusalem, and falls three separate times. Eventually the Romans wanted to speed the process up. So they pressed a man named Simon of Cyrene into service to help Jesus carry His cross the rest of the way to Golgotha, a sort of cliff overlooking Jerusalem. It is here that Jesus will hang for the next three hours, struggling to breathe, and dealing with unimaginable pain from seven-inch nails that were driven into His hands and feet.

But instead of cursing those who crucified Him, like any normal person would have done, Jesus says something profound: “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.” It’s a simple saying. Only 10 words. But it shows how much love Jesus had for those who hated Him and wanted Him dead. Yes, Jesus loves us today. And He loves all those who trust in Him. But He also loves truly evil people too. He does not love sin. He hates sin, but looks beyond our sins and loves all of us for who we truly are. But He loved Caiaphas and the rest of the arrogant Pharisees. He loved the mob who delighted in seeing Him die. And He loved His Roman tormentors. He loved them all enough to die for their sins! No normal person would do what Jesus did!

The True Meaning of Today

While I wanted to get the point across concerning Jesus’ unimaginable physical suffering, there is incredible hope in the spiritual suffering He underwent for us. We are imperfect people, and God sees our sins. And while He loves us all since we are His most beloved creations, He is absolutely holy, good and just. Which means none of us are worthy of Heaven by the sins we have committed. And God knew this. So He sent Jesus to show us the way to treat and love each other, and then to die for us in the most painful way imaginable.

I do not, and would never, want to cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice. But for those who do not understand what happened, allow me to pull a page out of Jesus’ book, and use a sort of parable or example to explain what He did for us today.

Imagine two children. One who always gets into trouble, and another who always obeys and listens to his father. One day while the father is outside the house doing something, the disobedient child causes an accident in the house. The father hears it and comes running. He’s severely angry when he finds out what the child has done. He’s going to punish the disobedient child. At the last second, the good child begs his father not to punish his brother or sister. The father instead punishes the good child in the place of the disobedient one. This is what happened on Good Friday, but on a much grander and more beautiful scale! Jesus is perfect, but He was punished in our place since we are woefully flawed and sinful.

Dismas the Repentant Thief

Good Friday is already beautiful enough when you truly understand what Jesus did. But I also absolutely love the story of Dismas the Repentant Thief. Dismas was one of two thieves and murderers crucified alongside Jesus. But unlike his counterpart the unrepentant thief, who seeks to escape his agony, Dismas realizes that he’s being punished justly for his crimes. He endures his punishment willingly. This clip from the 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth always gives me a lump in my throat:

Dismas had no time to turn to God over a long life like we do. He was hours or minutes away from death. But the true sorrow in his heart for the wrong he had done in his life overwhelmed him. And something inside his heart showed him the truth. And struggling to breathe, he called out to Jesus, asking Him to simply remember him as he came into His Kingdom. He wasn’t expecting anything. Can you imagine his joy and relief at what Jesus said to him though?! My goodness! While Jesus offers to bring all of us home to Heaven if we turn to Him and trust in Him, it’s still mind boggling that the first person He took with Him to Heaven was a criminal! A KILLER! But that instance on the Cross shows the depth of His mercy and love.

Jesus offered to forgive even these two. Whether or not they accepted His forgiveness was between them and Him.

This might sound crazy to some. It still does to me. But imagine Adolf Hitler, Ted Bundy, Osama bin Laden, Josef Stalin and others. They’re some of the absolute worst people in history, right? Well, what if I told you that if they truly felt remorse for their sins, and recognized who Jesus is, that Jesus could forgive them too? If they sincerely were sorry for all the atrocities they committed and recognized Jesus, they would have a chance at Heaven just like we do. Jesus died for them too. That is the radical love that Jesus offers each and every one of us. Right up until our last breath on this Earth!

It is Finished

By this point, it’s nearing 3 PM in the afternoon. Jesus is absolutely exhausted. He can barely keep Himself going. He’s still in agonizing pain and can barely breathe. He’s slowly suffocating to death as He alternates between trying to prop Himself up, and allowing Himself to hang from the Cross. But He still has enough strength left in Him to ask for a drink since He’s thirsty. So one of the Roman soldiers keeping guard over Him grabs a spear, puts a sponge on it, soaks it in bitter vinegar, and raises it to Jesus’ lips.

After that, it’s time. With one final effort, Jesus completes His sacrifice: “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” Then Jesus lets go. His final breath escapes Him, his eyes go dark and He bows His head and dies. The Lamb has been sacrificed for our sins. Our price has been paid in full.

This is the holiest day of the year. And for good reason. Jesus suffered and died willingly for you, me, and every human being on this planet. If we accept this sacrifice, we can be just like Dismas, and be welcomed into Heaven by our Lord. For He paid our price in full, out of a love for us that is unimaginable and endless. Have a blessed Good Friday, everyone.

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Holy Thursday: Redemption Set in Motion

I don’t know about all of you, but whenever I think of today, and all that happened on that first Holy Thursday almost 2,000 years ago, I approach the day with a mix of emotions. Hope, knowing that my soul’s redemption would occur less than 24 hours later. Fascination, because even after almost 30 years on this planet, I still often struggle to fully understand the mystery of the Last Supper. And sadness. Sadness, because Jesus’ closest friends and followers abandoned Him. Judas betrayed him for a tiny bag of coins. Peter denied Him three times. And all of them ran off and hid. Even though I freely admit I would’ve unfortunately done the same thing.

Holy Thursday, for those who don’t know, most commonly is set aside to commemorate the Last Supper Jesus shared with the Apostles.

But the three most important things we commemorate today are the institution of Holy Communion (the bread and wine symbolizing the body and blood of Jesus), the washing of the disciples’ feet, and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.

We have the luxury of better being able to study and learn what Jesus meant by all of the things He did on that first Holy Thursday. But I bet it was all a blur and confusing to His disciples back then. They probably were riding high honestly! They had just entered Jerusalem with Jesus four days ago, to the shouts of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people proclaiming Him the Messiah and King of the Jews! If I had tagged along with Jesus, I would’ve probably just been awestruck by the reaction He received from the crowd!

The Last Supper: A Symbol of Salvation

Now fast forward four days. It’s quiet, dark, cool, foggy, and the only light they can see by are torches in the Upper Room. Quite the contrast! They eat the Passover Meal. Here is where Jesus shows the central and most beautiful aspect of Holy Thursday: He prepares the hearts and minds of the disciples (and billions of us far into the future) to receive Him by understanding His coming sacrifice using the symbols of bread and wine.

And He took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19-20)

I imagine seeing that for the first time was strange. I bet not one of the disciples understood what had just happened until much later. Keep in mind that many Jews who had met or seen or traveled with Jesus probably expected Him to be a military leader. They expected Him to lead a rebellion to destroy the Romans. To them, if a person claims to be the Messiah and then dies, that is God’s sign to them that person wasn’t the Messiah. So nobody was expecting Him to die. Let alone willingly.

But the Communion of bread and wine serves as an outward symbol of what we must do in our hearts to be saved by Jesus: If we believe in His death on the Cross as our salvation from our sins, which required Him to be broken for us and to shed His blood, we are reconciled to God.

Washing of the Feet

But after the Communion, Jesus does something nobody expects: He pours water into a basin, wraps a towel around His waist, gets on His knees, and begins washing His disciples’ feet.

In order to understand how radical and unheard of that was, you have to understand a bit of the culture back in Jesus’ day. A person’s feet were the absolute dirtiest part of their body, and many walked barefoot. If someone was hosting a guest in their house, the host would have their slave or servant wash the guest’s feet first thing before they ate with them. It was a dirty job. But Jesus turned a slave’s task into the ultimate act of servitude. He turned it on its head.

If you accept that Jesus is who He says He is, God in human form, that may immediately make you be like, “Wait what? God doesn’t do THAT. Right? He’s God. That’s so far beneath Him! They should wash His feet instead!” I may still have a lot of studying to do when it comes to reading and understanding Scripture. But the one thing I’ve already learned? God often does not do what we would expect Him to do. This was certainly one of those times πŸ˜‰

When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you not understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ And rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master. Nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

This message still seems to be radical even today almost 2,000 years later! It goes entirely against the grain of what society seems to value. For whatever reason, society has always seemed to be built on status. In Jesus’ time a person’s status may have been measured by how big their houses were, how many servants they had, how big their flocks of sheep and cattle were, and how their neighbors saw them.

In our time, status is still measured in similar ways. Instead of servants we’ve got that new car or latest iPhone. Instead of flocks of animals, we’ve got closets full of expensive designer fashion and clothes. And instead of our neighbors judging us in the middle of some dusty Judean town square, they judge us over cyberspace and social media.

But by His humble and lowly act of servitude, Jesus showed what He truly values: Humility and looking to serve others before ourselves, and to do it in the spirit with which He served others.

The Kiss of Judas

But while we commemorate Communion and the washing of the disciples’ feet, we also remember the saddest part of Holy Thursday: The betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. I could not imagine being there for that, let alone being in Judas’ spot and betraying Jesus. Judas had traveled with Jesus for three years. He spent three whole years being with God every single day. He saw all the miracles, even the ones we don’t know about that weren’t recorded in the Bible. And he had been loved by God far more deeply than any human being can ever imagine! But he sold Him out for a small bag of silver coins. I still shake my head at it. It makes my heart sink. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.

But out of the greatest and saddest betrayal in history, came the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known. After He was arrested and questioned by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was likely held overnight in a prison cell. The Lamb was held for slaughter. The next day, He would pay the price for our souls…

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Holy Wednesday Thoughts

It’s amazing how I was raised as a Christian, yet I had completely forgotten about the Parable of Two Debtors that Jesus told on that first Holy Wednesday, two days before His death. Most remember this day as Spy Wednesday, because it is commemorated as the day Judas Iscariot struck a deal with Caiaphas and the other Pharisees to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

But the Parable of Two Debtors seems to get lost in the shadow of that aspect of today. Or at least it has in my mind, unfortunately. But once I reread the parable and rediscovered its significance, I knew I had to share it with you guys!

Before you read the rest of this post, take time to read the parable. The Parable of the Two Debtors can be found here!

Everyone has their own personal interpretation of Scripture, so take from that what you will. But what I got from it was that when a person truly recognizes the depth of God’s forgiveness, as shown in the parable by the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, not only are they saved by Him, outward signs show this to others as well.

When I was rereading this parable, I thought of two examples I’ve seen in my life that might illustrate the point Jesus makes: People raised in the Christian faith from birth, and people who weren’t raised as such, but who become Christians through being forced to lean on Jesus during extreme adversity in their lives.

I’m in the first category of people. I love my Mom and Dad to death, and am beyond grateful they raised me to know Jesus at an early age. But to me, there is something different and organic in people who find their way to Jesus on their own from life dealing them several bad hands. I envy them in the best way possible. True, I may have heard the Scripture stories several times. I may know a lot of the Bible and be able to quote my favorite verses or remember my favorite passages. But I am still not as close to Jesus as I would like to be.

I truly admire the people who weren’t initially Christians before encountering Jesus, but who became Christians later on. They seem to be where I want to be: They truly realize the depth of His love and forgiveness, and love Him with a true passion and fire in their hearts that I don’t feel as often as I would like. They are the people in the parable who owed the Debtor 500 Denarii. They love Him so much because they realized the depth of their sin, and the depth of His love without having to be taught by somebody else. God called to their hearts and they found Jesus. They were like the woman in the parable: It didn’t matter where Jesus was, she went RUNNING to Him because she knew who He is. Those people did the same!

Now, I will be the first to tell you that I often feel like a worthless sinner. I often despair over my sins, and feel unbelievably unworthy of calling myself a follower of Jesus. I am most definitely not worthy of Him. There have been times I have read the Bible or seen Jesus portrayed on TV, and I instantly start crying, because I know that I have failed Him. Time and again. Over and over.

But the thing is, this recognition, and the recognition of the depths of His forgiveness took far longer in my life because I was raised in the Christian faith from birth. I was definitely sheltered spiritually. I was asleep. I still don’t feel fully spiritually awake like I want to be.

I would go through the motions. I’d go to Mass every Sunday, but not often truly hear or notice God. I’d do good things for others because it was what I was taught to do by my parents and it made me happy, but I wouldn’t always recognize or remember that good things should humbly and intentionally be done for others to emulate Jesus and glorify God. I’d be happy if others saw me as a “good guy” but not really feel that way inside, and I certainly wasn’t following Jesus closely enough to make sure my actions consistently back that up. I still struggle walking the walk.

I was a person in the parable who owed only 50 Denarii. I don’t have less sins than other people. But I am still learning to love Jesus as passionately, truly and faithfully as others He has saved who are already doing so.

My prayer for all who read this, is that we be like the woman in the parable who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, and dries them with her hair. I pray that we recognize our sins, and that we also recognize the depth of His forgiveness and mercy, and consistently go to Him. If you are trying to find Jesus, don’t seek Him halfheartedly. If you’ve found Him and He’s found you, don’t go through the motions in your relationship with Him. Don’t take His love for granted. Don’t think you’re good enough. Don’t be like Simon the Pharisee who viewed the woman as a worse sinner than himself.

Surrender yourself to Him. Spend true quiet time with Him. Go to Jesus today, and every day recognizing how much you really need Him. And ask for His forgiveness genuinely and from your heart. He is only waiting to give it πŸ™‚

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Answering Pain With Compassion

I was going to write a Holy Monday post since it’s the start of Holy Week. But I think God wanted me to focus on something else that seems more important right now. If any of you know me, you know that I’m not really a big follower of popular culture or what goes on there. Most of it seems trivial to me. Pointless. I don’t usually care what the big song is on the airwaves, what Hollywood thinks of me, or what reality show is big today. But something caught my eye on Facebook, and absolutely broke my heart:

Lil Nas X

When I first saw this, I was initially confused as to what was going on, and why he was responding the way he was. So I did some research into who Lil Nas X is, and then it became apparent to me what was going on. Lil Nas X is an openly gay rapper and musician who is probably most famous for the song Old Town Road. I guess he also just released a line of “Satan shoes,” and it’s got many people who call themselves Christians in an uproar. But here’s the thing: If he’s responding with the tweet above, that’s a cry from someone who needs truly Christlike compassion and help. He’s hurting. He’s in pain.

The normal, but shortsighted way many Christians would react would be to get angry at the satanic imagery on the shoes, or anything satanic that he puts out in his music, but miss why he said what he said. That’s similar to what Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing. He condemned them for fulfilling the letter of the Law, but ignoring or missing the heart of it. The Pharisees did all the physical, outwardly holy things to please God, but they ignored the people who were hurting. They ignored those who truly needed His compassion.

I confess that I am this way sometimes. I fail at showing Christlike compassion as much as I should. But I think God opened my heart a little bit. I know I’ll never meet Lil Nas X in person. But according to Jesus, he is my neighbor and brother. Just as every member of the LGBTQ community is my neighbor, brother or sister.

I do not understand why we can’t love everyone for who they are, as Jesus wanted us to do. I often miserably fail at it for a variety of reasons. But when I feel closer to God than I usually am, I am more aware of how often and how badly we mess up at it. I am a straight man, but I cannot imagine what LGBTQ people feel like when they’re attacked by people for who they are.

I have never been under the kind of social persecution that community has been under. I will never make light of their situation. But allow me to use an example. What some so-called Christians tell LGBTQ people, would be like someone telling me I have Cerebral Palsy and crooked legs because I am being punished by God, that He hates me for who I am, and that I am going to hell after I die.

That would strike at the very core of who I am as a man and human being, and would likely cause me to hate them and question or hate God! No wonder so many people hate Christianity when they’re treated that way! Where is the love of Jesus in the anti-gay message, or in my example? It’s nowhere to be found, and woefully misses the standard that Jesus set for us!

The supposedly anti-gay passages in Leviticus and the Sodom and Gomorrah story are NOT justification for hating, mistreating, or worse, physically harming or killing our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I can practically hear self-righteous holy rollers’ heads exploding as they read this. But those parts of Scripture are not justification, because God hates every sin of mankind. Every single one. He despises our sins.

If you’re legalistic and hypocritical with your faith (i.e. only going to Church to be seen as holy or doing good deeds for show), God hates that. (Matthew 6:1-18)

If you condemn someone else for not following Christ in the exact way you do, or at all, God hates that. (Matthew 7:2)

If you have a temper or lust after people you find attractive (things I have struggled with), God hates that. (Proverbs 14:17, and Matthew 5:27-28)

A particular verse about people who judge and condemn others hits the nail on the head. These are words from Jesus’ own mouth:

“Before removing the speck from your neighbor’s eye, remove the log from your own eye.” -Matthew 7:5

I do not believe being gay or anything on the LGBTQ spectrum is a choice or sin. But if it is a sin, that still doesn’t give me or any other Christian any right to condemn them. We will have to answer for our own sins when we stand before the judgment bench of The Almighty. There will come a day where we will have to give an account of our lives to God. And I imagine quite a few people who condemned others in life possibly being shocked and blindsided at their own condemnation by God after death!

So while we are here, we should focus less on quoting and remembering verses in the Old Testament that condemn homosexuality, and more on loving our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. That means going to them with an open heart, and listening to them if they are hurting like Lil Nas X is, seeing them as we see ourselves, loving them as we love ourselves, and reminding them that Jesus loves them just as much as He loves us. We’re ALL broken, wretched sinners in need of saving no matter how “good” we think we are. We are not good enough and are doomed if we’re on our own.

Thankfully, four days from now we commemorate that saving sacrifice on Good Friday, when Jesus willingly took our place at Golgotha on the Cross. He willingly took our sins upon His shoulders, and reconciled us to God through His death. And He did this for everyone. Absolutely everyone. Out of His immeasurable, incomprehensible love for all of humanity. I just hope everyone chooses it. As long as you are alive, it’s never too late!

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A favorite film: The Last Temptation of Christ

I have always loved The Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorsese. I think I love and appreciate it the most, because it’s the most human portrayal of Jesus I’ve ever seen anywhere. Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Him seems so relatable. He struggles with God’s plan for Him. He agonizes over things. He doubts. He goes through periods where we see Him as extraordinarily human, which He is. But at the end of the day, He overcomes those doubts and temptations, and takes our place on the Cross.

I can understand why the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and many Evangelical Christians got all worked up over the movie, though. People think a movie like this diminishes the God/Man nature of Jesus. And it’s scandalous to some to imagine Jesus having a wife and children, even though those scenes are a “what if” scenario taking place in Jesus’ mind as He hangs on the Cross. But I think The Last Temptation of Christ makes Jesus’ sacrifice all the more beautiful because it shows several things:

  1. Jesus is human like we are. He lived with the trials and tribulations of daily life as a human just as we do. Which means He loves us and truly understands our human struggles. So we can go to Him when we are at our lowest and most discouraged, knowing He was there too at one point.
  2. It shows the humanity of Jesus in a way that Scripture might not. People often might see a situation in the Bible like the Agony in the Garden the night before Jesus’ Crucifixion, yet if they’ve seen it or read it so many times, it might lose its meaning and power. Especially if people go through the motions. But when there’s a whole movie that shows Jesus struggling to realize the ultimate plan God has for Him, everything draws our focus back to exactly what He went through while He was here on Earth.
  3. The movie shows a scenario where Jesus DOESN’T die on the Cross. I always find it interesting as a sort of “alternate history” type of thing. But more importantly, it shows what would have happened if He hadn’t sacrificed Himself for us. Take a look at the video below. Powerful stuff!

I think we are often guilty of just seeing Jesus as God incarnate, which He is. But when we see Him as only God or only as a man, we get things confused. Sometimes in our minds He’s merely a flawed human and failed messiah. Or He’s a rigid, unfeeling God who doesn’t even remotely understand the struggle and pain that sometimes comes with being human. But when we accept that Jesus is both God and a flesh and blood man, this portrayal becomes one of the most powerful and beautiful things ever!

I find this movie fitting as we approach Palm Sunday this upcoming weekend. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Jesus’ life on Earth. On Palm Sunday, Jesus returned to Jerusalem and was hailed by huge, adoring crowds…knowing full well these same people who were shouting His praises and laying rugs and blankets before Him that day, would be howling for His blood five days later at Golgotha.

If He’s as human as we think, I’m sure part of Jesus wanted to avoid the inevitable. I’m sure part of Him however big or small, wanted to hide out and avoid going to Jerusalem. But He avoided that temptation, and took our place. He paid the ultimate price. He was made our scapegoat. And afterwards, God glorified Him by raising Him from the dead on Easter Sunday!

I encourage everyone to see the Last Temptation of Christ if they haven’t watched it before. If you’re someone like me who struggles, despairs and doubts often, it is one of the most comforting things ever. Jesus loves you more than you can ever possibly know. Whether you know Him, or believe in Him or not. He knows where you hurt, sin and fail. He knows where you struggle and doubt with life. He knows your thoughts, and the deepest desires of your heart, and wants to be an active part of your life. All you need to do is ask Him to be part of it. He is waiting for you with open arms πŸ™‚

There’s one warning I have for people though: Do not go into watching The Last Temptation of Christ with a closed mind. Do not hold onto your preconceived notions of Jesus while you watch this movie. Trying to fit Jesus into what we think He should be or is, will not work here. But if you can keep an open mind and heart, I promise you it will be one of the most powerful and moving films you will ever see!

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Browns Free Agency Frenzy!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And no I’m not talking about Christmas or getting the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. March 17th marked another critical point in the NFL offseason. Free Agency is upon us!

It truly is uncharted territory here. Usually, the Cleveland Browns might be focused on signing a veteran leader, drafting a Top 5 pick, and letting the chips fall where they may.

No more. After coming off a season which saw them post a stout 11-5 record, and knock the AFC North Champion Pittsburgh Steelers out of the Playoffs, GM Andrew Berry and his team are playing for keeps now. While it is true that division titles, playoff games and Super Bowls aren’t won on paper, many would say the Browns are on the doorstep of seriously chasing the Lombardi Trophy for the first time since 1989! Provided they make the right moves.

But before a team can make the right moves to put themselves in contention to chase a Super Bowl title, they need to know what their biggest needs are. I’m not a General Manager. I’m merely an intelligent fan who always tries to learn new things. But in my opinion here are the Browns biggest needs heading into 2021: Safety, Cornerback, Linebacker, Defensive End, Wide Receiver.

The Browns finally found some firepower in 2020, averaging a healthy 25.5 points per game last season according to ESPN. Baker Mayfield had a breakout year, throwing 27 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions, and bruising running back Nick Chubb ran for 1,067 yards behind one of the top offensive lines in the league.

However, even though the offensive explosion was refreshing to see, the Browns struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball, giving up an average of 26.2 points per game. They gave up more points than they scored. A lot of this had to do with an extremely weak secondary. If the defensive line didn’t get to opposing quarterbacks, or stop the run, there wasn’t much to stop an opposing offense from routinely gashing the Browns for a big gain or touchdown once the linebackers and defensive backs were called on to make a play. Poor open field tackling was also an issue. If an opposing quarterback was pressured, and they decided to throw the ball, the Browns also found themselves routinely getting burned when trying to defend the pass.

Through the legal tampering period on March 15th-16th and the first two days of Free Agency on March 17th and today, the Browns have made a few key roster moves. The move that I am the most impressed with so far, addresses one of their biggest needs by strengthening the secondary. Enter John Johnson III.

John Johnson III

A safety’s job in the game of football is a kind of jack of all trades position. They team up with cornerbacks in covering wide receivers, come up and tackle the opposing running back in run support, and they often serve as “enforcers.” If a receiver catches a pass over the middle, good safeties are hard hitters who make the receiver think twice about holding onto the football and absorbing the hit. They’re good at intimidating opposing offensive players with their physicality.

John Johnson III brings all of these things with him to Cleveland. Last season, he served as the captain and play caller of a Rams defense that was ranked 1st in total defense and pass defense. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Johnson led the Los Angeles Rams in tackles with 105, allowed only one touchdown in one on one coverage, and was rated the 4th best safety in the league in terms of coverage and 3rd best safety overall. This was a solid first step in turning the Browns’ biggest weakness into a future strength. Hopefully Johnson has some productive years in Cleveland after inking a 3-year deal worth $33.8 Million.

Takk McKinley

In addition to shoring up the secondary, Browns GM Andrew Berry also opted to sign former Raiders defensive end Takk McKinley to a one-year deal worth up to $4 Million. At first this move didn’t make much sense to me, since at the time we already had a defensive end and pass rusher in Adrian Clayborn. It seemed like more of a lateral move than an upgrade.

But now after reading up on him a little bit, I think it’s a solid signing for several reasons. First, signing McKinley to a deal worth only $4 Million keeps the Browns out of salary cap trouble compared to if they had gone for a bona fide big-name pass rusher. Sure they could’ve gotten a star to put on the other end of the defensive line across from Myles Garrett, but it would’ve broken the bank and not allowed them the flexibility to make other moves later in the season.

Second, according to Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns have tried to get Takk McKinley on several occasions in the past. Obviously Andrew Berry and Co. see something they REALLY like in him, or they wouldn’t have gone after him this hard. And I think I know what that might be, which leads me to the third reason I now like this move: His speed coming off the edge as a situational pass rusher.

McKinley, a 2017 first round pick, has 17.5 career sacks, so he’s definitely shown that he has the ability to get home and sack the quarterback. He’s been dealing with some recent injury issues, but when he is healthy, he is supposedly faster than former Brown Adrian Clayborn when coming off the edge. He has a quicker first step off the ball.

When you consider that the Browns already have one of the top pass rushers in the NFL in Myles Garrett, putting McKinley across from him makes sense. Opposing offensive coordinators already have to game plan around slowing down Myles Garrett. Adding another player who can generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the opposite direction will make it that much tougher to stop the Browns’ pass rush. I still think the Browns will draft a pass rusher who is intended to be a future star alongside Myles Garrett, perhaps with their first overall pick at #26. But for right now, McKinley makes sense.

Troy Hill

The Browns also addressed a weakness at the cornerback position by signing former Rams cornerback Troy Hill to a four-year deal worth $24 Million. While the price tag seems high, after reading up on him, I agree with ESPN’s analysis of the move: He’s insurance as a reliable starting cornerback if stars Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward can’t stay healthy. While I still think the Browns need to find another star cornerback somewhere, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Hill, who is 30 years old, could provide veteran leadership to the younger guys on the team. He also rejoins John Johnson here in Cleveland, as the two were teammates with the Rams in Los Angeles. A good move in several ways: getting a reliable starter, adding insurance, and continuing to build a winning culture based on prior connections and veteran leadership. I like it!

Hollywood is Back!

The one re-signing that has so far pleased me the most has been Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins, who signed a one-year deal worth $2.3 Million in guaranteed money. You’d think a guy with the nickname “Hollywood” would be more flashy and in your face. But that’s definitely not the case with Higgins. He’s just a quiet, humble guy who simply goes about his business, which is catching the football.

Fortunately for the Browns, he lets his actions and play on the field do the talking. Not to mention he catches just about everything thrown his way! Last season, Higgins caught 37 passes for 599 yards and four touchdowns. 2020 was a career year for Higgins in many ways. He nearly equaled his career high for catches in a season (39), equaled his number of touchdown catches in a season, and his 599 yards receiving was a new personal best.

He is a solid, reliable receiver. But he also seems to be the guy Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield goes to the most when the offense needs kickstarted by a big play, or to keep a drive going. That’s the reason he averages over 14 yards per catch. He might make the occasional spectacular play. But his true value lies in the fact that he’s Baker Mayfield’s security blanket. He’s a young quarterback’s most reliable receiver when all else fails.

Key Losses

Free Agency definitely drives home the point that the NFL is first and foremost, a business. And like any business, sometimes employees leave to find work elsewhere. A few players left the Browns and found new homes with other teams such as:

  • DE Larry Ogunjobi: Signed with the Cincinnati Bengals on a one-year deal
  • OT Kendall Lamm: Signed with the Tennessee Titans on a two-year deal worth up to $8.5 Million
  • Special Teams players Tae Davis and Tavierre Thomas signed with the Houston Texans.
  • CB Terrance Mitchell signed with the Houston Texans for two-year deal worth $7.5 Million.
  • CB Kevin Johnson signs with the Tennessee Titans on a one-year deal.

So far, I like the moves Andrew Berry has made. He’s filling team needs while staying within the team’s budget. While I know most fans, myself included, love to see their team make a mega splash in Free Agency, I agree with the approach the Browns have taken so far. Hopefully Andrew Berry and the Browns front office keeps building something special. Stay tuned everybody!

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Learning from Leviticus

I’ve surprised myself! Haha. I’ve read completely through the books of Genesis and Exodus. But I was definitely feeling burned out by the end of the 40 chapters of Exodus. Plus a lot of Exodus after the Israelites are freed, focuses on the food regulations and general life laws besides the Ten Commandments, and it’s hard to remember all of them. Things got a little dry. I wasn’t exactly itching to continue reading and studying the other day. So I took a day off. But after getting back at it today, I think God may have revealed something to me that I never really focused on before.

Chapters 1-4 of Leviticus specifically deal with animal sacrifice. I already knew that the Israelites routinely performed animal sacrifices as an offering for the cleansing of sin. But as I read the opening chapters of Leviticus, I had a thought: Animal sacrifices, while necessary to the Israelites of Moses’ day, are not a natural part of things. They are unnatural. And it all goes back to the beginning of Genesis. Death and sin were never part of the original plan God had for any of us.

In a perfect Earth, Adam and Eve would have obeyed God. They would have physically been able to continue talking with Him every day since they would’ve stayed in perfect harmony with Him. We would’ve been able to physically converse with God as well! Can you imagine physically hearing God’s voice on a daily basis?! There would’ve been no war, diseases, animals wouldn’t need to be used for food or sacrifices, and nobody would’ve died. God would have sustained everything and everyone.

But because of the first sin by Adam and Eve, our world entered its broken state we see today. And one of the things the Israelites had to do back in Moses’ day to cover for their sins, was to slaughter an innocent, blameless animal (usually a young lamb, goat or bull) in the prescribed way dictated to Moses by God. I’m not going to put those verses here, as they are pretty graphic. They can be found in Chapters 1-4 of Leviticus.

Animal Sacrifices vs. The Sacrifice

But the description of animal sacrifice opened my eyes a little bit. It kind of shocked me in its graphic nature. But knowing what we know about the Earth as it should have been, the deaths of young, innocent animals was never supposed to happen. Not one of God’s creations, human, animal or otherwise was ever supposed to die or be destroyed. But I think God showed how unnatural sin and death are through animal sacrifice in Leviticus.

But animal sacrifice was the way people atoned for sin in the days of Moses. They either had to sacrifice blameless animals, or suffer the wrath of God for all of their wrongdoings. God required a steep price. And, in the Christian view, it’s the same choice, except it’s either accept Jesus’ death on the Cross and believe he’s the Messiah, or suffer the wrath of God, as that is what humanity has earned by our sins.

I know what some of you may be thinking: Some ultimatum. God isn’t all loving if He’s going to force us into a situation like that. Here’s the thing though, He doesn’t force us into making that decision, and gets no glee out of punishing us if we choose to reject Him. He’s not sadistic or evil. All the traits people choose to understandably, but wrongly attribute to God are entirely human traits. They’re evil.

But God is not like us. Or rather we are not like Him. His holiness and goodness is at such a level, and our sinfulness is at such a level, that we cannot approach God in Heaven as we are now: filthy dirty in terms of being flawed and sinful. However, if we accept the one-time, all-encompassing sacrifice of Jesus, we are spared the fate we all deserve and eventually made perfect through Him.

Sunshine and Rainbows vs. Fire and Brimstone

This problem pops up when we start reading the Old Testament. And I think what God says and does confuses many people. It certainly has confused me at times. Most also struggle to strike a good balance between the qualities above. I still fail at it more than I’d like. But when believers only focus on one or the other, they both fall short. If someone purely focuses on preaching fire and brimstone, but not Jesus’ endless love for lost souls, they come across as cold, modern day Pharisees whom nobody listens to. On the flipside, when someone only shares the love of Jesus, but willfully ignores what the consequences of sin are for fear of offending people, they’re not telling the truth.

When sharing the Good News of Jesus, and when trying my best to love those in my life the way He would, I don’t often preach (or in this case write) fire and brimstone. And that’s not because I am afraid of offending people. Those who truly know me know that I am bluntly honest. If something really bothers me, I am as subtle as a sledgehammer about it!

I normally focus on sharing the love of Jesus because I want to be different from so-called “holy rollers” and “Bible thumpers.” Many seem too judgmental and fixated on the wrathful aspect of God to truly show His love to others. All they preach is fire and brimstone. They miss the point that God is both complete justice, and everlasting love. Not to mention the fire and brimstone aspect is also the main negative quality that many nonbelievers understandably associate with Christians. I want to be different from the stereotypical Christian, as someone who is more understanding, kind and approachable.

I want people to know who Jesus is, and how much He loves all of them. Which is why I try to be friendly, loving and have an understanding heart for those who talk to me, whether they are Christians or not. Plus I also freely admit and show my brokenness and flaws, and try to meet people on their level. After all, we’re all sinners. I want to love people in spite of their brokenness, since I have been loved by others in spite of MY brokenness.

But at the same time, and pardon my language here folks: I won’t feed people sugarcoated bullshit. I love them enough to tell them the truth. Without Jesus, we are in trouble. We all have the opportunity to accept His sacrifice as long as we’re alive. And His love is boundless. He patiently waits for all of us to go to Him.

But Jesus also loves us enough to allow us to say no. When we use our freedom of choice to say no, we are sending a message to God: “You know, God, your sacrifice sounds wonderful. But I don’t need it. I’m just fine on my own.” At that point, God leaves us alone just like we want. Even though it leads to nowhere good.

The beginning of Leviticus showed me the second major connection from the Old Testament to Jesus, but I first found Him in the story of Jacob’s son Joseph, which you can read here. He calls out to us from everywhere in Scripture. We just need to be willing to open the book, have the patience and humility to keep our hearts and minds open, and genuinely look for Him. For He is always there πŸ™‚

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A Puncher’s Chance

I love many different movies. But I’m a sucker for inspirational sports films. Remember the Titans, The Blind Side, the Rocky series to name a few. But even though Cinderella Man is an inspirational sports movie, it just seems to hit me differently. I normally don’t get emotional at movies, but by the end of Cinderella Man I’m at least misting up if not flat out crying. Every time. That’s when you know a movie and its actors and crew, have done the job that art is supposed to do. Music, dance, art painted on a canvas, and truly great films all touch something deep at our core. They touch our humanity. They touch the deepest part of our souls and resonate with us.

Russell Crowe, Renee Zellwegger and Paul Giamatti are masterful as Jim Braddock, Mae Braddock and trainer Joe Gould. They make the characters they’re portraying relatable. The desperate boxer just trying to do his duty as a father and husband. The loving and devoted wife who cannot bear to listen to her husband’s fights on the radio, let alone watch them in person. And the salty trainer with the mouth of a sailor, but a heart of gold who loves his friend.

It’s that relatability that keeps bringing me back to the story of a tough as nails boxer from North Bergen, New Jersey. Relatability resonates with me when it comes to the story of James Walter Braddock. I certainly did not live during the Great Depression. Let alone try to provide for a wife and three children in that mess. The people who lived during the Great Depression are the toughest people I’ve ever heard of. Jim Braddock was one of those people. People who are part of The Greatest Generation will always have my utmost respect.

But I relate to Jim the most on a human level when he waits for his big break and is struggling to find work or another fight. He simply wants another opportunity. Another chance. While the Coronavirus pandemic is no Great Depression, I realize that I am one of millions struggling in the same situation, like Jim was back in his day.

The importance of having family and friends in uncertain and rough times also hits home for me. As much as I have struggled to get a lucky break and find a job, I have always had my family and friends behind me. In the same way, for as much as Jim struggled before he got his chance, he always had the love and support of his wife Mae and three children Jay, Howard and Rosemarie.

Jim’s big break comes when he fills in to fight John “Corn” Griffin on a day’s notice. He’s expected to be little more than a glorified sparring partner for Griffin, who is a serious contender for the World Heavyweight Championship. Instead, Jim knocks him out cold! This also resonates with me personally, because once Jim got his big break, he was hungry, ran with it, and made good on it. Before long he gets on a winning streak, knocking out fighters such as John Henry Lewis and Art Lasky which catches the eye of the World Champion, Max Baer.

I wonder what went through Jim’s mind as he was preparing for the biggest fight of his life? He was simply trying to feed his family with the Corn Griffin fight. He didn’t expect it to go anywhere. But yet here he was. A crowd of 50,000 or so saw him swap punches at Madison Square Garden with a big, powerful, hard-hitting man who had at least 20 pounds on him, under the brightest lights in the world. After 15 brutal rounds, Jim Braddock was declared the winner by unanimous decision, and the new Heavyweight Champion of the World! This scene in Cinderella Man always gets me choked up:

Watch that and tell me you have dry eyes. The beautiful music, gravity of the moment, and the fact that a heavy underdog won, always gets me. So many people also saw Jim’s win as much more than simply winning a boxing match. People needed a hero. They needed someone to root for and place their hope in. Especially at a time when America was really struggling and down on herself.

45 years before the United States Hockey Team defeated the Soviet Union in New York, Jim Braddock defeated Max Baer in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. But in both cases, Americans were given unlikely heroes they could rally around at the time they needed them the most. Perhaps our country will be given a new hero for our time? We can only hope. We certainly need one.

Cinderella Man is a complete movie. It shows the tough and gritty atmosphere of 1930’s New Jersey, presents Jim Braddock and his family and friends as everyday people, and shows just what somebody can do when given an opportunity. I highly recommend that people watch this. Especially if they’re feeling down on their luck in today’s uncertain times. If Jim Braddock made his way out of his struggles, we all can make it out of our struggles too!

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My Time in the Galaxy Far, Far Away

I will always remember the first time one of my teachers in preschool called me Skywalker when I was a little boy. Although what I don’t remember is when or exactly how I became a fan of Star Wars. I’ve just always seemed to love it ever since I can remember. From my earliest, happiest childhood memories, I have always followed the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and others. Even though I wasn’t as fortunate to see the original Star Wars movie back in 1977 (like both of my parents did), something just draws me to Star Wars. I can’t quite put my finger on it though.

I think as a kid what drew me to Star Wars was the sense of adventure. What wide-eyed kid didn’t dream of flying an X-Wing, shooting down TIE Fighters and saving the day? Plus the countless worlds and creatures just blew my mind. All these years later, I still can’t wrap my mind around how huge the Star Wars universe is. All of this came from one man’s mind. Thank God for George Lucas!

My mom always would tell me how her little brother, my uncle Scott had all the Star Wars toys when the original trilogy first came out. I think he had a bigger collection than I did, although I certainly had plenty of toys of my own! A green lightsaber, X-Wing, A-Wing, mini versions of the Y-Wing and B-Wing, and a HEAVY Millennium Falcon were definitely a few of the toys I can remember.

Not to mention I played quite a few of the games growing up, like X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Dark Forces, and Rebel Assault II. I remember first playing X-Wing on the computer, and thinking it was the coolest thing ever! The missions allowed the player to fly several ships, and gave a cockpit view. Pretty cool for early 90s gaming! Sure, it probably looks and sounds cheesy now. But back in 1993 when it first came out, it was the first Star Wars flight simulator of its kind! I remember hogging the computer, and begging Mom and Pop to use it, so I could play this thing. Check out the intro!

Recognizing deeper themes within Star Wars

As I’ve gotten older though, I think I appreciate Star Wars more for the mythology, deeper themes, and nostalgia. As a little kid, I could not have grasped the “Skywalker Saga” or the story of Anakin Skywalker, and what it meant to Star Wars as a whole. Even though Anakin eventually became Darth Vader, he is still the central, messianic figure of the whole thing. He fell to the dark side, but through the love he had for his son, Luke, he eventually fulfilled the Jedi prophecy by sacrificing himself and destroying the Emperor, allowing good to ultimately triumph over evil.

That should’ve been the end of the story. I do not think the sequel trilogy was necessary. Things should’ve ended with Return of the Jedi (Episode VI). Especially since I believe the story in the sequels could’ve been told much, much better. But that’s another story for another time and another blog post πŸ˜‰

But as an adult, I’ve really come to appreciate the philosophical themes of Star Wars, and watching how the Jedi, and their ancient enemies, the Sith, operate. I see the Jedi as like warrior monks, and the Sith as completely given over to their passion and power. To me, these two extremes represent two ways of life, but they both miss the mark. The Jedi practice the light side of the Force, but they don’t acknowledge and study the dark side to understand how it works, because they’re too scared that they’ll be sucked into it. On the other side of the same coin, the Sith give into their passionate emotions (fear, anger, hate, pain), but they don’t practice any self-discipline or restraint.

Even though these are obviously fictional things, they remind me of the approaches people might take to how they live life in the real world, and show me what NOT to do. On one side, there are people who attempt to live life in an unrealistic, idealized way like the Jedi do in the prequel trilogy. A sunshine and rainbows approach I suppose. Their hearts are in the right place, and they are genuinely good people. But they deny that the darkness exists, and try their best to avoid having to go through the darker times in life.

On the other side, there are people for whom nothing is off limits. They go with their passion, emotion and heart 100% of the time like the Sith, which isn’t always with good intentions. Sometimes the intentions are far from noble or good. Sometimes they’re downright selfish and evil. But living like this sometimes gets people into serious trouble.

In order to fully embrace the human experience, we must be willing to fully understand both the good and the bad within life, while aiming to stay on the right path. Even while there is light and darkness within all of us. There are characters within Star Wars who see life like this. They are called Gray Jedi, and they study both the light and dark sides of the Force. The Jedi Code, Gray Jedi Code, and Sith Code are all pretty interesting too!

The Sith Code (left), Gray Jedi Code (middle) and Jedi Code (right)

Star Wars Audiobooks

Fairly recently, I’ve also really gotten into Star Wars audiobooks. I finished Heir to the Jedi, and I’m currently in the middle of Dooku: Jedi Lost. I’ve lost count of how many Star Wars books are on Libby (my app), but there is something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for nonstop action and adventure, or something deeper, I’d venture to say there are at least 100+ books on there. Easily. I don’t know how long it would take me to read or listen to them all, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the ones I’ve checked out.

Heir to the Jedi is set almost immediately after the original Star Wars film. Luke Skywalker is still very young, and riding high from blowing up the Death Star and becoming a hero to billions of people. But he is soon sent on another daring mission: opening up a supply line DEEP in Imperial territory in order for the Rebel Alliance to smuggle weapons to their troops. He soon realizes how key a successful mission is to achieving total victory over the Empire.

He grows up a lot both as a freedom fighter, as well as his training in the Force. The character arc of Luke is really well written in this book. Plus it is one of the only Star Wars books told entirely from Luke’s point of view. We hear his thoughts on his mission, missing Obi-Wan since he died in the original film, his curiosity about the Force, and his budding romantic attraction to his mission partner Nakari Kelen. He slowly grows attached to her through their shared experiences. This is definitely a classic Star Wars story full of action!

Dooku: Jedi Lost, definitely has its share of action. But its focus is on showing how Count Dooku, one of the main villains of the prequels (played by the late Sir Christopher Lee), fell to the dark side in spite of being a very gifted Jedi trained by Yoda himself. I’m more than halfway through, and I can already see Dooku starting to doubt his Jedi path. He bucks his training at certain points, feeling like Yoda and the other Jedi masters are ignorant of the growing darkness that surrounds them.

Plus he holds a lot of deep-seeded anger at a number of people in his life. His father hates the Jedi and thinks he’s a freak because he has Force powers. He doesn’t claim Dooku as his son. Dooku is also angry at the Jedi Order for commanding him to cut all contact with his sister, Jenza, whom he loves and cares for deeply. The Jedi are not allowed to have emotional attachments of any kind. None. Which is why they’re often taken from their families as babies or very small children by the Jedi, before they can really form emotional attachments with anyone. I find myself sympathizing with Dooku here. If I were in Dooku’s shoes, and reunited with a long-lost family member, and somebody told me to cut off all contact with them, I’d rebel against them too!

So far it’s been a great book though. Cavan Scott does a great job of showing how Dooku struggles to follow the Jedi code, while he also tries to follow his heart and be a good man. I definitely see a little bit of myself in Dooku. What people teach or dictate is not always right. One must sometimes follow one’s heart. Dogma be damned.

What’s so great about Star Wars?

Some may scoff at Star Wars as being a nerdy thing. But there is a reason BILLIONS of people love it passionately. It’s a classic story of good vs. evil, but set across a HUGE galaxy and timespan that is so much fun to explore! However, where I think it touches people the most, is that they may see themselves in the characters. Some may identify with Han Solo if they are adventurous, brash, confident and looking for a good time. Women and girls may identify with Princess Leia (and her mother Padme) because the characters are independent, strong women who stick to their morals and convictions in the face of overwhelming evil or political pressure. They do the right thing no matter what the cost is to them. I, along with probably many others, identify with Luke Skywalker.

I identify with Luke the most because we share the same name. We are also both restless farmboys who are impatient, waiting for the next big break in our lives to happen. And we both try to do the right thing, and see the good in everyone regardless of who they are.

Regardless if you’re a fan of Star Wars or not, there is always room for everyone in the Galaxy Far, Far Away! πŸ™‚

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What is True Religion?

Even though I don’t talk to God as much as I probably should and can always be better, He certainly spoke to me today when I opened up the Bible app on my phone this morning. Usually there’s a daily reflection centered around a particular verse, passage or theme. Today’s verse was James 1:27, which says:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely do not like organized religion. So you can imagine my intrigue and surprise when James, the brother of Jesus, said this. I will admit that whenever I hear the word “religion,” I bristle at it. I grit my teeth ever so slightly. And I instantly imagine a man-made institution far from God that is responsible for much of humanity’s misery.

But this verse from James pulled me out of that mindset. Like a gentle yet firm tug from God on my shoulder as if to say, “Look, Luke. I have something to show you if you’ll open your mind and heart.” And through that verse, He showed me EXACTLY how a Christian should act and treat others. Forget surface things like being able to quote the Bible from front to back or making Sunday services/Mass for the umpteenth time in a row. While those are important and each have their place, they are not the core of what truly living out the Christian faith is. James hit the nail on the head as to what it means to be a true follower of Jesus. I haven’t seen or heard a Bible verse that straightforward in a long time.

But in spite of the refreshing simplicity of that verse, there’s still a need for some context here so we can best apply it to today’s time. Widows and orphans in the context of this verse surely can still mean just that, widows and orphans. And they were the neediest people in Jesus’ day. But in our time, “widows and orphans” could also mean people who are homeless, down on their luck, and who cannot help themselves. Look for ways in your life that you can do that. I know within my limited ways of trying to share Jesus with others, I often write articles here. But I also like to donate regularly to the City Mission here in Findlay, Ohio whether it’s with my time or money.

This article taught me to look at James 1:27 in a less literal and more full way as well. I especially liked how it reminded me that we are all in Christ’s family if we so choose to be. We would do anything for our immediate family members because we love them. God shows us through James 1:27 that we should do the same for the world as a whole.

Avoiding becoming polluted by the world?

I struggle with avoiding this one. I fail here often, as I’m sure many people do. For all who notice they fail here too, I am with you. I support you. But I get sidetracked with social media. I get sucked into the fear and hate spewed there, and on the big media networks like FOX, CNN, MSNBC and others. It is often hard to see the truth too. Society as a collective whole hates the truth. It hates goodness. And it hates Jesus because while He loves us all more than we could ever imagine, He also calls all of humanity out for those times we haven’t reflected Him. And nobody likes being called out on their junk.

But we are called to separate ourselves from worldly things such as wealth, power, status, reputation based on what others think and to focus on God more. It is indeed all too easy to get drawn into the clever lie that these things matter at the end of the day. When I heard the warning from James, I was also reminded of this passage from the Gospel of John, Chapter 17, verses 14-17. Jesus is about to be betrayed by Judas and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday. He is speaking of His Apostles here, but I have always identified all true Christians with this passage:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

When we focus on helping the less fortunate, and when we rise above worldly things that do not bring us closer to Jesus, in James’ words, we practice true religion that pleases God. He is not pleased when we legalistically keep our faith, yet ignore the true meaning of it. Just ask Caiaphas and the Pharisees about that. God is pleased with us when we focus on Him, and allow Him to work through us so our words and actions can show the rest of the world His goodness and bring more people to His all-encompassing love and mercy.

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Why Do I Believe in Jesus?

I was asking myself that question a little bit ago. And I believe anyone who is either considering following Jesus, or who is already following Him, should ask themselves that question repeatedly. For if we can provide reasons that are secure to us, and at least believable to others, it will strengthen our faith as we continue to seek Him. I believe challenging oneself is the number one way to grow in life. And that routinely requires us to question what we know or have come to believe.

Of course, my belief in Jesus started with being raised by two parents who also believe in Him. Had I not been raised as a Christian, maybe I still would’ve found my way to Him, but it probably would’ve been much less likely that I’d be where I am today in terms of my belief system. Although, I was never forced into believing in Jesus, or being a Christian. Once I reached the age where I could make decisions for myself, I decided to keep my faith. Although I know plenty of people who have chosen to abandon any faith they had. And I often understand and empathize with why they did, even though I wholeheartedly disagree with their thinking. I’ve heard horror stories of friends and others who were forced by their parents and families to be Christians. And then the parents wonder why their children then rebel. People don’t take kindly to having beliefs of any kind shoved down their throat. Call it a human thing. People who force others to be Christians are doing a few things wrong:

  1. They aren’t being encouraging, and allowing others to come to Jesus on their own.
  2. The people being forced to believe wind up hating and mocking Christianity not because they hate Jesus. If people truly knew Jesus and opened their hearts and minds to Him, they would love Him. Guaranteed. But because they associate Christianity with the traumatic experience of being browbeaten into everything, they dig in deep and resist. And I absolutely do not blame them.
  3. The parents or authority figures don’t realize, or they willfully ignore, that it is NOT their choice at the end of the day for that person to believe in Jesus. The choice to actively follow and love Jesus is each person’s choice, and their choice alone. Period. Free of coercion and shame.

Thankfully, my parents have guided my spiritual journey, always reassured me that God loves me. Especially in my weakest moments, and they have often loved me in ways that Jesus loves me. They made sure I know who Jesus is. But not once did I feel forced to follow Him. I was raised to have plenty of freedom.

I see Jesus in nature and humanity

After the foundation was laid by my parents for my growth as a Christian, naturally I grew up and started to question things on my own. Why exactly was I put here? Where is Jesus if I cannot physically see Him? Why believe in someone I cannot physically see with my own two eyes? I often ask myself those questions still to this day. But as I have gone through life, I have realized that I was put here to try my best to emulate Jesus and show His love with the gifts He has given me: A heart that truly cares for others, a gift and passion for sharing Him with others through my ability as a writer, and the ability to just be there and listen to people nonjudgmentally when they need me.

I see Jesus in nature. It’s hard to completely explain, but I look at it this way: It is far more difficult for me to have faith in the belief that humanity is just a lucky roll of the cosmic dice and that everything went just right on its own for us to be here. I may have faith in God, but I do not have enough faith in human reason to say with a straight face, and complete conviction, that there is no God.

Someone set everything in motion, and has left His handiwork here for us to discover and figure out as a way of pointing us to Him. Never mind that we will never know everything there is to know.

I also find it interesting how all of society, whether they believe or not, gets angry at the most heinous crimes, such as murder, child molestation and sexual assault. To me there is one reason for that, and it goes back to this:

“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my People.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

Whether people acknowledge God or not is irrelevant when it comes to this. His law of what is right or wrong within society is within every human being. We don’t need human laws to tell us this.

On the lighter side of things, I see Jesus in those I love, and in certain professions. Check out a past blog post on it here.

I also see Him in those who are struggling, believe it or not. While I unfortunately sometimes fail at recognizing Him in those who struggle, those times I DO see Him and want to help others, I remember this verse as well:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Jesus is everywhere. We just need to look around, and allow ourselves to have an open heart.

How hard is it to truly believe?

Is it sometimes hard for me to believe that a Jewish man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago is God in the flesh? Of course. I’m not going to lie and say that faith in Jesus is easy. It hasn’t been and isn’t often easy. The road to true faith is hard. It’s painful. Full of doubt, fear, and sometimes impatience and anger at Him. And I am still on the road. But every time I have stuck it out and stayed with God, He has never failed me. Not once.

But I can understand and empathize with why other people may doubt or not believe. Ordinary humans don’t perform miracles. They don’t leave the world behind having never sinned. And they certainly don’t rise from the dead once they have died!

But I am encouraged by two things: Those who physically saw Jesus in person doubted Him. And all those who had the courage to die for their belief in Him weren’t all insane or otherwise crazy.

Even Jesus’ followers who saw Him with their own two eyes, physically touched Him, and who were near him, still doubted Him. Ever hear of Doubting Thomas? πŸ˜‰

Plus Jesus’ otherwise strongest followers often failed Him too. Look at Peter. He’s now a Saint in Heaven. But while He was here, he often stuck his foot in his mouth and said the wrong thing. And worst of all, at the Last Supper, he said that he was ready to go to prison or die with Jesus…only to deny Him three times hours later! But through His sacrifice on the Cross, and His grace, Jesus forgave Peter. That gives me hope.

Lastly, there have been many, many martyrs over the years. People who have died for their faith in Jesus. Sometimes they died in terrible and agonizing ways. Whenever I remember this fact, I ask myself this question as a reaffirmation of my faith: Surely these people weren’t all crazy, mentally ill, or lying, were they? It’s at that point that I also remember some common sense: Sane people don’t go to their deaths willingly over something they know to be a lie. Have there been martyrs who were what society would consider certifiably insane? Probably. But by the same token, there have also been completely sane people who have willingly died for Jesus. Why would they do that unless what they believed in was the absolute truth?

Why I remain a Christian

Through all of life’s trials so far, I have not given up my faith. Sure, sometimes I am incredibly weak in my faith. And at times like this, I am stronger and I realize that Jesus loves me in spite of all my brokenness. But I stay because like I said earlier, I do not purely believe in human reason. To me, doing so is hubris.

And like I have said many, many times on this blog and elsewhere, I truly believe that Jesus is who He says He is: God incarnate, and the only one who can forgive sins. He has paid our penalty on the Cross.

I truly admire how devout many Muslims, Jews, and others are in their faiths. I could take a cue from them to be much more disciplined in my faith as a Christian. But the true uniqueness of the Christian faith is this: We cannot earn Heaven by how good we are, or how closely we follow the rules of our faith. That won’t cover our sins. Jesus earned our way into Heaven by being our sacrifice on the Cross.

Granted, that does not give us a “get out of jail free card” to keep sinning and disobeying God. But I think one of the ways people can do a better job of staying on the path (even though we’ll all often fail), is to truly meditate on what Jesus’ sacrifice means for all of us. Especially during those times we recognize how truly broken we are. Again, I truly respect the reverence Jews, Muslims and others have for their faith and how they practice it. I’ve even checked out a library book on the history and basics of Judaism, to familiarize myself with the “parent faith” of Christianity. What little I know of Judaism so far is really interesting!

But the faith that Jesus encouraged us to put in Him is the ONLY faith where God assumed human form. He loved us so dearly that He freely chose to come to Earth in the person of Jesus. He wanted to understand us on our deepest, most human levels. He felt joy, sorrow, pain, anger, temptation, and countless other emotions. And He went to the Cross willingly as our perfect sacrifice. If there’s a more beautiful message of love from God to humanity, I haven’t found it yet!

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Found Him!

Guys, I’m excited! I absolutely have to share what I learned from listening to the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, and his eleven brothers. I have heard the story several times, but only just now picked up several huge comparisons from Joseph in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New Testament. I have never had a Biblical story smack me in the face like that one! But in order for you to understand the comparisons I found, let me give you the background.

Joseph (not Jesus’ foster father) was the favorite son of Jacob. He was so favored by Jacob that his older brothers became jealous of him. He also had the God-given gift of being able to interpret dreams. This angered his brothers. So much so that they plotted to kill him, saying, “Look! Here comes the Dream Master! Come on! Let’s kill him and toss him into one of the cisterns. Then we’ll report that some wild animal devoured him and wait to see what becomes of his dreams!” (Genesis 37:19-20)

For the full story of what happens with Joseph and his brothers, read from Genesis 37-45. But for the purposes of this blog, just know that Joseph was treated very poorly by his jealous brothers. They did not kill him, but instead sold him into slavery, where he eventually made his way to Pharaoh. It was a bad situation for Joseph. But God makes use of Joseph, and his gift to save the lives of countless Egyptians during a seven-year famine.

Even more profoundly, Joseph does not react like we would expect someone in his situation to react. He had been left for dead by his jealous brothers. But instead of doing something human, like taking revenge on his brothers, he forgives them, crying so loud that everyone in the area can hear him. He hugs each one of them and tells them to not be angry with themselves for selling him into slavery. What he says next is even more stunning:

“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler of all Egypt.” (Genesis 45:5-8)

How crazy is that? Instead of acting like most of us probably would in that situation, steaming mad and vengeful, Joseph demonstrates a grace and mercy to his brothers that can only come from one source: God Himself. Joseph showed divine mercy. As I went beyond this story, I noticed two themes: God demonstrating His mercy and that He can create so much good out of a bad situation.

Where else aside from what He did for Joseph, did God demonstrate His endless mercy, and turn a bad situation into a good one? Through the death and Resurrection of Jesus! Some people have lightbulb moments. I think this was a lightning bolt moment for this guy! Going through the comparisons between Joseph in this part of Genesis, and through what I know about Jesus gave me chills. Let’s dive into the comparisons!

God’s Mercy

If we judged Joseph’s brothers for what they did to him by our human standards, we would probably say he would’ve been justified tossing his brothers into prison or worse. But he did not do that. He cried, embraced his brothers, and forgave them. In the same way, we deserve Hell by our sins. That’s what we’ve earned with everything we’ve ever done against God. But He does not judge us in a human way. If He did, He wouldn’t be God, and we’d all be going to Hell. No exceptions. We would have no chance. But in His mercy, He sent Jesus to pay for our sinfulness.

At one point in the story, Joseph’s brothers realize their wrongdoing, with the oldest one, Reuben, offering to have all the brothers serve Joseph as his slaves. But Joseph forgives them instead, and tells them to go get Jacob. In a similar way, Jesus doesn’t hold our sins against us if we truly ask for forgiveness. We are washed clean in His blood. I may not know much about how God does things, or what His character is. But I DO know that if we turn to Him and are genuinely sorry, His love and mercy is endless. Far greater than we can come close to comprehending!

God uses our sin as a tool to show His Glory

The next striking comparison I saw between Joseph and Jesus, were the fact that God used the sins of the people conspiring against them, to demonstrate His Glory and His goodness. Like I said in the beginning of this post, Joseph was loved by Jacob the most out of all his sons. Joseph’s brothers became angry, and murderously jealous of him. And while they may not have killed Joseph, they still committed a heavy sin by selling their own flesh and blood into slavery, and then lying to Jacob about it to cover it up! They slaughtered a goat, and dipped Joseph’s colorful robe in its blood, and told Jacob that he had been mauled to death. But in the midst of a bad situation, God watched over Joseph while he was in prison. Then once he was out, God used Joseph and his dream-reading ability to save the country from severe famine.

Similarly, the Pharisees were murderously jealous of Jesus, because He was favored both by God and the people over them. But the Pharisees didn’t kill Jesus directly. They made up bogus charges against Him, heavily inferring to Pilate that if He wasn’t put to death, He would lead a rebellion against the Romans. Even though we know this was obviously a boldfaced lie. Jesus never intended to lead an armed rebellion against the Romans. That wasn’t why He was sent here. Nevertheless, the Pharisees got their way, and Jesus was crucified.

But because Jesus was crucified, our price was paid. Out of the sinful, bloodthirsty intentions of all who wanted Him dead arose the most beautiful thing: Salvation for all who believe in Him. God made sure the best thing happened in both bad situations concerning Joseph and Jesus. The difference? Joseph saved lives. Jesus saved souls!

I am no one special. I’m just a sinful, flesh and blood man who will one day die and have to answer for my sins. But I haven’t had God speak to me that clearly in a very, very long time. He revealed His character and the depth of His mercy to me while I continued studying Genesis. And He allowed me to have a clear enough mind to make the connection from the story of Joseph and his brothers, to Jesus.

God is waiting to reveal Himself to us. All we have to do? Approach Him with a humble heart, ask Him to help us see what He wants us to see, and genuinely try to look for Him.

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Newfound interest in studying Scripture

Have you ever had your eyes opened to a new way of thinking, and then you become incredibly eager to learn more about something? That’s been me since New Year’s Day when it comes to Scripture. Before, when I would read Scripture or hear it, I would understand some of the moral lessons God is trying to teach, but I did not understand the deeper beauty of it. I think that came from not approaching Scripture with the right attitude.

I love learning when I’m passionate about something. But when I’m not passionate about something? It feels forced, dry, and like it’s a chore. So of course, my eyes weren’t opened to the deeper beauty and excitement of everything. God didn’t reveal Himself to me because my heart wasn’t truly focused on looking for Him. I unfortunately looked at reading the Bible as a thing to do on a daily checklist. I didn’t truly revere or respect it as God’s message to humanity. But now that I have changed my attitude, and sincerely asked God to open my heart and strengthen my faith, I think I can understand what He has to say more clearly than I used to. Although I still often struggle to understand Him. Especially in these times.

I think what reignited my long lost passion for seriously studying the Bible, was the notion that Jesus, and prophecies referring to Him could be found in the Old Testament. The thought that God not only lays out how to obey Him, but that He also foretells the coming of Jesus through prophets HUNDREDS of years before His birth or ministry, is incredibly fascinating to me!

Of course, there are probably many who will say that Jesus didn’t fulfill all the Messianic prophecies, and so therefore He cannot be the Messiah. But the ones that I’ve heard that He has fulfilled are incredibly numerous, with the most striking one of these being Isaiah 53. Read that, and tell me it doesn’t sound like Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to a tee. That was prophesied by Isaiah long before Jesus showed up in the flesh. At least 800 years beforehand! If I am able to find other instances of foretelling like that one in the Old Testament, it will help strengthen my faith even further, and allow me to more clearly see the whole plan God has for humanity. Or at least much more clearly than I am used to.

I am also reinvigorated to study the Bible, because as I’ve gone along with Genesis, I feel like the people I’ve read about so far are relatable. They’re not robots who serve God without any emotion. They sin. They doubt. They fear. They get angry. They’re sometimes impatient. But they are real, flawed people who God used to reveal His nature to others. And I am noticing three themes: God’s promises, His reaction to sin, and His character.

New view of God in the Old Testament

So far through where I currently am in Genesis 38, God has made three promises or covenants: The covenant with Adam and Eve that allowed them to live in complete harmony with Him (broken by their sin), the covenant to not flood the earth again (seen in a sign as a rainbow) after saving Noah and his family, and the covenant to make Abraham a father of all nations, since Abraham righteously obeyed Him.

These covenants seem to help me to better understand something: God still is loving. He still has a plan for humanity. Even when He still may seem harsh when it comes to dealing with sin, especially concerning The Flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah. But this severe reaction to sin also reveals part of His character: He is entirely good and holy, which means He doesn’t tolerate evil or sin. Whether that was in the times described in Genesis or today.

I do not know what changed my feelings on the Old Testament. But they have definitely changed so far. Before I seriously made it a goal to truly dive into the Bible, my original line of thinking on the Old Testament went something like this: “The God of the Old Testament seems too harsh. I can understand Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament, but I am often confused and horrified by what God does in the Old Testament.”

However now, I look at it like this, “If Jesus is 100 percent telling the truth like I believe He is, the Old Testament, dark parts and all, is necessary in order to help us truly understand the New Testament. One informs the other. Go through the Old Testament, and whenever you don’t understand something, look it up, and see which explanation makes the most sense to you. Pray to God to reveal Himself to you.”

When we approach Scripture with our normal human hearts, biases and attitudes, we cannot see what is right there in front of us. Stubbornness, boredom and cynicism prevent us from seeing what we’re supposed to see. We may also view God as we sometimes view other human beings: Cruel, vindictive and that He derives pleasure from hurting others just because He can. But that couldn’t be further from the truth of who He is. We also cherry pick the parts we agree with and ignore the ones we don’t understand or agree with, rather than looking to see WHY God does what He does, even in the parts that are difficult to read. True, there are some things in the Bible we will never understand. Don’t get me started on the symbolism used in Revelation! Haha.

But when we approach Scripture humbly, and truly focus on learning and enjoying seeing how the entire story fits together, God helps us make connections. One BIG connection I made so far involves Jacob and his brother Esau, unexpected actions by God, and the old animal sacrifices at the Temple vs. the new sacrifice by Jesus!

Jesus: The ultimate unexpected move by God

Jacob and Esau were two brothers, the sons of Isaac and Rebecca. Esau was the older one, a hunter. While Jacob, his younger brother, was a shepherd. Usually when the father of a family was on his deathbed, he would give his blessing to the eldest son, and task him with caring for the family after the father died, which was a huge deal. However, Rebecca tricked her husband Isaac into thinking that Jacob was Esau, and Isaac gave Jacob his blessing while Esau was out hunting for his father. Why Rebecca tricked Isaac is not explicitly said. But I noticed it was the first time God did something unexpected in the Old Testament. And even though this is not explicitly said either, SOMETHING in Jacob seems to have signaled to God that he was the best for the job of taking care of the family over Esau.

I am not this far along yet, but where else do we hear of God doing away with tradition or the expected in favor of somebody else? When He chooses young David, the youngest son of Jesse, from among his seven older brothers to eventually become the King of Israel. Finally, where do we see God doing the unexpected? When he sends Jesus to earth as a helpless baby, rather than with all the richness, glory and power that the people expected the Messiah to have.

All Jesus did was save humanity with His sacrifice, making animal sacrifices unnecessary and obsolete. No more lambs or other animals were needed as atonement for sin, since The Lamb gave Himself up for all of humanity. Past, present and future. Until the end of time.

It is connections like these that spur me on! Connections, the richness of the story, the realistic humanity of the people, and keeping an eye out for references to Jesus, even though I am nowhere close to where He shows up. When approached in the way we probably normally approach it, the Bible is a dry, dusty, rarely used book our religious teachers forced us to read in classes.

But when approached eagerly, with genuine curiosity to learn more and a humble heart, the Bible comes alive. It’s an incredibly entertaining, relatable, instructive, true story. One that’s worth studying over and over again, even if you’ve heard the stories several times. There’s always something new to learn. Even the most experienced people find themselves constantly picking up new things. Most importantly, if you study Scripture, remember this: God is talking to you through it. Sometimes He’s stern. Sometimes He’s trying to teach you something like a teacher would do with their student. But he is ALWAYS expressing His love for you.

The Bible: A love letter from God to humanity!

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Risen

It’s been out since 2016. But one of my favorite movies is Risen, a unique take on the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus as told from the viewpoint of a fictional Roman soldier named Clavius, played by Joseph Fiennes (the younger brother of Ralph Fiennes, the actor who played Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies).

Clavius is a staunchly polytheistic Roman soldier at the beginning of the film. He believes in the Roman pantheon of Gods, and is seemingly stoic about his job: keeping Jewish rebels under control, and putting down insurrections by killing their leaders. He’s doing what he sees as a soldier’s duty. At the beginning of the film, he’s present at the Crucifixion of Jesus. By the time we see the scene, Jesus has already died, and the earthquake has already shattered part of the Temple and torn the veil from top to bottom. After ordering the bodies to be taken down from the crosses, Clavius goes home for the day, and joins Pilate in a bath house to unwind.

But his relaxation is short lived…as both the Pilate and the Chief Pharisee Caiaphas soon become aware of the claim that Jesus supposedly rose from the dead! Both men don’t believe the miraculous claim. But they are nonetheless terrified, as they fear what this could mean for each of them. For Pilate, it could mean losing his job as Roman Prefect for failing to keep order for the Emperor. And for Caiaphas, it could mean not only losing his job, but also the deaths of countless more Jews at the hands of the Romans in order to quell rebellion. So Clavius is tasked by Pilate with a new mission: Interrogate the followers of Jesus for clues to the supposedly miraculous disappearance, and produce His body.

Over the course of what seems like 3-4 days, Clavius fails to find Jesus’ body and identify Him beyond the shadow of a doubt. Plus something begins to happen to his heart. He starts to entertain that there might actually be something to this supposed miraculous claim, thanks to the behavior of all those he interrogates: Mary Magdalene and Bartholomew, along with a disgraced Roman soldier who failed to guard the Tomb and who swears up and down that he saw Jesus rise from the dead. Lastly an old blind woman swears she heard Jesus speak to her. At first, Clavius thinks these people are genuinely insane. But as he begins to hear the same Resurrection claim from each person he interrogates, he seems to soften up a little bit at a time.

Nevertheless, Clavius still doesn’t believe, and he looks for any reason for the Resurrection claim to be false. Although he does do one interesting thing before he continues his interrogations: Instead of praying to the Roman god of war Mars like he always does before battle, he prays to Yahweh (God). But this is not because he believes. He wants all of the Apostles he’s looking for to be delivered to him as a sign that the “God of the Hebrews” exists. Then he’ll believe. And it is shortly after that, as he is pursuing Mary Magdalene, that God answers Clavius’ prayer. Though not in the way he’s expecting. Clavius chases Mary Magdalene to a rooftop house, where all the Apostles are gathered. And there, at the head of the table, sits Jesus. He simply smiles and says, “Welcome Clavius. Join us, brother. There are no enemies here.”

From that point on, Clavius is changed to the point that he tags along with the Apostles. He watches Jesus perform various post-Resurrection miracles, such as providing Peter with another huge catch of fish, and healing a leper. But Clavius still doubts Jesus. Even after seeing everything, and being in the company of Jesus and the Apostles.

But one night Clavius sits next to Jesus, and tells Him his fears and hopes for his life. I won’t say what Jesus says to Clavius just yet. That will come later. There’s a deeper meaning to this movie.

But Jesus moves Clavius by His knowledge and compassion toward him. So much so, that this normally brutal, tough as nails Roman soldier has tears in his eyes and a huge smile on his face!

The next morning, Jesus ascends into Heaven, and the Apostles all prepare to go back to Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit. Peter has become good friends with Clavius, and invites him to join them. But Clavius politely declines and goes home. But he goes home knowing he is forever changed. He has become a genuine believer in Jesus.

Deeper Themes in Risen

I have seen Risen quite a few times. I’ve even posted about it on Facebook. But I have never written down the deeper meanings to this movie before. Nor have I explained what this movie means to me in depth. But I feel that this movie is so comforting, relatable and so well done, that I have to share what it means to me. I want to go beyond seeing it simply as a story of a nonbeliever coming to know Jesus, and show that it could apply to us all. Enjoy the deep dive, folks. My mind was going a million miles an hour when I first truly discovered this!

Who is Clavius?

Risen is a unique movie, in that it is written from the point of view of someone who isn’t a believer. Clavius is an everyman who is just seeing things unfold. He originally doesn’t expect to be impacted by Jesus in any way. As far as Clavius knows, Jesus is just another failed Jewish messiah, and he’s merely doing a job by keeping order at the Crucifixion.

But as I’ve watched this movie more and more, it’s become clear to me that Clavius is representative of not only people who aren’t believers, but he also represents those who believe, but struggle in their faith.

I don’t know how many people are this way, but in order for me to believe in something, I often need proof. I am a Doubting Thomas. But say I asked Jesus for a sign that He was there, and He appeared to me in a vivid dream, telling me all sorts of things only He would know. Unless I allow myself to have faith, and be open to Him, my natural reaction would be refusing to believe it.

Clavius is the same way. His human heart is so hard with unbelief, that it takes several extraordinary things happening, right up to a personal talk with Jesus Himself, before he comes to faith. Imagine yourself in the shoes of Clavius, and watch this scene:

The first time I truly understood this scene, I had tears in my eyes. As if Jesus was not speaking to Clavius, but to me personally. I felt like Clavius did: Ashamed of myself for doubting Jesus far too often, and doing the wrong thing. But He didn’t shame Clavius or condemn him. Jesus embraced Clavius. He redeemed him. Jesus embraced a man who aided in His death. If Jesus offered His love and salvation to those who murdered Him, He does the same for all of us. If we only have the faith to ask Him to be with us.

Clavius also has a lot of the same fears that most believers seem to have. Anyone who truly has any sort of faith has at one point or another doubted Jesus being who He says He is. I certainly have. Clavius is a really relatable character because of his flaws.

Peter, Mary Magdalene and Bartholomew

On the opposite side of the spectrum from Clavius, Peter, Mary Magdalene and Bartholomew are relatable for their faith, rather than their lack of it. To me, Peter is how I want to be when it comes to my faith. I want to doubt less, and trust more. After Jesus ascends into Heaven, Clavius asks Peter several questions about what is supposed to happen next. Peter tells him plainly that he doesn’t really know. But Peter also tells Clavius that he still plans on going back to Jerusalem simply because Jesus told Him to do so. If only I had that kind of faith. I want to be more like Peter, able to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, even though I don’t often know what He is doing or where He is taking me.

Mary Magdalene and Bartholomew seem a little less relatable to my situation than Clavius and Peter. But I know some people who have had such a profound experience with Jesus, that they are literally jumping for joy, especially in the face of any danger or negative life situation. I admire these people greatly, and hope I one day have their courage and faith!

Early in the film, Clavius threatens Mary Magdalene and Bartholomew with death unless they reveal where the other Apostles are. I don’t know about you, but if someone threatened to kill me unless I did something they wanted, I’d probably be incredibly scared and comply with them unless it meant the deaths of loved ones. If that were the case, I’d pray for a quick death, and that I’d have the courage to give myself for them.

The point is this: Fear of death is a natural human emotion. But when Clavius threatens Mary Magdalene and Bartholomew with death, that fear is nowhere to be found. Mary Magdalene cries tears of joy for her faith in Jesus, and Bartholomew willingly submits to crucifixion, though neither of them are killed. But what else can give that kind of courage other than true faith in Jesus? Absolutely nothing. And I believe it is this courage that begins to slowly but surely soften Clavius’ heart.

Making the Choice

We all have to decide whether or not we believe in who Jesus is. Whether we do it as a young child, or on our deathbed struggling to hold on, we all have a choice to make in whether or not we choose to put our faith in Jesus. The end of Risen symbolized that to me. But before I get into just how I came to that, allow me to share another of my favorite scenes from near the end of the movie. I always mist up or flat out cry when I watch this part!

“And know that I will be with you. Always!”

I have watched that scene who knows how many times, and I ALWAYS get emotional! Period. It again feels like Jesus is speaking to me. I know He knows my doubts and my sinful nature. But even through all my faults and failures, He never fails to love me and encourage me. This scene might be one of the ways in which He does that.

After the Ascension, Peter asks Clavius to join them as another Apostle, but he politely declines, hugs Peter and goes home. While at home, Clavius encounters a stranger, and tells him of his experiences with Jesus and the Apostles. He shares his faith. I took this to mean that if we have been exposed to Jesus’ message, we can choose to share our faith with others or not in our own way. Clavius may have went home while Peter and the others went on to Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit and preach. But Clavius still asserted his belief in Jesus when the stranger visited his home.

This scene symbolized that we all should share our faith in the ways that are best suited to our strengths. But as long as we share it, we are still witnessing for Jesus. Sure, I wish I was a fantastic, fiery preacher who could convert hundreds in one fell swoop. But I have never been that way. It’s not my style. I feel like I can reach and help more people with my writing. I remember Luke 15:7 when I think of how I share my faith:

“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

I certainly hope my writing helps people in their own faith struggles. But I do not need to convert the masses. I’ll leave that to people who are better suited for preaching. If I can help one person come to faith, or several, fantastic! But I will do it in the way I am most comfortable with, which is here.

Even though I gave a deep review of Risen, I still encourage all of you to watch it if you get the chance! It’s one of the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen! Maybe you’ll pick up different themes and comparisons than I did. But above all, I hope the movie and my writing can encourage you all on your journey of faith. Whether you do not believe at all, or are the most ardent follower of Jesus, know this: He is real. He is who He claims to be. He’s the Son of God and the Messiah for humanity. And He loves you more than you can ever possibly imagine! All you have to do is take the first step and have the faith to talk to Him!

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What a Ride!

Wow. I still don’t know what to feel after that. I don’t even know exactly what I’m feeling right now. But all I know, was that was one of the best runs I’ve ever experienced as a football fan! Yes, the Cleveland Browns unfortunately lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Playoffs yesterday afternoon. But after having a good night’s sleep, I woke up with a big smirk on my face. When the gut punch of thinking about a disappointing loss goes away, I realize just how awesome this season was!

I remember back to when the Browns suffered their first loss of the season on opening day against the Ravens. It was a 38-6 blowout. And of course, like probably many Browns fans, I was left thinking, “Here we go again.” We’d seen this horror movie before. A coordinator from another team is hired to become a head coach in Cleveland, and we have a new General Manager as well. Just the normal beginning to another brutal year, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. I don’t know how Coach Kevin Stefanski got the guys to buy in so quickly. Especially with no preseason and really no time to prepare in a normal way for the regular season. But after that loss, the Browns steadily started to climb up the ladder. They learned how to finish games and put winning streaks together, no matter who they were playing. At two separate times this season, they built four-game winning streaks. One to get themselves rolling early on, and the other to put themselves into prime position to make the Playoffs late in the year!

They started morphing into a stout, respectable team before my eyes after every week whether they won or lost. They improved and got better, which is the mark of a good football team. For so many years, the Browns were the team everyone in the league circled on their calendars as a guaranteed win. Not anymore. This bunch of Browns took their cue from the 1980’s teams in how they approached things, which was: No matter who wins, we’re gonna give you our absolute best shot and make you hurt in the morning if you do beat us. You’re going to sweat it out and earn it.

That attitude led to the first winning season since 2007, the most wins since 1994, and the first playoff win since January 1995. It was an absolute thrill ride! Cedar Point might know roller coasters, but even they couldn’t build one as crazy as this Browns season! This year had it all. A steady climb early on with that first winning streak, a brutal 38-7 loss to the Steelers to bring us back to reality, another winning streak with a surprising win over a very good Titans team that had us peaking at 9-3, a wild back and forth Monday Night Football loss against the Ravens in Cleveland, and then dealing with Coronavirus and injuries down the stretch. And wouldn’t you know it, clinching the first playoff spot in 18 years on the last day of the season!

And of course, there was the biggest high for a Browns fan other than eventually winning the Super Bowl: Knocking the Steelers out of the Playoffs on their own turf. Folks, the saltiness was real and absolutely hilarious. Even if I drank a mouthful of straight seawater somewhere, there STILL wouldn’t be enough salt compared to how much the Steelers and their fans had after the Browns sent them packing. They’ve been so used to kicking the Browns around for the past two decades. Like a bully kicking a wounded, emaciated dog. Except this time, the dog finally had enough, got angry, bit the bully several times and chased the bully as he ran for the hills!

Even though the loss to the Chiefs ended their season, the future is brighter for the Browns than it has been in probably at least 25-30 years. This will be the longest offseason wait of my life!

What makes a Browns fan?

By this point some of you might be saying, “Goodness! It’s just a game. He’s crazy!” You might be right on the crazy part. And it is just a game. But I think part of the reason why I pour so much passion and love into being a Browns fan, is because of my condition. I never got the chance to play football thanks to Cerebral Palsy. I never had the chance to play any football beyond peewee football when I was a boy, and similar in size to most of the other kids. I’ve always wished I had been able-bodied, so I could’ve played safety on defense. I would’ve smacked the hell out of some poor receiver catching a pass over the middle, and then helped him up after doing it.

Along with my condition, add a fiery, emotional, passionate personality to the mix, and there’s another ingredient that makes a Browns fan. I have always tried to live my life passionately. Whether it’s by fully loving God and those who matter to me with every ounce of my being, working hard toward personal goals, pouring myself into things that I love and enjoy, or keeping a positive attitude, I have always tried to live life to the fullest. Sometimes if I’m lucky, that passion and positivity rubs off on others. So it’s no surprise that being a Browns fan is a perfect fit for me.

Browns fans wear their hearts on their sleeve. They see themselves and their city as underdogs, having to scratch, claw and fight for success. They love the team passionately and expect that love to be returned with hard-nosed competitiveness, blue-collar effort, and a win on Sunday if it’s in the cards.

All of these qualities are also personal qualities that I see in myself. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve. Everybody knows where they stand with me. I’ve always been an underdog. My life seems to have gone slower than most people’s, and I reach my goals later after having to try harder, but I always get there. And I love people and life passionately. If I can find people in life who are on my level, and they understand these things, I feel right at home with them. I belong with them. When it comes to football, I belong as a Cleveland Browns fan!

Kevin Stefanski, Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry and the rest of the Browns personified Cleveland and underdogs everywhere this year: They never gave up even when things weren’t going their way. They rolled up their sleeves and worked hard. They took the punches of a tough season, and bounced back and gave plenty counterpunches of their own. And at the end of the day, they surprised many people. Myself included!

See you next season, boys! Thanks for bringing so many people so much joy on Sundays this year! GO BROWNS!

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My Thoughts on the DC Riots

“We are a nation of laws. Not men.” -John Adams

I was mostly shielding myself from it when it went down yesterday. But now that the smoke has cleared a little, I am left here just shaking my head. I wish we had real leaders to take charge of this country, calm everybody down, and help us heal. Because we certainly didn’t see any true leadership yesterday, apart from Vice President Mike Pence, who would not be intimidated by Trump asking him to oppose the certification of the Electoral College votes. That took balls. Kudos to you, Mr. Vice President.

I did not recognize what I saw yesterday as America. In rough times like these, I yearn for the America of my childhood. The pre-9/11 America I grew up in. We weren’t this tense and anxious every day as a country, people respectfully agreed to disagree, and then went about their business. I recognized this as comfortable and normal at less than 10 years old at the time. Yet here we are 20 years later, watching idiots enter the Capitol Building, and proceeding to bust out windows, start fires and destroy things. All because their candidate lost. Sound familiar?

I know many people feel that the election was stolen. Guess what? We would’ve had the same exact complaint had things gone the other way. Guaranteed. But what we wouldn’t have had in either case, was a peaceful transition of power, or respect for the office. No matter our feelings on Trump and Pence or Biden and Harris, I believe where we start healing our nation, is to develop the ability to respect and revere the office, no matter who occupies it.

I want our country to one day learn this respect. And I want us to choose worthy candidates. I want us to get to a point as a country where if a candidate they don’t like wins, that most people would be like, “I didn’t vote for them, but I can see they clearly love this country, and I will support them until they give me a reason not to.”

And even if I ended up not supporting the candidate who won, I wouldn’t actively wish for them to fail. I would simply ride things out, and then vote them out once I got the opportunity to do so. But I absolutely would NEVER participate in what happened yesterday. Those who entered the Capitol Building call themselves Patriots. But they are nothing but thugs and cowards, just as those who rioted this past summer are thugs and cowards.

I am sure everyone reading this has a different definition to what constitutes a true American Patriot. But here are some key signs to me that someone is a true Patriot:

  1. Their love for America never wavers, in spite of who is in power. They can differentiate between the country and her government.
  2. They can name the four rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, and see when those rights are being abused, like they were by the rioters yesterday.
  3. They respect and honor our national symbols, and respect the office of the President of the United States as well.
  4. They recognize the difference between truly patriotic dissent used to accomplish some goal, and anarchy. For example, things like the Civil Rights Movement and Boston Tea Party were patriotic dissent. While the events leading up to the Boston Massacre, riots after the murder of George Floyd, and what happened yesterday, are all examples of anarchy.
  5. They sincerely hope for the survival and betterment of this country, no matter who is in power. Anyone who hopes for the people in power to fail are hoping for the country to fall apart. People who either wish for America to fall apart, or who actively try to weaken this country are traitors in my eyes. No matter if they are citizens or politicians.

I realize that last point might seem radical or harsh to some. But I make that point to shake people awake. We view things so much through the spectrum of Liberal vs. Conservative, or Left vs. Right. When we view things this way, we see “our side” as infallible, and the side we oppose as evil personified. This has to stop! There are truly good people who voted for Trump. Just as there are truly good people who voted for Biden.

But what neither side sees are those in their party who actively work to tear this country down for either party agendas or personal wealth. Very few are clean. There are evil people in DC folks. They’re both Democrats and Republicans who masquerade as public servants. But it’s going to take true Patriots from both sides of the aisle who deeply love this country to get us back on track. And I know they’re out there somewhere.

As Joe Biden’s Inauguration approaches on January 20th, I sincerely hope and pray for peace. And if he truly loves America, I pray that he will succeed for the betterment of this nation and all of us. In the meantime, I encourage you to be the exact opposite of what the rioters were showing yesterday. Love your country, your friends who think differently than you do, and keep the faith in God. He has guided America through rough times since 1776. And I am confident He will do the same here! πŸ™‚

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Studying Genesis

Hi everybody! Hope everyone’s had a pleasant start to 2021. I’ve certainly enjoyed the first few days of the new year, which is a refreshing change from ALL of 2020! Part of the new year for me, has been spent going back to basics with Scripture. Just starting at the beginning with Genesis 1 and going from there. Of course we all have heard and know the creation story for Adam and Eve. But so far, my goals in studying Genesis have been threefold:

  1. Just enjoying taking in Scripture and realizing that God is speaking to me when I listen to it or read it.
  2. Studying other sources after I read certain chapters of it to see if there are any believable scientific explanations, or evidence for some of the occurrences to strengthen my faith.
  3. Trying to understand the lessons behind Scripture passages that I honestly didn’t understand before.

When I honestly keep those things in mind, and ask God to help me interpret what I read or hear in the right way, I am starting to realize how grand and beautiful the story is! One of the things that strengthens my faith right away is that Scripture is very relatable to me and resonates with me as a flawed human being. The Bible is not a story involving clean, pristine, perfect people. If it were, it would be a fairytale. I would never take it seriously. There’s only one completely clean person who shows up during the whole thing, and He doesn’t show up until much later πŸ˜‰

The Bible is a story involving some deeply flawed, messy, sinful people. Exactly like you and I. And yet God does things for their own good, and performs great things through them. Particularly Noah and Abraham for where I currently am, in Genesis 12.

Tower of Babel

This morning, I listened to a couple chapters of Genesis, and tried to see what I could learn from them. When I go into it with the eagerness to learn something I didn’t understand before, that attitude boosts my enthusiasm and makes me more hungry to learn new things! Not to mention, I am recording the big things I learn on a note in the Notepad app in my phone. Hopefully I stick with it as I continue to study Scripture! But the two things I read about and heard about were the building now known as the Tower of Babel, and Abraham lying to the Pharaoh of Egypt to save himself and his wife Sarah.

The story of the Tower of Babel is interesting to me because it is presented as an origin story for why there are so many different languages in the world. That’s what I recognize it as. At least at face value. But when I dug deeper, I found another important lesson in it: Humility. The people who are building the Tower of Babel strike me as being too proud. Chapter 11, verses 3-4 says:

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.

But as the tower gets high enough into the sky, God says:

β€œIf as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

This reaction by God led me to interpret that He was putting a limit on mankind. Why? Who knows. But I think one of the reasons may have been to keep us humble. If mankind can do anything, know everything, and have no limits placed on us, we forget who is in charge, and lose sight of our place: as God’s creation. We are not gods ourselves. Without being kept in check, we become full of hubris, which is intense, foolish pride. And that never ends well. The thought that God puts necessary limits on us reminded me of two things: My own personal view on science, and Dr. Stephen Hawking’s “Theory of Everything.”

I have always respected those in the scientific community, and am grateful for all their discoveries, and the ones they continue to make every day. Because of their discoveries, our lives are becoming more full. However, I do not view their discoveries purely as a result of their own brilliance. And I say this based on my personal view on how I believe that God directs scientific discoveries.

To me, every time someone makes a scientific discovery, I see that as just one more thing that God has decided to reveal to mankind. Think of it like Hansel and Gretel. God lays down the breadcrumbs (tools to make the discovery, curiosity, and the brainpower to do so), and through their work, the discovery is eventually made. But the man upstairs was in charge of directing the process. Whether someone credits Him or not doesn’t matter.

Similarly, God reveals the secrets of the universe when we seek them earnestly. But there is no way we’ll know absolutely everything about how this vast universe works, like Stephen Hawking one day hoped we would. I view that as another limit God has placed on us. Perhaps for our own good.

Abraham: Trying to Survive

Intense pride in our own abilities and intelligence is definitely something that we all risk falling prey to if we do not stay humble and walk with God. But another human shortcoming was on display in the next chapter of Genesis I listened to: Fear, and doubting that God is in control of a situation. Especially when we can’t clearly see it.

After God had promised Abraham to make him great, and the father of all nations as a reward for his obedience to Him, God tells Abraham to go to Canaan, which will eventually become the home of Abraham and his people. Unfortunately, a severe famine struck the land, and Abraham and his wife Sarah were forced to move south to Egypt and ride out the famine.

As they approach Egypt, Abraham becomes fearful and tells Sarah to say that she is his sister instead of his wife since she is an extremely beautiful woman. I always used to find this odd, and never understood why he did it until today. But Abraham told Sarah to say this for one clear reason: He feared that if the Egyptians knew that Sarah was his wife, that they would kill him and the Pharaoh would take her for his wife since she was very beautiful. But because Sarah lies and tells the Pharaoh that she is Abraham’s sister, the Pharaoh does indeed try to take her to be his wife. This angers God, and He strikes the Pharaoh and all those closest to him with a severe sickness. The Pharaoh correctly thinks that this sickness is a divine punishment, and he sends both Sarah and Abraham on their way.

Abraham did what we all often do when he listened to his survival instinct instead of his faith in God. But God still made sure he and Sarah made it out of a dangerous situation unharmed. It is sometimes very hard to see how God is in control of a situation, especially when it is frightening or dangerous. But it is up to us to continue to try our best to have faith in Him, no matter what the situation looks like.

I may have only studied up to Genesis 12 so far, but it’s been fun and interesting! I used to be bored a lot of the time when it came to reading from the Bible. But it’s like God has given me a new pair of eyes with which to see, and mind and heart that truly tries to understand new things, instead of just glossing over stuff I might not like or agree with.

There are two habits I want to carry with me this new year: having greater faith in God in the midst of chaos, and learning more of the Bible that I do not yet understand. I am a deeply flawed Christian. A sinner who is broken and needs help. But I think seeking God by earnestly trying to study Scripture might be His way of lending me a helping hand. And he can do the same for you if you sincerely ask Him! Take care and God bless you all! πŸ™‚

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Chronicles of Brothers

I have not been this excited to read a book series since I read the first Harry Potter book back in fourth grade. But I feel like I’m about ready to burst at the seams! And this is coming from a guy who is most definitely NOT an avid reader most of the time, though I was as a kid. But Chronicles of Brothers, a book series by British writer Wendy Alec is quickly becoming a new favorite!

I checked out the first book, The Fall of Lucifer, on a whim from the Ohio Digital Library less than three days ago, and I absolutely cannot put it down. It’s over 400 pages long, but I’ve blown through almost 60% of it already!

The five book series is supposed to tell the Biblical story, from the War in Heaven and the fall of the rebel angels, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, to what is supposed to happen according to the Book of Revelation at the end of the world. The five books in order are:

  1. The Fall of Lucifer
  2. Messiah: The First Judgement
  3. Son of Perdition
  4. A Pale Horse
  5. End of Days

I may not even be finished with the first book yet, but this thing has just GRABBED me! Wendy Alec is an absolute master at vividly describing places, emotions and moods. I have been hanging on every word so far! The strongest points of the book are her description of how beautiful Heaven is, how all-powerful, holy and indescribable God is, the brotherly bond between Lucifer, Michael and Gabriel, and the heartbreaking descent of Lucifer from a pure angel with a truly good heart, to that of an absolute monster driven by pure hatred.

Not many would see the Devil or the fallen angels/demons as sympathetic or tragic characters. After all, they ARE indeed evil and hellbent on destroying mankind by any means necessary. But I definitely see Lucifer as a tragic character. I almost feel sorry for him. Key word: almost.

As soon as Man is created, Lucifer’s heart changes as he starts to wonder if he and the other angels are being replaced as God’s favorite creation. His fall starts slowly. But once he becomes convinced that Man will push the angels into the background, he starts to turn millions of other angels against God. By the end of his turn, he has gone from a good, loving angel who truly adores God and his fellow angels, to a truly insane, murderous madman. Wendy Alec is so great at showing the shift in moods and mental states, that I’d say Lucifer actually shows signs of mental illness by the time the darkness fully consumes him.

The War in Heaven is also vividly described. It’s a tense, visceral scene. Plus no matter what side the angels find themselves on, whether they are a rebel angel or loyal angel, many are torn by the battle. They don’t want to cross swords with their friends. Michael and Gabriel, Lucifer’s two closest friends and brothers, are absolutely shattered at having to put down their brother’s rebellion.

Another key player in the battle is an angel named Zadkiel, who still loves God, and wants to serve Him. But he is also one of Lucifer’s closest friends and his most trusted subordinate. In the end, he is in tears, as he decides to side with the rebels. The decision tears him apart.

The greatest example of Wendy Alec’s mastery at conveying heartbreak and sadness though, comes after Lucifer and his rebel angels are defeated, and just before they are cast out of Heaven. Yehovah (God) and Christos (Jesus) don’t kick Lucifer out of Heaven outright. They show their mercy by giving him one final chance to repent and ask for forgiveness. They want him to stay. But through tears, Lucifer rejects the offer. He and his rebel army, are then expelled from Heaven, while all the angels who stayed loyal to God, weep bitterly over their lost friends and brothers.

From that point on, Wendy Alec does a fantastic job of keeping the story flowing. She masterfully weaves an epic story on three fronts: What’s going on in Heaven, in Hell, and what’s going on with mankind. So far, I have read up to after The Flood, where the only survivors on Earth are Noah and his family in the Ark.

If the other four books in the series end up being as good as this first one has been, I can’t wait to read them! Someone could and should make the entire book series into epic movies if the writing stays this good!

While there is no substitute for studying Scripture, praying, and trying to follow God the best we can, I actually think these books can help strengthen peoples’ faith. Next to the Bible itself, Chronicles of Brothers would be a good companion! People may get occasionally bored with reading Scripture from time to time. It certainly has happened to me multiple times. No one is on fire with their faith in God all the time. Anyone who says they are is fibbing, and I would question if their faith is real. To me, real faith requires a questioning mind, overcoming doubt with an open heart aided by God’s grace, and wrestling with anything that God is trying to teach us.

But Chronicles of Brothers, a fictional book series, can help strengthen real faith, and can bring to life the greatest true story ever told: The redemption of humanity through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and the eventual ultimate triumph of good over evil! πŸ™‚

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On This Day in History: The Battle of Trenton

I have always loved the story of the Battle of Trenton, the background of the battle, and just how pivotal it was to our eventual Independence from Great Britain. It’s an ultimate military triumph. A true underdog story. And one of the greatest gambles by one of the most brilliant minds in military history in General George Washington. He went riverboat gambler and came up big! But in order to understand how critical the victory at Trenton was, let me set the scene for you.

Dying Patriot Cause

On July 9th, 1776, when he had the Declaration of Independence read aloud to his troops, George Washington commanded 23,000 men. This was a good chunk of the overall larger force of the whole Continental Army throughout the Thirteen Colonies, which had swelled to nearly 90,000 men in the summer of 1776. Patriot pride and morale was soaring. They had just declared their independence from Great Britain and King George III, and were ready to fight for their freedom!

Unfortunately, the New York and New Jersey campaigns went horribly wrong. I love George Washington, but I’m not going to pull any punches or mince words here: From July-December 1776, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Washington and his men lost seemingly every battle. He got his ass kicked time and time again. The Battle of Long Island, New York (August 1776), several skirmishes near Manhattan, and the Battle of White Plains, New York (October 1776) were all defeats for the Patriots. The Redcoats were also pushing to capture Philadelphia, the capital of the Thirteen Colonies at the time, and the home of the Continental Congress. They were going for the jugular.

As the chill of the winter months crept into the Continental Army camp, doubt also crept into the minds of many of Washington’s men as well. Hundreds of men had deserted and gone home, and others who had the opportunity to reenlist chose not to do so. They saw the war as a lost cause by that point.

Washington’s once stout army, which had numbered around 23,000 at peak strength, had withered to under a quarter of that size by December 1776. The Patriot cause was on life support. One more devastating loss, and dreams of American Independence would be snuffed out forever. The upstart United States would become merely another failed rebellion against the Crown. And several of its most prominent leaders, from Ben Franklin, to John Adams, John Hancock, and George Washington himself, would be executed as traitors. The fight for Independence had reached the end of the line. The infant United States was on its deathbed. But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral…

Washington’s Gamble

Washington was running out of time. And he knew it. American morale was dangerously low, and the enlistment terms of his army were up on December 31st, 1776. Less then a week away at that time. The Hessians, German mercenaries fighting alongside the British, seemed to think that morale was so low, that the Americans wouldn’t even try to attack. But Washington desperately needed a victory of any kind.

Inspired by The American Crisis, a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine, one of the leading voices of the Revolution, Washington and the Patriots began to get a second wind. Paine’s fiery writing urged everyone to band together and dig deep. An inspiring line from The American Crisis reads:

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country. But he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

On the evening of December 25th, 1776, General Washington, Brigadier General John Glover, chief of artillery Henry Knox, and 2,400 men prepared to cross the icy Delaware River. The original plan was to cross the river, march to Trenton, and attack the Hessian garrison there, numbering about 1,500 men, before dawn. However, the crossing took longer than expected, as Washington had to make sure everyone crossed safely before the nine mile march to Trenton began. He also had to account for pieces of artillery as well. But the march began at around 4 AM on December 26th, 1776.

The Battle of Trenton

After the march to Trenton, Washington had ordered the main attack force to be split into two columns, one headed by himself and General Nathanael Greene, and the other by General John Sullivan. At around 8 AM, both columns surrounded Trenton. One attacked from the north, and the other from the south.

In the grand scheme of things, the Battle of Trenton was small in terms of numbers. But by all accounts, it was a brutal and fierce battle. Several legends tied to the battle persist to this day. One was that the Hessians were indeed caught by surprise, drunk and hungover from a night of heavy drinking on Christmas. Another fascinating legend was that Hessian leader, Colonel Johann Rall had received a note from a spy informing him of Washington’s movements toward Trenton…but Rall had neglected to ever read the note while playing cards with his troops on Christmas. It was supposedly found in his coat pocket after his death from being shot during the battle.

The Battle of Trenton, on the morning of December 26th, 1776

Nevertheless, Washington’s force of 2,400 men overpowered and defeated Colonel Rall’s 1,500 men, and captured many of them in a decisive victory. In addition to that, Washington captured much-needed supplies in terms of muskets, ammunition and artillery. But he had also done more than that: He had reignited the fire of enthusiasm for Independence with his victory! Instead of seeing his army dissipate and fade away into nothingness after enlistment ended, the victory at Trenton bolstered his ranks. Many stayed on, while several new recruits joined up as well!

Commentary on the Battle of Trenton

In my eyes, the Battle of Trenton truly saved the Revolution. There are several key moments during the war that seem like divine intervention. This was one of them. If the attack on Trenton had never occurred or failed, The American Revolution would have only lasted from April 1775-December 1776. General Charles Cornwallis, General William Howe, and other British leaders would’ve likely been hailed as heroes by King George III and Parliament. And every leader of the Revolution would’ve been swinging at the end of a rope for treason!

It took courage and fortitude on not only Washington’s part to plan and execute a successful attack on Trenton, it took the same courage and fortitude of so many people to win our freedom during the course of the entire war. Many of these people are known and celebrated. Many are unknown and obscure, lost to history. But without all of them, we are not the most free nation on Earth.

God bless George Washington and his men. God bless all who struggled for Independence. And God bless the United States of America!

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What Christmas Means to Me

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you are all enjoying the day with loved ones. Families, friends near and far, and all those you hold dear. I can’t quite pinpoint why I love Christmas so much. I think it’s a mix of several things. I absolutely love my family and friends, and no matter where they may be, or what’s going on, I feel closer to them on this day, and truly grateful that God has placed them in my life. Aside from life itself, and the sacrifice of Jesus, I will always view them as His greatest gifts to me. Being near them in any way warms my heart on this freezing cold winter day!

I never forget the true meaning of the season though: The birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Now, I will always feel unworthy of being a Christian. I am a deeply flawed human, and am aware that I am a sinner. Sometimes acutely.

But on this day, when I truly take in what it means, I always feel that it is a renewal for me, and a chance to strengthen my faith in Him. A sort of New Year before New Year’s Day. I feel incredibly weak in my faith often. Like I am often not being who He created me to be. But Christmas Day gives me a shot in the arm and renews my strength. I can only imagine what that first Christmas must’ve been like.

King Herod had sent the three Wise Men to scope out where the newborn Messiah was, so that Herod himself could pay homage (though secretly Herod was planning to kill Jesus, so as to eliminate the baby who he thought would one day challenge him for the throne of Israel). But angels appeared to the Wise Men, and warned them not to return to King Herod with Jesus’ location. So they went home after visiting Jesus, Mary and Joseph, instead of returning to the King.

The next part of the story always gives me chills. I place myself in the shoes of the shepherds who were near where Jesus was born. I can only imagine suddenly seeing what looks like a bright, prominent, four-pointed star overhead. I wonder how far they had to ride or walk before it seemed to stop moving? On the way, I also imagine how spooked and shaken they must’ve been when the angels greeted them with the Good News. The angels always seem to scare people whenever they show up in Scripture, don’t they? Can’t say I’d blame the shepherds. I’d probably be terrified too!

I always imagine the sky being extremely dark. It’s at night, and the shepherds see nothing but the star overhead, the sand or grass in front of them as they walk or ride, and the silhouettes of all those riding along with them. Suddenly, they are all illuminated by a blinding white light, and can hear a voice saying:

“Fear not. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

Imagine hearing those words plain as day, and possibly seeing angels with your own two eyes. Goodness! If that didn’t convince you something BIG was happening, I don’t know what would!

Along with the nativity story, a line from one of my favorite Christmas hymns also focuses my heart on the true meaning of the season:

O, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.

That small passage tells me so much. Especially that last line. People waited for hundreds of years for a deliverer. They suffered, cried, hoped and prayed for relief, that one day, their Messiah would come to them. Many sadly died before seeing that day. So I can only imagine the unbridled, emotional, and overwhelming joy that many felt at Jesus’ birth. I do not know how I would’ve reacted if I had lived back in Jesus’ time, and had seen Him as a baby with my own two eyes. Although a wise old man named Simeon had a reaction that certainly seemed like what you’d expect from an ordinary person who realizes he’s witnessing something extraordinary.

Simeon was a holy man, and a believer in the coming Savior from the get go. God had told him that he would not die before having seen the Messiah. So once he laid eyes on Jesus after He was born, and while He was being presented at the Temple for circumcision, Simeon simply said, “Now I can die content. Lord, bid your servant go in peace.” I just imagine this enormous weight being lifted off Simeon’s shoulders, and pure joy filling his heart. In a similar way, Christmas today gives me a sense of relief and happiness. Simeon was focused on Jesus when he saw Him in the Temple, and Christmas allows me to retrain and renew my focus on who Jesus is and His saving mission for all of humanity. It gives me a renewed sense of hope.

I also view Christmas today as Jesus letting us share in His joy by being with those who matter the most to us. Jesus always wants what is best for us. Sometimes that is by learning something important through pain, difficulty and perseverance. Sometimes it’s through prayer and study. But on joyful days like Christmas, I imagine Him here, watching over me and my family, and taking joy in seeing us all happy in each other’s company πŸ™‚

Christmas is so beautiful when we truly realize what it means, and all that comes with it. On this day, we commemorate and celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Redeemer. The one who can, and does forgive our sins, and walk alongside us each day. If we only sincerely ask Him to.

From me and my family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas everyone!

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Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic

I first watched Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic, in 2013 while I was a junior in college at Kent State. I can’t quite put my finger on why it’s one of my favorite movies, because it’s extremely dark. But I think I like the movie and repeatedly come back to it from time to time, because it represents redemption in the soul of man, given by the saving grace of Jesus.

In the movie, Dante Alighieri is reimagined as a Crusader who has to rescue his fiancΓ©e Beatrice from the Devil. But in order to do so, he has to traverse the nine circles of Hell (Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery) to save her.

But as he journeys through the nine circles, he becomes more and more aware of the atrocities he’s committed in his life, such as having an affair with a woman while he’s away from Beatrice on his tour of duty, slaughtering innocent people who aren’t Christians because he believes they aren’t worthy of Heaven, and framing Beatrice’s brother Francesco for the murders he’s committed.

Dante is a unique character in the movie. He has so many different facets to who he is: The soldier who believes he is doing his “Christian” duty by fighting to reclaim the Holy Land. The extremely flawed sinner who gradually comes to terms with all of the evil and harm he’s done to others. And the man who still genuinely believes in God when he is at his absolute lowest after recognizing how doomed he is. The first time I watched this movie, I was rooting for Dante to rescue Beatrice. But along the way, as his sins and their magnitude are gradually revealed, I’m also like, “Damn, dude. You REALLY screwed up!”

But as I have watched the movie several more times, as well as play the PS3 game it is based on, I have come to see this version of Dante’s Inferno in a deeper, much more profound way. And it really hits me personally too.

The story of Dante’s Inferno in the movie, to me, represents us all coming to terms with our sins if we truly look inside ourselves. We see the ugliness. We recognize how doomed we are. And if we are truly sorry, we cry out to Jesus to save us. The final battle of the movie always gives me goosebumps. Dante, exhausted from his journey, realizes he deserves to be in Hell for all the evil he has done. But God hears him…

That part of the movie is the most powerful to me because it shows me what I should do if I am truly a Christian and follower of Jesus. Dante basically says and does what we should all do, which is admit our sins with a truly repentant heart, ask God for His forgiveness in our worst moments, and work to be better with His help. No disrespect to Islam, Judaism or any of the other faiths. But Christianity is unique and more beautiful to me, in that it teaches us to fully rely on Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins.

Sure, we should all try to live a virtuous and good life by doing the right thing. It is one of the things that pleases God. But Christianity is the only faith in history that shows us that we cannot ever hope to earn Heaven on our own virtue or merit. And it is arrogant to assume that we can. We are woefully short by God’s standards of justice and goodness. When we realize how screwed up we are, we become like Peter, scared of drowning on the water until Jesus rescues him and says “Oh, ye of little faith.” That’s where the Lord’s death comes in. I still struggle to wrap my head around it. And probably will until my dying day. But at least I know I cannot rely on my own strength and any goodness I might have to get me to Paradise.

I also see Dante in myself. Sure, I may not have committed the heinous atrocities he did in the movie. But here’s the thing: I recognize that I have plenty of my own sins that could doom me. And that all sin is ugly and unacceptable in God’s eyes. But I also recognize that I have a Redeemer who has taken my place and bore my sins upon His shoulders while hanging on the Cross. I just feel awfully unworthy.

Similarly, Dante felt unworthy of God’s forgiveness at the end of the movie. Sorrow and remorse overwhelmed his heart. But eventually thanks to God’s mercy, Dante was able to defeat the Devil, climb out of Hell and into Purgatory, where he can continue his journey to one day join Beatrice in Heaven.

Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic is an extremely dark cartoon movie geared toward adults. It’s graphic and violent. But I recommend it to anyone who often struggles with their faith, or who does soul-searching frequently. The movie may be dark, but eventually the darkness gives way to light and a powerful message. Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic, is a story of one man’s exhausting struggle to face down his sins. But it is also a redemptive story, and a reminder of what God’s love and mercy can do for you, me, and all of humanity!

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11.22.63

Wow…

What a trip! My mind is still going a hundred miles an hour! Just finished watching a series I’ve always wanted to see, but never got the chance to check out until today because I didn’t have Hulu. Thank goodness for free trials πŸ˜‰

11.22.63 is a science fiction/time travel series starring James Franco as Jake Epping, a high school English teacher tasked by his friend, Al Templeton, with going back in time, and preventing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I kind of cheated and watched the series before finishing the book, but I couldn’t help myself. This was good TV!

Most TV shows I’ve seen have to take an episode or two to build up and get rolling, but this one plunged me right into the action from the get go. Somehow, the pantry in Al Templeton’s diner is a time portal from 2016 to October 1960. And once Al shows Jake how to use the portal, it’s a race against the clock, and a fight against the past to save President Kennedy!

There were several strengths of the series, but I think the two strengths of the show that I noticed the most were:

1. The chemistry between James Franco, who played Jake, and Sarah Gadon, who played his love interest, Sadie Dunhill.

2. The ominous, faceless villain simply known as “The Past.”

First Class Acting

James Franco as Jake Epping, and Sarah Gadon as Sadie Dunhill

This was probably the main strength of the show in my opinion. Sarah Gadon really nailed Sadie’s personality: A classic, smart 60’s Texas woman who is an absolute sweetheart, but who most definitely does not put up with dishonesty. James Franco complemented her really well as Jake, particularly when Jake confronted Sadie’s abusive ex-husband Johnny Clayton. If you watch the show, you can just feel how much Jake loves Sadie and wants to protect her and be there for her. The chemistry between James Franco and Sarah Gadon was believable, and they worked really well together.

The supporting cast members were solid too, particularly Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald. This is the same actor that played both Lewis Wilson in the Netflix series The Punisher, and Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil in The Dirt. All three portrayals really demonstrate Webber’s range as an actor. He’s fantastic! As Vince, he’s the brash, cocky, hard-partying singer of one of the world’s biggest rock bands. As Lewis, he played a sad, genuinely sympathetic villain. A troubled veteran returning home from war with PTSD, who eventually snaps and becomes a terrorist that the Punisher has to hunt down.

Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald

But in 11.22.63 as Lee Harvey Oswald, he showed the instability of Oswald’s home life with his wife Marina and their children. Webber was also really skilled at recreating Oswald’s “eccentric loner” personality. I felt like this portrayal of Oswald wouldn’t really let the other characters approach him or get to know him. Something was definitely off mentally, which was the point. Somebody has to be a little messed up in the head if they’re going to even consider doing what Oswald did!

All in all though, the cast was solid. Loved the characters!

The Past

This was another great strength of 11.22.63, and classic Stephen King adapted to a movie or TV show if I ever saw it. In my eyes, “The Past” is the main villain of the show. It’s not a person or people. It’s more like a force of time and nature whose only goal is to stop Jake from saving President Kennedy and rewriting history by any means necessary.

Ever hear of Murphy’s Law, folks? The Past in 11.22.63 is like that on steroids. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Times a hundred. The closer Jake gets to changing history in a big way, the more obstacles The Past throws in his way. Like on his way to Dallas the morning of November 22, his car won’t start, so he has to hotwire somebody else’s car and steal it. But when he gets closer to Dealey Plaza to locate Oswald just minutes before the assassination, a car seemingly driven by no one barrels toward him and Sadie, and narrowly misses running them over as they run across the street to the depository!

Plus whenever Jake figures out the next step in his mission, there’s always something freaky that happens, like lights flickering ominously, or Jake hallucinating and seeing people who have died telling him directly, “You should not be here!” Plus a character named The Yellow Card Man often tells him those exact words at several points throughout the show, attempting to appeal to Jake’s emotions by telling him his own tragic stories of how he tried and failed to change history. The Yellow Card Man tries to get Jake to quit his mission, but he soldiers on.

What makes The Past an effective villain, is that viewers watching the show do not know when the next obstacle is going to pop up, or how severe it is going to be. People are already engrossed in Jake’s race against time to save JFK. Now they also have to look out for an unpredictable, extremely malevolent force that can pop up anywhere, anytime and take any form. 11.22.63 is definitely a thriller thanks to The Past!

Far-Fetched Consequences

Okay, I know 11.22.63 is science fiction, and we may never figure out time travel in real-life. But I can’t wrap my head around how Jake saving JFK leads to a nuclear apocalypse. That would be like me going back in time, helping the 1986 Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl, and coming back to World War III or something crazy like that in 2020 as a result of changing history. I just don’t see what Stephen King was attempting to get at here, or how things were connected to produce a result THAT drastic.

Perhaps he was using “The Butterfly Effect.” The Butterfly Effect is basically a science fiction device that says for every action by the time traveler, no matter seemingly how small and insignificant, the resulting changes to history are huge and far-reaching. It’s a real mind-bender!

But this show is a hit in my book! 11.22.63 contains superb acting by extremely talented people, tense, fast pacing that will literally have your heart pounding in your ears as November 22, 1963 creeps closer and closer, and you’ll find yourself rooting for Jake to succeed as you ride along with him. Definitely worth a watch, folks!

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Commentary on Anthem

I don’t read books or listen to audiobooks as often as I should. But I couldn’t resist borrowing Anthem by Ayn Rand when I saw it was available. Something about this book has always fascinated me ever since I first read it in high school, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think it fascinates me the most because it is Ayn Rand’s attempt at showing how precious humanity is…by having the main character be stripped of it, and having to rediscover it throughout the course of the book.

In the future setting of the book, the main character, named Equality 7-2521, lives as part of a collectivist society. This greatest crime one can commit within this society? Uttering the word I, and living for oneself. The word I is the ultimate act of rebellion. It goes against everything the collectivist society stands for, and the State is keen on crushing any individuality in order to prevent another rebellion.

At some point in the past timeline of the book, there was a war between many people who championed extreme collectivism, and a minority who still believed in human individuality. Unfortunately, the pro-individuality side lost badly, and the future society was plunged into a Dark Age. Individual freedoms were wiped out. Scientific discovery was set back decades, even centuries. Any scientific discovery from what was referred to as “The Unmentionable Times” (i.e. the present day), was completely destroyed. Even the language itself was changed to wipe out individual expression. For example, individual people always referred to themselves as we/our in regular speech. There was absolutely no use of the word I. One was also expected to “live for their brothers” rather than pursue their own dreams and happiness. The State is basically God, and tells the people what to do with the rest of their lives, as well as who to associate with, and who to love.

Over the course of the book, Equality 7-2521 (later naming himself Prometheus), and his woman, Liberty 5-3000 (later called Gaia), rediscover their individuality through their love for each other. They leave their respective peasant and street sweeper communities, and disappear into a nearby forest. There they eventually find a perfectly intact house. Prometheus finds a library full of books within the house, and vows to use his brilliant and questioning mind to learn everything he can. That way he can teach his and Gaia’s future children all that was lost before the Dark Age, in the hope that future generations would bring humanity back into the light. Most importantly, he will teach his children to value individualism and self-expression, starting by teaching them the word “I.”

That’s the crux of the book, but I would still highly recommend reading it or listening to it yourself! I borrowed my copy from the Ohio Digital Library and listened to it on my iPhone. Just Google “Ohio Digital Library” and the site should come up. From there you can register an account, get a digital library card and check out all sorts of books absolutely free!

Modern Day Themes

I most definitely disagree with Ayn Rand’s purely humanist philosophy on life, that there is no higher cause to life than living for one’s own happiness. It reeks of arrogance, and is an overinflated opinion of Man’s own importance and greatness. Man is capable of great brilliance. But we are also just as capable of mind-boggling stupidity. I see it every day. We’re deeply flawed creatures. Furthermore, it is possible to live selflessly for those we love, and still have a rewarding and fulfilling life when it comes to our own goals.

However, I completely understand how she arrived at her humanist philosophy. She had an incredible dislike of organized religion, and other “State-like entities” that often tell people what to do, what to think, and how to feel. I’m the same way. The Government, Catholic Church, and other entities overstep their boundaries at times when it comes to dictating certain things to people. In order to create her futuristic dystopian society for Anthem, Ayn Rand just cranked this up to the absolute max. She created a nightmarish scenario to get her point across.

I see the potential seeds being sown for a society similar to that one if we are not careful and alert. In the same way that the extreme collectivist society in the book was benevolent on the surface, but sinister in its true motives, our society could be shifting toward that a little bit.

In the guise of inclusiveness and not offending anyone, political correctness is often lorded over people. People are policed on what is and is not appropriate to say, do or believe. If you go along with the prevailing opinion of society, no matter what that is, you are loved by many. However, say or do anything that conflicts with what society deems acceptable, and you are branded a racist, facist, or any kind of -phobe or -ist known to man. Whether you truly are guilty of anything or not is irrelevant.

Another similarity between the world of Anthem and our own, is the blurred line between what is the truth and what is not. In the book, The Elders of the society are part of the World Council, the governing body of the future Earth. They are the gatekeepers. The ones who decide which scientific discoveries are worthy of being introduced to mankind. They also decide what is true, and what is false. And they come to each and every one of their conclusions among themselves, never allowing for any outside discussion or dissent from the people. In a similar way, social media giants Facebook and Twitter, along with big media networks such as Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and others, try to gain a monopoly on what the truth is. They do this by touting the “truth” of their news stories while branding anything to the contrary as false. Meanwhile, nobody really knows what the truth is. All we are is angry and confused.

Lastly, groupthink is present absolutely everywhere in Anthem. From the insulated decisions the Elders make in guiding the society, to the beliefs of the people and their visceral reaction to anything opposite to those beliefs, any dissenting opinion is shamed and shut down. This is done by any means necessary, from simple scolding, to being lashed with a whip, right up to being burned at the stake. While our present-day society is nowhere near that barbaric here in America, there are two massive echo chambers which function on groupthink. Speak or do anything contrary to what they believe, and any number of things could happen. From simple shaming, to physical violence, to death in extreme cases, such as in the murder of Jessica Doty-Whitaker.

Anthem was written in 1937. But it’s startling how 2020 America looks like it might be in the beginning stages of a society like that. Thankfully, there is still plenty of time to reverse course. The main way we do this, is to recognize our individual gifts and talents which make us unique individuals, and use them for the betterment of the world, and those around us. We must also not be afraid to call out what is false and wrong where we see it, no matter the pushback. To me, Anthem serves as a call to do these things.

Appreciate your uniqueness. Use the unique gifts you’ve been given. Hold fast to knowledge and the truth. And NEVER, EVER, give up your individuality and personal freedom for anything. For in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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Winning Browns Football

2020 certainly has been a strange year. Between a worldwide pandemic, shutdowns, and a crazy national election, I think it’s safe to say nobody expected the year to unfold like it has. For those who follow sports and football, I bet few people expected the Cleveland Browns to be doing as well as they currently are!

But as we head into December, the Browns are 8-3, in second place in the AFC North, and currently projected to make the Playoffs for the first time since 2002! I don’t know how many truly understand the suffering of the Browns fanbase. Let me give you a glimpse: They are on the verge of just their third winning season since 1999, and from 2016-2017, they won only once in 32 games. This season has been like a drink of water after wandering the desert!

Turning the Corner?

First-Year Browns head coach, Kevin Stefanski

Yes, it’s only Year 1 under new Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. But he has been the main reason the Browns are succeeding. In the past, the Browns were a mess. There was no identity to this team, players didn’t play disciplined, and there were quite a few guys who were only in Cleveland to collect a paycheck.

That all changed when Coach Stefanski was direct and straightforward at his introductory press conference in January 2020: “Personality is welcome. Production is required,” he said. He threw down the gauntlet. He issued the challenge on Day 1. He set the tone right away that his Browns were going to put in the effort, discipline and teamwork that is necessary to becoming a winning football team!

Even though the Browns still have a lot of improving to do, and they are nowhere near where they eventually want to be, I’m noticing marked improvement under Coach Stefanski’s leadership. They no longer commit stupid penalties on what seems like every play, the majority of play calls make sense, and they’ve developed an identity as a physical team that can run the football extremely well.

The team that used to be circled on the calendar as a guaranteed win is gone. In its place is an improving, tough, hard-nosed team that will give anybody their best shot on Sundays. They also seem to genuinely love and enjoy playing for each other, too! In a previous episode of the YouTube series Building the Browns, I saw nothing but encouragement between teammates. If the offense had a good drive or scored a touchdown, as soon as they came off the field, the defense high fived them, encouraged Baker Mayfield and the guys to keep it up, and then they went out there to try and shut down the opponent. On the other side of things, if one of our defensive linemen had a sack or there was a big defensive stop, several of our offensive players were pumped up and encouraging their teammates. It was beautiful to see. That is the beginning of a good football team!

A word to every naysayer, Negative Nancy, and armchair quarterback

Yes, most of the games the Browns have won this year have come against mediocre to bad teams. There’s no getting around that. The best win of the season so far was at home in Cleveland against a fellow playoff contender in the Indianapolis Colts. This has caused some to dismiss the possibility that the Browns are becoming a good football team. I see their reasoning, but I wholeheartedly disagree with them for one reason, and one reason only: The Browns are finishing games. Let me say it again: The Cleveland Browns are finishing football games. Too often in the past, the Browns would have the lead late in the game, and for whatever reason they’d let it slip away. Whether it was from an exhausted defense failing to shut down the opponent, committing a crucial penalty, or poor decisions from previous coaches, they could not finish off ballgames.

I don’t know what he’s done to change that, but Coach Stefanski has instilled that killer instinct in this team. Every time the Browns have been within striking distance or in the lead this season, they’ve won the game. They have yet to lose a game in which they’ve had the lead in the fourth quarter. They’ve closed teams out. Good and improving football teams do this on a consistent basis!

With that in mind, I say this to all the people who still complain for whatever reason: Enjoy the ride! Enjoy the fact that the Browns are actually winning games, no matter how they do it. Think positively, and enjoy Sundays again. We haven’t been able to have fun like this in a long time!

Playoff-Bound Cleveland Browns?

Pardon me for a second, folks. But allow me to leave this right here πŸ˜‰

“Playoffs? Playoffs?!”

It has been what seems like AGES since the Cleveland Browns have been even remotely close to making it to the Playoffs. They haven’t played in a playoff game since January 2003 at Pittsburgh, and haven’t won a playoff game since January 1995. But as things stand, these are the current AFC Standings:

  1. Pittsburgh (10-0)
  2. Kansas City (10-1)
  3. Tennessee (8-3)
  4. Buffalo (8-3)
  5. Cleveland (8-3)
  6. Miami (7-4)
  7. Indianapolis (7-4)
  8. Baltimore (6-4)
  9. Las Vegas (6-5)
  10. New England (5-6)
  11. Denver (4-7)
  12. Houston (4-7)
  13. LA Chargers (3-8)
  14. Cincinnati (2-8-1)
  15. Jacksonville (1-10)
  16. New York Jets (0-11)

The top seven teams in the AFC and NFC are currently projected to make the Playoffs as of Week 12. Keep in mind there is a LOT of football to be played. The regular season isn’t over until Week 17 on January 3rd. A lot can change between now and then. Nobody’s clinched a playoff spot yet.

The Browns have earned wins against teams like the Cowboys, Bengals (twice), Eagles, Texans and Jaguars. The friendly schedule ends now, though. They travel to Tennessee on December 6th to battle a fellow playoff contender in the 8-3 Titans. Last season, the Titans just barely missed making it to the Super Bowl, losing in the AFC Championship Game to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. You can bet Tennessee is hungry to get to the Super Bowl this time around. They’re incredibly tough, and well-coached by former New England Patriots assistant and Ohio State Buckeye, Mike Vrabel. Plus they have a monster running back in Derrick Henry. Cleveland is a definite underdog this week.

After tangling with the Titans, the Browns will go home to Cleveland to battle another team looking to make the playoffs in the 6-4 Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens seem to be in a bit of a tailspin, losing four of their last five games after starting 5-0. Perhaps the Browns would be able to catch the Ravens at a good time, and keep them in a freefall?

After that, the schedule might get a little easier with back to back road games in New York against the Giants and Jets, although no win is a sure thing in the NFL. And then the Browns will wrap up their regular season on January 3rd, 2021 when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Personally, my gut feeling is that the Browns will unfortunately lose to the Titans. But they’ll rebound with three straight wins over the Ravens, Giants and Jets. That would put them at 11-4. Then, depending on whether Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin decides to play his starters or not, the Browns may get a win to end the season.

It’s there. The chance to clinch a playoff spot is in the Browns’ sights! Three more wins could get them in. If that does happen, there’s going to be a major party in Cleveland!

Until then, enjoy the ride everybody! This might be a season 18 years in the making! GO BROWNS!

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Thanksgiving Day Reflections

I firmly believe that the older you get, the more grateful you are to spend time with friends and family. This has definitely been the case for me, and it’s especially true in such a weird year like 2020. Thanksgiving is a time to slow down, and get our hearts and minds right, in order to accept all that God has bestowed upon us with a spirit of genuine humility and gratitude. Forget the Black Friday Christmas shopping for a minute, and look at what you have in front of you. Starting with the very air you’re breathing. None of us are guaranteed another Thanksgiving, or another day for that matter. Which means we should do the absolute best we can living this one to its fullest.

One of the true meanings of Thanksgiving has been made loud and clear over the last few days. Aside from life itself, true family and friends are one of God’s most precious gifts. And they can be anywhere in the world.

I think it’s really neat how I can keep in touch with my good friend Melissa, her husband Jamie and daughter Delilah, even though they’re in England. Mel surprised me with a FaceTime call a few days ago that caught me completely off guard, but made me smile from ear to ear! I am thankful for her genuine kindness, being understanding, her uniquely English sense of humor, and always being there for me even though she is incredibly busy.

I’ve also used WhatsApp to get back in touch with my friend Emily. She’s a grad school classmate and friend, but she moved to Australia with her husband recently, and it looks like she’s living out her dream. It feels good to be back in touch with her though. That app is really handy! I was defintely worried I wouldn’t be able to keep in touch with her once she had moved away, but being able to talk to her through WhatsApp solved that problem. I have always been thankful for Emily’s friendship. She’s probably the person I talked to the most in grad school, and who I could relate to the most during that point in my life. We commisserated a lot through our tougher times as graduate school students. But even though that time of my life is over, the friendship still remains. She never fails to lend an ear, or put a huge smile on my face whenever I hear from her!

And a couple days ago, my sister Christy and her boyfriend Chaz came up from Cincinnati to visit! It’s nice having my own apartment for sure. But there is nothing better than spending time with them when they visit. Getting the chance to be around them and my parents is what Thanksgiving is all about for me. Not everyone feels the love on Thanksgiving like I have. I am extremely blessed and forturnate to have friends here at home, abroad, and a family who has always had my back from day one πŸ™‚

Without my friends and family, I am nothing. God has blessed me so abundantly with so many people who love me. Mom and Pop, Christy and Chaz, Mel, and Emily are only a few of the people God has given me as gifts, but I love and appreciate all the people who are always there for me.

Even in such an unusual year like this one, where we may or may not be able to spend time with those we love due to Coronavirus, the virus cannot take the true meaning of the season away: Gratitude toward God, and a humble and thankful heart for all the truly wonderful blessings He has given us. Spend as much time as you can, in whatever way you can with those who matter the most to you. Be safe with family, whether in person or otherwise. Enjoy that good food. Take stock of all that you have been given, especially when it’s so easy in these times to become fixated on what you don’t have. And make new, happy memories on this day that you’ll be able to look back on and cherish for a lifetime!

From me to you, Happy Thanksgiving everyone! God bless and keep you all πŸ™‚

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A New Hobby: Audiobooks

There was once a time in my life where I loved to read. I was a bookworm as a kid. I absolutely loved to read the Harry Potter series, and I read my Bible religiously (no pun intended). I participated in several reading programs at my local library. And even though I never read as many books as my classmates who were voracious readers, I always enjoyed whatever I read, typically about history, sports and all kinds of fiction.

Unfortunately starting in college, the habit of reading for fun had been replaced by reading for class, watching ESPN, partying with friends, social drinking and flirting with cute girls. I write this with a slight smirk on my face, but regret in my heart. Now that I have started listening to audiobooks regularly, I feel like I’ve missed out on so much knowledge that I could’ve gained a while ago. Books are meant to be read or listened to for more than just class assignments. I was foolish. But better late than never I suppose. All that I know, is that listening to audiobooks has sparked my love of learning again, and has helped me to have fun and grow in knowledge!

I’ve found it very hard just to pick up a hard copy of a book and read it the old fashioned way without becoming bored and not finishing it. I have a bin full of books in my apartment that I took with me last year when I moved out but I’ve only read a few. I used to think this boredom was from laziness. But I honestly think I just find it hard to keep my mind focused and engaged enough, and so I need a new way to enjoy things. Thank god for the Libby app!

The Libby app is powered by Overdrive software, and is basically a mobile-friendly extension of the Ohio Digital Library, right in the palm of your hand! I have searched several topics just to see what would come up, and I bet there are literally TENS OF THOUSANDS of books on practically every topic imaginable. I’m currently listening to an audiobook on the life of John Adams, but I am also bouncing between that and audiobooks by Ben Shapiro on battling political correctness, as well as Thomas Sowell and his commentary on Marxism.

I’ve also checked out an audiobook by former Ohio State head football coach (and future Hall of Famer) Urban Meyer on leadership. I’m really excited to listen to that one! Gonna start tomorrow and listen to a chapter every morning to see what I can learn from it. Maybe I can read a chapter of Scripture as soon as I wake up to get my mind focused on Jesus, and then once I get my mind focused on Him, maybe later I can use what I learn from Coach Meyer as motivation to attack my day!

It’s like this spark has been lit under me! I want to listen to some audiobooks for entertainment. I want to listen to others like Coach Meyer’s to be motivated and inspired. And I want to eventually listen to a self-help book or two on relationships and communication to be a better communicator and listener with my family and friends, and to build myself into a better and wiser man as I grow older. Especially if I eventually find a special lady to settle down with. I want to be wiser and better for her, whoever she ends up being. I’d better smarten up now while I can, so I’m not in trouble with her later πŸ˜‰

I just feel like listening to audiobooks has unlocked a part of my mind that I forgot was there. It awakens my curiosity to learn more. Of everything! And it allows me to focus my mind on what I am listening to right at that moment. Sometimes my mind is going a hundred miles an hour, and negative self-talk can creep in. When I use more of my time to focus on what I am hearing and learning, it’s like my mind calms down, and I am at peace.

I now know why my best friend Tony loves to read so much and listen to audiobooks. It’s healthy for the mind, and can help us grow as people. People talk about physical fitness, and they definitely should. But mental fitness is just as important. A chapter or two a day from a great audiobook can help with that!

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Now What?

It’s been a couple days, and I can finally relax. The stress of the Election is over. At least for me. While a couple states are still counting votes, it’s official: Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States come January 2021. I still don’t know what to think. I’m not incredibly upset like some of my friends on the right are, and I’m not celebrating or relieved like my friends who are more left wing. I’m just adopting a “wait and see” attitude. We have no clue how things are going to go once Biden assumes office. Sure, we have educated guesses. But that’s all they are. Guesses and pure speculation.

But I do realize a couple things: Why Trump truly lost, and that the election process needs streamlined and overhauled. First off, it was not a free and fair election. Anyone on the left or right who thinks there were absolutely NO instances of voter fraud by either political party are kidding themselves. There were reportedly at least 150 million people who voted. 30 million more than in 2016. While I am thrilled and happy so many exercised their American right to vote, to truly believe that there were no instances of voter fraud seems incredibly naΓ―ve to me. Political parties will try to grab or keep power any way they can. I have little to no trust in the government in this case.

Second, Donald Trump did not lose because the election was stolen from him. He lost because he could not control himself throughout the four years he was in office. He made himself extremely unlikable and extremely un-Presidential by the countless things he said and did. If he had dialed back a year or two ago, it wouldn’t have cost him reelection. If he had quieted down a bit and let everyone who opposed him say their piece, I believe there were enough people in this country who would’ve sided with him based on his policies and platform, rather than his anti-Democrat rhetoric, and their hatred of what they perceive to be “the other side.” Donald can complain until the cows come home that the Biden campaign cheated. But if he wants to know the real reason he lost, he should look in the mirror. The only one who could defeat Donald Trump was Donald Trump. And that’s exactly what happened.

Forgive the use of a football analogy here, folks. But Trump’s reaction to losing the Election reminds me of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s reaction to losing the 2016 Ohio State/Michigan game. In the game, Michigan at one point was leading 17-7 late in the third quarter. They had Ohio State’s backs against the wall. Until Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh lost his temper, snapped his headset, and tossed his clipboard onto the field in disagreement with a penalty. That promptly earned him a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, and Ohio State began their comeback right then and there. After the game was over (a 30-27 Buckeye victory), Jim Harbaugh wanted to blame the officials for his loss. Nowhere did he take responsibility for losing his temper. He refused to admit he screwed things up. But he was the chief reason they lost.

The same is true for Donald Trump. At the end of the day, he has no one to blame but himself for losing. Whether or not he’ll eventually realize that, I don’t know. He’s incredibly arrogant. And it takes a little humility to admit when you’ve screwed up. I have never heard him admit wrongdoing on anything.

But now we must move forward. Do I trust Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to do what’s right for us? No I do not. But I want them to succeed for our country, and I hope and pray they do. I want to be proven wrong. I do not actively want them to fail. I do not want the pilot to crash the plane we’re all on.

The election process also needs streamlined for future elections. Every state seems to have different regulations for voters, as well as different dates for vote counting deadlines. Heck, I don’t even think all states use computers. To streamline everything, I suggest the following measures:

  1. Have every state convert to computerized voting at the polls if they haven’t already.
  2. Have a national deadline and cutoff for absentee ballots and mail in ballots in time for the Election. States shouldn’t still be counting votes a week or more after the Election. Plus it leaves too much room for fraud in my opinion, especially in an incredibly tight election like the one we just had.
  3. Require voting ID for every polling place, as well as copies of verified identification to be returned with every mail-in ballot.
  4. Allow pollsters from both parties should be allowed to watch and ensure that the votes are being accurately counted. No one should be blocked from making the sure the process was fair, even in the time of a pandemic.
  5. If possible, begin counting early votes and tabulating information, and reveal that information to the public once the Election is underway. Even in a country as populated as ours, things shouldn’t have taken so long. The only issue I see with my proposed measure, is that someone would be stupid and probably leak this information to the public, causing them to possibly change their voting decision. But if it were possible to prevent that somehow, early counting could be a measure used to speed up the reporting of election results.

I am trying my best to be calm, and to not let my mind run away with thoughts of what might happen come January 2021 once Joe Biden is inaugurated and Kamala Harris becomes Vice President. But I hope they realize that even though Donald Trump will soon be gone, that will not magically cure this country’s problems.

There are still going to be major problems they’ll have to fix. Race relations. Relations between police officers and citizens. People who are genuinely scared that their guns, a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment, are going to be taken away. Rioting and looting in certain cities for any number of reasons. There are so many issues Joe and Kamala are going to have to fix. And I believe that requires getting out and talking with and listening to the people who did not vote for them. I’m one of them. There is so much hurt, fear, anger and pain in this country. And I believe where the healing for that starts, is through genuine discourse with people who disagree with them. And true compassion and a will to help people who are scared and suffering.

Yet in spite of all that is wrong with our country, I still love America so much and have hope that she can be a country we’re all proud of. I am an extremely proud Patriot, and will be until the Good Lord calls me home. I refer to America as The Great Experiment. And in a lot of ways, that’s what she is. Even 244 years after her birth. She is also the Great Melting Pot, a home for millions of diverse and unique people who have brought their stories, cultures, customs, and hopes with them. America certainly isn’t perfect. But she can be great for all people if we learn to treat each other with respect, empathize and be compassionate with each other, and rally around the three key ideals this country was founded upon: The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for every person here.

I’ll end with this: Even though Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be our new President and Vice President, it starts and ends with us. America’s return to being the beacon of hope for the world, or her eventual death starts and ends with us. It starts with us being compassionate to our neighbors who think differently than we do, or ends with us continuing to be hateful, arrogant and divisive. It starts with us honoring and respecting our Founding Fathers, flag, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, or it ends with us tossing all those things into the trash bin of history. It starts with us returning to civilized and friendly discourse, or ends with us talking over one another and saying and doing hurtful things. And lastly, America LIVES if we turn our hearts back to God. Or she DIES if we continue to live in darkness, hate, arrogance, and selfishness.

The choices are ours, folks. Which ones will you choose?

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One’s humanity is precious

I just got done watching a show that absolutely broke my heart. Yes, it was fictional (thank God), but it was utterly depressing. I’ve only seen three episodes of Black Mirror, a British sci-fi series on Netflix, but boy there’s some seriously heavy stuff in there. I don’t know whether to be entertained, sad, angry or depressed. Do the show’s directors enjoy messing with our heads and making us squirm uncomfortably in our seats? It certainly appears so!

The episode I just watched was called “Fifteen Million Merits.” It’s basically the story of a near future society absolutely SATURATED with media, and a lack of human soul and individuality. It’s definitely a dystopian story. The main character, a young man named Bingham Madsen, spends most of his day in a room covered in TV screens. I liken it to a high-tech version of solitary confinement. Instead of padded walls, there are screens which pump in media infomercials all hours of the day.

Bing’s life is incredibly boring as well. From the time he gets up, to the time he goes to bed, he spends his time trying to earn credits by riding an exercise bike and spending credits on useless things. He’s a human hamster on a never-ending wheel. The world he lives in has no purpose. It has no soul. And what little humanity there is in it, is stifled by the gloomy, monotonous, mundane way of life that he lives with other people who are in the building with him. But Bing doesn’t know any better. Until he meets a pretty girl named Abi who aspires to be a professional singer, and to leave the sterile, soulless world behind for something bigger and better. She touches his heart and snaps him out of the colorless, gloomy world they’re both living in.

Getting to know Abi makes Bing realize that his humanity, compassion and love for her, are far more fulfilling than what he had been doing up until he met her. Bing gives her the millions of credits he has inherited from his deceased brother, so she can pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer, and so she can have a better life for herself outside “high-tech solitary confinement” earning and spending credits on hollow things all day, every day.

Abi enters a singing competition called Hot Shot. She impresses the judges with her singing. It’s her big break. Her ticket to freedom. Her way out. Right? Nope. Dead wrong. After complimenting her performance, the two male judges ask her to strip naked. And the female judge enables their shitty behavior by doing nothing. Hell, she eggs them on. All three objectify Abi. They give her an ultimatum: Toss away her human dignity and lower herself to a sex object in order to be made a singer, or return to being a “slave to technology,” pedaling the bike, earning and spending credits every day for the rest of her life. Folks, that scene was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen in a while. You’d have to see the episode yourself to understand what I mean. The actress who plays her, Jessica Brown Findlay, really tugged at my heart with her acting. I was both genuinely sad for her character Abi and pissed at the scumbag judges. I wanted to help Bing get her out of that situation, and cuff the two male judges upside the head! But alas, it’s only a show.

Abi unfortunately gives in to the pressure of wanting to escape her boring life. But as is the case most of the time in true dystopian novels and movies, there are no happy endings. Sometime later, Bing sees Abi on the screens in his cell. Not as a world-famous singer who is free. But as a porn star forced to do awful things against her will. She loses her soul, her dignity, and her humanity. They break her. Turns out the “freedom” offered by Hot Shot was an illusion after all. There was no freedom at the end of the line.

Seeing Bing’s reaction to Abi being abused hurt my heart. It made me hope that he would break out of his cell to save her, and that the episode would end on a positive note with the two of them happily together. Unfortunately, we never see Abi again. And Bing ends up becoming a podcaster for the other people living in the dystopian society. He resigns himself to living his gloomy, stifling life. The girl who he loves is gone, and so there is no point to his life anymore other than to continue running on the never-ending hamster wheel. He contemplates suicide, but can’t bring himself to do it. So he performs for the masses, like a bird in a cage. Fade to black.

Even though the show was incredibly depressing, I noticed a few interesting and hopeful messages and themes. One was loud and clear: HUMANITY AND INDIVIDUALITY, ALONG WITH LOVE FOR OTHERS, ARE PRECIOUS THINGS, AND SHOULD NEVER BE STIFLED OR SACRIFICED FOR ANYTHING OR ANYONE. Our humanity and individuality add color and uniqueness to the world, and to the lives of those we interact with. Plus it is always better to live the raw, messy, gritty, authentic life that comes with the human condition, than to live in sterile bleakness. Being human is both beautiful and painful. It’s both joyful and depressing. But it is real. As long as we are allowed to live it, we are always FREE!

I got a sort of Anthem meets 1984 Orwellian-type vibe from this show too. Long story short, Anthem by Ayn Rand features a character who nicknames himself Prometheus, who lives in a sterile society, similar to the one Bing and Abi lived in. Human individuality, creativity and personality are seen as crimes, and are stifled. But “Prometheus” eventually rebels against his oppressive life, finds love with a woman he nicknames “Gaia,” and breaks free, taking her with him. They become like another version of Adam and Eve. A new hope for humanity. The society in the Black Mirror episode definitely seemed like the one in Anthem. But the episode ended like the ending of 1984. The main character resigns himself to his fate, there is no happy ending, and the bad guys win.

I usually write upbeat, happy stuff. But I had to blog about this episode of Black Mirror that I saw. It just affected me in such a deep, emotional and profound way, that I had to share what I saw and felt. It reminded me of what is precious in life, as well as what it truly means to be human. Loving others, sacrificing for them, bringing color to the world with our gifts and talents, and living freely. THAT is just the tip of the iceberg of what it means to be human. And if we ever lose our humanity or willingly give it up, we’ve lost ourselves forever.

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I did my duty

I went and did it. I voted. I didn’t want to wait until the chaos of Election Day, so I went out and voted early. Mostly to relieve stress about the Election, and to make sure I went out and did my duty as an American. But now that it’s done, now what?

I think I’m going to try my best to stay away from big media and just wait until Tuesday night. Although I seriously doubt the election will be over until Thanksgiving at the earliest. Things will likely drag on for weeks. The amount of last minute funny business from both the Democratic and Republican parties would not surprise me in the least. I’m sure they’re up to no good. We just don’t hear anything about it from their friends at Fox and CNN. After all, they’ve gotta cover the asses of those they’re in cahoots with, don’t they? πŸ˜‰

But I still felt a duty and necessity to vote. Many don’t vote as a sign of protest or dissatisfaction with the current system. I don’t blame those people and entirely understand how they feel, but I strongly disagree with their thinking. If I don’t vote, I feel like I am slapping George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others in the face as a sign of disrespect. They, thousands of soldiers, and millions of common American citizens worked, fought, bled and died for my right to vote. It is the least I can do to honor them by exercising it.

From 1775-1783, our Founding Fathers, leaders of the original Patriots, fought against a tyrannical British King and Parliament, to ensure that we had a right to have a say in how our government operated, and who should be installed by us to run the country. We did not always have a say in how to govern ourselves. But we should never forget where one of our most important rights came from, or when it originated.

Before the Revolutionary War was fought and won, the common person in the colonies of Delaware, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, had no say in how they were governed. They had no representative in Parliament in England nearly 3,000 miles away to speak for them.

Unfair taxes and oversteps by King George III, such as the Stamp Act, Sugar Act, the Quartering Act, Townshend Acts, Intolerable Acts, and the Tea Act, were all passed without the consent of the American People in those days. Our ancestors were largely expected to shoulder the burden of much of the cost for the French and Indian War, no questions asked. When they refused, the King attempted to force them to comply.

Things eventually built up to such a fever pitch with events like the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. After that, the rest as they say, is history. In the following years, thousands suffered and died for our freedom. It is because of them that I voted today. And I am sincerely thankful and grateful to all of them for the right to do so.

Fast forward from then to now, in late October 2020, and even though the country is far larger and much different than it was in those days, whether we know it or not, the people from America’s earliest days left us with two important duties: The duty to vote, and the duty to transform America into a country all people can be proud of. It is our duty to use our voice at the ballot box through our vote, and our duty to strive for a country in which all people have a say, all people are fairly represented, and all are heard and helped by our elected public servants.

I am not going to use this blog post to try to influence you all to vote one way or the other. You’ve likely made up your mind by now for reasons known only to you. That’s completely fine, and I totally respect it. But for those of you who are still on the fence this close to Election Day, I urge you to check out Ballotpedia at this link.

Ballotpedia is one of the best resources for finding out who is on the ballot in your area of the country. If you type in your city, state, and zip code, it will generate a sample ballot that shows which issues and candidates are up for election. I would then encourage you to do a little research and weigh each candidate or issue against what your values are. After that, you’re ready. Ballotpedia is great resource! It helped me make a confident, well-informed decision at the polls today, and reduced my stress during one of the most chaotic and uncertain times in American history.

November 3rd is fast approaching, folks. I encourage you to do your duty as an American. And I will also tell you this: No matter which way the election goes, the sun will still rise in the sky, and you will still be okay. While this country does have problems, things are nowhere near as bad as those in big media will have you believe. After all, they’re paid to spin things a certain way that is favorable to their handlers and buddies. Money and power talks πŸ˜‰

The main thing we need to focus on in today’s screwed up America and world, is treating each other with kindness, decency and respect.

Something tells me it’s what our Founding Fathers would want. God bless you all, and God Bless the United States of America!

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What the word Catholic means to me

Hi everybody! It’s been almost three weeks since I last posted. But I hope everyone’s doing well πŸ™‚

I have one rule for myself when I write, and that is, to only write when I am inspired to, or when I have something on my mind that I feel I should share. This is definitely one of those times. But I feel like what I have to share could help you guys. I know I’ve been calmed and helped by thinking about it.

I’ve seen on the news recently that Pope Francis voiced his support for same-sex civil unions. I do not know what everyone’s opinion on the whole thing is. But I know that I do not mind that the Pope supports same-sex civil unions. And that’s for one simple reason that is one of my personal core values: It is not my job to judge, or look down on others for what society says is their perceived “sin.” Why should I love anyone any less for any reason? I wouldn’t want people to love me any less for any of my perceived shortcomings when I know I am an unworthy sinner. After all, we’re ALL sinners in need of Jesus’ saving grace.

Plus, unless something has drastically changed in the last few years, marriage has ended in divorce at around a 50% clip among heterosexual couples. That could be for any number of reasons. Infidelity, incompatibility, etc.

Marriage hasn’t been taken all that seriously by heterosexual couples. So to me that means people should be more focused on improving and maintaining their own marriages instead of worrying about what same-sex couples do in their own private lives. It shouldn’t concern anyone.

I think Pope Francis’ support of the LGBTQ community on this matter also shows me part of what it might truly mean to be Catholic. And that has little to do with religion, dogma or any of the things associated with the Catholic faith as we know them.

The word Catholic comes from a Latin word meaning “universal.” I found that term both hopeful and ironic. Ironic in the sense that my view of the Catholic Church is that it is not inclusive of all people at times, even though it should be. And hopeful in the sense that if we truly love our neighbors as Jesus taught us, the Catholic Church can begin to truly live up to its namesake: As a place where ALL God’s children (i.e. all of humanity) can feel the love Jesus has for them. To me, truly being Catholic is living out the word “universal” and trying my best to be accepting and loving toward everyone (even though I obviously routinely fail, as do we all).

Plus, reading Scripture is indeed important, and gaining wisdom from it is important. But I sort of view the uproar over the Pope’s support of same-sex civil unions, and using the verse in Deuteronomy as justification against the LGBTQ community in a variety of ways, to be similar to how Pharisees in Jesus’ time viewed their law versus the true application of it. Let me explain:

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day seemed far more concerned with keeping up appearances as holy and righteous, while not truly being holy and righteous. They looked at the sins of others, and frowned upon them. While not looking at their own sins, and realizing they were just as much, if not more screwed up than the prostitute, tax collector, or drunk they refused to associate with. They failed to keep the deeper, true meaning of their law, which was this: Love God and neighbor. No exceptions. Jesus never looked down on any of the people He spent time with. He loved them so deeply, even while recognizing they were unworthy sinners He came to save.

In a similar way, opponents of the Pope’s stance, at least the ones I have seen on Facebook, seem angry over it because it’s a perceived transgression upon something they view as sacred. While not realizing that the true thing that should be held sacred, is that it’s our job to try our best to love all people without exception. Jesus instituted that command for all of humanity for all time, at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. And I do not agree with those in the Christian community who think opposing the LGBTQ community is loving people.

I will admit it, I used to live by the Christian-sounding saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Sounds good enough, right? I used to think so. Until I read an article unpacking the saying and proving that it wasn’t a Christian way of looking at things at all.

When we live by “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” we do a couple things wrong. First, when we hate the sin or shortcoming of another person, we either consciously or unconsciously start identifying them with what we perceive to be the main sin in our eyes, rather than loving them for the person that they are. Like I’m sure you’ve judged someone as the town gossiper, or someone who eats too much, someone who doesn’t manage their money right, etc. I’m certainly guilty of the same thing. While we should always strive to be the best that we can be in many ways, when we judge someone for the reason or reasons they aren’t perfect, we don’t really practice loving them as Jesus wants us to do. When our judgmental, human side comes out, we can’t be the people Jesus calls us to be.

The second thing we do wrong when we live by “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is more obvious: It isn’t our job to hate someone’s sin. Nope. It isn’t our job to rail against someone’s wrongdoing or shortcoming, especially when we have a TON of our own shortcomings to worry about and try to improve on. There’s only one being anywhere who has the job of judging sin along with the authority to do so, and He’s the one who created all of us πŸ˜‰

Only God can judge sin. Plus it makes no sense for us to point at and shame others for their sins. That would be like pointing and laughing at someone for being filthy dirty…while we ourselves are also filthy dirty. I obviously do not know the mind of God, but I do know He sees sin differently than we do. From what I know, I do know these things: God is perfect. We are not. And we cannot enter Heaven as we are because we are not perfect. But if we truly claim Jesus’ death on the Cross, try our best to live according to His word, and try to emulate the compassion He showed others while on Earth, we will enter Heaven thanks to His grace.

But while we are here, it is our job to love our neighbor without exception with the spirit that Jesus had while He was physically here on Earth. He loved the downtrodden, the poor, the outcasts of society, the disabled, the prisoners, the physically and emotionally persecuted, and every kind of sinner imaginable. While exposing, shaming and embarrassing those who thought they knew God best. Perhaps if we all lived this way, instead of clinging to dogma, all of humanity could live out the true meaning of the word “Catholic” and be the united body of Jesus on Earth.

God bless and take care everybody! πŸ™‚

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Remembering Eddie

I still can’t believe it. And it breaks my heart into a million pieces to write this. But rock legend Eddie Van Halen died yesterday from cancer. He was 65 years old. Why must 2020 take legends from us? Kobe Bryant died at the beginning of the year, and now Eddie near the end of it. I really don’t know how much more of this I can take…

But while I mourn his death with the rest of the world, I also want to remember him as he was to me: An insanely cool, happy piece of my childhood introduced to me by my father. I can’t remember the exact moment I was introduced to Eddie’s musical genius by my dad. But that’s only because he’s been such a part of my life when it comes to music, having fun and happy memories, that I have never known life without him in it. I guess I was spoiled for almost 30 years huh?

When I think of Eddie, so many things come to mind, such as his frenetic pace on the guitar, always smiling and having fun performing, being able to recognize his unique sound instantly as a fan, and frequently thinking, “How in the hell did he do THAT?!” when it came to many of his virtuosic solos. God blesses many people in spades when it comes to talent or gifts. Not Eddie Van Halen. God blessed that man with a sheer TIDAL WAVE of talent! We were all just speechless, awestruck fans left in the wake of a Category 5 heavy metal hurricane! Take a listen to one of my favorite solos of his:

I apologize for all the shattered windows, noise violations, and melted faces that caused πŸ˜‰

All jokes aside though, Eddie was (and always is) absolutely AWESOME! I firmly believe God sends musicians like Eddie Van Halen, Michael Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston, Elvis, and others to not only entertain us, but to also reach a deeper part of our hearts and souls with their music or dancing. Something that cannot be entirely put into words, and can only be truly felt with the soul, at the core of our humanity. I don’t know what that “thing” is. But I do know Eddie reached it with his music and touched millions (if not billions) of people!

I also remember and celebrate Eddie because he showed me what REAL music is. It’s not the autotuned, edited, sanitized, same-y stuff today’s kids listen to. Eddie’s music and his legacy that we all get to enjoy, are the fruits of a truly hardworking musician’s labor. So many great songs and solos came from him just sitting down, and practicing, tinkering, writing, and working for hours on end! Sure, when he got huge he eventually had record producers, agents and all the stuff that comes with being a worldwide rock star. But before that, he would just constantly work, practice and perfect his craft. And I think that’s where the core of his brilliance came from, no matter what stage of his career he was in. There doesn’t seem to be many musicians like that in today’s world. And if they’re out there, they’re not getting the exposure they deserve.

I’m trying to keep this post mostly positive and celebrate Eddie’s life. But it still stings to know that not only is Eddie gone, but so is Van Halen as we know it. The chances of the band ever even being Van Halen again went with him. I’ll never get to see them on tour like I wanted, and they will never sound the same, even if for some reason Dave, Alex and Wolfie decided to keep going with a different guitar player. Van Halen just isn’t Van Halen without Eddie. Ever.

Van Halen: 1972-2020. That was one hell of a run! Nearly 50 years of kickass music! But it’s still incredibly sad to me, because it feels like part of me died inside. Part of my childhood died. This loss truly hurts my heart. 😦

I know I’m about to use an overused cliche, but I feel it’s definitely true in this case: You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. But I definitely feel that void today, and will for a while until it’s fully sunk in that Eddie is gone. God always seems to take the best ones from us, the ones who have such a profound impact on so many people, FAR too soon. Eddie was one of them for sure. The world is darker, and certainly a lot quieter and less fun without him in it.

I have been praying for Eddie’s soul, and for God to bring comfort, strength and peace to his family and friends. Hopefully somewhere upstairs, he’s getting ready to play a golden guitar, and shake Heaven with an otherworldly solo that’s like nothing our human ears have ever heard!

Rest in Peace, Eddie. You are loved by the entire world, and your legacy is untouchable and will be preserved and enjoyed by many for generations to come!

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Thoughts on the First Presidential Debate

Just when you think things can’t get worse or any more ridiculous, they always do. I’m normally a positive, happy man with life in general. But even I can’t put a positive spin on the travesty that was the first Presidential debate last night. It didn’t show me anything new, offer any new insights into which way I should vote and why, and neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden seemed interested in truly stepping up, and being the President that America SORELY, SORELY needs.

Last night’s debate (I use that term extremely loosely) did show me a lot of negative things that need fixed with this country. Particularly the lack of civilized conversation and treating people with opposing views with respect. Trump and Biden kept constantly talking over one another, instead of exchanging ideas and countering with facts like in an actual debate or civilized discussion. And neither could refer to the points they wanted to make in the open discussion without being interrupted by the other, even though Trump was far worse at interrupting. Simply put, they didn’t behave like gentlemen, and it often felt like their sparring match was an ugly “Facebook war” played out in person.

You know what I’m talking about. Surely you’ve had an idiot troll you on Facebook before. Even if you make a good point or come with your guns loaded on a solid argument, they hurl insults at you because they know you’re right, or because to them, conceding anything is a sign of weakness. And if you keep pushing, some of them will sound as if they are yelling at you across cyberspace. That was the debate in a nutshell.

Both men conceded nothing, taught us nothing of any lasting value, and showed any sane, clear-thinking American that they both are incapable of leading this country. Biden didn’t admit to any point Trump made because he’s scared of losing his voter base. Trump was the same way when Biden brought up any points, AND he’s that insecure about his manhood that he has to hurl insults and attack, rather than logically defend any argument he has.

Yeah. I went there. I see Trump as less of a man. If you have to constantly hurl insults, deflect and project your weaknesses on your opponent, I question the thickness of your skin and the quality of your character. I may be a broke-ass average joe living in an apartment, but at least I have the self-confidence to treat people with respect, I don’t assume the world is out to get me, and I don’t care what most people think, so I let things roll off my back for the most part. I only attack when I know for sure someone is being a jerk to somebody else, or starting in on me or my loved ones. Then I get nasty. I am completely secure in who I am. I’m not overcompensating or covering for anything. That’s part of what makes a man and adult in my book. That’s where I think Trump’s parents screwed up when they were raising him. Something happened in his childhood where he only learned to attack any perceived threat and nothing else. But I’ll let the shrinks diagnose him and figure that one out. I would not want to be inside his head.

I also think the debate showed us that those at the top think it is okay to treat each other poorly in general. Yes, we have the responsibility to treat others well in our own lives, be they loved one, friend, stranger or even enemy. But when our elected leaders are behaving like Biden and Trump were last night, what is that teaching us? Even though they are our civil servants and we are their bosses, how those in Washington treat each other not only reflects the state of our country, but it sends a message to all 328 million of us on how we should treat our neighbors. And the message has been downright shit for at least over a decade. When was the last time we treated those different from us with respect, and dare I say love and care? Probably September 12, 2001, the day after the greatest American tragedy in my lifetime.

President George W. Bush and our other leaders at the time were focused on helping us heal from a national tragedy. It didn’t matter whether they were Democrat or Republican, they grieved with and for those in New York City, DC, and Pennsylvania. And we grieved right along with them. They weren’t looking to politicize someone’s death to further their agenda or demonize those different from them, as is often the case now. They wanted to let us know where we could donate or how we could help in person if we were in the area. They simply loved and cared about their fellow human being. Where is that same love in our society today? I don’t see it very often, and Trump and Biden squaring off showed us that we have a LONG way to go before we’re back there again. If we were where we need to be as a country, neither of these goons would be anywhere remotely close to the highest office in the land! We wouldn’t put up with them! Do we really need another national tragedy before we relearn the severely painful lesson in empathy that was taught to us by 9/11?!

The reactions to the debate also showed me that people aren’t willing to hold Trump or Biden accountable either when both of them lie, or when they sidestep important questions or issues with prospective voters. The supporters of either side will merely overlook any flaw, dig in, and vote for their candidate because the other is evil personified. I ask these questions to all those people, and I ain’t gonna sugarcoat ’em: What the hell happened to your decency and principle? Where is it? Was it ever there in the first place? What happened to voting for a President or other official for the right reasons? Our once proud republic is hurting right now, and those people aren’t helping to heal it. Shame on them.

I end this post with something said by Ben Shapiro that I think we all can agree with: I’m not sure who won the debate. But I know we all lost.

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T-Minus 40 Days

Are we really that close to the biggest election in United States history? Yep. I’ve stayed quiet, and away from political stuff most of the time up until this last week. But with the impending nomination of a new Supreme Court justice following the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the looming Presidential election, I’m forced to pay attention to a lot coming down the pipe before November 3rd, and it stresses me out. I don’t know what to think or how to process all this chaos. Between each big media network demonizing whichever party they hate, the petty, childish fighting over the upcoming Supreme Court nomination, absolute venom on public Facebook threads, and tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, this whole thing is coming to a head soon.

It boggles my mind how clear the struggle for power is to my own two eyes, but not to millions of other people. To me, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passing away just exposed the power struggle, and put it in plain sight for all to see. All they have to do is look. The problem? Many people seem to be willfully looking the other way. Even though the Constitution dictates that vacant Supreme Court seats need filled, the Republican party seems to be rushing to fill the vacancy ahead of the election so they can get a Conservative justice. The Democrats, on the other hand, are going to try to do everything they can to stall it until after the election. They’re banking on taking all three elections, and having Biden install a Liberal-leaning justice if he becomes President.

Both parties seem to be trying desperately for an all-red or all-blue government with the impending House and Senate elections as well. They’re trying to buck the naturally gridlocked system installed by our Founding Fathers. The system was built to stop power grabs like the one unfolding before our very eyes. Both parties are reaching for all the power they can get, while they tell you what they do is for your own good. Don’t kid yourself, folks. You’re being lied to. It’s alarming!

Where do I stand?

I’ve been trying to figure out my answer to that question ever since it was made official that Trump and Biden were the two choices to pick from. On one hand, we have a loose cannon, narcissistic asshole who can’t shut up on Twitter for five seconds, and who threatens to use Presidential authority that he may or may not have, to try to get rid of things he doesn’t like or agree with. On the flipside of the same coin, there’s a geriatric who I don’t trust to run the country without being controlled by his party like a puppet. Biden should be at home with his wife, children, and grandchildren happily living out the remainder of his days. Not one step away from running the country! I’m still absolutely incredulous as to how we got here. Even though I still believe there are good people who are Senators and Representatives in DC, minus Tulsi Gabbard, none of them seemed to want to run for the right reason. None of them seemed genuine to me other than her.

So which way do I vote? Do I go with the masses, hold my nose and vote for Trump or Biden because they’re touted as the “lesser of two evils”? Or do I do what I did four years ago, and vote third party again as a proverbial middle finger to all this junk? As of this article, I’m leaning third party. Partly because I think both Trump and Biden are extraordinarily unfit for, and unworthy of the Oval Office. But I also am feeling secure in voting third party because I believe in being a free thinker. If I can help it, I do not want to vote out of fear. Allowing yourself to be scared is the first step toward allowing the powers that be, to pull the wool over your eyes. Then, once you vote whichever way they tell you to vote, they’ve gotcha. You just did their bidding. You didn’t think for yourself, and you’re none the wiser. Simple as that.

A third party vote, when cast for the reason I might cast it, is a statement. It is a statement that people are angry, dissatisfied with a lack of good candidates, and that they wish to have a new system in place where they don’t feel forced to choose between a flaming dumpster, and a shit sandwich. A third party vote is also a statement that people believe that there are thousands or millions of others out there who are just as fed up with the state of the country as they are. Only difference between a voter who is fed up, and a third party voter? The third party voter has the courage to act on their frustration by not buying into the two-party lie, no matter what their friends or family tell them.

Big media networks as well as everyday people, have fooled so many into believing the lie that a third party vote cannot make a difference. So they don’t even consider a third party vote. Even though millions of people voting third party would certainly shake this country up! Apart from a civil war (an absolute last resort), a third party shakeup at the ballot box from millions of fed up people is probably the only way this country’s government can be changed for the better. Or so I thought.

Ranked Choice Voting

I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of something called Ranked Choice Voting before today, when one of my college friends told me what it is. On paper, it sounds fair. I really like it! Basically, everybody would rank ALL the candidates running for President (hint: more than two), and if a candidate didn’t get 50% or more of the votes after the first round of voting, the candidate with the smallest amount of votes is eliminated. Then, people vote on the remaining candidates, and repeat the process until there is a clear winner. I like Ranked Choice voting in principle for three reasons:

  1. All candidates and their platforms get maximum exposure. The two-party stranglehold on exposure would be eliminated, and the corrupt system would be greatly weakened or eliminated.
  2. People wouldn’t be forced to choose somebody they don’t like to stop somebody they hate. They would actually have to weigh the options and do some critical thinking instead of giving in to the “us vs. them” mob mentality that is killing this country.
  3. An actual majority from the people would be required for the candidate to become President, which might help decrease the bitter and nasty fighting between people. Sure, it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Some will always complain. But if the winning candidate is one most people like, there might not be as much fighting and divisiveness.

However, I do see two cons to the system:

  1. This sounds like a popularity contest, just in a different format. There’s no way of knowing that the winning candidate won the Presidency based on their policies and character.
  2. Is there any way to be certain that someone’s vote in Delaware or Connecticut holds the same weight as someone’s in California or Texas? I don’t know how that would work.

Here’s a video explaining how things work with Ranked Choice Voting. Hopefully I didn’t miss anything. I found it really interesting!

Where do we go from here?

I’m just trying to hang in there, folks. But this stuff has REALLY been wearing on me today for some reason. I guess all I can say is this: Work for peace in your own lives by trying your best to treat others with respect, no matter what they believe. And when Election Day finally gets here, VOTE BASED ON YOUR VALUES. Let me say it again: VOTE BASED ON YOUR VALUES! DO NOT VOTE OUT OF FEAR.

If you find that you identify as a Democrat or Republican, go ahead and vote that way. But if you find that you identify more with the Libertarians, Green Party, Constitutionalists, or any other of the many choices out there, vote for them! I voted for Constitutionalist Darrell Castle in 2016 and was completely comfortable and confident in my choice. I identified with most of his positions, respect that he was a First Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, and thought that it was really cool that he and his wife help and take care of homeless children whenever they can.

I voted for Darrell Castle in 2016 because he is a man of integrity in many ways. The same absolutely cannot be said for Donald Trump or Joe Biden, yet here we are. We once had truly great people like George Washington, John Adams, and Abraham Lincoln leading this great nation. They all had character and loved this country dearly. Don’t you think it’s time we get back to that?

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A Wonderful Opportunity!

I have been richly blessed throughout my life. I’ve gotten to do many wonderful things, and meet many colorful people. But I’ve just started doing something close to my roots that’s been an absolute blast!

Last Thursday, I got a call over Facebook Messenger. Derek Stock, one of the assistant coaches for the Carey High School football team and an old high school friend of mine, called me and asked if I wanted to help call the Carey vs. Bucyrus football game over an internet livestream. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited I agreed to it, even before I was sure I had a ride to the stadium!

But after agreeing to it, one thought ran through my mind: Wait a minute. I’ve NEVER been in a position like this before. I’ve never done any kind of broadcasting before. What if I suck? Should I have really said yes to that?

But those negative thoughts didn’t last long. Particularly when Coach Stock told me I was one of the few people he knew who was that passionate for Carey football. My sister Christy kind of tuned me up too.

When Carey head coach Jon Mershman, Derek Stock, and the rest of the coaching staff were discussing who they wanted in the booth with Eric Mullholand, the play-by-play guy, who was also my junior high History teacher, my name came up for two reasons: I’ve always loved and been extremely passionate about Blue Devil Football, and I’ve had some experience working in a studio environment. I’m still extremely honored and touched to know that they thought that highly of me!

I have the NASTY habit of being my own worst critic and selling myself short though. Cue the pep talk from Christy. She was nice to me, but she was like, “You may not have been in front of a microphone before, but you worked around audio equipment for four years in college. You know how to be professional. You’ve had a lot of experience in that environment, and probably have more experience than most of the people there. You always sell yourself short! Don’t do that!” She’s great, and I am truly grateful she’s my sister. Sometimes our siblings need to give us a come to Jesus talk and a kick in the pants, don’t they? Glad she did!

I listened to her, buried my fear as best as I could, and did my absolute best in preparing by researching teams and studying rosters and newspapers. And I can now say that taking that chance to do something new and different has brought me SO much new joy! It’s also allowed me to return to my roots a little. I was a 2010 Carey High School graduate, as well as a student manager for the football team from 2007-2009. It may have been 10 years since I graduated. But somewhere in there not far from the surface, that same passion, fire, energy, and love for Carey Blue Devil Football is alive and well! That fire burns bright. Always! I was nicknamed “Animal” by a few close friends for always getting wound up, trying my best to fire up the team, and always giving 100 percent in serving my teammates. Animal came out of retirement last Friday night to help out his friends and the community!

Once a Blue Devil, Always a Blue Devil!

Carey Football has always had a very special place in my heart ever since the first time I stepped on the practice field as a high school kid 13 years ago on August 6th, 2007. It was HOT, humid, and a really long day since the team was smack dab in the middle of two a day practices. But I did not care in the least. The head coach at the time, Todd Worst, asked me if I wanted to be the student manager since I could not play football due to my Cerebral Palsy. As if I’d say no to that!

Saying yes to being a student manager was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Period. I got involved in the everyday tasks of filling water and Gatorade containers, helping lay down drill cones and setting out tackling dummies. My main goal was to do the small things everyone on the coaching staff used to do, so they could focus entirely on teaching the game to my teammates, and whipping them into shape so they were the best team they could possibly be on Friday nights!

But being a student manager gave me so much more as well. It gave me a sense of belonging, like I had a purpose, in serving and firing up my teammates. Plus being a student manager allowed me to be squarely in the middle of the action! Whether that was at practice, Thursday night “feed the team” nights where I got to sit down with the rest of the guys and eat great food prepared for us by parents and volunteers, or Friday nights under the lights! Even though being in front of our home crowd at C.D. Wentling Field was awesome, I always enjoyed road games too. There was something cool about those bus trips to other stadiums. I think it was exciting to me because I knew that we were going into hostile environments. This meant that I had to be extra loud, energetic, and at the top of my game if and when the team needed anything, such as equipment, water, Gatorade, or that extra emotional oomph for when they needed to dig deep to win.

Plus I always made sure the players on the sidelines were fired up and supporting their teammates. Football is an emotional game! And the players feed on whatever emotion they’re receiving from fans and their teammates. So if that meant I had to work myself into a frenzy to the point where the vein in my neck was popping out, my voice was hoarse from screaming, and I was sweating, so be it. Besides, if I didn’t give a damn about the game, why would my teammates?! I tried my best to be a great motivator for the guys!

I was very fortunate to be a part of three straight playoff teams. In 2007, we went 8-3, earning Carey’s first playoff berth in four seasons, and in 2008 and 2009, we had a pair of 10-2 seasons, which are among the best in school history. But I know why we had such good teams. Sure, we had big, talented guys who executed the game plan exceptionally well. But I think more importantly, we had a team of 60+ guys who trusted each other, worked together as a unit, and who trusted the men next to them to do their job. We got along really well the vast majority of the time and had plenty of fun! But for the times some guys weren’t getting along, we could still dial in and do really well. When the time came to play a game, we put any differences we had aside, and worked our asses off to get a W in whatever way we could. And most of the time, we did!

I still miss those days, even if they were over a decade ago. But now getting the opportunity to serve as the color man for Carey Football livestreams allows me to channel that same passion, share my football knowledge, and fire up and excite the fans like I used to do with my teammates! Even though I’ve only done two games behind the mic so far, it’s been unbelievably fun! I hope I can do many more broadcasts as a volunteer in the future. Above all though, I’m just gonna have fun and enjoy the ride. The booth overlooking the stadium is my new favorite place to be. It’s Animal’s new home!

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F1 Race #8: Italian GP

I’ve missed the last couple races on the Formula One calendar. But boy did I pick an interesting time to tune back in! The 2020 Italian Grand Prix was an exciting, chaotic race! This year’s Italian Grand Prix had EVERYTHING a fan could want in a race! An iconic leadership team managed their last race, F1’s most successful team struggled mightily, and one of the youngest podiums in the sport’s history was topped by a first-time winner! Check out a driver’s seat view of the race here!

End of an era at Williams Racing

Even though I am a new Formula One fan, having only followed the sport closely since March, the Williams F1 team has definitely grown on me. Founded in 1977 by Sir Frank Williams, his team has been a mainstay of the sport since then, winning a total of 16 combined Championships in their history (nine Constructor’s and seven Driver’s Championships). Unfortunately, they haven’t been close to competing for a Championship of any kind since 1997, when they won a double Championship, winning both the Driver’s and Constructor’s title.

While Frank Williams and his daughter Claire are greatly respected by many F1 fans, as well as in the F1 community as a whole, many people have called for a change in leadership at the top. After Sunday’s race that became a reality, with both Frank and Claire stepping down from their respective roles as Team Owner/Principal, and Deputy Principal, respectively.

Frank Williams and his daughter, Claire

The Williams team was recently bought by Dorilton Capital, an American investment firm. While this signals new leadership at Williams, the team will still retain the Williams name, history, and will stay at their home base in Oxfordshire, England.

While they have struggled to return to relevance, I can’t help but root for Williams to go back to the top. I love underdogs. I also love the story of how the Williams team was founded. Frank Williams is a pioneer of the sport. Here is this tough, blue collar English guy who loved to race hard and go fast in his younger days, and he put together his own team and challenged the bigger car manufacturers like Ferrari and McLaren. He beat them fairly regularly once he got rolling too! It took balls, stubbornness and belief in himself and what he wanted to do, in order to be a success. You can check all this out in a documentary called Williams, which is on Netflix. I highly recommend it if you like inspiring sports movies/documentaries!

I wish Frank and Claire Williams nothing but the absolute best in whatever they choose to pursue next. And I will be rooting for their team to one day return to where they belong, at the top and fighting for and winning Championships. I see a parallel between the Williams team, and my own beloved Cleveland Browns football team: A once proud team that used to win a lot and set the standard for others has been down on its luck for a long time. But all it takes is the right leadership, and there will be a glorious turnaround that will be worth the wait for all the hardcore, passionate fans. It will happen. Guaranteed. It’s a when. Not an if πŸ˜‰

Limping Pony: Part II

Boy, things just keep getting worse for Ferrari. Nothing seems to be going right for the team or its drivers, four-time Champion Sebastian Vettel and young hotshot Charles Leclerc. The two men struggled mightily in qualifying, with Leclerc starting 13th on the grid, and Vettel qualified 17th. Unfortunately when it rains, it pours. Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire his car only seven laps into the race due to brake failure. Charles Leclerc had a rough day as well, losing control of his car and crashing into the tire wall on lap 25. Luckily he walked away from the accident unscathed! Neither driver finished the race for Ferrari in front of their home crowd, and at their home racetrack in Monza, Italy. I would be making an extreme understatement if I said Ferrari had a bad race!

I can’t begin to imagine how frustrated and pissed Ferrari fans are right now. After reading up on and studying some of Ferrari’s team history, I can see why Ferrari fans, or as they call themselves, “the Tifosi,” are so passionate. Their team was founded and built by an incredibly passionate and competitive man in Enzo Ferrari. He went into every competition and race expecting to win. Whether that was as a driver in his younger days, or as a team owner and businessman before his death in 1988. He would not tolerate losing. It’s that stubbornness, refusal to be second best to anyone, and willingness to grow from a loss that made not only Enzo Ferrari a success, but that also made Scuderia Ferrari F1’s most successful team. This attitude has defined Ferrari’s fanbase as well, which I completely understand. They should absolutely expect their team to be a winner!

While I will be keeping a watchful eye on the rest of the season, something tells me it’s going to take a massive change somewhere inside the team structure of Ferrari before the team regains the winning form it is known for. Either Team Principal Mattia Binotto probably has to go, or a new Head Engineer needs to be hired. Until then, Ferrari will continue to struggle. Enzo Ferrari is probably rolling in his grave.

Party time for Pierre!

Over most of the 2020 season, I have gotten used to seeing three drivers at the front: Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes, and Max Verstappen for Red Bull. While I understand these three men and their teams are currently the best F1 has to offer, it gets a little old seeing the same driver or drivers qualify high, get the pole, or win the race.

So it was definitely a breath of fresh air seeing Pierre Gasly, a young French driver for AlphaTauri, a smaller Italian team, cross the finish line for his first Grand Prix win! Several things had to go right for him to take the checkered flag, though.

Pierre Gasly, 2020 Italian Grand Prix winner

A rare mistake by Lewis Hamilton, and Charles Leclerc’s crash paved the way for Pierre Gasly to win, and for Carlos Sainz, and Lance Stroll to join him on the podium. First, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen spun out near pit road. This caused a safety car to come out, and for the the pits to be closed briefly while Magnussen’s car was moved off the track.

Lewis Hamilton didn’t realize that the pit lane was closed, and took a pit stop. This later resulted in him getting a 10-second stop and go penalty. This meant that Lewis had to take the penalty after the race resumed following Charles Leclerc’s crash into the wall. Being forced to wait 10 seconds in his pit box caused Lewis Hamilton to lose far more than just 10 seconds. All in all, Hamilton lost around 30 seconds of race time. This pushed him far down the field, and gave Pierre Gasly the chance to charge from 4th to 1st on the restart.

The finish was really exciting! It was definitely a white-knuckle race down to the wire! Carlos Sainz Jr., a young driver for McLaren, was pushing Pierre Gasly HARD the final few laps. However Pierre Gasly crossed the finish line first, four-tenths of a second ahead of Sainz. That was the closest race finish I’ve seen since becoming an F1 fan. This should be what the sport is all about: Close, exciting finishes, and different winners every once in a while.

I’m happy for Pierre Gasly. The 24 year-old driver from France has been through a LOT over the past year. He was cut from Red Bull in the middle of the 2019 season, and lost his good friend and fellow French driver Anthoine Hubert, who died in an accident at 22 years old in August 2019. Yesterday’s Italian Grand Prix was definitely an emotional win for Pierre Gasly, and he deserves to enjoy every bit of it! I always love seeing sports stories where people overcome personal tragedies with big triumphs!

It was cool seeing a trio of young guns each take spots on the podium! Pierre Gasly is 24 years old, Carlos Sainz is 26 years old, and Lance Stroll is 21 years old. Sainz and Stroll also stayed around and congratulated and talked to Gasly after the race, which made me smile. Good sportsmanship never goes out of style!

Next up? The action is staying in Italy, as the Tuscan Grand Prix is set to take place on September 13th. Hopefully there’s another unpredictable, exciting race. Although it will certainly be tough to top this year’s Italian Grand Prix!

2020 Italian Grand Prix Results

  1. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
  2. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
  3. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
  4. Lando Norris (McLaren)
  5. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
  6. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
  7. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  8. Esteban Ocon (Renault)
  9. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri)
  10. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
  11. Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
  12. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
  13. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
  14. George Russell (Williams)
  15. Alex Albon (Red Bull)
  16. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
  17. Max Verstappen (Red Bull, DNF)
  18. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari, DNF)
  19. Kevin Magnussen (Haas, DNF)
  20. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari, DNF)

World Driver’s Championship Top 5

  1. Lewis Hamilton (164 Points)
  2. Valtteri Bottas (117 Points)
  3. Max Verstappen (110 Points)
  4. Lance Stroll (57 Points)
  5. Lando Norris (57 Points)

World Constructor’s Championship Standings

  1. Mercedes (281 Points)
  2. Red Bull (158 Points)
  3. McLaren (98 Points)
  4. Racing Point (82 Points)
  5. Renault (71 Points)
  6. Ferrari (61 Points)
  7. AlphaTauri (47 Points)
  8. Alfa Romeo (2 Points)
  9. Haas (1 Point)
  10. Williams (0)
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He Always Provides

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost six months. Six months since the Coronavirus changed our way of life here in the United States forever. I don’t like this other version of “normal.” It has SEVERELY tested my patience and faith, and sometimes broken both of them. At my best, I consider myself a really patient man. Patient, loving and understanding with friends and family. It makes me sad that I struggle to have the same patience with God.

But I may have gotten a shot in the arm this morning. I spend WAY, WAY too much time on Facebook. So I made the conscious effort last night to cut back or avoid Facebook altogether today. And I filled that morning time I unfortunately habitually use for checking Facebook with a little bit of Scripture and a devotional reading. In both instances, the message was clear: God provides for you, or will provide for you. Please be patient with Him. In the devotional, the author talks about how God gives us work to do, but that it is ultimately accomplished by God, and that we are sustained by Him through our faith.

I picture God in a certain way when I think of this kind of situation. Yes, we work hard or do what we think will move us forward through life. But I imagine God up there in Heaven being like, “Okay. I know they are intelligent, hardworking people. But I’m about to throw them a curveball to test them. Let’s see if they get the message.” And God chuckles to Himself. Not in a mean way toward us, but like a parent trying to teach their child something in a loving way that can’t be taught by showing us directly. He’s quiet and He watches us without saying anything. We bang our head against the wall in life, over and over again. Until we FINALLY realize that it is not our own effort that will get us out of the dead end, but rather that He will.

I feel like I’ve been banging my head against the wall a lot recently. And that either God or my guardian angels are either chuckling to themselves, or they have their head in their hands. I imagine they’ve probably been this way with me many, many times πŸ˜‰

He finally tossed me a bone when I read the first part of John 6. I have always seen the story of the five loaves and two fish as God saying, “I have provided here. And I will provide for you everywhere else.” Jesus provided food for 5,000 people. He provided for them in a seemingly impossible situation. His disciple Philip thought like we did when he said, “We only have five loaves and two fish. What good are these for so many?” He didn’t see a way out of a seemingly impossible predicament.

Yet Jesus showed that He was, and still is the ultimate provider, and that we need to look to Him to provide, always. Life has a lot of difficult situations that we might see as impossible or never ending. I know the Coronavirus sure seems like one of those. There is seemingly no end in sight to it. My job situation seems like that too. Normally when I’m faced with these things, I usually get discouraged, beat myself up for not handling everything as well as I think I should, and then struggle through the rest of the day. But for the rest of this day, I will work hard like I think I should, but also trust that God will eventually provide a way out of every obstacle and situation that I encounter.

And he will do the same for you all! All you have to do is humble yourself, quiet your mind and heart and have the tiny bit of faith it takes to trust in Him. Count on Him. Lay your issues, worries, doubts and fears at His Cross. Drop your burdens, and pick up and take stock of your blessings. For like any good father would do for his children, the Father always provides for you. Not always in ways that we want, but always in ways that we need.

God bless and take care everybody! πŸ™‚

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Browns Fever!

I didn’t know when it would hit me during the whole Coronavirus mess. But I knew it would eventually. It hit me a few days ago, and hasn’t stopped or slowed down since! When I’m wound up, my passion for my favorite NFL team, the Cleveland Browns is like somebody poured gasoline on an already massive fire! I’m certifiably crazy! This Dawg is off his leash and needs a Milk Bone and a rabies shot!

I know I need to temper my expectations and calm down. But I can’t help it! Between realizing that the first game is on September 13th, coaching the Browns in my favorite sports strategy game in NFL Head Coach, finding a treasure trove of old Browns games on YouTube, and watching Building the Browns on YouTube, I’ve officially caught Browns fever!

I think I’m this excited for a bigger reason than just being a passionate fan, though. I think one of the biggest reasons I’m so ready for the Browns to return is because I’m desperate for something that feels normal. Coronavirus already stole the Buckeyes from me, and I can’t physically go see the Carey Blue Devils (my high school team) play either. The Cleveland Browns are all I’m going to have in terms of football this year. Period. Good, bad or ugly, I’m with these guys all the way, especially this year.

NFL Head Coach

NFL Head Coach has really fueled the fire for me. For those of you who don’t know what NFL Head Coach is, it’s an extremely in-depth sports strategy and management game. Imagine it being like Madden…except all you can do is make decisions, train your players, and prepare gameplans to take down the opponent. You cannot control how the men on the field move or play. You can only try to teach them the strategy you want them to learn, make sure they’re in peak physical condition by Sunday afternoon, and then call a smart game that gives them the best chance to win for you. That’s it. I can see why it sold poorly among the Madden crowd. Most Madden players are more focused on controlling the players on the field and making highlight reel plays, rather than making coaching decisions or formulating a winning strategy. I get it.

NFL Head Coach, with legendary coach Bill Cowher on the cover

But for people like me, it’s a treat! I’m uber competitive! Like the legendary Paul Brown, first coach and namesake of the Browns might have said, “I hate losing more than I love winning!” He was ultra-competitive and so am I. Even though it’s a video game, figuring out a way to turn the Browns around by making the right decisions, and leading them to consistent victory definitely fuels my competitive nature.

The only downside to the game is that it is time-consuming and rather dry until you get into the swing of a full NFL season. During the off-season, you’ll meet with the owner to discuss how things went the previous year, hire/fire assistant coaches, scout the upcoming Draft class, sign free agents, etc. This is where the game probably loses most of the casual Madden crowd. But I really enjoy the strategy behind everything! And I know that if I do win a lot, it’s from actual skill rather than luck. So far, I’m in the middle of Year 2, with the Browns in a 6-1 tie for first place in their division with Cincinnati. Will the team I built repeat as division champions, make the playoffs again, and actually win a Super Bowl? Who knows? But it’s certainly fun trying to build a tough Cleveland Browns team capable of competing for the Lombardi Trophy!

Browns Classics

Another thing that has gotten me excited for some football, is watching old Cleveland Browns football games on YouTube. And I’m not talking about games from a few years ago. I’m talking about the mid-to-late 1980’s Browns with Bernie Kosar, Coach Marty Schottenheimer, Kevin Mack, Brian Brennan and the others. I was born in 1991, so I unfortunately didn’t get to see them play live. But YouTube is a wonderful invention! It’s allowed me to go back and watch when the Browns were a fantastically good team that seriously competed for a Super Bowl.

I can see why Cleveland fans had so much fun back in the day! I imagine every 1980’s Browns game day as like a big party. People probably partied and tailgated in the Muni Lot outside the stadium from the crack of dawn. And then when kickoff rolled around, old Cleveland Stadium probably sounded and looked like the largest kennel on Earth, with frenzied, barking and howling Browns fans everywhere! I’d absolutely HATE to be an opposing quarterback and having to play in Cleveland back in those days. Not only were you going up against a solid, hard-nosed team that would punch you in the mouth, you were also facing 80,000 of the loudest, most passionate fans in the world! Good luck winning in there!

Watching classic Browns games like the January 1987 playoff game vs. the New York Jets, 1986 against the Bengals, 1988 against the Steelers, and the January 1990 playoff game against the Buffalo Bills definitely makes me smile. Not only because I get to see great football from my team, but also because of the atmosphere created before the games too. The games I’ve found, uploaded by a YouTube user named Mr. J., are full broadcasts. They are 3 1/2 hours long or longer if there’s a pregame segment. The original commercials are there too! It’s like a taking a trip back in time. No DeLorean or flux capacitor needed πŸ˜‰

I also love the NFL ’86 theme! It sounds like music that might be played before a battle between gladiators in the Roman Coliseum or something. Heck, old Cleveland Stadium kind of looks like a Coliseum! But the theme is loud, big, and gets you fired up for the game! No offense to Carrie Underwood, but NBC needs to go back to using this theme. Take a listen for yourself!

While I love that I’ve found all these old games, I hope one day very, very soon that I won’t have to go back into the vault to see a time when my beloved Browns were a Championship-level football team. That’s where this year’s current crop of Browns and head coach Kevin Stefanski come in!

Building the Browns

Building the Browns is a YouTube series put out directly by the team. It’s basically a Hard Knocks-type show focusing on the team, and all the various things going on in the off-season. From the hiring of Kevin Stefanski in January and his adjusting to being a head coach, to the 2020 NFL Draft, conducting training camp amid the Coronavirus pandemic, and following the team as they prepare to battle the Ravens very soon, this show is an honest look at the ups and downs of life in the NFL.

The personality of Coach Stefanski, Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., and others definitely shines through in every episode. Especially when it comes to seeing how Coach Stefanski is trying to mold a winning team and teach discipline, as well as how the players support and get along with each other during a confusing year and tough training camp. I’m as interested in the “human stuff” as I am in the football stuff. Building the Browns also makes me believe that this team certainly does have the talent to compete with and beat most teams this year. They just need to execute and put it together! If they do? I might know firsthand what the 1980’s were like for older Browns fans like my dad, grandpa, and my best friend Tony. I absolutely cannot wait for that time to arrive. It’s way overdue.

This team has struggled for decades, but one day they will turn it around. Guaranteed. And it will be glorious to see. After all, every Dawg has his day πŸ˜‰

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Stipe Miocic: The G.O.A.T

Wow. What a fight, and what a Champion! Folks, I’m not a huge UFC fan. But when it comes to Stipe Miocic, you won’t find a more passionate fan in his corner whenever he fights! It’s been three days since he defeated Daniel Cormier at UFC 252 in Las Vegas to defend his Heavyweight Championship, and I still can’t get over how good he is.

For those of you who don’t know, Stipe Miocic (Pronunciation: Stee-pay Me-o-chitch) is from Cleveland, Ohio. He’s been fighting in the UFC since 2011. In that time, he has won the World Heavyweight Championship twice (in 2016 vs. Fabricio Werdum, and 2019 vs. Daniel Cormier), and knocked out most of the opponents he’s fought. It’s like he’s beaten a murderers row of UFC legends, past and present. Andre Orlovski, Mark Hunt, Junior Dos Santos, Fabricio Verdum, Francis Ngannou, Alistair Overeem, and now Daniel “DC” Cormier twice. The guy is the complete package as a fighter, Champion and person inside and outside the octagon.

I’ve only seriously followed Stipe since late 2015 or early 2016. I first heard of him in 2015 when I visited my now ex girlfriend. Her friend was ranting and raving about how dominant he was. I didn’t know who he was at the time. But boy did I learn soon enough! The next year, he won the Heavyweight Championship as a BIG underdog in Brazil with this incredible knockout:

“THAT’S IT! IT’S ALL OVER! STIPE MIOCIC IS THE NEW HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION!”

I unfortunately didn’t get to see the knockout live, as I hadn’t bought the fight on Pay Per View, but I watched it over. And over. And over again on YouTube. I could not help myself. Folks, the only other person I’ve ever heard of knocking someone out while backpedaling was the great Muhammad Ali himself! But that right hook, and the fact that Stipe proudly mentioned Cleveland in the post-fight interview INSTANTLY made me like him. He also kicked off arguably the greatest run in Cleveland sports history. He won the title in May 2016. Next, the Lake Erie Monsters, an AHL hockey team won their championship, the Calder Cup. Then, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off an improbable comeback against a nearly invincible Golden State Warriors team in the NBA Finals to win the World Championship. After that, in October 2016, the Cleveland Indians made it to the World Series for the first time since 1997, only barely losing to the Chicago Cubs in Game 7. Some fans still swear up and down that if a rain delay hadn’t occurred in extra innings, the Tribe would’ve captured yet another Championship for Cleveland. I absolutely believe they would have.

But my fandom for Stipe as a fighter was born out of that great run for the city. He lit the fuse. He started everything that year. After 2016, I was hooked. I had to learn more about his fighting style, and who he was as a person outside the octagon. What made this badass Croatian dude from Cleveland so lovable to so many people?

Stipe: The Fighter

In the 27-year history of the UFC, there have been many great champions, too numerous for me to name off. But to me, what has made Stipe so great inside the octagon comes down to three things: his ability to evolve and get better, his conditioning, and his intelligence when it comes to beating his opponent. He may have a great 20-3 record after taking down fellow future Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier this past weekend, but after each of those three losses he’s suffered, he’s gotten exponentially better. After his first career loss, a knockout at the hands of Stefan Struve back in 2012, he had seriously considered abandoning MMA altogether. He was that devastated. But to paraphrase what he said in an interview with Joe Rogan, he eventually realized that it wasn’t the end of the world if he lost. He began to view UFC fights as a contest, and became less nervous. And this allowed him to pick himself back up, get on a roll again, and continue learning how to get better as he went along. That’s one of the marks of a true Champion!

Inside the octagon, Stipe’s style is really tough to beat. Thanks to his background as an NCAA Division I wrestler at Cleveland State, and a Golden Gloves Boxing Champion, he can not only get the job done if the fight goes to the ground, he can knock people out cold if he has to. It’s a deadly game of pick your poison!

His conditioning is otherworldly too. I know all UFC fighters train hard. As they should. It’s a grueling, nasty sport. But Stipe’s stamina and endurance is right up there with the best of ’em. Not only can he knock people out, or wrestle them, he can outlast most of them too. I’d say that most UFC fighters could probably be just fine in a standard three round fight (three five-minute rounds). But Championship fights? Those require some serious staying power! Five five-minute rounds requires world-class conditioning! So Stipe has many ways he can beat his opponents.

Stipe: Man of the People

It amazes me how different Stipe is in the octagon compared to when he’s not fighting. When he’s in there squaring off with his latest opponent, pardon my French folks, but he’s the meanest bastard you’ll ever see! He’s nasty! But outside of it? It’s like he’s a whole different person. He’s goofy, hilariously funny, and friendly with fans while also remaining incredibly humble. He’s just a humble firefighter and paramedic who helps people as much as he can.

This is where a lot of fans love Stipe. He doesn’t carry himself like a UFC superstar, even though he’s definitely earned the right to be that way if he wanted. No. He’s just the blue collar everyman from Cleveland with a wife and daughter who happens to be a firefighter…when he’s not kicking ass! He’s so relatable. While being this way may not earn him the respect of UFC President Dana White, it undoubtedly has earned him MILLIONS of fans all over the world. He’s one of us! I love this video of him with his little daughter too. If that doesn’t make you smile, laugh, or mist up, I don’t know what would!

That video was recorded after he lost the title to Daniel Cormier in July 2018. But he eventually made good on his promise to get the belt back, knocking out DC last August to regain the Championship. And three days ago, those two settled the score, with Stipe winning their third and final battle by points decision.

For me, being a supporter of Stipe Miocic is more than just supporting a badass fighter from my home state of Ohio. It’s cool watching him fight, no question. But I support him because he inspires me to pull myself up if I’m struggling, because he’s done the same thing. And it’s impossible not to root for him when he’s nice to other people, even though he’s a world-famous athlete. He’s a bad dude with big knockout power, but at his core he’s a good man with an even bigger heart! I hope I one day get to meet him in person. God bless Stipe!

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Deja Vu: In England for two!

Formula One recently wrapped up a pair of races at the famed Silverstone Circuit in England: The 2020 British Grand Prix last Sunday, and yesterday, the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, named in honor of the first Formula One season in 1950.

As a new fan, I am still learning what to expect at each track, such as what the layout is like. Like for example, some tracks, like Silverstone in England and Monza in Italy are both wide open, “fast” tracks. On circuits like these, drivers routinely hit top speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, and there is plenty of room for them to pass. On the other side of things, tracks like the Hungaroring in Budapest, are more technical tracks with tight corners, and where qualifying, good starts out of the gate, and precise driving play a huge role in where drivers finish, since there aren’t as many opportunities to drive with the throttle wide open. It’s like each circuit has its own unique feel. Almost like different “personalities.”

Silverstone Circuit, site of the British Grand Prix, and 70th Anniversary Grand Prix

If that’s the case, Silverstone has been in a bad mood! So many blown and blistered tires over the last two weeks, along with a few wipeouts, have made for some really interesting strategy and exciting finishes! At the British Grand Prix on August 2nd, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, the two Mercedes drivers, each suffered blown tires very late in the race. Hamilton coasted home on three wheels, willing his car across the finish line barely ahead of a hard-charging Max Verstappen. Bottas wasn’t so lucky. He’d had a great race, until the blown tire caused him to drop from second to dead last. This allowed Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc to move onto the podium in 2nd and 3rd, respectively, and the incident had Mercedes SERIOUSLY questioning their tire strategy heading into this weekend’s race.

I’d imagine Mercedes team leader Toto Wolff lost some sleep trying to figure out how to manage his drivers this past weekend! He was probably staring at a possible nightmare scenario, where both Bottas and Hamilton could possibly blow a tire, and not be saved by the checkered flag. Thankfully for Toto Wolff and Mercedes, this never came to pass. But unfortunately for them, Max Verstappen ended up taking the win at this weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.

The Flying Dutchman!

Max Verstappen is quickly becoming one of my favorite drivers! The 22 year-old phenom was born in Belgium, but he has dual citizenship from both the Netherlands and Belgium, and chooses to race under the Dutch flag. I initially became a fan of his when I binge watched the Formula One Netflix Series, Drive to Survive. He just came across as a badass, aggressive, relentless when chasing down other drivers, and willing to push his car (and himself) to the absolute limit in pursuit of victory!

Max Verstappen

Two moments from him stuck out to me yesterday, and made me root for him even more: A funny comment over the radio, and just the way he drove. Early on in the race, about 10 laps in, it seemed like many team leaders were concerned about overheating their tires thanks to the hot British weather yesterday. This was definitely the case with Christian Horner, Max’s boss, and the leader of Red Bull Racing.

At the time most teams started pitting to get fresh tires, Max was in 3rd place and absolutely FLYING. He had the throttle wide open, his foot to the floor, and was hot on the heels of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, the two Mercedes drivers leading the pack. When he was told by Christian Horner to hold back and slow down to conserve tires, his comment over the radio made me chuckle:

“Too late, This is the only chance that we could have to finish it and I’m not sitting behind like a Grandma!”

No offense to grandmas everywhere, but I just busted out laughing! This was definitely NOT the time for Max to take an easy Sunday drive, and he knew it! That fired me up, and had me thinking, “Alright! Finally we’ve got a guy who’s willing to challenge Mercedes and make them sweat it out a little bit!”

Folks, for those of you who haven’t watched lately, or read up on the recent background of Formula One, Mercedes, and especially Lewis Hamilton, have absolutely DOMINATED the sport over the last 5-6 years! They’ve won the last six titles in a row for both the Drivers and Constructors Championships, and it hasn’t even been close.

A lot of fans (including myself a little bit) have gotten tired of seeing Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton win pretty much week in and week out. Not only that, Mercedes has rarely been challenged by the other teams on a consistent basis. Ferrari is struggling mightily to return to their former glory as F1’s most historically successful team. McLaren is trying to rediscover themselves, and are currently a middle of the pack team. Racing Point is competitive, but not at Mercedes’ level. Beyond those teams, everyone else is just fighting for whatever they can get.

Hopefully that will soon change with Red Bull and Max Verstappen! Red Bull was the last team to have a run of dominance in the sport before Mercedes took over in 2014. And they did it from 2010-2013, winning four double Championships (both the Driver’s and Constructors World Championships), with a young Sebastian Vettel. Vettel in his prime, and Max Verstappen now, seem very similar: They’re both incredibly hungry, they push themselves (and their cars) to the absolute limit, and when they’re told to hold back, they often don’t listen, which is both good and bad.

Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel during his time at Red Bull

But in the case of the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix this past weekend, opening up the throttle and going balls to the wall, turned out to be exactly what was needed to knock Mercedes down a peg. At least for one race. Lewis Hamilton wanted to make only one pit stop and conserve tires. But that’s hard to do when he not only has his teammate Valtteri Bottas, but also Max Verstappen breathing down his neck!

Max’s relentless driving seemed to push both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas into wearing down their tires faster than they wanted. And once both men entered pit row to make unscheduled stops, Max just FLEW past them! To give you an idea of how hard Max was pushing his car and how fast he was going, he was literally gaining anywhere from a half a second to a full second of separation every lap or two. And this was with everyone else going full speed as well! As I was watching the gap increase with every lap, my jaw just dropped! He was in some kind of zone!

Lewis Hamilton tried to make a run at Max with about 10 laps to go, but thanks to Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc holding Hamilton up, as well as his teammate Valtteri Bottas fighting to keep him behind, that allowed Max to pull away. He earned his, and Red Bull’s first win of the season, 9th overall win of his career, and he may have just permanently earned a new fan in yours truly! Mercedes may just have a serious new challenger in Max Verstappen, THE FLYING DUTCHMAN!

It’ll be interesting to see if Max and Red Bull can keep the pressure on at Formula One’s next race, the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona on August 16th. This season has been so exciting for me as a new fan, and I hope the excitement gets kicked up a notch! Buckle up with me, ladies and gents. It’s gonna be one hell of a ride!

70th Anniversary Grand Prix Results

  1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
  2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
  4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
  5. Alex Albon (Red Bull)
  6. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
  7. Nico Hulkenberg (Racing Point)
  8. Esteban Ocon (Renault)
  9. Lando Norris (McLaren)
  10. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri)
  11. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
  12. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
  13. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
  14. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
  15. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
  16. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
  17. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
  18. George Russell (Williams)
  19. Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
  20. Kevin Magnussen (Haas, DNF)

2020 World Driver’s Championship Standings

  1. Lewis Hamilton (107 Points)
  2. Max Verstappen (77 Points)
  3. Valtteri Bottas (73 Points)
  4. Charles Leclerc (45 Points)
  5. Lando Norris (38 Points)
  6. Alex Albon (36 Points)
  7. Lance Stroll (28 Points)
  8. Sergio Perez (22 Points)
  9. Daniel Ricciardo (20 Points)
  10. Esteban Ocon (16 Points)
  11. Carlos Sainz (15 Points)
  12. Pierre Gasly (12 Points)
  13. Sebastian Vettel (10 Points)
  14. Nico Hulkenberg (6 Points)
  15. Antonio Giovinazzi (2 Points)
  16. Daniil Kvyat (2 Points)
  17. Kevin Magnussen (1 Point)
  18. Kimi Raikkonen (0)
  19. Nicholas Latifi (0)
  20. George Russell (0)
  21. Romain Grosjean (0)

2020 World Constructor’s Championship Standings

  1. Mercedes (180 Points)
  2. Red Bull (113 Points)
  3. Ferrari (55 Points)
  4. McLaren (53 Points)
  5. Racing Point (41 Points)
  6. Renault (36 Points)
  7. AlphaTauri (14 Points)
  8. Alfa Romeo (2 Points)
  9. Haas (1 Point)
  10. Williams (0)
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God’s mercy vs. His justice

I have always struggled with this part of things when it comes to my faith, and living it out in the midst of others. And I think if we’re honest with ourselves, all Christians struggle with striking a balance with these things. I know I certainly do. I struggle to love others in the way Jesus does, and I also struggle to avoid my weaknesses and sins with better discipline. I often fail at these things, so I feel that admonishing the sinner isn’t something I am in a good enough place to do. We’re supposed to somehow love others in a compassionate and understanding way, and yet warn people of hell and their sinfulness? That flies in the face of how I’m wired and what I personally believe.

We’re told to strike a balance between showing people God’s justice by warning other sinners, and yet show His mercy by loving them compassionately? It’s weird to me. Personally, I don’t know if any of us has the right to do this. There is only one case where somebody doing this makes perfect sense and is completely right and justified: Jesus Christ Himself while He was physically here on earth. Jesus showed both compassion and mercy when He loved those who needed it the most. And He showed anger and sternness of when the Pharisees and others needed put in their place.

But to me, He is justified in doing this because He is perfect. As far as we know and believe, He remains the only perfect, sinless human being to have ever walked the earth. And since we are not perfect (not even close), are we justified in “admonishing the sinner” when we ourselves are ALL sinners?

At face value, the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner still seems like a foreign concept to me. It reeks of being judgmental when we have no right to be, but I think I understand it much better after reading this article.

After reading the article, I think SO many Christians get admonishing the sinner wrong. So many see admonishing the sinner, as “Repent! Turn to Jesus or you’re going to Hell!” They focus on shaming people. Shunning people. Looking down their noses at them. They don’t seem to do it from a genuine place of love and concern. And people react predictably, with a “mind your own damn business!” And then no one is better after that exchange. The Christian misses the opportunity to genuinely show the love of Jesus. And the person they attempted to admonish sees them as every negative Christian stereotype possible. Both lose out.

But then I saw something in the article that made complete and total sense to me. When someone is admonishing someone else, there need to be two things in place: The Christian’s heart needs to be focused on coming from a place of genuine love and care for the other person, and they also need to know the person really well and be close with them. I know personally, I am far more likely to listen, and be receptive to being corrected if it’s coming from someone I know and care about, than when it comes from a “street preacher.”

Perhaps another spot where some Christians fail, is that when they are tasked with spreading the Good News, that they feel like they have to “pull a Saint Peter” and convert THOUSANDS in one fell swoop, and so they are hyper-aggressive when they preach. They think the harder, and more forcefully they preach, the more people will positively respond to them. But they seem to be completely ignoring reaching people on a personal, human-to-human level, when it’s arguably the most important part of things, aside from Jesus’ message.

But I am reminded of a really cool Bible verse that shows me that spreading the Good News is not a race. “In the same way I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) This is how I have approached sharing my faith with others, even those who may not agree with me or believe in Jesus or God. I try to focus more on showing God’s compassion, love and mercy. I do what I do, and say what I say, to comfort people, and reach smaller groups of people by relating to them on a personal level. Perhaps I will eventually feel confident enough in my own faith to admonish people in the right way. But until then, and even after I get to that point, my style of reaching people will remain the same: Share my faith in my writing here on Luke’s Thoughts, on Facebook, and in person with people who will listen and are curious about who Jesus is. And do it from a place of love instead of aggressiveness. For as Saint Francis of Assisi says: “Preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.”

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The Gospel of John: My favorite part of Scripture

I will be the first to admit, I do not read the Bible on a regular basis. Up until today, I had not read it in weeks. I do not know why that is, but I just didn’t feel drawn to it like I normally would be. I often feel like the “lost sheep.” I wander away from God a lot. Either through distraction, fear, frustration, my own free will, or anything else. But when I feel like God is talking to me, and I need to go back to reading Scripture, I always pick things back up by returning to one spot: The Gospel of John.

I always find John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry beautiful, interesting and relatable. Not to mention it’s easier to follow than most other Scripture. The account of Jesus’ life is beautiful in the Gospel of John because to me, it shows the depth of Jesus’ love for us in a way other books or readings might not. He reveals who He is through numerous miracles of compassion, such as healing the lame beggar who couldn’t walk, the healing of the blind man, the feeding of the five thousand people, and his greatest work (aside from dying for us and rising on Easter Sunday), the resurrection of his friend, Lazarus.

I feel like the Gospel of John is kind of “in your face” in a good way, too, because in it Jesus is referred to by several names, and He refers to Himself by several names as well. The Son of God, The Son of Man, The Word, The Light of the World, The Bread of Life. Heck, the whole thing itself starts out:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

I often struggle with understanding who exactly Jesus is. And the various names, signs and miracles in this Gospel fix that by being like a series of unmistakable, crystal clear neon signs pointing to exactly what and who He is. Unlike some Old Testament Scriptures where we can infer that many of them talk about Jesus, the Gospel of John makes no mistake about who Jesus is. John leaves no room for ambiguity. After that, it’s on us to either accept that Jesus is exactly who He claims to be, or not.

The Gospel of John is relatable to me too, because I see myself in His Apostles and followers: I’m like Peter when I stumble or put my foot in my mouth. I’m like Thomas when I doubt. I’m like Mary Magdalene or Matthew when I feel dirty or unworthy of embracing my Christian faith because of all the wrong things I’ve done. The people who followed Jesus back in His day down here were incredibly flawed people. And I’m sure they knew it, too. It comforts me when I know this. I am not worthy. But I also know, that every one of Jesus’ followers was unworthy too. Yet He still loved them, and showed them the magnitude of His love for them through His sacrifice. So I know He does the same for me, you, and everyone. But it’s up to us to recognize where we fall short, so we can be better, albeit still very flawed versions of ourselves. And where we struggle, Jesus’ grace is sufficient to cover us.

If you are like I am, and haven’t read Scripture in a while, you feel lost, or you feel weighed down by life’s worries, open the Gospel of John. It’s a drink of water for a parched soul, and peace from the worries of the world. An anchor that you can always return to when weathering the stormy areas of life.

God bless you all! Take care, everybody! πŸ™‚