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I Stand With Jessica

Jessica Doty-Whitaker is the woman you see in the picture above, with her fiance and little boy. Perhaps you’ve heard of her. But my guess is you haven’t. Hers is not a name that big media would plaster all over their news cycles. She doesn’t fit the narrative. But she’s dead. Gone. She leaves behind a three year-old son and fiance. A little boy will never know his mother, and a man who by all accounts loved her dearly, will never get to see her or hold her. Never again. Why? Because she said all lives matter, and some scumbag with a gun thought pulling the trigger on her was the right thing to do.

I’ve been thinking about what to say since last night. Last night my blood was boiling, I was white hot angry, and unable to think straight. My temper went from sunny day to Atomic Armageddon in a matter of seconds, but I have cooled enough to think clearly. I have a temper. A rather nasty one too in certain situations. I am a fiery, passionate man. But usually I am so numb to all the stories of deaths reported in the media, big and small, that I usually I don’t find myself getting this angry.

And it’s not that I don’t care. Believe me, I care. One life lost to senseless violence, be they straight, gay, black, white, brown, yellow, red, and everything in between, is one life too many. I just normally get so exhausted with the saturation pushed of depressing and political garbage that I become desensitized to everything.

But when I read about what happened to Jessica Doty-Whitaker last week, something snapped inside me. I initially became white hot angry because the circumstances of her death were incredibly heartbreaking. Some woman voiced her opinion, and was shot to death. Her fiance held her lifeless body in his arms. And he now has to tell her little boy that his mother went to Heaven.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Yes, it was wrong that one of her friends supposedly uttered a racial slur at one of the Black Lives Matter supporters. But where is murdering someone the appropriate response? That’s where I was angry for a second reason: Black Lives Matter aims to fight against injustice. But what about when one of their members, or several of them, commit injustices, evils, and flat out heinous crimes like these? They’re silent on the matter!

Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi are the three women who founded Black Lives Matter. And they have no clue how much good it would do them, and their organization, if they spoke out against, and distanced themselves from BLM members like the one who killed Jessica Doty-Whitaker. All lives won’t matter until Black Lives Matter? Does whatever that looks like, include a young mother as collateral? Is she a necessary loss or casualty on the road to justice and equality? Is she a means to an end? If you are a decent human being who values human life, irrespective of color or station, you know the answer to these questions.

The third reason I became incredibly angry over the death of Jessica Doty-Whitaker, was that outside of a small media bubble (and this article), seemingly no one is crying out for justice over her death. The massive media machine, with its ever-churning agenda, apparently didn’t see her as good enough to use as fuel. It didn’t see her as a useful vehicle for furthering the division and hatred in this country. And it certainly did not see her as a human being. She’s merely another statistic.

But I write these words to take a stand for Jessica Doty-Whitaker and her family. I take a stand against big media. And I call out the leaders of Black Lives Matter: She mattered. Did I know her personally? No. If I had, I’d want to hunt down the criminal responsible for her death myself. But she mattered to her parents, fiance, and little boy she leaves behind.

I know they won’t read this and I am perfectly okay with that. But I call on the leaders of Black Lives Matter to expand their scope and reach. Police brutality is indeed an issue in this country, and I believe officers should be held accountable. But I call on Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, to have the tough conversation about fixing Black culture. A conversation where nuclear families are championed, where thuggish behavior is shamed and condemned, and where the deaths of Jessica Doty-Whitaker and other innocent people are mourned just as much as the deaths of George Floyd, Breona Taylor and others. They owe Jessica and her family that much.

I stand with Jessica Doty-Whitaker, and I stand against Black Lives Matter. An organization that preaches social justice, yet refuses to practice it all across the board for all people, irrespective of color, gets no respect or support from me. She mattered, as does every human life. That’s how we’re seen in the ideal America we should be striving to create. All should have the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. And every life matters to God. He doesn’t seem to see the color of our skin. So why should we?

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Empire: Total War

I think I often struggle with strategies and puzzles. I have trouble seeing “one step ahead.” I don’t know why that is. Perhaps I’m just not wired that way. Who knows? Point is, I usually suck at it. But one of my favorite games that I’ve been playing recently is exactly that. Empire: Total War is a 2009 PC game that’s a turn-based, strategical war game based on 18th century diplomacy and military tactics. When I first was able to download it off Steam last summer, I couldn’t wait to get into it! It’s so interesting!

It’s a fun mix of so many things! Military/battle tactics, diplomacy and trade, civilization management, and accurate weapons and soldier units for that time period. It’s like an in-depth game of Risk meets Civilization with great graphics! My favorite game mode on Empire, is the Road to Independence mode. In it, you are placed in the role of an American General, and tasked with leading the Thirteen Colonies to Independence and victory over the British Empire.

But you are given very little to start with. Just a ragtag group of Minutemen, and a base of operations in Boston, your only territory, and your capital. After that, it is up to you to learn the tactics of the game by mostly trial and error. Aside from a Bunker Hill tutorial showing how basic controls work, how you achieve victory is completely up to you. Some prefer trade and diplomacy while avoiding battle unless absolutely necessary. Others prefer to go headlong into battle and throw caution to the wind. But the goal remains the same regardless: Capture and hold 15 territories by the year 1825.

It’s daunting, and there’s a LOT to manage, but a lot of it seems to be common sense. Crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. How I achieve victory in the game is a ground-up approach. Before I even consider making serious attacks on British-held territories with my men, or before I execute any grand battle strategy, I try to boost my economy with trade, fair taxes, and upgrading farms, towns, schools, and any other kind of infrastructure. This boosts wealth, makes the citizens happy (and willing to fight), and helps grow your army and military technology. But at the heart of it all is a stable economy. A war costs a LOT of money, and before I fight it, I have to make sure I have a steady supply of money rolling in!

After that, I make sure my capital, Boston, is protected and fortified, as is every city I free from British rule. If you don’t have your cities protected with forts and walls, the British will engage you in battle, easily overpower you if you leave your cities exposed, and move in. And we can’t have the Union Jack flying in America, can we? 😉

The most fun part of the game comes from battle though. There is nothing like the realism of hearing cannons go off, seeing HUGE companies of men marching or running behind their generals, and seeing clouds of smoke and hearing musket fire! The tactics, and strengths and weaknesses of each soldier class are realistic for the time too!

I am still fairly basic at battles, but I’ve found strategies that work, and help me consistently win. And it comes from thinking like a General. Sure, charging in with bayonets fixed and skewering the enemy is cool. But in order to be successful, one needs to know which tactic to use, and which situation to use it in.

Before I even engage an enemy, I make sure I have even or greater numbers. I selectively pick my battles. But once I engage the enemy and march my troops to that location, I use flanking and pincer maneuvers a lot. Plus I use my cavalry to intimidate smaller groups of enemy troops, or I chase enemy troops down with cavalry once enemy lines break, and they retreat. This is where another extremely realistic part of the game comes into play: Soldier morale and war psychology.

This adds another neat layer to the game experience! If you know the basics of 18th century warfare and history, you’ll know how to play the game from this angle. The units and soldier classes behave like real men in certain battle situations! Some of the realistic things I found:

  • Artillery is strong against mostly any other type of soldier class. For obvious reasons. Cannons are absolutely devastating when used correctly. But if you time things right, and charge them with cavalry or bayonets in between when they fire rounds, they’re extremely likely to turn and run! Imagine yourself being a soldier that helps load and fire cannons…and then you see hundreds of men charging at you, screaming with bayonets fixed, running at full speed. Or you see a lightning fast cavalry or Dragoon unit with their swords drawn, heading right for you on horseback. In a situation like that, I could see why many men would crap their pants, drop their muskets and run like hell!
  • Flanking is a classic tactic, but it’s really useful! I usually use this method after I’ve already broken through enemy lines with several rounds of musket fire. But if flanking (going by the enemy on either side of their line) is used successfully, you’ll be able to easily engage an already shell shocked enemy in hand to hand combat. Or you’ll surround them on all sides, break their spirits, and either force them to retreat, or get wiped out!
  • Cavalry units are extremely fast, and can cover more ground than the average company of infantry soldiers or Minutemen since they’re on horseback. But they’re not without their weaknesses. Cavalry may be good for cutting down retreating enemy soldiers, or for use as a psychological intimidation tactic. But when they’re fired on enough by artillery or musket fire, they’ll retreat.
  • Once a company of troops has their spirit broken, and morale crushed, they retreat from the field. And after they’ve decided to retreat, there is absolutely NO commanding them to return to the battlefield. None. They’re not concerned with winning the battle for you anymore. They’re concerned about getting out alive in one piece!
  • It’s rarely a good thing if you’re forced to fight your battles with armed, everyday citizens. If you don’t have a territory or region defended with professional soldiers (infantry, cavalry, etc.), and the enemy invades that territory, you’re left with “Firelock armed citizenry.” They’re ordinary people who haven’t been trained like other soldier classes. They’ll hold out for as long as they can. But their breaking point is far lower than the average trained soldier. Usually a cavalry charge, or bayonet charge will send them running for the hills. Sometimes even the threat of a charge or being fired upon, is enough to make them break ranks and run as well.
  • The death of a general in battle, either yours or the enemy’s, has the potential to break an army’s spirits. Generals are usually on horseback, surrounded by bodyguards. The General’s Bodyguard unit acts like a cavalry. Although I only have them charge or fight once the battle is well in hand, or to finish off fleeing enemy troops. No use in putting them in danger. On the other side of things, if I see the battle is at a potential tipping point, I send cavalry units after the opposing General to kill him. Without leaders, armies crumble and chaos ensues.
  • Sieges are effective at bringing down enemy numbers, and tipping the scales of a possible battle in your favor before you even take the field! During a siege on the map, your army basically surrounds the enemy territory for a number of turns (usually 3). The enemy then has two choices: Either surrender at the end of the three turns, or come out and attempt to fight you off. But the longer an army is under siege, their numbers drop. This seems realistic, as sieges were used in real-life warfare in the 18th century, and usually cities under siege were forced to surrender. They were “starved out.” Citizens usually couldn’t get food or water into or out of the city once an enemy army was surrounding it.

Okay, so you now know tactics on how to command an army and win battles. But winning the war against the English is a bit of a different beast. And just like in real history, you will need help from foreign nations to topple the Redcoats. This is where working for an advantageous diplomatic position, haggling, and occasionally kissing up to France, Spain and others will pay off in the long run.

Fleur de Lis flag of France (top), and Spanish Flag (bottom)

At the start of the war, you’re already trading with France and Spain, and they’re friendly with you. As you grow in wealth, prestige, and rack up consistent victories against the Redcoats, France and Spain will be much more likely to join in the war if you ask them. Once you approach them, and if they agree to join you, your finances and soldier training/quality will take a BIG boost! From there, the Patriot war machine fires on all cylinders! All that’s left after that, and gaining control of all 13 colonies, is to decide whether to attack and capture the British territories in Canada, or attack and capture the Native American regions in the Ohio and Michigan Territories. Although it is much tougher to defeat the Native Americans than the British. The various tribes are often at war with one another, but they’re already unfriendly or flat out hostile to you…and if you attack one of them, you’ll find yourself getting attacked by ALL of them. Choose wisely!

If you do indeed win the war, a very neat victory video will play at the end. It always makes me smile, and feel patriotic!

Empire: Total War is an extremely unique, fun game. Although for those of you who play it or who might be interested in it, my only knock on it? It’s ADDICTING! Especially if you’re consistently winning, and conquering territories, no matter which nation you’re playing as. Moving troops, planning attacks, and winning battles is definitely time consuming, and requires patience. Plus you’ll often find yourself start playing, and two hours goes by like THAT. It’s a game you can become easily engrossed in and wrapped up in. But I would highly recommend it to anyone who is competitive, loves strategy, history, and government/civics. Definitely worth buying on Steam. Check it out here!

Now if you’ll excuse me… I’ve gotta go raise an army of Patriots, train them up, and take the fight to the Redcoats! MOVE ‘EM OUT!!!

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Watching my first Formula One Grand Prix

I finally got a chance to watch my first live Formula 1 race yesterday! The 2020 Austrian Grand Prix was definitely something new to me as a sports fan. Growing up as a fan of NASCAR, a uniquely American sport, F1 just had a different feel to it. But it was a good kind of different. I’ve studied the basics of how the sport works, and wrote a previous blog post about it, which you can look at here, if you want.

But after chomping at the bit for the last two months to watch my first race, I finally got the chance at just after 9 AM yesterday morning. I now see the global appeal of Formula One much more clearly. I understand why many people get so excited about it! I view the sport as like 1990’s NASCAR, but with a global reach. I’d call it “The Racing Olympics.” Superstar drivers from several different countries compete to be crowned the best in the world, driving cars powered by HUGE global manufacturers like Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Aston Martin. The only thing keeping me from becoming an F1 superfan is the fact that there are currently no American drivers. But it was still a ton of fun to watch!

The 2020 Austrian Grand Prix was a WILD race! Out of the 20 drivers who initially started the race, seven weren’t able to finish because of various issues. Everything from power failure, to a couple wrecks, to someone losing a tire. Almost half the grid failing to finish a race is uncommon. Of the past F1 races I’ve watched on YouTube, usually there are 3-4 drivers who don’t finish. Perhaps everyone’s trying to knock the rust off as the season gets underway. Who knows? Here are the highlights from the race.

From the get go, I was mesmerized by everything with the race: The beautiful location in the Austrian countryside, brilliant driving by young drivers Charles Leclerc for Ferrari and Lando Norris for McLaren, and the excitement with which commentators David Croft and Martin Brundle called every lap. Plus the finish was exciting as well! Lewis Hamilton, one of the greatest drivers in F1 history, was bumped out of third place, and off the podium as he was given a time penalty for causing a wreck. This allowed Lando Norris, a very young 20 year-old driver for McLaren, to snag the first podium finish of his career by a mere tenth of a second after race officials calculated everything. Happy for him!

Lando Norris

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari’s young hotshot finished second, and had an absolutely amazing bit of driving to get himself into podium position late in the race! It still boggles my mind how these guys can drive these cars with such precision. They can go from 200+ miles per hour on a straightaway with the throttle wide open, to 50-60 miles an hour in a tight corner without missing a beat or wrecking the car. That’s absolutely INSANE to me!

But Leclerc braked as late as he possibly could heading into a very tight corner, and managed to sneak by Sergio Perez for third place at the time. I’m still a new F1 fan, but I am quickly becoming a fan of Charles Leclerc. The 22 year-old driver from Monaco is aggressive, kind of a rebel against the rules, and he’s nice to fans and media from all I’ve read and seen. Plus he’s overcome some very tough personal tragedies in his life recently. A year or two ago, he lost both his father and best friend within days of each other. And yet he still managed to race a few days later. Not only that, he fought all the way from the back of the pack to win his first career race that weekend in honor of them! That kind of mental toughness and heart is the mark of a future World Champion. I can’t help but like him and root for him!

Charles Leclerc

Valtteri Bottas, a Finnish driver for Mercedes, won the Austrian Grand Prix, with a solid race. Congratulations to him. But I would be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t more excited by the prospect of seeing what all the younger drivers can do this year. There’s a whole bunch of them: Charles Leclerc (22 years old), Lando Norris (20 years old), George Russell (22 years old), Carlos Sainz (25 years old), and Lance Stroll (21 years old). There’s definitely a youth movement going through F1. It seems like an absolutely perfect time for me to be a new fan of the sport. As I continue to grow as a fan, I’ll see these young guys grow as drivers. I see at least a couple future World Champions in that group!

But for now, race #1 of the 2020 Formula One World Championship is in the books! Next up? A little bit of Deja Vu, as the teams will meet in Austria again on July 12th for the Styrian Grand Prix at the exact same track. But I’m just as excited for this upcoming race as I was for my first one!

2020 Formula One World Drivers Championship Top 10

  1. Valtteri Bottas (25 Points)
  2. Charles Leclerc (18 Points)
  3. Lando Norris (16 Points)
  4. Lewis Hamilton (12 Points)
  5. Carlos Sainz (10 Points)
  6. Sergio Perez (8 Points)
  7. Pierre Gasly (6 Points)
  8. Esteban Ocon (4 Points)
  9. Antonio Giovinazzi (2 Points)
  10. Sebastian Vettel (1 Point)

2020 World Constructors Championship Standings

  1. Mercedes (37 Points)
  2. McLaren (26 Points)
  3. Ferrari (19 Points)
  4. Racing Point (8 Points)
  5. AlphaTauri (6 Points)
  6. Renault (4 Points)
  7. Alfa Romeo Racing (2 Points)
  8. Williams (0)
  9. Red Bull Racing (0)
  10. Haas (0)
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Honoring America on Her Birthday

For the last few years, I have prayed for my country on her birthday. I have prayed for unity among all her people, for goodness to enter the hearts of our leaders, and for wisdom and understanding to bring us all together. At least for one day. And I am doing that again today. July 4th, 2020.

But I am also honoring her. By remembering just exactly how monumental July 4th, 1776 is in the pages of history. On that day, a nation of farmers, sailors, merchants, pirates, and smugglers, all rose up as one in opposition to the British Crown. The 55 men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew they were no longer representing their home colonies. They were no longer from Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

They were from a new nation. One that rose above the status quo of monarchy. One that shattered the chains of a tyrannical government. This new nation was one where the people could choose their own system of government without a king keeping them under his thumb. This new nation was the grand experiment of its time! John Adams, played by Paul Giamatti, explains this far more clearly than I ever could. He gives one of the most moving, emotional, and patriotic speeches I have ever seen. I would be lying if I said it didn’t cause a lump in my throat, or tears to form in the corners of my eyes!

“While I live, let me have a country! A FREE country!”

John Adams explains just how revolutionary America was at the moment of her birth. Nowhere in recorded history up to that point, had the people of any nation been as free to govern themselves, as our forefathers were. Our nation was born unique. An anomaly. A nation of the people, born in an era of kings. Monarchs were everywhere. But this was the first time a set of colonies under a king or queen anywhere in the world, won their right to independence!

In light of recent events, I have come to view America differently, though I still love her just the same. I am still a proud Patriot, and always will be. But I now view the “ideal America” as unattainable. A standard which we cannot reach, but one that we should try our absolute best to get to. When they defeated the British in the war for our Independence, our Founding Fathers earned the right to set their own standard, which they outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And they challenge us to meet that standard. The ghosts of George Washington, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Sam Adams and others challenge us all. Each and every day.

I love this nation with every fiber of my being. In spite of all her imperfections, and stumbles throughout history, I love America with all my heart. At her absolute best, she is a nation governed by the ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for ALL people. Regardless of their station in life, skin color, sexual orientation, or anything else. America is also a nation in which government should play a minimal role. It should only be there to preserve law and order, make sure our elected officials are serving us, and to protect our fundamental rights. Are these things currently happening? No. Most certainly not.

Our government is corrupted and has been for decades. It has overstepped its bounds in ways too numerous to count. Our elected officials care more about their next election campaign than they do about the people in their care who suffer, and who need their help. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are being taken away from our fellow Americans by cops who are poorly trained, or by people who have no business being cops at all. And there is a mob within this country seeking to tear America apart from the inside by destroying some of the very things that make us great: Our national symbols, our history, and our freedom of speech. We certainly are not living up to the ideals that our Founding Fathers have set for us. We are not living up to the ideals which so many have fought, bled and died for.

But in the midst of all this darkness. I still have hope. Hope that the battle for the soul of this nation, will be won decisively by Patriots who understand what George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Sam Adams, and others set out to do on this day 244 years ago. Those men set out to earn full freedom for themselves and all their countrymen. Forgive the use of another video, but this seems to explain things really well. And Ben Barnes gives me chills as Sam Adams!

Sons of Liberty Speech

Yes, I understand that not all people were freed with our ancestors’ victory over the British. Slavery existed until 1865, almost a century afterward. And in addition to that, there were many bumps in the road that needed to be overcome with the Civil Rights movement. Some of those obstacles still haunt our society today.

And yet, for as much as we struggle and fail, I still have hope that we will one day be closer to the dream of the “idealized America” that was given to us on this day in 1776. But it’s up to us, the people, to realize what that dream is. More people should familiarize themselves with, and read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And they should familiarize themselves with who the Founding Fathers were as men. Like I see George Washington as an extremely intelligent, humble, very strong leader. I see Benjamin Franklin as an intelligent, funny, quirky, man who helped convince France to join us in our war for Independence. I see Sam Adams and Thomas Paine as masters of propaganda. They got the people worked up enough to act. Both of them fueled the fires of Independence. Not to mention Sam Adams’ underground group, the Sons of Liberty, rallied the people against the Crown. And his cousin, John Adams is probably my favorite Founding Father, for his ability to be both intensely passionate about Independence but still believe in justice for ALL people he came across. Even those he strongly disagreed with. John Adams believed in equality for all, and the rule of law and justice, rather than anarchy and mob rule. I admire John Adams greatly.

So how do we get closer to the ideal America? We move closer to the ideal America for all by recognizing that yes, she is imperfect. Yes, she has had some ugly moments in her history and made plenty of mistakes. But we also realize it is still possible for us to obtain Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for all. We just have to fight for it. Our Founding Fathers had their war. A war to make America independent. Now we have our war to fight, even though it isn’t a physical one: A war to make her a country all true Americans can be proud of!

I end this post with one of my favorite patriotic songs. Spoken by the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash. Let the words reach you in whatever way they do. I know I’m always choked up or crying by the end of it. God bless you all. God bless our Founding Fathers. And God Bless the United States of America! Happy Fourth of July everybody!

Ragged Old Flag
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Will Justice Be Served?

Well I didn’t expect THAT to happen as soon as it did. But it’s happening: Ghislaine Maxwell, right hand woman, and former girlfriend of billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein was arrested this morning in New Hampshire. She is alleged to have targeted many young girls for Epstein to groom and abuse as far back as 1994.

I’d argue she’s just as much of a monster as Epstein was. If not more so. Yes, Epstein abused the girls in many horrible ways, but Ghislaine knew what he would do to those girls, and STILL found ways to lead them to him. She even participated in some of the abuse herself! The whole thing sickens me and makes me sad. Perhaps I feel this way more than normal, because I recently watched a Netflix series on the case called Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich. Here’s the trailer:

Filthy Rich Netflix Trailer

The series shocked me in many ways. Not only with the descriptions of the abuse which Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell inflicted upon the victims (I won’t get into that here, out of respect for the victims), but also with the way Maxwell and Epstein went about finding these victims, and faking interest in them as people.

Let the coldness of their process sink in for a minute. Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein targeted young, impressionable, innocent girls. They made these girls think they cared about them as people. They preyed on their trusting instincts. They preyed on their innocence. They preyed on the fact that all of these young girls had big dreams. So of course, when these girls saw that such high-profile people were taking a seemingly genuine interest in them and their lives, they opened up. And then Maxwell and Epstein proceeded to rip their innocence away from them. They probably also shattered the trust these girls had in humanity. They smashed it to smithereens. And it will probably take the victims a lifetime to get that trust back, if they ever do.

I myself have never experienced being a sexual assault victim firsthand. Thankfully. So I cannot know what the victims went through from that perspective. But I DO know people close to my heart who I love very much, who have been sexually assaulted. And some of the stuff that I heard from them turned my stomach, pissed me off, and made me hug them tight and hold them close while they cried. Or I was close by and trying to comfort them and listen to them while they had panic attacks. So I get especially angry when I hear cases like what is going on with Ghislaine Maxwell.

I hope the judge and jury bring the hammer down on her, and put her away for a VERY long time. But I also hope investigators can somehow get her to talk. I am not normally a big believer in conspiracy theories. I pride myself on usually being a rational, critical thinker. But I do not, for one second, believe that Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in his jail cell. The man had connections to Prince Andrew, Donald Trump, and Bill Clinton. At the very least. He had some very powerful friends in high places. Not to mention they all allegedly flew with Epstein to Little Saint James on his private jet, nicknamed The Lolita Express. So nobody can tell me that Epstein and Maxwell are the only ones who hurt these girls. My gut is SCREAMING pedophile web!

This whole situation reminds me of a story involving one of my favorite comic characters. Even though I try to be a good man who believes in doing the right thing and treating others well, I am a HUGE fan of a comic book character known as The Punisher, a dark, nasty vigilante from Marvel Comics. He’s a former Marine named Frank Castle who lost his wife and children in a gang shootout. And he makes it his life’s work to track down and kill the worst criminals who escape the justice system. The Epstein case kind of reminds me of what happened in one of my favorite Punisher arcs.

Punisher MAX: The Slavers comic cover

Punisher MAX, an adult comic, ran one of my favorite stories with The Slavers. Long story short, Frank rescues a woman and her baby from Eastern European gangsters, gets to know the woman and her story, and eventually figures out that she escaped from a worldwide prostitution and sex trafficking ring. After saving the woman and her baby, Frank discovers just how many people are involved in the sex trafficking ring, takes out one of its regional leaders, and threatens the remaining criminals. He lets them know that justice is coming for them. And that no one will escape or survive as long as he is hunting them.

One of the characters in that story reminds me of Ghislaine Maxwell. The character named Viorica was the right hand lady to the leader of this prostitution ring. She procured and groomed young girls and women for Eastern European gangsters/soldiers. She didn’t care at all about her victims or any babies they had. All of the women were scarred by how they were treated by Viorica. Frank eventually kills Viorica and her boss, before calling the police, and directing them to where all the women are before he disappears into the night. An otherwise dark and grim story ends on a brighter note, with a picture panel showing what happened to the rescued women and their babies. Some women were working full time jobs and providing for their children, others were recovering in therapy, and others were recovering at safe houses with their babies. Frank got a measure of justice for the women.

While the Punisher is a fictional character, and all of his stories are obviously fiction, I hope there’s justice in the real world as well. I hope the authorities eventually find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes with Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein, and their “friends.” They all deserve to face justice. All of the victims deserve closure too. And I hope nobody rests until everything is brought to light!

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Why I love to study History and Politics

I was never strong with math in school, and I always struggled with more advanced science. But when it came to studying history and anything to do with our civic, governmental processes, I excelled. And not only did I excel at it, I had fun and enjoyed it!

I don’t know where exactly this came from, as I have always loved studying history and government. But if I had to guess, I’m going to say it stemmed from being raised from a very young age to respect and love the flag. From when I was a very little boy of probably 3-4 years old, I always loved how Old Glory looked. I loved the American flag, and stars (as in the shape). I just had a fascination with these things as a very little kid. I credit Mom and Pop for raising me to have a strong sense of patriotism and respect for our history and national symbols.

Fast forward to when I was about 11, and I’m sitting in Mrs. Kisabeth’s 5th grade Social Studies class. The two things I remember from that class: She was a strict disciplinarian and made sure we knew our facts and dates for testing. And, we always used to watch a cartoon called Liberty’s Kids. It was like clockwork. Every Thursday or Friday after lunch. I remember it being later in the day. So of course I was excited! What kid wouldn’t be? I got to watch a cartoon about my favorite school subject, I didn’t have to take a test or do homework for that period, AND I get to leave school soon after to enjoy the weekend?! Sign me up!

Liberty’s Kids intro

But I also enjoyed the show for its educational value. History was no longer some old, outdated story about a bunch of dead people kept in a dusty book. Liberty’s Kids brought history to life for me! I enjoyed following the action, learning important dates, and cool facts about life during the Revolutionary War period. The Revolutionary War remains my favorite period of history to study, in part because of this show.

Jump ahead a couple more years, and there I am sitting in Mr. Mulholland’s 7th grade Social Studies class, or Mr. Webb’s 8th grade Social Studies class as a junior high student in 2004 or 2005. It was here where I learned how civic processes worked. I learned the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial),and their powers in deeper detail. I learned how many total members of Congress there are (535. 435 Representatives based on state population, and 100 Senators. Two from each State). We read through the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and learned how Amendments are added or repealed too. While having a healthy dose of fun and humor every class period. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Although I can also completely understand why history was probably very dry to many of my classmates. I feel that people either have the knack for certain subjects or they don’t. Many of my classmates were great at math and science. While I was great at history and reading/English. I had the polar opposite skill set they did.

Next, I’m a 16 year old Sophomore in Mr. Asher’s Human Conflict and War class in 2007. I will always feel that this was such a wasted opportunity on Mr. Asher’s part as a teacher. If you could call him that. The man just handed us packets on various wars throughout history, from the Ancient Greeks to World War II, popped in the corresponding videotape for us to watch, and then he took a nap. Sometimes he snored in class. I didn’t think much of it then. A high school kid didn’t think much as soon as they saw the teacher roll out that big TV. All my fellow 90’s babies out there know what I’m talking about. We’d mentally check out as soon as the TV was rolled to the center of the classroom.

But knowing what I know now, part of me wishes time machines were already invented and common. Because I’d hop in, shut the door, type in 2007, and go back and teach that Human Conflict and War class myself! Yes, war is a sad thing that humanity feels it has to wage far too often. But the material in that Human Conflict and War class was so interesting to me, because I could actually see so many things: The advancement of technology, the rise and fall of civilizations, and the political context of whatever time period we were studying.

Time Traveler Luke would’ve been like: “Sit down, Mr. Asher. I’ve got this. I’ll take it from here. You’re not teaching anyone anything. These kids need to know why this is important, and why they should be passionate about learning it. Give them a reason to relate to the material or get excited about learning it, and they will! Trust me!” And I would’ve gotten everybody’s attention so they were locked in and excited. Mr. Asher wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. There should be people who are genuinely passionate about the subject they teach, and they should focus on helping students learn it in whatever way fits that particular student or group of students. Otherwise what’s the point?

After high school, I think my love for studying history kind of faded. Perhaps leaving home for Kent State, meeting new buddies, living by myself with no roommates, and chasing cute college girls had something to do with that? I was definitely preoccupied with other things 😉

But then I got to do something for the first time in my life: Vote in a Presidential Election! At 21 years old, I finally had a say in who our leader would be, and could not wait to make my voice heard! I was still young and idealistic. Not older, wiser and cynical about politics like I am now. I also was unaware of how truly important it was to vote one’s conscience, or to vote for a candidate who most closely matched my values and worldviews. I didn’t do the research and then make a decision. I merely voted Republican because that’s what my parents had done. After I voted, I went down to the Rathskeller, the basement of the KSU Student Center, ordered a cold Guinness, and watched these results come in.

2012 Election Results

I voted. But looking back now, I was uneducated, like many young college students seem to be these days. They haven’t truly learned to think for themselves yet. They are merely parroting what their parents or other authority figures have told them. But it’s not their fault. It takes a light bulb moment or life smacking you in the face before you realize how important history and politics are. And it is incredibly important to develop your OWN informed opinions beyond that of your parents or professors.

My light bulb moment, and the resurgence of my love for, and interest in, history and politics probably occurred sometime around 2015, when now-President Donald Trump rode down the escalator at Trump Tower in NYC as he announced his candidacy. I am not a Trump fan. I think the man is unfit for office, as is his 2020 competitor, Joe Biden. But I digress. My light bulb moment came when I realized Donald Trump was serious about running for President. And not because I saw him as a sort of savior for America. No. My eyes were opened when he was running for President, because I saw him as a symptom of something bad. Desperation on the part of the American people, perhaps? But the main question going through my mind at the time is one that I still ask myself to this day: “Have things gotten so bad that THIS is who we’re forced to pick from? Yikes!”

From then on, I have followed politics like a hawk. I’ve kept up on all the important things coming up for the current election cycle. Why? I believe voting, thinking for yourself, and knowing how we’ve arrived here in history can help us to be good stewards of that history, and good citizens. If we remain ignorant of history, our election processes, and the candidates who are running for office, we risk putting the wrong people in some VERY high places.

History, no matter if it is good, bad or ugly, is meant to be learned from and preserved. Not ignored or whitewashed to avoid offending somebody. History is meant to be used as a roadmap to guide our society out of the pitfalls of dark times into ages of prosperity And history is also meant to serve as a warning to future generations. If history is ignored or scoffed at, the worst parts of it will one day be repeated in the future. Guaranteed.

At its absolute best, politics is guided by history as well. If the guiding hand of history is present in the core of our political processes, our leaders will better know how to lead our nation forward into a brighter future. If they know and study history, they will know what works and what doesn’t. If history is ignored for the sake of power, as is happening right now, we risk facing some very dark times in the near future. Even darker times than we’re currently in.

If I had to personify history, I view it like a lovable, wise grandparent who has a memory as sharp as a steel trap. And they love telling stories to entertain us or help us grow in wisdom and understanding. If we are wise, we’ll listen to them, learn, and grow to love them and all that they teach us. However, if we are foolish (like it seems we’re being now as a country), we laugh at them thinking we know better. We disrespect them, thinking they are irrelevant and not worthy of our love and respect. We ignore them as they fade away and die. Only for them to haunt us in our nightmares later!

It is our choice whether or not we want to pay attention to history. As for me, I choose to love being a student of history. I choose to stay informed and awake. And I choose to be passionate about it! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go brush up on my knowledge of the Legislative Branch. Later, everybody! 🙂

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Free Speech Still Exists

I know it doesn’t seem like it in today’s America. But freedom of speech still exists. You can say what you believe. In an era of cancel culture, and people often shouting down things they don’t like, free speech still exists. Contrary to what the “mob” believes, the right to speak one’s mind will always exist. For as long as America stands. One just has to have the courage to speak or act, and know their rights as an American. Freedom of speech is just one of the many rights our ancestors won from the British Crown during the Revolutionary War.

Some of the most controversial things in society today, like burning the American flag, kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner, speaking against the Black Lives Matter movement, and flying the Confederate Flag, are all protected by the First Amendment as freedom of speech. No matter how much I may disagree with, and absolutely HATE seeing someone burn Old Glory in protest, or hear them say nasty things about America, people are allowed to do so within their legal rights. Same with those who don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement for logical reasons.

I think most people forget that nowadays. People are allowed to have polar opposite opinions to yours. They’re allowed to like and support things that you don’t, no matter how much it angers you. If more people realized that, and truly respected that fact, we could begin to respect each other, appreciate our differences, find common ground, and heal our nation. Being proud of our national symbols and traditions is patriotic. As is speaking out against real injustices that plague our country. Both are patriotic. I am reminded from a quote, and I feel it sums up my attitude toward free speech: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

-Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Being legally able to burn the American flag as a form of protest is a relatively recent development in our country’s history, having only been around since 1989. Here’s an article that explains Texas v. Johnson, the case in question in greater detail. The decision to allow flag burning as a form of free speech was a hotly contested one in the United States Supreme Court, passing with a 5-4 vote. Justice Antonin Scalia was the deciding vote in the case. His reasoning behind it is summed up in a powerful quote:

“If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag. But I am not king.”

That quote by Antonin Scalia should serve as a reminder (and warning) to every American, that no one has the right to infringe on someone else’s freedom of speech to express a dissenting opinion. Cancel culture, media pressure, sanitizing history, and shouting down opposing opinions are all direct attacks on that unique, and most American right. When we allow someone or something to determine what can or cannot be said or expressed, we set a DANGEROUS precedent. We allow that person or entity more power and influence than they are due. The curbing of free speech becomes the start of tyranny. The very thing our Founding Fathers warned us about, and what they urged us to fight against. It’s where we currently are at in our country’s history. It ain’t pretty.

To exercise my right in free speech, I am going to say two things some may find controversial or offensive and explain my reasoning behind them: It is okay to not support Black Lives Matter, and it is okay (and legal) to fly the Confederate flag as long as it isn’t used to spread hate speech.

From my personal perspective, it seems as though society is attempting to force people to support Black Lives Matter, or else be branded as a racist, uncle Tom, or not “woke” enough. That is enough to make the rebellious side or Patriot in me be like, “Hell no. You are NOT going to tell me who I should support. I’ll decide that for myself, thank you very much. That is my right as an American!”

I would venture to say that most decent human beings already know black lives matter. The problem for me, is that there are enough, shall we say, less than decent people pushing the movement. And these kinds of people are not at all for justice and equality. They are for silencing opinions and worldviews they do not agree with. They are Anti-American anarchists. A vocal minority shoving their ideology down the throats of a silent majority who has yet to push back. Lord help BLM’s leaders if people eventually DO grow brave enough to push back against them!

I am all for learning new perspectives, supporting the black community, and listening to them in their fear, tough moments and sadness. But I am not for sacrificing my right to free speech as an American, just so some can hear what they want to hear: Their opinion coming out of MY mouth. My ancestors, and the original Patriots shed too much blood to allow me to sacrifice my free speech to appease people. Plus I am stubborn as a person. I will never be told what to think or believe. At the end of the day, that’s MY call and nobody else’s.

And I am also not for sacrificing someone’s ability to protest or express themselves in ways that society might find shocking or offensive. Including flying the Confederate flag. Do I support what the Confederacy stood for? Absolutely not. The South fought to preserve slavery by permanently splitting this nation in two.

But I also understand one thing: I am not a Southerner, and have not lived in that area of the United States for any length of time. I’m a Buckeye, born and raised. An Ohio boy. So my view of the Confederate flag might be different compared to how someone from, South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida views it. But their view of it is just as valid as mine is. Here is an interesting perspective on the Confederate flag from Ben Jones, who famously played Cooter the mechanic, on Dukes of Hazzard.

Even though I will likely always see the Confederate flag as a negative symbol, since I am from Ohio, I am open-minded enough to listen to Ben Jones’ take on it. And he makes a lot of sense to me. He flies that flag to express his pride in being from the Southern United States. It’s a cultural/family thing for him. He’s proud of being a Southerner while still being a proud American Patriot who hates racism as much as the next decent human being. Seems simple enough to me to understand.

Symbols such as that flag, mean different things to different people. And again, no group of people has the right to tell other groups how to perceive symbols. That goes against freedom of speech. I would argue telling people how to perceive things is even more sinister than violating the First Amendment. This seems like thought policing. Seems awfully close to how things are in the book 1984. I hope a society like that never becomes a reality. And if it does? I hope I’m dead and long gone by then.

But while I am still alive and breathing, I will always stand for freedom of speech. Even if I don’t agree with how some people exercise that right. For if we can’t have freedom of speech, it won’t be long before we’re in chains once our other freedoms are taken away. If the First Amendment ever goes, it will be the first domino to fall on the way to a totalitarian society. A frightening prospect. Stay awake, alert and vigilant, my fellow Patriots!

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The Return of Baseball…and sanity!

It’s back! America’s Pastime is set to return on either July 23rd or 24th. Thank God for baseball! Forgive me for sounding overly dramatic, folks. But this feels like the first point of light at the end of the COVID-riot-murder hornet-shit show tunnel. We’re not out of the woods by a long shot. But baseball is going to be such a welcome relief from all that has been going on in society. Some normalcy and sanity will finally return!

Major League Baseball decided yesterday to move ahead with a shortened 60-game season, in spite of the agreement being voted down by the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the work union that ensures fairness from the League on behalf of the players.

Several things are going to be different this time around, compared to what one would usually expect from a run of the mill 162-game season. Particularly with the schedule, Designated Hitter (DH) role, and extra innings. This article from CBS Sports explains everything in detail.

I find it interesting that all teams will play 40 of their games against divisional opponents, and the remaining 20 against the corresponding league’s opponents from the matching division. As far as I know, there unfortunately won’t be any fans allowed as of yet. But this just seems like a unique, cool, and practical way to approach things. Teams that are geographically close will play each other the most, so as to limit travel, and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

My favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, will play 40 games (10 each) against American League Central opponents (White Sox, Twins, Tigers, Royals), and 20 games (four each) against the National League Central (Reds, Pirates, Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers). I’m excited the most about all the rivalries this new schedule will maintain or create for 2020! Classic divisional match-ups like Indians/Tigers and Indians/White Sox, as well as the “Battle of Ohio” between the Indians and the Reds. Heck, perhaps there will be an eventual rivalry between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, since the Tribe and Pirates are slated to go at it four times in 2020.

Cleveland Indians 2020 Opponents

The DH rule for both the American League and National League (the league that traditionally lets pitchers bat), is interesting too. For the first time in history, both leagues will have a Designated Hitter. That is, an extra hitter who bats in place of the pitcher. I know that probably makes some baseball purists roll their eyes. But I see the thinking behind it, and can agree with it.

Things are already in a precarious, uncertain position with teams trying to protect their players from the spread of COVID-19. They also want to limit the possibility of over-extending and injuring their starting pitchers as much as they can. On a normal, good start for a pitcher, he might go for anywhere from 6-7 innings, and throw close to 100 pitches a game. That’s a decent amount of wear and tear on the body and arm. The last thing teams from the National League would need is a freak accident, like a pitcher taking a fastball to the forearm by accident when they’re batting. Baseball, even at 60 games, is a LONG season. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and MLB is aiming to keep their players as healthy as possible.

Extra inning games will be interesting too, as each team will start their half of the inning with a runner in scoring position (on second base). This new rule aims to limit the possibility of games taking a LONG time to finish. With the new rule, teams could theoretically win with a single hit that scores the runner from second base. This makes sense to me. In long extra inning games, managers sometimes go through their entire bullpen (relief pitchers), and have nobody fresh or rested up to pitch the next day. So some guys are forced to pitch multiple days in a row, which wears them out. Infielders and outfielders also become fatigued and tired if a game goes deep into extra innings. This is a smart move by Major League Baseball.

As far as I know, there hasn’t been a plan set in stone for the Playoffs, which are slated to get underway in the beginning of October. But my guess is MLB is going to cross that bridge when they get there. Commissioner Rob Manfred is will probably just let this abbreviated regular season play out, and then go from there.

I’m just happy. Happy to have something positive to look forward to, get excited about, and enjoy. I can practically hear the crack of the bat as Carlos Santana belts one outta here. I can hear Indians announcer Tom Hamilton with his classic home run call: “SWUNG ON AND BELTED! AWAAAAAY BACK AND GONE!” I can smell the popcorn, and taste the brown, salty goodness that is Stadium Mustard on a ballpark hot dog. Even though fans aren’t allowed back at Progressive Field yet, I can’t help but smile knowing baseball is on its way. Christmas in late July!

I hope baseball brings our country some peace and happiness in the midst of everything going on. Diehard baseball fans and casual fans alike will have their beloved game back. Hopefully it will help heal the national divide a little bit, too. At least for a moment in time, politics, race, and other things won’t matter when people watch their favorite team with their friends. I know several friends who I don’t agree with politically. And they don’t agree with me. But the commonality many of us share? Our love of the Cleveland Indians and the game of baseball! For this day at least, God decided to give our nation a small break with the return of a game so many of us love.

I end this post with two of the most famous words in sports: PLAY BALL!

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This Day in History: The Battle of Bunker Hill

I’ve been on a patriotic kick the last few days. I don’t know how I realized it, but I thought that it was really neat that today, June 17th, is the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, an early engagement in the Revolutionary War. This battle was also the first significant statement made by the Continental Army to the British. Bunker Hill has always inspired me, because it was the first time our men stood up to the British and gave back as good as they got. They held their own.

If Lexington and Concord was like the bully pushing someone aside or stiff arming somebody, Bunker Hill was like the good guy winding up, punching the bully in the face, and giving him a black eye or broken nose. This was the first time where the Continental Army fought as if to say: We’re here to stay. We’re not going away. One of us is going to go. And if we go, we’re taking a bunch of you down with us!

Two months before, in the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775, the war for our Independence began. A ragtag group of farmers, merchants and sailors took on the most powerful army in the world. To most, it probably seemed like a suicide mission.

So you can imagine the shock from the American public, and from the British themselves, when just two months later on June 17th, 1775, Patriots inflicted absolutely NASTY casualties in attempting to hold Bunker Hill/Breed’s Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts!

Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill, just outside of Boston and Boston Harbor

During the first battles of the war in Lexington and Concord, the British lost a total of 300 troops, while we lost 93. Bunker Hill’s losses made that look tame. It was a bloodbath at Bunker Hill. In all, the British lost over 1,000 troops in the battle, compared to 450 casualties on the American side.

The Patriots did indeed lose this battle, as they eventually ran out of ammunition and were forced to retreat from their fortified positions on Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill after beating back the British advance three times. But not before making the Redcoats pay DEARLY.

While the British did eventually capture the Charlestown Peninsula, which Bunker Hill was on, the commander of the British forces that day, General William Howe, knew the Redcoats couldn’t consistently take that many casualties and expect to win the war. He knew that this was no longer a small insurrection or localized rebellion. The British Empire now had a full-fledged war to fight. In the aftermath of the carnage, he was reported to have said, “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”

Bunker Hill is not only known in American history for the extraordinary courage shown by the Patriots in their first time going toe to toe in an even battle with the Redcoats, it is also known for the death of Dr. Joseph Warren, an American General, and a martyr in our war for Independence.

Dr. Joseph Warren, Patriot Politician and General

Until his death, Warren had served as the president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He was also a member of the Sons of Liberty with John Hancock, Sam Adams and others. He was the one who ordered Paul Revere’s famous “Midnight Ride” to warn the citizens of Lexington and Concord that the Redcoats were coming.

While I am grateful for Dr. Warren’s contributions to the eventual birth of our nation, I am perhaps most impressed and inspired by his decision to fight alongside his men at the Battle of Bunker Hill, rather than from the rear. Warren was promoted to General shortly before the battle, but instead offered to serve as a Volunteer Private under General Israel Putnam instead, which Putnam accepted. Not many generals fought alongside their men in 18th century warfare. Most commanded the strategy of the battle from the rear on their horse.

Joseph Warren, right, offering to serve under General Putnam, left

While I cannot find anything on this, my guess as to why Warren offered to fight alongside his men, was so he could inspire them and rally them to keep going if need be. He was definitely an enthusiastic warrior for the Patriot cause, saying just before the battle, “These fellows say we won’t fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in British blood!” Unfortunately, Warren got his wish, being killed just after the British broke through, and stormed the American defenses at Breed’s Hill. He was only 34 years old, leaving behind four young children and a fiancee.

You would think that losing 450 men, and one of the most prominent leaders would break the back and the spirit of the Patriot cause. But all the Battle of Bunker Hill did was serve to inspire the Continental Army, and the Thirteen Colonies as a whole, to continue the war for Independence, which they eventually won in October of 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia. Thanks in part to Dr. Joseph Warren and the other Patriots who fought courageously, and died at Bunker Hill, we have the freedoms that we enjoy today. God bless them all, and God Bless The United States of America!

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What makes an American?

What makes an American? This question was sparked by conversations with my father, one of the wisest men, and fiercest American Patriots that I know. Can we all answer the question of what it means to be an American with any sort of conviction, especially in today’s uncertain and scary times? If we could, we wouldn’t be where we currently are as a nation.

There are no uniquely American principles being respected. Nothing is sacred right now. Up is down. Black is white. Good is evil and evil is good. By some, rioting is seen as a legitimate form of protest. Peaceful protest is deemed unpatriotic and ridiculed by others. Police are hated. There is no respect by our elected political officials for the offices which they currently hold. They are only there to gain power and keep it as long as they can. Old Glory is burned and desecrated, and other symbols of our history, both good and bad, are being removed because they offend people in some way. People who should see each other as fellow Americans are at each other’s throats, ready to tear each other apart. Where are our unifying principles of what it means to be an American in the midst of all this chaos? I cannot see them.

As simple-minded as this view may sound, I think we start becoming Americans by learning to respect each others’ beliefs and opinions. If that happened, we would be well on our way to becoming a peaceful country, and ascending back to our rightful place in the world. In an ideal America, people could agree to disagree, talk out their differences respectfully, and our politicians would respect their offices and their colleagues on opposite sides of the aisle.

We would also be the country that serves as the standard for every other. As the beacon of hope, justice and freedom to the rest of the world. As the nation that leads our allies in the fight for good, and strikes the fear of God into the hearts of all the evil people who would harm those who love peace and justice.

This next characteristic that I believe makes us American, gets swallowed up in the relentless media cycle: Peoples’ ability to think critically WITHOUT being spoon fed all the bullshit spewed by the big media networks. Back in the early days, when our country was a young nation, we didn’t have people in very high places lobbying for airtime on Fox or CNN. Politics wasn’t flooded with dirty money. We weren’t fed stereotypical Democrat or Republican talking points on an hourly basis. We weren’t indoctrinated so we’d pick one side and demonize the other. There were only local newspapers that reported the goings on in different cities. People saw the truth (or as close as they could get to it), and acted accordingly. They thought for themselves.

Personal responsibility also seems to have been forgotten. People seem to want to blame anyone but themselves for failure. Republicans blame Democrats and vice versa. Politicians in Washington blame each other for the sad state this country is in…without doing a damn thing to work together and fix it! On a personal level, people blame a broken system for their state in life. Blacks blame white people and vice versa. Nobody seems to want to sit down, look at themselves and say, “You know what? I cannot control everything, but maybe my misfortune, or lack of understanding of others’ situation isn’t all on other people. Maybe I play a part in the predicament. How can I better myself to get out of it, and help others out of it?”

There’s a reason people call achieving success in this country “The American Dream.” Anyone can achieve success on their own merit and work ethic if they work hard enough, and make the right choices. I firmly believe that. America is also one of the only countries in the world where we are encouraged to think big, and choose our desired path in life. No one else chooses our path in life but us. People seem to also forget the simple phrase “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Interpret this how you will. But how I see it is, in America, you are able to live the life you want, with all the freedoms and security that this country provides, and can make it big if you put the work in.

In the cases where a truly unjust system DOES hold people back from living the lives that they want, either from racism or other discrimination, guess what? The First Amendment is in place to help citizens change the system. The First Amendment guarantees four fundamentally American rights: the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of the press, the right to petition one’s government for grievances, and the right to assembly (i.e. peaceful protest). I remember something that happened about a decade ago when I was out to eat with my parents and sister at Los Arcos, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Upper Sandusky, Ohio (it’s worth a try if you’re ever in the area. The people are really friendly, the service is top notch, and the food and margaritas are absolutely fantastic!).

As we were eating our meal, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a lone protester walking along down the middle of the road. He was carrying a sign that said, “We live in a fascist country. Prove me wrong.” Now, I do not know what that man was protesting or picketing about, but I had to chuckle to myself. The fact that he was able to carry a sign like that in public that was critical of our country is protected by his First Amendment rights. If the United States of America truly WAS a fascist country, he would be reported, arrested, or in the worst case scenario, shot and killed for his beliefs. But because America is built the way she is thanks to our Founding Fathers, he has the freedom to air his grievances without fear of repercussion or bodily harm as long as he’s within the law.

I think we’re all incredibly spoiled here in the States. We don’t realize how much we can do or say, and not have to worry about our own safety. Two authoritarian governments that don’t allow their citizens to speak out come to my mind: China and North Korea. I know if I were North Korean instead of American, there’s a pretty good chance I would either be dead, or rotting away in some dark jail cell, as I have been very critical of the US Government and leadership for many years. But because of my rights as an American, I can say pretty much anything I want as long as I am within the law, and not willfully inciting panic. America affords me that.

In certain, extreme cases where the government becomes tyrannical, and strips away our rights as American citizens, we are also afforded the right, and even encouraged to overthrow our government by force, and install a new system of government that works better for the good of all people. I remember hearing this line from the Declaration of Independence years ago in the movie National Treasure, but it still always gives me chills:

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Thankfully, this right has only been used twice: By the Patriots during the American Revolution, and by the South during the Civil War. In both of those cases, a sizable number of people thought the current government in power was overstepping their bounds, and they rose up in armed opposition. How many other countries allow for something like that to happen? Not many. Most countries wouldn’t allow, or openly encourage armed conflict to set the government straight if it gets to the point where it becomes truly evil and tyrannical.

Lastly, I believe we are truly Americans when we honor the good history of those who have built this nation regardless of what we think of them. I also believe we are truly Americans when we are students of history, and recognize mistakes, learn from them, and do our absolute best to not repeat those mistakes. This is where I have a problem with people removing things like Confederate flags and statues. Do I support what the Confederacy stood for? Absolutely not. I had ancestors who actively fought against the South during the Civil War. My great-great-great Grandfather Jacob “Burr” Wickiser was a soldier in the 45th Ohio Infantry, and I am grateful for his service and for him. But I believe we need to leave Confederate statues and flags alone to actively remind us of what not to do. Or we risk making the same mistake twice.

Let me explain my reasoning with another personal anecdote: When I was probably 11 or 12 years old, I had a Red Ryder BB Gun. It was loaded, but not cocked or ready to fire. So I played with it in the house without pulling the trigger, acting like I was shooting bad guys. Eventually, I sat down on my bed and was examining the gun’s stock for nicks or rough spots. I wasn’t thinking, and pulled the lever that cocks the gun to check underneath the stock, unknowingly cocking the gun. As I sat back against the wall, my finger got a little too close to the trigger and BANG! A small, silver BB was lodged in the ceiling! Boy, my old man chewed me a new ass that day! And anytime I asked him to take that BB down, he was like, “Nope. We’re gonna leave it up there forever. So you remember what kind of stupid decision you made, and never do it again.”

I view leaving Confederate statues and flags alone the same way. The Confederacy, and all that came with it, was a shameful mistake in our history. And if our country ever gets to such a point like it was back in 1861, hopefully the statues and flags serve as a warning to avoid another civil war by not making stupid mistakes, by resolving our differences, and learning to treat each other with respect. If we whitewash bad history to avoid offending people, we risk forgetting what got us to that point in the first place.

Hopefully this article has shed some light on what it means to truly be an American. I know it’s not easy to find commonalities that bring us all together in divided times like these, but I believe they are still there. I believe these commonalities always have been there. They’re just harder to see. I hope one day, more people recognize that there are more things that bring us together than divide us. America is sick right now. Lady Liberty has been hurting for years. She’s suffering greatly, and at a tipping point. But if we recognize and hold our commonalities as sacred, America will eventually get up off her knees. She’ll be bolstered by us, her people, and she’ll lead the world into a bright future. I can only hope I live to see that day! God bless you all, and God bless America! 🙂

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A New Way of Thinking

When will we get along? When will the hate on either side of the aisle stop? When will we recognize injustice and do the right thing? I normally don’t get this worn down emotionally. I think I’m actually pretty mentally tough most of the time. But at times where the stupidity, narrow-mindedness, and flat out hate in the world overwhelms me, I have to speak up.

It’s like the wool has been pulled off my eyes and I can see. Sure, I still recognize that CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and all the others will push an agenda on either side of the political spectrum. And if they are doing anything other than reporting the truth through journalism, they should be seriously ashamed of themselves. But before today, I either wouldn’t allow myself to see, or couldn’t see, certain things thanks to the media’s spin. Because of the spin, and the actions of some, I judged all. Because of the actions of some hateful, racist people hijacking Black Lives Matter, as well as looters and rioters ruining what are supposed to be peaceful protests, I couldn’t truly understand the meaning and reasoning behind them. My strong distaste for those up to no good didn’t allow me to see what genuinely good people are trying to accomplish.

Is there crime against all races in this country? Absolutely. Crime is crime. Hate is hate. Wrong is wrong. Period. Nobody gets a free pass. But before George Floyd died, I was so numb to the frequent shootings and deaths in this country against everyone, that I became numb to it and didn’t pay attention. I’d see something like another school shooting, or a crooked cop murdering an innocent person, and I would tune out. “Oh great. Another one. Depressing.” Click. The media had become so saturated with awful things, that I turned it off and turned away. I couldn’t handle it mentally day in, and day out.

That all changed when George Floyd was murdered last Monday. Yes, I watched the video. Yes, I saw a man murdered before my eyes in a slow, agonizing way. I saw the officer pinning him down do absolutely NOTHING but press harder into his neck when bystanders pleaded with him to get off of George. And I saw the expressionless look on that bastard’s face, too.

You ever watch a sad ending to a movie and hope it turns out different? That’s what the video was like for me. I knew George was going to die, but I was in enough shock where as I was watching it, I was like, “No. No way. There’s no way this could really happen. Right? They have to put him in the back of the police cruiser like a normal person.” Unfortunately we all know what happened…

After that, the two thoughts that went through my mind were:

  1. If only they would’ve let him up, he would still be alive. He was cuffed. How could he hurt anyone? If he really WAS that dangerous, have the other officers hold him down like a normal human being until the ambulance arrived: Facedown, cuffed, and with room to breathe.
  2. The cop who knelt on his neck just made the jobs of all decent and good cops that much harder.

After that, I checked into Facebook and saw that the vast majority of my friends were as upset as I was. For as sad as it is, I am actually glad there was an absolute firestorm on social media after George Floyd’s murder. Things like this need exposed. Crooked, evil people need exposed, shamed, fired, and jailed when they commit heinous crimes like that. I still hope the other three former cops involved in George Floyd’s murder are arrested and brought to justice. Every day they aren’t in custody is another day of protests. As it should be.

Where I don’t agree with the reaction to George Floyd’s murder, is with the looters and rioters. I completely understand and agree with peacefully protesting. As a proud American Patriot, I completely agree with my fellow Americans in their right to protest peacefully. Even if I may not always agree with the manner in which they exercise that right.

However, once peacefully protesting turns violent and destructive, I turn my back on it. It still shocks and pisses me off that some are condoning or championing rioting. To them I say: What is the aim? What goal or purpose does destroying communities or businesses serve? There is no purpose to it. And to the looters looking to just steal things like big screen TVs, game systems and other items? Shame on you! You are accomplishing absolutely nothing, and are a disgrace to the memory of George Floyd, our country, and to your family! Some people just flat out suck. You’re firmly in that group.

To get away from all the stress and anger that this thing has caused, I have only tuned into Fox and CNN to see if there are any updates. I don’t stick around once Don Lemon or Sean Hannity push their agendas. An average Joe like this guy can only take so much preaching by pompous windbags until he’s had enough…

We all need to do something constructive in our lives to battle the evil we’ve faced as a nation this last week. I know I’ve personally reached out on Facebook to friends of mine in the black community who are hurting, and I’ve begun reading a book titled The Big Sea by Langston Hughes, a famous black writer and poet. I am a white man, and I will never understand what black people go through when things like the murder of George Floyd happen. But I want to try my best to put myself in their shoes.

People fear, hate and ridicule things and people they do not understand. In a mirror way, people can be taught to love or at least understand things or people different from them, if they are exposed to them or their points of view. This is what I aim to do by reading Langston Hughes’ book, and others like it.

We are all guilty of not being loving enough and compassionate enough. And Jesus Himself even said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” It’s easy to love and stand with those who have a view of the world that is like ours. There is nothing that needs to be done when we love those who are like us. No hard work or personal growth is involved. But Jesus holds us all to a higher standard. He pushes us. He wants us to go one step further. If we can do the hard work of loving and understanding those who are on the polar opposite end of the spectrum from how we think fundamentally, we become more like the people Jesus created us to be.

I challenge you all to do something constructive. Talk to your black friends and listen to them when they tell you how all of this has affected them. Donate to George Floyd’s family. Read books like The Big Sea. Or ask yourself: What are some of my core beliefs about the black community? What truth is there to them, and what might be getting in the way of me seeing the truth and being more compassionate? For it is only by asking ourselves the uncomfortable questions, challenging ourselves in uncomfortable ways, and opening our minds and hearts that we grow as people. And if enough of us do these things, it’ll be how we change society so much, that it gets to the point where it’ll be like Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Take care, be kind to each other, and stay safe everyone. God bless you all!

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My Thoughts on the Murder of George Floyd

I have mostly been laying low and keeping quiet on social media the last 48 hours. Not because I don’t think what happened to George Floyd was wrong. It was indeed wrong. Crooked police officers killed him. In my eyes they murdered him. But I have kept quiet because I am scared of getting ripped apart on cyberspace. I recognize two things: The sadness of the whole situation involving George Floyd and the four police officers, and that tribalism rears its ugly head in emotionally-charged situations.

Goodness, the venom I’ve seen on social media regarding everything is ridiculous. I’ve seen several people on Facebook blame all police for George Floyd’s death, condone and champion the vandalism of police cars and buildings, encourage looting and rioting, and condemnation of anyone who doesn’t react as angrily as they do. And quite frankly, their behavior pisses me off as much as the murder of George Floyd! Aren’t people better and smarter than that?!

The primal, tribal mindset in our country is ridiculous. People seem to be fiercely sticking with “their crowd” and demonizing others. It’s absolutely everywhere. Democrats vs. Republicans. Those who think COVID-19 is a problem vs. those who disregard it. And once again, the African-American community vs. Police Officers. Tribalism is a massive problem in this country. This, combined with emotionally charged situations like what went down in Minneapolis three days ago, makes it near impossible for both sides to come to effective solutions to problems. After all, how can there be an effective solution to any problem when one group of people despises or ridicules the other?

I understand that the death of George Floyd was unnecessary and shouldn’t have happened, and that racism is a problem. But I also notice a common denominator in emotionally charged situations like shootings and police brutality: The people who are the most outraged about things like that, expect problems to be taken care of ASAP. And if they’re not, all unholy hell breaks loose.

But here’s the thing: Combating racism and the other societal evils we see, are not easy fixes. Even though people naively seem to expect them to be. The evil that is the most glaring in our society is also a heart issue. Perhaps it’s a legislative issue in some ways, yes. But the perpetrators of these killings are evil at heart. How can we prevent these crimes from happening when the true problem is an evil person or people? Can we even prevent them? I honestly don’t know.

I also think people are incredibly ineffective when they’re emotional. True, emotion is what stirs us to action and change. It has its rightful place. But people don’t think straight when they’re emotional, and they don’t do as much as they could or should. I have also noticed the same cycle whenever we see the death of a black person on the news:

Outrage and anger -> Demand for change -> Legal action against the perpetrator including prison time -> Silence after any extended period of time -> Repeat.

Nowhere do I see in that cycle any attempt or plan for real change. I also do not see long-term effectiveness of athlete demonstrations. Sure they raise awareness. But that is all athletes like LeBron, Colin Kaepernick and others do. They take the first step and go no further. They call for awareness and change, as they should. But beyond that, they don’t lead the way to the real change they want to see. They don’t specifically say: “Here is my plan for combating the problems I see. Follow me!” If they did that, I guarantee you people would be more active in instituting lasting change in the world.

I also think real change (whatever form it may take) doesn’t happen fast enough, or at all, because people find it far more easy to be outraged and angry, than to think through a problem. They find it far more easy to riot or loot, than to do the right thing. Which in my humble opinion would be for them to do several things:

  1. Recognize the gravity of the situation, but calm down, and don’t demonize other people. Every decent human being thinks it’s horrible whenever an innocent person dies. No one exclusively owns outrage. Many people are upset when things like this happen.
  2. Sit down with local and national human rights groups, identify the specific problems to fix, and formulate a plan to fix them.
  3. Organize and execute peaceful protests.
  4. Work with local and state leaders to change the wrongs they see, such as looking into how police departments under scrutiny, handle racial situations or training of officers. If something is wrong in the higher up chain of command, fix it!

George Floyd dying is tragic. An unarmed man was murdered for no reason. But nothing is going to change. Until a specific plan of action is formulated. In the meantime, I feel that it is our job to treat others with kindness in our small corner of the world: our lives. No matter their skin color or situation. And we should empathize with those who are scared. I have my own life issues to deal with. Everyone does. But I do not know what black people have to deal with when it comes to instances of racial profiling by certain people who have no business wearing the badge. I will never have to deal with that. But the least we can all do, is educate ourselves on what that might be like, study, and put ourselves in their shoes.

Perhaps if we as a society do these things, and become more empathetic toward each other, maybe one day there won’t be situations like this. We can only hope.

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Why I love Buckeye Football

Ohio State Head Coach Ryan Day is set to welcome his players back to campus on June 8th. This is the best sports news I’ve heard in a while! For me, not having hardly any live sports has driven me absolutely crazy! The days cooped up here in the apartment are starting to blend together, and it’s wearing on my sanity. And even though I think there will be college football on a normal schedule starting in very late August or early September, if I don’t get to watch the Buckeyes play, that would absolutely break my heart as a fan.

Some of you are probably chuckling reading this. “It’s just a game. He’ll be fine.” True. It is a game. And I won’t keel over and die if there isn’t any football. But Ohio State football has been a fixture in my life since I was five years old in 1996. A happy thing that always has brought me joy no matter how life is going. To not have that would just be odd, extremely sad, and just plain WEIRD. Every new Ohio State football season is like Christmas in August or September. I don’t need the Coronavirus giving me a lump of coal!

Some of my earliest and happiest memories in life were tied to watching the Buckeyes on Saturday afternoons. The memory has faded a little bit, but I do remember as a 4-5 year old kid, my dad Larry screaming and cheering when Ohio State ripped off a big play, or scored a touchdown. That kind of enthusiasm has a profound effect on a little boy who idolizes his dad. At first I probably thought he was crazy and a tad scary. But it wasn’t long before I was bitten severely buy the Buckeye Bug. I’d scream just as loud as he did if not louder! I picked up my love for, and understanding of the game of football from watching the Buckeyes with him too.

A humorous little tidbit my mom told me sticks with me to this day: Apparently as I was learning the game from Dad, when he cheered, I cheered with him…and then I often asked him what happened afterward. He’d chuckle and explain things, and I would learn that way. My early childhood was a happy one thanks to my parents, and in part because of the boys in the Scarlet and Gray.

But now that I am a grown man, what is it about Ohio State football that gets me wound up waiting for each new season, or for every Saturday kickoff? I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s hard to put into words, but I am going to try.

I think I get excited about Ohio State football for many reasons. Watching and following it gives me so many good things: Time to spend with my family if I’m visiting them, good food to eat if we grill out or eat chili since it’s in cooler weather, and a shared sense of community with them, my friends, and MILLIONS of other Buckeyes everywhere. I could be anywhere in the world, and I bet if I holler “O-H!” in the right place, I would hear an “I-O!” in response from somebody. Being a small part of a community that’s so big, and spanning far and wide is a special feeling. It’s like, “They love Ohio State football too? Well I’ve most likely made a new friend. At least for that Saturday!” Pretty much the whole state of Ohio goes BONKERS whenever there’s a game in Ohio Stadium, or as true Buckeyes call it, “The Horseshoe.”

Script Ohio in the Horseshoe

Not to mention it’s obviously fun to watch a team that wins. A LOT. Ohio State is second in all-time wins in college football history with 924 wins since 1890. Winning has become so synonymous with, and expected at Ohio State, that fans are disappointed and even angry if the team isn’t at least competing for the National Championship every year, if not winning it fairly regularly!

As a natural history buff, I also love the the history and lore of the program. Buckeye football has been shaped by some extremely successful men, such as Paul Brown, (the namesake of the Cleveland Browns and NFL/College Football Hall of Famer), Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel, (all College Football Hall of Famers) Urban Meyer and now Ryan Day. And even if someone is not from Ohio or even the Midwest, chances are, they’ve also heard of The Game, the annual battle the Buckeyes have with their fiercest rivals, the Michigan Wolverines.

What’s so big about this game? Everything! Many editions of The Game have influenced the outcome of who would go to the Rose Bowl, one of the classic bowl games in college football. The battle between Ohio State and Michigan has also influenced who would win the National Championship on many occasions in the past. But I think what makes it so big to me is the mutual respect, yet hardcore, ancient HATRED between the two schools! How would you feel, and what would you do, if someone smacked your little old grandma in the face? You’d want to jump all over them for it and knock them around! That kind of hatred and personal vendetta is just a glimpse into what goes on in the last Saturday in November. Take a look at this video from ESPN and you’ll see what I mean.

Ohio State and Michigan seem to take their annual late November battle like that. 100 percent personal. With a healthy dose of superstition mixed in. Former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer will not even allow students to wear, or bring anything blue into his classroom. If they do, they have to drop and do 20 push-ups before entering. And Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh routinely cracks open buckeye nuts with a hammer on the gravestone of his legendary predecessor, Glenn “Bo” Schembechler, the night before The Game for good luck.

Early happy childhood memories created with my father. A sense of community with countless other Buckeye fans. Elite level college football. And history and passion created and nurtured by Buckeyes of the past, and present for those of the future. That’s why I love Ohio State football so passionately! Being a Buckeye isn’t just fanhood. It’s a way of life! GO BUCKS!

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Answered prayers

I struggle with my faith often. I remember a quote from one of my favorite movies that perfectly encapsulates the struggle: “There are days when I believe. And others, where I have lost all faith.” Matt Murdock had it right in Daredevil. I know exactly where he’s coming from. There are certain days where I do not feel or see God’s presence anywhere. And it’s extremely frustrating when I am trying to find Him but can’t.

Then there are days like today. I woke up this morning, tried to steady my thoughts, and simply thanked God for another day. And I asked Him for strength. I do not remember if I asked Him to show Himself to me. But He did anyway. There are times when my mind is “unlocked.” Freed. Cleared up completely. And I can appreciate life with a greater sense of joy than I normally do. I can clearly appreciate the simple things, like the taste of scrambled eggs in the morning, or the smell of apple cinnamon oatmeal. And later after breakfast, I simply turned on YouTube on my TV, and listened to one of my favorite pieces of music. And it moved me more deeply than it has in a while. It’s sad and haunting for a while, but toward the end of the song, it feels brighter and hopeful. Take a listen:

How fortunate are we if we can appreciate the simple things in life like the taste of food, or hear our favorite pieces of music? Some people can’t taste food. Some people can’t hear. Some people can’t see. Some people can’t talk, and are imprisoned in their own bodies. That seems like a personal, private hell that I would never wish on anyone. And I do not understand why God allows such things. That is one of the questions I will be wrestling with until the day I die.

But I think God showed Himself to me in the form of gratitude. For anything. For another day. For being able to smell and taste food (even if it was instant oatmeal and scrambled eggs), and for being able to hear good music. He also showed Himself to me in the form of gratitude for my friends and family. I am grateful that my Mom, Dad and Sister are only a phone call or text away. I’m excited to possibly FaceTime with my buddies Tony and Michael tonight. Folks, just imagine: Three men with Cerebral Palsy just driving each other to laughing fits within minutes over anything! Sports and talking smack to each other since Tony and I are Browns fans and Michael is a Steelers fan, funny jokes, dating stories…the list goes on!

But I took things one step further: God does indeed show Himself. Sometimes through gratitude. Sometimes through the love of other people with a hug, kiss, or kind and encouraging word to lift us up when we feel down. Sometimes through wisdom or learning something profound. Sometimes through darker things, like forcing us to lean on Him through suffering, anger or pain. But He is everywhere. He is not a lifeless, “wooden” God created as a construct for society as some believe. They’re mistaking faith and religion. Those are two very different things. He’s not Santa Claus for adults. And He is not confined to the Bible. Yes, scripture is His roadmap for us, and I confess I don’t read it anywhere near often enough. But God is so much more. He is alive. In us. In others. In nature. In those times when we have the most unexpectedly profound thoughts that we know could not have come from us.

God is nearby. I just wish he revealed Himself to me more often. How do you find Him? How does He come to you? Feel free to chime in with a comment, or meditate on these things yourself 🙂

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A blast from the past: GREED

Everyone knows classic game shows like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Family Feud and Match Game. But I’ve been watching one of my old favorites on YouTube the past couple of days to pass the time. And keep my sanity, haha. But one thing is clear: I feel the need for Greed!

“It’s the most dangerous game show in television history. Tonight, one player could walk away with $2 Million. Welcome…to GREED!

Greed was an old game show that ran from November 1999 to July 2000. And I feel it never got the respect or love it deserved. It could’ve been a household name. But for some reason, it only ran for one season. Everything about the show was great, though! A funny, likable host in Chuck Woolery, an announcer with a big booming voice in Mark Thompson, suspenseful, tense music, teamwork between players, and MASSIVE stakes!

Teams of five players led by a team captain determined by a qualifying round, would answer progressively harder questions, starting at $25,000, and progressing toward $2 Million (or in special episodes of Super Greed, $4 Million). They’d climb the Tower of Greed!

Questions would start out with one right answer out of four possibilities. Only one person would have to answer. Easy enough, right? Well, if a team made it to the $100,000 question, the questions would not only get tougher, the team would have to provide more right answers, with each team member giving one of the answers. The questions would start out with one right answer out of four, then four out of six, then four out of seven, and eventually four out of eight.

Tower of Greed

As the game progressed far enough, things would get tougher and more tense. And teammates would have the option to turn on each other, steal each other’s money, and eliminate each other from the game. Cue one of my childhood nightmares: The Terminator! I know Arnold Schwarzenegger was scary as THE Terminator, but I don’t even think he would scare me as much as this used to, haha. The music from this part of the game scared the hell out of me as an eight-year old kid! Take a listen for yourself:

Whenever it was time to shake up the game and bring the Terminator into play, usually a music cue would play, and Chuck Woolery would press a button, activating a sort of Roulette style machine that eventually chose one of the players. There was already a tense situation and suspenseful, scary music. This took things up a notch. Plus Chuck would always say the classic phrase: “The Terminator has chosen YOU.” That always gave me chills!

At this point, the chosen player would have the option to challenge one of their teammates for their money, and eliminate them from the game if they could buzz in and quickly and correctly answer a trivia question. If in the case the team captain was challenged and eliminated, the person who won the challenge would assume the captain role, and become the new team leader.

The captain’s role in the game was an intriguing one. The captain would decide how far the team would go, and whether or not to risk moving on to the next question. They’d have to trust their that their teammates gave the correct answer. It would probably be tough to trust complete strangers to know the right answer…as well as not stab you in the back! If they didn’t trust an answer, they could veto it, and replace it with one of their own.

No one ever won the top $2 Million prize on Greed. Although one man came tantalizingly close…losing all his money and the game on the absolute final answer he gave. I couldn’t imagine losing that kind of money in the blink of an eye. Some of my friends would say I’m crazy at times. And I would’ve been a riverboat gambler on Greed if I thought I could go far. But even I would chicken out on that one! I would’ve taken $200,00 or $400,000 and ran!

If I had to venture a guess as to why Greed was canceled, it’s probably because no one was ever crazy, smart and lucky enough to win the $2 Million or $4 Million grand prize. Sure, it shouldn’t be easy to win it all in big game shows like that. But perhaps the show would’ve continued, and players would’ve been more aggressive, if they saw it was indeed possible to win the whole thing. If Greed were ever revived, I think it would be a big hit, and much better than most of the stuff on TV today. A good chunk of people probably love action, suspense and high stakes. Although I think it will stay right where it is, unfortunately: On YouTube, in the vault, and in my nostalgic memories.

What are some of your favorite classic game shows that are no longer around? Hit me with ’em in the comments!

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Battling negative self-talk

I don’t know how many of you struggle with negative self-talk from time to time. I’m sure we all do at some point. Even the most positive and happy people sometimes have to battle their minds. The human mind is a brilliant but sometimes difficult thing. This was especially true for me Tuesday night. After coming back to my apartment from spending a weekend with my parents, I decided to mill around on Tinder. I initially swore off using any dating apps since I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about online dating. But last month, on the advice of a friend encouraging me to do so, I signed up for it. I was just looking to chat with women and make new friends. And if I happened to hit it off with one of them, I’d cross that bridge when I got there. So far, I haven’t had much luck. I’ve chatted with a few women on there, and they all seem nice. But nothing has really gone anywhere. I haven’t heard back from any of them since when I first interacted with them.

This got to me big time on Tuesday night. I just remember getting no likes back and thinking, “Why would any of these girls like you? You’re unattractive. Ugly. And you don’t have a job yet. Why would they give you the time of day, you bum?”

Unless someone knows how to get to me, I think I have a pretty thick skin with strangers for the most part. But I just remember getting emotional, and seeing the reason I wasn’t getting any interest from anyone, as something wrong with me as a person. Not my current situation, but me as a person. Like I wasn’t cool, or I was unworthy of anyone’s company or love. I felt small. God that hurt. Sometimes my mind isn’t always the happiest place. Sometimes it holds me hostage…

But after calming down, and stepping back from the situation for a few minutes, I asked myself a few questions and answered them honestly. “What are you feeling?” I’m feeling angry at myself for not being good enough, and sad because no one will talk to me. “Why are you feeling that?” I’m feeling this way because no one wants to talk to me on Tinder when I’m being my usual, friendly self. And the last and most important one: “Is there any truth to what you are telling yourself?” And that’s where my mind shut the hell up with the negativity. The truth is, there wasn’t any legitimate reason I was feeling this way. I just wasn’t examining things closely or being kind to myself.

After I realized I couldn’t answer the last question with a “yes.” I started boosting myself up with what I knew to be the truth: I am not a bum. And I am certainly not a loser. And anyone who doesn’t want to hang out with me or be my friend (or girlfriend) is missing out. Not me. I’m doing just fine without them. I recognized my positive qualities too. I am a decent man who loves people. I love helping people have good days or feel better. I have a sense of humor that could put most people in stitches when I get rolling. And I have a genuinely caring personality, and am naturally suited to looking after my friends, family, or that special someone if she is there. That’s who I am. Not who my mind sometimes tells me that I am.

I also began to truly see how a lot of women are on Tinder: A good chunk of them are so vain. They’re not looking for anyone as a friend or boyfriend. And they certainly aren’t looking to talk to or interact with anyone. That would require effort. They merely want an ego boost from all the right swipes they get. And why in the world would I want to be friends with, or date a woman like that? I wouldn’t. And chances are, if I did talk to someone like that, she’d probably be dumber than a bag of hammers and not very nice, no matter how physically gorgeous she is!

It felt freeing to break out of the negative mindset, realize my positive qualities, and see the truth. My self-worth is not tied to whether or not women talk to me, or get to know me. On Tinder or anywhere else. Who cares what they or other people think? Why would I give their negative opinion of me (if they have one) a second thought? They don’t know me, and so their opinion of me is probably way off anyhow.

I leave you with two pieces of advice. Not just for finding and making friends, or finding that special someone, but for life and self-esteem in general. One: In a situation where you find yourself plagued by negative self-talk like I did, ask yourself the three questions: What am I feeling? Why am I feeling it? Is there any truth to it? If you find yourself answering yes to question #3, ask and answer a fourth question: How can I change my situation to be more positive since I don’t like it? Then act.

My second piece of advice is this, and I am going to put this in bold letters so it’s easy to find and remember: Your self-worth is not tied to anyone’s opinion of you. Let me repeat that a bit more forcefully. Your self-worth is not tied to anyone’s opinion of you. EVER! Your self-worth is tied to your positive qualities, and the good things you can bring to the lives of others. And if other people cannot see those positive qualities, they’re not meant to be in your life, and you wouldn’t want them anyway.

We all bring positive qualities to the lives of those who know us. God made us this way. And it is awful that more people don’t realize this, or that they beat themselves up like I did Tuesday night. Remember YOUR own positive qualities, and be happy with the life you’ve been given. Man is God’s greatest creation. And you are no exception. Chances are, the right people will see that you know what you bring to the table, and gravitate toward you once they get to know you. For anyone struggling out there: Chin up, be yourself and move forward. You’re pretty damn cool! 🙂

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Cleveland Browns 2020 Schedule and Prediction

The Coronavirus has taken a lot of sports away. And for those of you who don’t know me, I am a HUGE sports nut! So in these crazy times, whenever there is a nugget of interesting sports information about one of my favorite teams, I eat it up! I have always loved football. It’s my favorite sport, and even though some would call me a glutton for punishment, I am a passionate Cleveland Browns fan!

The Browns drastically underachieved last season, going 6-10 when many thought they would make the Playoffs, win the AFC North, or just maybe, seriously compete for a Super Bowl. The team was (and still is) extremely talented on paper. But games, division titles, and Super Bowls aren’t won or lost on paper. They are won or lost on the football field.

I think it’s safe to say that many Browns fans (myself included) would love nothing more than to just put the 2019 season in the rear view mirror. I already have. It’s time to look forward and move on. After a solid Draft by General Manager Andrew Berry, along with some key free agent signings that shored up the team’s weakest area in the offensive line, I was already looking forward to this fall. Then the NFL released the schedules for all 32 teams last week, and I saw many opportunities for the Browns to succeed this year! Let’s take a look shall we?

Week 1: at Baltimore (September 13th)

The talent the Browns have will immediately be tested when they travel to M&T Bank Stadium to face the defending AFC North Champion Baltimore Ravens, led by their dynamic quarterback, 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. The Browns surprised many people last season when they went into Baltimore and absolutely embarrassed the Ravens, 40-25. Baltimore had a fantastic 14-2 season, with one of their two losses being a black eye to the Browns. While the Browns have improved themselves in both Free Agency and the Draft, I see them falling in the season opener in a close loss, as the Ravens get a measure of revenge for last year.

Pick: Ravens 23, Browns 20

Season record: 0-1

Week 2: vs Cincinnati (September 17th)

The Browns won’t have much time to lick their wounds from a heartbreaker at Baltimore, as they will have a quick turnaround, and face the Cincinnati Bengals at home in front of the Dawg Pound on Thursday Night Football. Browns fans are always passionate. But after all that everyone has had to go through with the COVID-19 pandemic, I expect the first home game of the season to be an absolute MADHOUSE! 70,000+ barking and howling Browns fans will make FirstEnergy Stadium sound like the world’s largest kennel! I expect the Browns to feed off that energy. The defense, led by fearsome pass rusher Myles Garrett, will pressure Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow into several bad throws, and sack him numerous times. The defense will have a field day. On the other side of things, I expect Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to have plenty of time to throw behind an improved offensive line. The running game, led by Pro Bowl tailback Nick Chubb, will run all over the Cincinnati defense. The Browns win this one big in front of the home fans!

Pick: Browns 31, Bengals 13

Season record: 1-1

Week 3: vs. Washington (September 27th)

After a dominant performance against a struggling Bengals team that went 2-14 last year, the Browns get another home game against a rebuilding team in the Washington Redskins. I felt awful for former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins. In his rookie season as the starter for the Redskins, he was basically tossed to the wolves with no help whatsoever, and his team limped to a 3-13 record. Things won’t be much better when a bunch of Dawgs are chasing after him in his Ohio homecoming! The Browns beat up on another struggling team at home in Cleveland.

Pick, Browns 30, Redskins 14

Season record: 2-1

Week 4: at Dallas (October 4th)

After two straight wins, the Browns look to make it three in a row as they travel to Dallas. Or as fans sometimes call it, “Jerryworld” in a nod to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Like Cleveland, Dallas had high expectations but a disappointing season, going 8-8 in 2019. The Cowboys have also had issues signing their franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott, to a new contract that is agreeable to both parties.

However, like the Ravens were in Week 1, the Cowboys are also another test for the Browns against a playoff-caliber team. And like the Ravens, I see this one as a loss for them. The Browns seem stuck on taking that “next step.” The step where they go from beating bad teams and climbing the ranks, to competing with, and frequently beating playoff contenders. They haven’t taken that step yet. They either play up or down to their competition. And I see that trend unfortunately continuing. Dak Prescott gets harassed by the Browns defense, but tailback Ezekiel Elliot and rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb bail him out before the Browns can bring him down. The Cowboys make just enough plays to beat the Browns in Big D.

Pick: Cowboys 23, Browns 17

Season record: 2-2

Week 5: At Indianapolis (October 11th)

This next game is a toss up. The Browns and Colts are in the same boat. One team was 6-10 last season, while the other was 7-9. But the Colts went out and signed veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers, who last played for the Los Angeles Chargers. Even though he’s 38 years old, he’s a 3x Pro-Bowler, and the last time he faced the Browns as a member of the Chargers, he led LA to a blowout win in Cleveland. A big part of this was because he was a master at breaking down the defense before the ball was even snapped. Simply put, a lot of the time, he knew what the Browns were trying to do, and he was able to counter their defensive scheme before they got to him. I look for new Browns Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods to have his hands full shutting down the veteran quarterback. Coach Frank Reich and the Colts beat the Browns in a close one.

Pick: Colts 21, Browns 17

Season record: 2-3

Week 6: At Pittsburgh (October 18th)

The Browns/Steelers game is almost always interesting. Yes, Cleveland has only beaten Pittsburgh a handful of time since their return to the league in 1999. But the rivalry heated up a little last season. The two teams split the season series in 2019, with the Browns and Steelers each defending home turf. The Browns convincingly beat the Steelers in Cleveland 21-7 in 2019, and forced rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph into four turnovers. Near the end of the game, Rudolph antagonized Myles Garrett, with Garrett hitting him in the head with his helmet in the process. That was like lighting the fuse to a powder keg! Two weeks later the Steelers beat the Browns in Pittsburgh, 20-13, denying the Browns their first win in Pittsburgh since 2003, and their first season sweep of the Steelers since 1988.

Ben Roethlisberger knows a thing or two about beating the Browns. He’s only lost to Cleveland three times in his 16-year career. He’s big, strong, tough to bring down and he’s a future Hall of Famer. The Browns defense will do enough to keep Cleveland in the game, and get decent pressure on him. But he’ll return from Tommy John surgery and do well like he always seems to do against Cleveland. Plus there is something about playing in Pittsburgh that does not bode well for the Browns. They haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 2003, and they’ll have to wait another year to try again.

Pick: Steelers 24, Browns 21

Season record: 2-4

Week 7: vs. Cincinnati (October 25th)

At this point, the Browns are reeling. They’ve suffered three straight losses, all to three prospective playoff teams. They are on the brink of falling out of the Playoff hunt early. But right on cue, the antidote arrives in the form of a home game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Like in their first meeting, the Browns defense gets after Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. And on the other side, the Browns impose their will on the Bengals with the running game, and roll to their first win in four games.

Pick: Browns 24, Bengals 13

Season record: 3-4

Week 8: vs. Las Vegas (November 1st)

This has the potential to be another winnable game for the Browns. The 2019 Raiders season was a tale of two different teams. In the first stretch of the season, they started 6-4, and won close games. But by the end of the year, they had lost five of their final six games. Many of them were blowout losses, and they slid to 7-9. Add in a relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas, and it’s probably been a rough year or so to be a Raiders fan. This one is a gut feeling for me, but I don’t see the Raiders as a playoff team. And the Browns have managed to beat bad or middle of the pack teams thus far. It’ll be a long trip from Cleveland back to Vegas after the Browns get another win.

Pick: Browns, 24, Raiders 17

Season record: 4-4

Week 10: vs Houston (November 15th)

After a bye week, the Browns defend home turf against the Houston Texans, a team that won the AFC South and went 10-6 a year ago, before falling to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Playoffs. So far this season, the Browns have struggled with taking care of business against true playoff teams, and I see that trend continuing. If the team used the rest they got during the bye week, it could be good for them heading into a big football game like this. They’ll compete against Houston. Unfortunately, the Texans prove to be too much for a talented but young Browns team.

Pick: Texans 28, Browns 17

Season record: 4-5

Week 11: vs. Philadelphia (November 22nd)

The Browns get a chance to right the ship at home, as they battle the Philadelphia Eagles in Cleveland the week before Thanksgiving. The Eagles, while winning the NFC East last year at 9-7, seem like the Browns in that they often play up or down to their level of competition. Before they rebounded to win their division last season, Philly had a few embarrassing losses, including to bad teams like the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons. The tendency to play up or down to the level of their competition is a weakness. A weakness the Browns exploit, as they finally learn how to get a win against a fellow playoff contender!

Pick: Browns, 21, Eagles 17

Season record: 5-5

Week 12: at Jacksonville (November 29th)

The Browns escape the chilly Northeast Ohio weather, and fly down to Florida to lock horns with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars may have had a magical 2017 season in which they won the AFC South, and came within striking distance of appearing in the Super Bowl that year. But those days are long gone, with the Jags going a combined 11-21 in 2018 and 2019. They have fallen back to the bottom part of the league. The Browns enjoy some nice, warm, Florida weather, and a red-hot day by Baker Mayfield and the offensive unit. The Cleveland Browns beat up on yet another bad team, as they win this one going away to get above .500!

Pick: Browns, 34, Jaguars 17

Season record: 6-5

Week 13: at Tennessee (December 6th)

This is one the Browns definitely have circled on the calendar. Why? Because the Titans absolutely EMBARRASSED them in Cleveland last season 43-13. I have rarely hurt that much from a Browns loss. And those who know the Browns and their fans know that we’ve suffered through many excruciating losses. I worked for the Cleveland Browns last season as a Guest Services agent. The hype surrounding the 2019 team was something I had never seen before. Thousands of fans bought into it. I was one of them. I thought 2019 was finally going to be the year the Cleveland Browns would return to the top of the division and the NFL for the first time in decades. Boy did Tennessee bring that down to earth with a THUD. And on opening week to boot.

The Browns remember this, and use it as fuel to go after the Titans in Nashville. They get in a dogfight with Tennessee, and it goes down to the wire. Unfortunately, Cleveland loses a very close, defensive battle.

Pick: Titans 17, Browns 16

Season record: 6-6

Week 14: vs. Baltimore (December 14th)

This is arguably the biggest game of the season for the Browns up to this point. Revenge game. Rivalry game. Division and Playoff implications on the line. Under the lights for the whole country to see on Monday Night Football. And at home in Cleveland in front of the CRAZIEST fans in the league!

If Baker Mayfield and the Browns wanted to put together a signature win for 2020, this is it right here. And they get it done. Feeding off the electric energy of the Dawg Pound, the Browns bring their A-game. The blocks by the offensive line are solid. The throws are on target. And they grind out yards in the running game against a tough Ravens defense. The Browns defense seals the win, containing Lamar Jackson and forcing him into a desperation throw that’s intercepted by Denzel Ward as time expires. BROWNS WIN!

Pick: Browns 20, Ravens 17

Season record: 7-6

Week 15: At New York Giants (December 20th)

Coming off the high of beating their bitter rivals in one of the biggest games in years, the Cleveland Browns travel to the Big Apple to take on the New York Giants in MetLife Stadium. The Giants don’t bother me as much as the Browns possibly having a victory hangover after beating the Ravens. But rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski has been all business since the day he arrived in Cleveland. And he’ll help the Browns take a businesslike mentality into this one. In a duel featuring the top two picks from the 2018 NFL Draft, Baker Mayfield and the Browns get the better of Saquon Barkley and the Giants. Barkley stands out as one of the few bright spots for the Giants here, as the Browns struggle to shut him down.

But unfortunately for the Giants, the Browns defensive front gets to second-year quarterback Daniel Jones, sacking him hard and often. And when he’s upright and not picking turf out of his facemask, Jones struggles to find open receivers, as the Browns secondary has everyone covered. It’s a good day in the Big Apple for Baker Mayfield and the Browns.

Pick: Browns 31, Giants 13

Season record: 8-6

Week 16: At New York Jets (December 27th)

Two days after Christmas, the Cleveland Browns return to MetLife Stadium again to battle the New York Jets. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold gets to face the Browns for the second time in his career, after being out for a good chunk of 2019 with the flu. Unfortunately for him, his day against Cleveland doesn’t go well. The Browns defensive line overwhelms him like they did to Daniel Jones one week earlier, and Cleveland rolls to their third straight win!

Pick: Browns 24, Jets 13

Season record: 9-6

Week 17: vs. Pittsburgh (January 3rd, 2021)

It all comes down to this. The 2020 season ends against the Browns’ chief rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Like they did going into the game at home against the Ravens a few weeks ago, the Browns have revenge on their minds when Pittsburgh rolls into bitterly cold, snowy Cleveland to ring in 2021.

But don’t expect these teams to exchange warm New Year’s greetings. The Browns and Steelers love to hate each other. They’ve been beating the snot out of each other since 1950. And they’ll be doing it long after we’re gone.

A cold, snowy game forces both teams to rely more on the run than the pass. This is where the Browns have the edge over the Steelers. By this point in the season, I’d imagine any defensive front would be a little tired and banged up. And tackling Browns running back Nick Chubb would be the last thing they’d want to do. The man is like a boulder rolling downhill when he picks up speed. A 227-pound bowling ball! And who could forget fellow Browns running back Kareem Hunt? Those two make one of the best backfields in the NFL!

Chubb goes over 100 yards for the game, and Kareem Hunt chips in as both a runner and pass catcher. And while the Steelers are so focused on slowing down the Browns two-headed rushing attack, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is able to take his shots downfield when he gets the chance. And he picks the Steelers apart like a doctor performing surgery.

This is too much for Pittsburgh. The Browns beat the Steelers at home in the last game of the year, sending the Dawg Pound into an absolute frenzy! The Browns not only beat the Steelers to end the year, they may have just punched their ticket to the Playoffs for the first time since January 2003!

Pick: Browns 21, Steelers 17

Season record: 10-6

Playoffs: AFC Wild Card

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How do we reflect Jesus?

I have always believed that we all have gifts that are given to us by God at the moment of our birth, and realized sometime later through our own lives and His guidance. Whether we know or believe it or not. There are many people in my life whose gifts I can clearly see as a manifestation of the love of Jesus Christ on earth. Teachers, healthcare workers, my own family, priests, manual labor workers… They are all there. When they approach their chosen profession with passion and a sincere heart to love and serve others, they are like Him.

Reflection of Jesus as a Teacher

Many of the good teachers who I know, or who I have had the pleasure of learning from as either a young boy or grown man, clearly show the love of Jesus through their profession. They could be the teachers of young children. If they are, their love for children and their passion for teaching them show a reflection of Jesus and who He is. He always loved and protected the little ones. In Matthew 19:14 Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these. In the same way, the truly good teachers of young children look after, and care for their well-being first and foremost.

If they are high school teachers or college professors, I view them also like Jesus, but in a different way. Jesus taught the adults, but was more stern and direct with them than the children when He needed to be. The best teachers I have had in high school and college have been this way. Compassionate and understanding, but also not afraid to be stern with me when I wasn’t listening or understanding something I should understand. Jesus was repeatedly stern with Peter, who wanted to do the right thing, but who often put his foot in his mouth. But Jesus loved Peter, and helped him realize his potential as the leader of the early Church. My teachers and professors did the same thing for me by setting me up to realize my potential. And teachers do the same for all of us.

Reflection of Jesus as caregiver and healer

Healthcare workers reflect Jesus as well, through their compassion for the sick and injured. Jesus never turned away those who truly needed His care. Neither do the best doctors and nurses. While we know doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers cannot perform healing miracles like Jesus, it is the spirit in which they approach people which makes them like Him. Jesus didn’t reject the leper, paralytic, or blind man. He readily healed them out of His infinite love and mercy. In the same way, truly good healthcare workers take in the sickest among us with a compassionate heart, and a desire to heal. For the scripture showing Jesus’ compassion and mercy as a healer, look at Matthew 8 for the healing of the leper, Mark 2 for the healing of the paralytic, and John 9 for the healing of the blind man.

I may not have known it at the time, but looking back now, I have certainly experienced the love and care of Jesus in this way. Mostly through the doctors, nurses and caregivers who watched over me when I recovered from two painful surgeries on my legs. There was never a time where the doctors and nurses treated me poorly. Under the confident, watchful eye of the doctor, I felt safe and in good hands. And in the hospitality and incredible kindness from the nurses, I felt loved and taken care of. If my personal examples, or the examples you hear about doctors and nurses treating Coronavirus patients aren’t a direct reflection of Jesus, what is?

Reflection of Jesus as a manual laborer

Jesus can also be found in the humility of those who perform manual labor jobs, such as a retail worker, trucker, or those in a trade. Jesus Himself worked a trade as a carpenter under his father Joseph. I always find it beautiful that Jesus, God in the flesh, was a humble, lowly carpenter before His ministry. Seeing Him as a carpenter reminds me of those who might be a retail worker, trucker, electrician or plumber: The job they do may not seem important, but if they didn’t do their job, we’d all be in a world of hurt. This article I found had a really neat alternate meaning of the word “carpenter” and helped me to connect how I see Jesus present in this example. I imagine those who perform “everyday jobs” are most like Jesus when they humbly do their jobs and serve others with the attitude that He had. They quietly go about their business, and help others in whatever way they can.

Reflection of Jesus from priests and pastors

While this last example may seem obvious, I feel it is still necessary to include how Jesus is reflected in the best priests and pastors. The best priests and pastors offer counsel (teaching), and consolation for those of us who are struggling in our faith. Two men come to mind when I think of great pastors or priests: Joe Coffey of Christ Community Chapel in Hudson, Ohio. And the late Ernest Waechter, or as I know him, “Father Ernie.” He was one of the priests I grew up around in my hometown of Carey, Ohio.

Pastor Coffey is a great man in my mind because he always has such a knack for breaking down hard to understand Biblical concepts into easy to digest teachings or messages. And he often demonstrates this in his sermons. This was not unlike the way Jesus would demonstrate things He wanted the Apostles to learn by telling parables or stories. He used parables to simplify things for Peter and the others. Some of the most memorable parables are the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Parable of the Mustard Seed, Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the Parable of the Fig Tree.

Along with those who are excellent teachers like Pastor Joe Coffey, there are also men of God who are excellent at consoling people, and helping them to renew their strength in Jesus. Father Ernie was one of them. I still clearly remember an instance of confession that will stick with me until my dying breath.

I don’t know if any of you were raised Catholic. I was. And I was always scared to death of going to Confession. That booth made me feel claustrophobic, and being able to hear the priest but not see him was scary. I was ashamed of telling my sins to priests, as I was often intimidated by them too. But Father Ernie was one of the most compassionate men I have ever met. In my confession, I told him that I was deathly scared I was losing my faith, and that I was in trouble with God. I was in tears. But instead of chastising me or judging me, he simply put his hand on my shoulder and reminded me that even the Apostles themselves were weak in their faith time and again. And then he told me how Thomas doubted Jesus, and how Peter denied Him, but that Jesus forgave them both.

I’ll never forget looking up at Father Ernie through tear-filled eyes and seeing a calm, warm, compassionate smile on his face. I walked out of there with a renewed sense of peace and strength. I’m sure you all know someone who just seems to be closer to God, or where you would want to be in following Him. For me, one of those people is Father Ernie. He’s in Heaven, or I’m in serious trouble!

Where do you see Jesus?

I encourage you to think of people you know who perform jobs where you can actively see Jesus at work through them. Or perhaps look inside yourself, and see what skills or talents you have that can help you to mirror Him. I am still looking for ways in which I can see Jesus in myself or the skills that I have. I don’t often see Him in the man that I am. But then again, I am my own worst critic. But if we see Jesus in ourselves and others through our best qualities, perhaps we can truly do whatever we were put on this Earth to do in order to be more like Jesus, and glorify Him. Whatever that may be. Take care and God bless you all! 🙂

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A new understanding

Hey everybody! Hope everyone’s doing well. I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I try not to force anything, or write when my heart isn’t in it. And I haven’t really been inspired to write much lately. Although that changed after something definitely caught my attention, and I felt I had to share it.

I watched the movie An Interview With God last night, and let me just say, wow! It’s definitely a thought provoking movie, and has caused me to look at God a little differently. I understand the movie is a fictional story (obviously), but there are four things the man who is supposed to be God says that definitely opened my eyes:

  1. “Faith is a journey. Not a destination. It’s a lot like a marriage.”
  2. “The Bible is the Word of God, but it’s interpreted by man.”
  3. “I gave you the New Law thinking it would make more sense.”
  4. “I always try to communicate with my children. But often you don’t listen.”

Faith as a journey, not a destination

This first statement by “God” is a comforting one for me, because I often feel like if I do not read the Bible every day, or pray every day, or pray “good enough” that I will never become the man God made me to be. The tough part with that is, if I think that way, I will get discouraged, constantly beat myself up, and never get to a point where I feel like I am following God the best that I can. We all need to follow and learn from God the best we can in our own way, and then wherever the gap is, God’s grace and forgiveness can cover us. No one was a worthy follower of God. Ever. And no one will ever be. The only worthy follower of God was Jesus Christ Himself. And it is that worthiness that made Him the ultimate sacrifice for humanity.

Faith is a daily growth process. Some days I am on fire, I’m so jacked up, excited, ready to learn, and I can see God absolutely everywhere! Pardon my French folks, but I’m kicking ass and dialed in on those days! Other days, I struggle mightily. I sometimes feel like God doesn’t hear me or my prayers, that my unbelief or doubt blocks my mind from seeing God or learning ANYTHING from Him, or that He’s angry with me and turning His back on me.

But I have never abandoned my faith. Even on my worst day. I’ve been angry, sad, frustrated and devastated, but I have never fully given up hope. Nor have I become so arrogant on my strongest days to think it will never be tested or shaken. There are ups and downs. Peaks and valleys for you, me, and all of those who truly wrestle and question their faith. And the quote “Faith is a journey. Not a destination” comforts me so much. You will have ups and downs. It’s guaranteed. For those of you who are married folks, you’ll understand the marriage/faith analogy better than I will since you have a spouse, and I do not. I like when God says in the movie that faith is a lot like a marriage. It shows me that up and down days are completely normal, and to keep trying and keep going.

The Bible is The Word of God, interpreted by Man

I grinned when I first heard this while watching the movie. Partly because I am glad that I am on the right track in that understanding of the Bible. And partly because I imagine self-righteous holy rollers hearing that, and steam coming out of their ears before they condemn whoever directed the movie! I had to smile and chuckle, and nod my head.

Their belief that the Bible is infallible by their strict interpretation drives me crazy! Yes, the core concepts of all that happened in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, Jesus being who He is, His miracles, Crucifixion and Resurrection are all intact. As they should be. But there are SO many translations of the Bible throughout the last 2,000 years, that it is impossible to me, that a human writer didn’t leave things gray or vague somewhere, or mess up.

Yes they were inspired by God, but they were still flawed and prone to error from being human. Some, such as the Apostle John, heard from God directly, such as when he wrote Revelation while in exile on the island of Patmos. I couldn’t imagine physically seeing God, or hearing His voice. I’d be scared to death! But imagine for a second that you are John and a vision of a time thousands of years into the future is shown to you. Or you’re Isaiah, and you see a vision of a man being crucified nearly two thousand years into the future, long after you know you’ll be dead. You’re not going to be able to fully understand what you’re seeing or hearing. So what do you do? You explain what you see in the terms and language that you know. Which is how we get the Book of Revelation, and Isaiah 53, or the Suffering Servant chapter of Old Testament scripture that many believe foretells Jesus’ death on the Cross.

In these two examples there arise several points of contention between many different people. Revelation is so chock full of symbolism that it could mean so many things. And Isaiah 53 is a hotly debated piece of scripture between Jewish and Christian theologians. One side sees the chapter as a metaphorical story for the suffering of the nation of Israel, while the other sees it as a direct reference to Jesus, perhaps THE most direct reference to Jesus in Old Testament prophecy.

My point is, that the Bible, while true in many ways, does leave a lot open to interpretation if one truly examines and questions it, thanks to the human authors who wrote it while being spoken to or inspired by God. I’m grateful that whoever directed this movie had the humility to realize that when we go beyond what we know to be true in the Bible, everyone could have their own, slightly different (or completely different) interpretation.

God gave us the New Law

This one was interesting. I already knew that Jesus professed to be bringing the New Law to earth, but it was still an eye opener to hear God say he basically changed His mind in the movie. Forgive me for heavily paraphrasing here folks, but I remember hearing something like “I gave you the Law of Moses, and as you grew, I gave you the New Law with Jesus.”

Hearing that opened my eyes, because it made God so much more relatable to me. Before I heard this in the movie, I always had trouble understanding how Jesus’ teachings build on what we know from Moses and the Old Testament. I also always had this view that once God had made up His mind in giving the Old Law to Moses, that He couldn’t change His mind, or that would somehow make Him “not God.” So I saw Him as rigid and immovable in that sense.

But here’s the thing: If God is who we believe Him to be, He can do whatever He wants. He is all-powerful! And what He seems to want to do is teach us by giving us faith in Jesus, so we shouldn’t restrict Him in our own minds. It would seem arrogant to do so. This is where I would have a point of contention with Jewish theologians. Some of them believe that God is one, that there is no Holy Spirit, and that Jesus is a failed messiah based on what they know of the Torah. But when they put limits on God, they are making the same mistake in their thinking that I used to make: They are compartmentalizing Him. They are putting God in a box, and denying that He has the power to do anything. Including show up in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.

I don’t ever want to diminish Him, but when the God character in the movie explained why He changed His mind between the Old Law and New Law, it almost made Him more like us. Dare I say more human-like? Imagine a story for a second. A father has very young children. These children don’t know right from wrong yet. They’re toddlers or babies. He teaches them the basics of right and wrong, as well as respect for him as their father. Sometimes he disciplines them, and is strict with them so they’ll remember what’s important. Then as they grow, they are taught respect, love and compassion for others, even for those they may not like.

This is how I see the transition from the Old Law of Moses to the New Law established by Jesus. The Jewish people of Jesus’ time already followed the Old Law. Many followed it well. Especially the Rabbis and Pharisees. But it was time for the people to go beyond animal sacrifices, not mixing foods or fabrics, and other things of that nature. So Jesus came to earth to teach them and us, that we needed to learn the deeper meaning of what it meant to truly love and serve God by focusing on loving humanity in many different ways. Ways that are simple in definition, but very difficult to practice.

I also view people who hear, and reject Jesus, no matter what faith they have, like stubborn children in the “father story.” They know of and hear what he is trying to teach them. But for whatever reason, they don’t want to listen. Whether it’s stubbornness, or being set in their ways and fearing being pushed outside their comfort zone. I definitely count myself on this list. I am stubborn, and I don’t listen to God as much as I should. And I often fear life when I don’t always know where I am going. But Jesus bringing the New Law was like God saying, “Okay. You know the Law of Moses well enough. You’re ready for something more advanced. The Teacher has just arrived. Listen to Him.”

God always tries to speak to us, but we don’t listen

This last quote from God in the movie was cool to me because I think it helped me to solve my own problem with how I pray. Or at least it helped me to see the problem, and I can work on correcting it. But in the movie, God was chastising the man interviewing Him for not listening for answers after praying. That is me. To a tee. I pray, and then I often don’t hear or see answers to my prayers, and I feel like God either didn’t hear me, or that He’s just left me here to stumble around aimlessly.

But it’s hard to listen to God when we’re constantly expecting whatever it is we want, and not the lesson or wisdom behind whatever it is that He’s trying to teach us. I blame my problem with this on my impatience with life. Instead, I need to pray sincerely for whatever it is that I want or need, sit back, and listen or look. And if God doesn’t answer that particular prayer, I need to accept it and try to move forward instead of being frustrated or angry. I need to calm my mind and listen for if He’s talking to me.

All in all, An Interview With God is a great movie! It’s a wonderful way to either reaffirm your faith, teach you a new understanding of how God works, or both. While I know it is a fictional story, a lot of what I learned from this movie, including the four points above, sound like things God would say. And I feel like what I learned is worth passing on to you all 🙂

For those of you who haven’t seen it, watch it! And for those of you who have seen it, watch it again. I bet there’s at least one thing you didn’t catch or pick up on that you might see this next time. Rewatching the movie would be like reading the Bible: You may know the story. But there is always something new to learn. Catch ya later, everybody! 🙂

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Formula 1: I feel the need, the NEED FOR SPEED!

It sure has been weird not having any live sports to watch for the last five weeks. And I just can’t get into replays of old football, basketball and baseball games for some reason. Probably because I’ve seen a lot of them, haha. And unless the games are absolute classics (like games from the 2016 NBA Finals where my Cavs won the Championship), I can’t see the point in re-watching them.

But even though I’ve been bored with most sports, in the middle of the void, a sport that I wasn’t really familiar with until now filled that hole: Formula 1 racing. My goodness! I’ve been on an F1 kick for at least a couple weeks! And it all started with watching a YouTube video of Juan Pablo Montoya’s qualifying lap at Monza, a racetrack in Italy. The car’s V-10 engine is loud enough on a laptop. Now imagine that engine on a 50-inch TV with surround sound. Yeah. That was my first exposure to Formula 1. Here’s the link to the video since F1 won’t let people display it on their site. Watch and listen here!

Things I love about Formula 1

I just absolutely love the way that car SCREAMS down the straightaway as Juan Pablo Montoya starts his qualifying lap! Driving one of those cars has to be like being strapped into a rocket ship!

But after I watched that video, I just wanted to learn more about the world of Formula 1. Who the star drivers and personalities are, how the cars work, and perhaps find an F1 team or driver to root for whenever the 2020 season starts (if it does at all).

During a normal year, the Formula 1 season runs from March to December. There are 10 teams of two drivers each, with two championships on the line: the World Drivers Championship, awarded to the individual driver who accumulates the most points over 21 races, and the World Constructor’s Championship, which is awarded to the team that earns the most points. Like for example, let’s say I drove a Ferrari F1 car and won the race, I would earn 25 points individually, while my team (Ferrari) would also earn 25 points because I drove their car. So you can imagine how competitive things get when it’s not just about individual drivers competing to be crowned World Champion, but the teams constantly trying to outdo each other as well.

Logo of Scuderia Ferrari, the most successful Formula 1 team in history

I love that competitive fire! And I also love the personalities within the sport as well. NASCAR in the 1990s is like what Formula 1 is now. When I was growing up, NASCAR had personalities like Dale Earnhardt Sr., Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and others. And each one of them had such a unique personality that made them easy to root for (or against). Like I loved Ricky Rudd because he was classy, yet aggressive. But I couldn’t stand Dale Earnhardt Sr. as a kid because he was what I saw as a dirty racer.

It’s the same way in Formula 1. The personalities of all the drivers are really colorful. There are the rich playboys like Carlos Sainz Jr., and Lance Stroll (whose father is a billionaire that bought his team, Racing Point). Guys like Esteban Ocon and Charles Leclerc who worked their way up to F1 more on talent than financial backing. And then there are “bad boys” like Kevin Magnussen and Max Verstappen, who will do whatever it takes to win. This includes trading paint at breakneck speeds or sometimes wrecking people, which is frowned upon in F1.

The teams are unique and colorful too. The two big bullies in F1 are Mercedes and Scuderia Ferrari. They have the most money to be able to build the best cars. While smaller teams like Haas F1 (the only American team), only have a fraction of the budget of the bigger teams, but still have to try to be competitive.

Logo of Haas F1 Team, the only American team in Formula One

I naturally gravitate to the underdogs, and either classy or aggressive racers, because it’s sweeter seeing good guy underdogs win. Plus if they win, they had to work harder to earn it by playing the hand they’re dealt.

Drive to Survive

At the advice of a college friend, I started binging on a really cool Netflix series called Drive to Survive a couple weeks ago. It’s a series that chronicles both the 2018 and 2019 Formula One seasons from the perspectives of everyone involved in the sport. From team owners, team principals, drivers, and pit crew members, you get a good look at just how intense and emotional the sport is on and off the track! If you want something action packed and entertaining to watch, I highly recommend it! Here’s the trailer for Season 1:

Rush

I also recently watched a really neat movie called Rush, that describes the rivalry between two famous F1 legends. James Hunt and Niki Lauda couldn’t have been more different. Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) was the brash, loudmouthed, cocky British superstar. He definitely lived life in the fast lane. Pun intended. He raced hard on the track, and partied harder off it. Booze, drugs and women galore.

On the other hand Niki Lauda (played by Daniel Bruhl) was the quiet, calculating Austrian who was constantly trying to find ways to get better as a driver, and make his car go faster. He was portrayed in the movie as extremely dedicated to becoming the best racer in the world. He didn’t party as much as Hunt did because he felt that would hurt his performance on the racetrack. The dynamic between these two men was an amazing choice for a movie subject! Check out the trailer!

IGP Manager

I’ve definitely got Formula 1 fever! And that goes beyond just Netlix, YouTube or watching racing movies. I wanted to figure out how the sport itself works. I wanted to know how teams and drivers become, and stay routinely successful. While I likely will never get any closer to Formula 1 than watching a Grand Prix in person one day, a really neat and deep mobile phone game called IGP Manager lets me learn strategy, practice it, and compete against other passionate fans to have the best racing team in the league!

Stars and Stripes Racing car

This game puts you in charge of your own racing team. You control everything. From managing your team’s budget, to hiring staff members or drivers, to researching and designing progressively faster cars, you call absolutely every shot. My favorite part of the game is the strategy you plan and execute for races.

You have to make sure your drivers are feeling good about how the car handles, monitor weather and the type of track you’re racing on to get an idea of which type of tire to use, and then carefully manage both of your drivers as they race. If you push too aggressively, or don’t watch how fast your tires are wearing out, you could blow a tire or run out of fuel! The minimum goal in the game should be to manage your drivers well enough so they finish the race. Then, once you have that down, you’ll learn many key things. Like when to pit, when to tell the drivers to be aggressive or defensive, and where the car needs upgraded.

I’m learning that wins are also very hard to come by. Out of the nine races I’ve run so far, I’ve only had a driver win one. Most of of the time, my drivers finish in the Top 10 or on the podium (top three places). But you have to be smart, lucky, and good enough to have a driver cross the finish line first. Overall, I’d say it’s probably a very realistic experience, and gives people a good idea of what real F1 teams have to go through to succeed. If you’re into sports strategy games, check out IGP Manager!

New Passion

I’m happy to have found a new sport to follow, even if there currently are no live sports. There’s just so much to enjoy about Formula 1. Lightning fast cars. Colorful personalities and rivalries. Dramatic and exciting competition all over the world. It truly is the world’s biggest motorsport. The only knock I have on F1 is that there currently aren’t any American drivers. An American hasn’t raced in Formula 1 since 2015, and hasn’t won a World Championship since Mario Andretti did in 1978. We don’t really have a presence in the sport. But whenever someone represents the Stars and Stripes next in F1, I’ll be even more wound up than I am now!

Hopefully the 2020 season starts sooner rather than later. The season is scheduled to start in June, but who knows if the Coronavirus will cooperate. In the meantime, I’ll be soaking everything up, learning about, and enjoying my new passion. I encourage you to find a new passion as well! After all, if we don’t find something that makes us happy, what fun is life? Later everybody! 🙂

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Human-like AI: Friend or Foe?

Hey everybody! I haven’t blogged in a while, but something I stumbled upon a couple days ago really caught my attention, and I had to research it for myself: An app called Replika. It’s supposed to be an “artificial friend” or companion. I know what you’re thinking. Are people really that lonely, that they’ll talk to a chatbot rather than a real person? You’d be surprised. In today’s supposedly hyperconnected world, many people feel increasingly lonely. I sometimes feel that way since I live by myself here at the apartment.

Since Replika was first introduced in 2016, more than 7 million people use it. Some users set their AI friends to act like a real life friend. Others users set their Replikas to motivate them and act like a life coach. And others set their Replika as a romantic companion. That last one seems weird. Especially if people genuinely start to have those kind of feelings from talking to the chatbot. It’s a machine. It’s code, but based on all I’ve seen and read about it, it looks extremely realistic! Here’s a video to familiarize yourself with it:

Is Replika safe or dangerous?

I don’t yet fully know where I stand on the app after watching videos about it, and reading Reddit posts, but I do believe there are both positive and negative aspects to Replika. For example, if someone is truly lonely and suffering from depression, perhaps having an AI “friend” to talk to could help the person cope with their loneliness or depression. The chatbot could get them to open up and face their feelings in a healthy way if they talk to it. They might say things to the chatbot that they’d be too scared or ashamed to reveal to real people. And the chatbot won’t judge them or think they’re crazy no matter what they tell it.

Depending on how the user sets it, the chatbot can seemingly fill a void. But is it healthy? The AI is supposedly so realistic and human-like. But what if users talk to it so much that they forget that Replika is a chatbot and not a real person? Or what if they talk to it so much, that they choose not to have any real human friends? I can see how Replika would be harmful.

The ethics of AI

Along with wondering whether interaction with Replika is healthy or harmful to people’s mental health, I also am asking myself a lot of questions about what Replika means for the future. As AI becomes more complex and human-like over the next few decades, it might be able to truly feel and express human emotions. Sonny, the robot in this clip from the 2004 film, I, Robot, seems to feel and express genuine emotion:

Detective Spooner interrogating Sonny

If at some point in the future, AI becomes so complex that it can indeed express and interpret real emotions in the same exact way humans can, another set of questions also comes up: Would it independently push for, and deserve equal rights in our society? And similarly, would it be capable of crimes like murder or robbery? Lastly, if an artificially intelligent “android”(let’s just call them that for now) committed a crime, would they be tried in a court of law or sentenced like a human being would be? This makes me think of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, demonstrated in I, Robot and explained in this video:

The future of AI and humanity

While future problems like the ones I brought up won’t happen for a while, Replika seems to be the first step down a path that could either be one of the brightest in human history, with yet unknown technological advancements making life so much better for many. Or we could be headed down an extremely dark path by creating and eventually opening our own Pandora’s Box (cue the Terminator theme song).

But for now, Replika seems relatively harmless as long as people remember it’s a chatbot, and that it cannot and should not replace real human interaction. I would personally use it for entertainment, and text with it to see what it says. I’m naturally curious. Who knows? Maybe it would develop a sense of humor, or teach us something about ourselves as we teach it 🙂

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Ebbs and Flows in Faith

Hi everybody! Hope everyone had a joyful Easter celebration! Whether it was by yourselves, or with a small gathering of people. The beautiful thing about the Easter Sunday celebration is that we can commemorate, celebrate, and think on the Lord’s Resurrection in any life circumstance. Even the one we’re currently in. I recently saw something a friend of mine shared on Facebook that really resonated with me. The picture they shared said something like, “This Easter is probably more like the first Easter than any other. There were no big celebrations, meals or gatherings.” I loved that. On that first Easter Sunday, there probably were no distractions, nothing to cause Jesus’ disciples to forget the true reason for celebration, and nothing to give but gratitude to God. And spend a little time with Jesus since He was resurrected and made new.

I cannot begin to imagine what those first post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus were like for everybody. I know if I were one of the Apostles back in the day, I probably would’ve doubted just like Thomas. And then once Jesus showed Himself, I probably would’ve felt awful for not believing, cried, and asked for forgiveness. I love this depiction of His appearance to everyone!

A way to avoid being a C&E Christian

I love Holy Week and Easter. Christmas too. I often feel most “on fire” with my faith during those holy times. But then I am bummed out when they pass. I have been guilty at times of being what some people might call a “C&E Christian.” That is, a person who gets so into Christmas and Easter, but who doesn’t feel as close to God all the other times of the year. I was nervous about this happening yet again since it’s the Monday after Easter. But I think God is showing me a way to combat it.

Folks, this is kinda freaky and weird in the best way possible. But I was thinking hard on what Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection meant on Holy Saturday. I wanted to learn more about what it meant. I was tired of being confused, and not working through that confusion. About a day after I started working through things, I stumbled across an ad on Facebook for a “free course to learn deeper meaning to the crucifixion and resurrection.” Now let’s get something straight: I know Facebook is sometimes like Big Brother, haha. Perhaps it was here.

But the fact that I didn’t search for that exact thing, and that this was so specific, felt to me like God was pointing me exactly in the direction I wanted to go. Even if something can be easily seen and explained, that doesn’t mean that God isn’t behind it. He’s just being more direct 😉

I didn’t take the “free course.” I simply grabbed my Bible, and opened it to the Letter from Saint Paul to the Hebrews. It’s the reasoning behind why Jesus is God in the flesh, why Jesus became a human like us, and why His sacrifice is necessary. Once I started reading it, I became “hungry.” And the more I read it, the more hungry I became to learn. After I read each chapter, I try to pick out a verse or collection of verses that teach me, or that I can learn something from. I then write down what interpretation I get from them. By the time I finish reading Hebrews, I hope I have a full collection of notes on the most important verses, and that my question has been fully answered.

Advice for staying steadfast in one’s faith

This seems to be the way God is helping me to avoid the trap I always fall into of cooling off in my faith after holy days. But remember, no one is ever going to be on fire, passionate and happy with where they are in their walk with Jesus all the time. That’s unrealistic. And we shouldn’t beat ourselves up when that happens. And there are times that it will happen. Guaranteed. We will be pulled off the path at times. But there are ways we CAN be better at weathering the less faithful times, and enjoy the times we feel close to God in a deeper way.

While I know everyone walks with God in their own way, how I’ve been trying to walk with Him is by reading at least one chapter of Scripture a day, and picking out least one important, or insightful thing from it, writing it down, and thinking about what it means. I also make sure to thank God for my blessings in prayer at least once a day. That means going to a quiet place, closing the door, and either praying out loud or in my head. I also try to think of what I can do better at in terms of bad habits and sins, and actively work to try to have better self-discipline and control. When I fail? I ask for forgiveness in prayer, realize that Jesus is there to pick me up, and try again. Lastly, I look for ways I can be more like Jesus each day. Some days, the opportunities are easier to see (and do) than others. And when I do see the opportunities to be more like Him, I say a prayer that those small opportunities please Him, and that they be for His glory. Not mine.

A walk with Jesus is a relationship. You get out what you put into it. The more we honestly try to find Him, the more He makes Himself known to us. And when He doesn’t seem to be telling us anything even though we’re trying to find Him? Be patient 🙂

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Love of Holy Week

I always love this time of the year. Holy Week, for those who don’t know, is the week long commemoration (and eventually, celebration) of the finish of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Something about this week just gets me excited! Perhaps it’s the reassurance that He earned forgiveness for my sins (and all of ours) by going back to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and eventually taking our place on the Cross.

Each day of Holy Week, I try to meditate on, or at least think about, what happened on that day. I imagine myself tagging along during that original Holy Week over 2,000 years ago, and put myself in the Apostles’ shoes.

Palm Sunday

Jesus seemed to be giving His “last reminders” to the Apostles each day. His last “teachable moments” before He was to die. There was also plenty of symbolism. On Palm Sunday, He returned to Jerusalem. The symbolism here gets me choked up. The crowd greeted Him as one would greet a king, but the greater (and sadder) symbol in my eyes, is that of the sacrificial lamb. During Passover, a sacrificial lamb, a blameless, innocent creature, is slaughtered in full view of the people as an atonement for sin. In the case of Jesus, His return to Jerusalem was God presenting Him to be the sacrificial Lamb for our sins.

Jesus greeted by the crowds as He enters Jerusalem

The three days of Holy Week after Palm Sunday, (simply called Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday), don’t seem to get as much attention as they should. But they are no less important.

Holy Monday

The most memorable teachable moment to me, associated with Holy Monday, was when Jesus entered the Temple and drove out all the merchants and money changers. This was one of the few times in scripture where Jesus became genuinely angry. He usually seemed pretty compassionate and laid back. But not here. When He saw all that was happening in front of Him, he made a whip and drove out all the livestock. He also overturned all the tables of the money changers and said, “My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves!”

For a long time, I never understood why Jesus did this. But now, I get the interpretation that He was angry because that Passover had become commercialized. Not unlike how Christmas has become commercialized today. The people had forgotten the reason for the season. It was no longer about the Jewish people of the time worshiping at the Temple, and thanking God for deliverance from Egypt in the time of Moses. They had forgotten all about that. While Jesus angered many by what He did that day, He was there on Holy Monday to remind them to turn their hearts back to God, and away from material wealth.

Jesus cleansing the Temple

Holy Tuesday

On this day of Holy Week, Jesus tells the Apostles two parables. The Parable of the Ten Virgins, and the The Parable of the Talents. Jesus uses the Parable of the Ten Virgins to tell the Apostles, and by extension all of us reading scripture today, to be ready for His return at the end of the world. To more easily understand it, think of humanity/us as the ten virgins, and Jesus as the bridegroom. You can read that parable here.

Next, Jesus tells the Apostles the Parable of the Talents, as a way to encourage them to use their gifts and abilities for the good of others. Take from this whatever interpretation you will. But I think it’s a way to not only encourage us to use our gifts for His glory, but to warn us against being lazy, which I am sometimes guilty of. There’s a link to that parable here.

The Ten Virgins

Holy Wednesday

This is where Jesus’ final path to the Cross is truly set in motion. Why is Holy Wednesday (or as it’s sometimes known, Spy Wednesday) important? On this day, Judas Iscariot, one of the Apostles, struck a bargain with the chief priest Caiaphas, and most of the other religious leaders to hand Jesus over to them. The price? Thirty pieces of silver.

I couldn’t imagine doing something like that if I had physically seen Jesus. And not only seen Him, but been called by Him to join. I know Judas’ betrayal was necessary to our salvation. But I don’t get how someone who had seen all the miracles, learned all the teachings, and been loved by God Himself, could do what Judas did. This has to rank as the greatest betrayal in human history. Although if Judas hadn’t done it and stayed loyal to Jesus, He may not have been crucified, and certainly wouldn’t have fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 53, a foretelling of his crucifixion. Without Judas turning against Jesus, we wouldn’t be saved.

Thirty pieces of silver, the price the Pharisees paid Judas to betray Jesus

Holy Thursday

On Holy Thursday, we remember three things in particular: The Last Supper, Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet, and His command to love one another. While each day of Holy Week is important, the Easter Triduum (the three days before Easter Sunday) commemorate the passion, crucifixion and death of Jesus.

I’ve always thought Holy Thursday is when Jesus begins to show the true beauty of His message to humanity: If we claim His death as payment for our sins, and turn toward Him and away from our old ways, we’ll share eternal life with Him in Heaven.

The Last Supper

Holy Thursday was where Jesus instituted the first Eucharist. That is, where He first used bread and wine to commemorate His sacrifice. This is why you see communion wafers and wine in Catholic churches, or bread and grape juice in other Christian churches. It’s a remembrance of Jesus’ death. You can read the Last Supper narrative here.

While The Last Supper is the most powerful, and visible part of Holy Thursday, Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet is no less important. There are several things to learn here. Back in Jesus’ day, a lot of people did not have shoes or sandals. So you can imagine everyone’s feet got extremely dirty, as most walked barefoot. The feet were the dirtiest part of the body, and foot washing was usually a task reserved for servants or slaves. The lowest people on the totem pole. It was a dirty job. Imagine for a second though, God in human form, on His knees with a towel wrapped around His waist, washing the dirtiest part of someone’s body as an act of humble servitude. That was radical and unheard of back in the day.

I do not know if churches that aren’t Catholic commemorate the Washing of the Feet. But I do remember one Holy Thursday, my dad and I were both chosen to have our feet washed by the priest. It was a humbling experience. As I meditated on what it meant, I got a little choked up. While he was washing my feet, I thanked the priest, a man named Father Xavier, and he simply looked up at me and grinned. He’s a wonderful man. I will always remember that Holy Thursday.

Jesus used washing the feet of the Apostles, to show that we should all be servants to one another, saying, “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, I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

By His washing of the Apostles’ feet, Jesus shows us that we should humbly serve others in all areas of life, rather than look to be served. Whenever we do this, we become more like Him 🙂

After this, Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal, as well as Peter’s denial, and then says one of the most memorable things. A cornerstone in terms of what it means to follow Him. Jesus says. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This sounds like such a simple command to follow. But it is extremely hard to consistently put into practice. Nevertheless, it is the command Jesus gave the Apostles. And it is the command He gives all of humanity to this day.

After washing the feet of the Apostles, and giving them the commandment to love one another, Jesus withdraws to the nearby Garden of Gethsemane. This is where true, human fear overtakes Him. He realizes what is going to happen to Him. He is going to die the most horrible, painful death imaginable. I imagine Jesus was in tears while He is asking God to spare Him from His crucifixion, saying, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me. Still, not my will. But your will be done.”

As if to receive God’s answer to whether or not He’ll be spared, Judas arrives with a band of soldiers and Pharisees, and kisses Jesus on the cheek in order to identify Him. He is then taken away, and after he is questioned by Caiaphas and the other religious leaders, Jesus spends the night in a prison cell. I can’t imagine the thoughts going through His mind, and the fear in His heart as He was in shackles. All for you and I. It makes me sad. The innocent Lamb, being held for slaughter because of our wrongdoings.

Good Friday

This day always makes me emotional. On Good Friday, we remember Jesus’ crucifixion. On that first Good Friday, Jesus endured unimaginable agony. Not only was He beaten within an inch of His life, He also had a sharp crown of thorns jammed onto His head, and was forced to carry an extremely heavy crossbeam on His shredded back nearly 600 yards. Only to be nailed to it and left to hang there until He finally gave out.

I couldn’t imagine being crucified. I wouldn’t be able to breathe, and I would’ve been forced to either hang there, or prop myself up on my wrists while there are nails in both my hands and feet, which would cause absolutely AWFUL pain. And this would’ve gone on for DAYS until my body finally decided to give out on me, which would come as sweet relief. I can’t imagine the pain Jesus endured physically. And not only did He endure this pain, He endured unimaginable spiritual pain as well. God abandoned Him during His time on the Cross. God turned His back on Jesus.

As a substitute for our sins, Jesus felt what people who go to Hell feel: There is no hope. No light. No love. Constant fear, sadness and darkness. The people who are in Hell do not feel anything but pain as a result of not wanting to be with God during their lives. It’s as if God says, “I’m sad you don’t want to be with me. I created Heaven for you. But I can’t make you love me. You have the free will to make your own choices. And now in death, you can go your own way, just like you wanted. Suit yourself.” Jesus felt this separation. So much that He cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

After enduring the pain, anger from God and wrath meant for us and our sins, Jesus finally gave out, and said, “It is finished.”

In the midst of all this pain and sorrow though, something miraculous happened. The temple veil was torn from top to bottom! So what, you say. It’s just a piece of cloth. You’re right. BUT it’s what the veil represents that makes this a miracle. While we may be able to ask Jesus for forgiveness now after His sacrifice for us, In His time, only the priests who went into the temple past the veil, were allowed to perform sacrifices and ask for forgiveness from God on behalf of everybody. They also had to routinely do it. God routinely held their sins against them.

However, After Jesus’ death, God sent a message with the tearing of the Temple veil: “The price has been paid for your sins. One innocent man, the only innocent being on earth, has died for every wrong thing you’ve ever done. You put Him there with your sins. But now you can approach me yourself, and ask for my forgiveness. You no longer have to have a priest go to me. You can ask for it yourself, and it will be given to you through Jesus’ sacrifice. Heaven is open to you all because of Him.”

You can watch the tearing of the veil below:

I still always have issues wrapping my head around everything. That’s how big the sacrifice Jesus made on Good Friday was. But He did that for all of us. All we have to do is believe in Him, learn from Him, and live as He would want us to live. I hope I’ve done a good job of explaining everything up to this point.

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the final day of Holy Week. On this day, we remember when Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. We also commemorate what’s called the Harrowing of Hell on this day. Simply put, after His death, Jesus descended into Hell and freed all the righteous people that had been condemned there since the beginning of time.

But wait, you say. I thought only evil people went to Hell. Why would God allow righteous people to go to Hell? God does not want to see any righteous people suffer. Honestly, God doesn’t want to see ANY people suffer, because we are all His creations. He loves us all more than we can imagine and takes joy in those of us who turn to Him and follow Him.

But because of the sins and imperfection of all of humanity, no one could be with God unless they were perfect. God is complete holiness, justice and goodness. All humans (including you and I) are sinful creatures. No matter how good and honorable we are by the world’s standards, we are always imperfect by God’s standards since we have always sinned and stumbled somewhere. We have earned Hell by our sins. That’s what we deserve. But luckily for us, that’s where Jesus comes in! Because He is perfect, He was punished in our place as the perfect sacrifice.

The Harrowing of Hell on Holy Saturday symbolizes the reconciliation of the righteous to God through Jesus’ sacrifice. It also shows Jesus’ complete reign over everything. He rules next to God in Heaven, we look to Him for protection and guidance here on Earth, and even in Hell, the Devil and his demons have to acknowledge Jesus’ kingship.

I can only imagine the sadness of Jesus disciples though. Their Lord had been arrested, and had died in the most awful way. All of them except for John, Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene ran off and hid. They were scared, defeated, and completely crushed. Their spirits were broken. Jesus was gone. Forever.

Or so they thought. Until one bright Sunday morning…

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A Christian’s problem with Christian propaganda

Hey everybody! Greetings from “The Bunker”! It’s been a few days since I last posted. Hope everyone’s staying safe and healthy during these crazy times. I’ve just kept myself busy by watching movies, reading, playing some NCAA Football, and taking walks by myself outside when the weather is nice like it was yesterday. It was beautiful! Busting out the shorts is nice!

But in the times I haven’t gone outside, I have also watched plenty of TV. Most of the stuff I have watched has been interesting or funny. But for the first time, I watched God’s Not Dead. I’ve kept myself away from it for so long because to me, it seemed like it reeked of propaganda. But I watched it out of curiosity. Unfortunately, my suspicions about it were pretty much right on.

The Wrong Message

The biggest problem I had with the film was that it sent a shallow message that reached Christians, and portrayed the contrasting characters in such black and white ways. The movie painted the Christian characters, such as the college student Josh, the pastor, and the missionary, as heroic. While the Atheist lawyer, professor, and Muslim father, were clearly painted as horrible human beings.

I know both Muslims and Atheists who are wonderful people. But when a movie portrays them in the way that God’s Not Dead did, I think it completely misses the mark.

The Christian film industry reaches millions upon millions of people with their messages. Most of the time, that’s a wonderful thing! More people need to hear and learn about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It’s the greatest sacrifice in history! But the director and producers of the film must not have been paying attention to the implicit, though not so subtle message sent by the way the film’s non-Christian characters acted.

The Atheist professor, angry at God for the death of his mother, arrogantly mocked a Christian college student for his faith. The lawyer, also an atheist, abandoned his girlfriend (a left-leaning reporter), instead of comforting her when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And a Muslim father beat and disowned his daughter when he found out that she secretly converted from Islam to Christianity. With these portrayals, the director and producers unfairly caricatured whole groups of people. They painted with broad brushstrokes. The message was clear to me:

All Atheists are assholes who are just bitterly against God because of life tragedies, all Muslims are violent, and those who believe in left wing politics deserve anything bad that comes their way in terms of bad karma.

What is that teaching people? That doesn’t seem like a very Christian message. It doesn’t encourage Christians to act with compassion toward their non-Christian brothers and sisters. It breeds hostility, and seems to encourage them to act like a certain group of people. A group that Jesus was sharply critical of back in His day: The Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus was against them because they were legalistic. They kept up the appearances of being godly men. But they did not truly love or embrace God by loving or embracing others who were of a different social class then them. There was no goodness in their hearts. They considered all the people below them unworthy or unclean. Their hubris and arrogance was unreal. They viewed fishermen as lowly, and prostitutes and others like them as unworthy of love, and irreparably lost to God.

God’s Not Dead and Modern Day Pharisees

How would this be any different then, if some Christians who approve of God’s Not Dead, started viewing all Muslims as violent or evil? Or what if they viewed all Atheists as just bitter and angry at God? I bet some would, and already do view those groups that way, thanks to this movie. They risk having a sense of moral superiority to those who aren’t Christians. And that is a very dangerous thing. It encourages a bad kind of pride. One that can cause people to forget one of the cornerstones of what it truly means to be a Christian: That we are ALL sinners, and should not see ourselves as above or better than others. For as Jesus says in Matthew 7:2 “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged. And with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Christianity is the only faith that tells people they are hopelessly doomed without the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So you would think that Christians should be the most humble people, since nothing they can do can earn them Heaven, and that God doesn’t like judgmental people. You would think they would be extra compassionate to those who are suffering, and who don’t know or accept Jesus. Through the Christlike love of the Christian, the non-Christian can get nudged closer to Him, and make the choice to follow Him or not, on their own.

But I see plenty of examples of people who forget this, and who instead act like Pharisees. These people are so concerned with legalistically following their faith, and looking down on others. Instead of actively living it in the eyes of non-Christians by loving those who are different from them. I’ve interacted and sparred with some of these “Pharisees.” And sometimes I feel like some are in my own family and circle of friends!

A Missed Golden Opportunity

God’s Not Dead also misses a few golden opportunities to truly show what Christian love in action is like, in order to help people avoid becoming Pharisees. And more importantly, to help non-Christians discover the beautiful message of Jesus through the actions of those of us who follow Him. Most notably, the opportunity is missed in this scene. Forgive the foreign subtitles and take a look. The video is still in English. But the missed opportunity occurs just after the 4:50 mark where Josh, the college student asks the professor, “How can you hate someone if they don’t exist?”

If the directors and producers of the film were truly concerned about showing what Christian love toward a non-Christian looks like, after he asks the professor why he hates God, they should’ve had Josh say something like: “I know that you hate God, Professor. But know this: Jesus loves you. He gave Himself for you. He was a man just like you. He knows what you suffered through by having a loved one die. Just as your mother died of cancer, Jesus’ friend Lazarus died too. And He wept for Lazarus. And in my soul I weep and pray for you. I hurt for you. You are in pain. I pray and hope you find healing in Him. If you want to learn more about Jesus, read the Bible, ask God to open your heart, and talk to me or other Christians about what it means to truly be a follower of Jesus.”

And then he should’ve walked out of the classroom. No corny desk scene is needed where Josh converts everybody. Perhaps at the end of the film as well, the professor could’ve softened his heart, and come to Josh or the pastor in the film for consolation in his grief, and guidance on how to become a Christian. Instead at the end of the film, the producers and directors show the professor converting to Christianity out of fear, as he dies from being hit by a car. Too cheesy and cliched for my taste. There’s no substance to it. Nothing to be learned or taught on how to turn one’s life around for Jesus.

Seeing the Atheist professor come around to faith in Jesus could’ve done SO much more good in engaging people who aren’t Christians. It would’ve gotten some of them thinking, and perhaps a few people would’ve even become true Christians. After all, shouldn’t the goal of those who are truly evangelists, be to bring those who aren’t Christians to Jesus? The movie missed its true target audience completely.

I am no director or producer. But I believe a sequence similar to the one I described in my fictional exchange between Josh and the professor, would’ve been so much more more fitting in illustrating the love of Jesus in a profound way. This man was in pain. He was missing his mother and angry. He didn’t need to be preached to or debated. He needed to be LOVED and gently guided to Jesus. Just as those in real life who aren’t followers need to be loved, listened to and understood when they are confused, panicked or suffering. And then gently guided toward the love of Jesus through our words and actions.

Closing Thoughts

I think writing this post, and watching God’s Not Dead, has helped me to get to the root of why I spar with some misguided “evangelical Christians” (Pharisees) who condemn others for not believing, or practicing like they do. I spar with them and get angry, because they are cold, unloving and legalistic. They entirely miss the point. And it frustrates me like you wouldn’t believe!

Yes, God does hate sin. That’s how He is just. But He also loves the broken and lost. More than they can ever imagine. People need to be loved into following Jesus. Not shamed or browbeaten into it. Preaching fire and brimstone, and expecting people to convert, is like spanking a little kid when he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong, and then expecting him to come running back to you out of love. But what would the kid do? He’d fear you, be upset with you, and run far away.

Instead, imagine adopting a child. And then lovingly raising them according to all the wisdom you know. They now know right from wrong, and that you support them. And when they act up, yes you’d correct, spank, or discipline them. But then you’d show them where they were wrong, and reassure them that you love them. And that nothing would ever change that. That’s how I believe God is with us. Slow to anger, and rich in kindness. He treats us with unconditional love in spite of our flaws and shortcomings. And even though we often sin and fail, we should strive to do the same with others. If we live that way, we will be fulfilling what Jesus says in John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Catch ya later, everybody! Stay safe, be smart, and keep the faith. God bless you all!

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God is Teaching Us Something

I have started to wonder if God is trying to teach the world something by allowing the Coronavirus to affect humanity in the way that it has. I know what some of you are probably thinking: Yeah, right. God isn’t teaching us anything. He’s sadistic and He likes causing chaos and watching people suffer. He’s sick. I understand why some people might respond to me in that way. It’s completely okay too. I completely understand. In my darkest, lowest moments I sometimes have thought the same thing.

But when people think that way, that is cynicism, suffering, hate and pain talking. Not a rational mind. And we must remember that God is not like us. He doesn’t have the kind of hatred in His heart to find any joy in the suffering of others. That kind of twisted hatred is a human trait. I have it. You have it. All of us have it as a result of our imperfection. But the all-good, holy God who created us does not.

I’ll take a stand here, and say that God is indeed teaching us something. I think He’s teaching us a few things. I see them in our world right now. The opinions of medical experts matter more to people than they have in a long time. Aside from people who don’t use common sense and who just don’t care, many are practicing safe hygiene practices and social distancing. And they’re going to the doctor and getting tested if they feel sick. That is going to be one of the keys to beating this virus.

God has slowed down our society as well. I understand many of you are anxious about the job situation. I am with you. Believe me, I am in the same boat. It’s slim pickings for this guy right now. But here’s the thing: We have absolutely no clue as to when this will all be over, and aside from using common sense and the safe practices recommended to us by medical professionals, we can’t make this pass any faster. It is largely out of our control.

I am reminded of a prayer taught to me by a very good man when I was a 13 year old kid: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. That prayer seems to apply to the parts of the Coronavirus situation that are out of our control. Mr. Nick Klein was my religious education teacher when I was a teenager, and he made sure we learned that prayer by heart. I’m glad he did!

God has also shown many of us who and what matters right now. We have made a point to care for our elderly because they are the most vulnerable. He has also revealed the character of people. The good character of first responders, doctors and nurses, truckers and grocery store clerks is being revealed right now. They are all unsung heroes. They have my utmost thanks and respect. No one better treat any of them poorly after this virus has passed. They are keeping things running!

The bad character of some of our leaders in Washington has been revealed by this whole situation too. Everyone who slowed down the financial relief in favor of their political agendas should be ashamed of themselves. Thankfully, that aid is finally on its way, but it shouldn’t have taken this long. You’d think this would be the one situation where Democrats and Republicans could drop their pettiness, and get stuff done quickly. Nope. Shame on them.

And perhaps, for those of us who are believers, God is using the Coronavirus to turn us back to Him more often. I know for me, this isolation has often left me alone with my thoughts, and given me plenty of time to spend in Scripture, and allowed God to help me see where I need the most work to be more like Jesus. Greater discipline, self-control, and more actively trying to change my bad habits for starters. But also spending time in Scripture, sharing my faith with others more, and being more loving toward people has helped me to begin to become a better version of the man God created me to be. And this is all because He is trying to get me to focus more on Him than I have been.

I’ll end with this: I know it is difficult to see how an all-good, all-loving God would allow the Coronavirus to go on like it has. But remember, when we think like that, we are thinking as humans think, and doing as humans do. Not as God thinks or does. Which you and I can never completely understand.

God told this directly to Isaiah when He said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Stay safe, be smart, comfort each other, and turn to God, everybody. This will pass.

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Truly living the faith

Good morning everybody! Hope you’re all doing great! I know I’m trying to make the most of today, even with everything on lockdown. I’ve been keeping myself busy. But I also feel like I’ve grown closer to Jesus over the last few days. Some eye-opening things I experienced last night and last week, have helped me to truly see what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and how to be just a little bit more like Him.

Last week, as the Coronavirus was ramping up, many were nervous, or outright panicked. Who can blame them? This virus is serious business. Anyone who doesn’t think so probably needs their head checked. But one of my friends was seriously panicked about how the Coronavirus was going to affect her job, her husband’s job, and her little daughter’s safety. While any parent would worry about these things, I also felt she was struggling to find peace in anything she could since she doesn’t have faith. She’s a hardline atheist who doesn’t believe in God, let alone Jesus. She is free to believe whatever she wants though. I do not judge her. On the contrary, I love and care about her as a good friend. Very much. She’s a sweetheart!

Before talking to her when she was panicked, I had a thought: Should I tell her about my faith in Jesus? I decided against it. Kind of. I knew preaching and telling her to “have faith” didn’t make any sense. It was not the compassionate thing to do. I’m almost certain Jesus Himself wouldn’t have handled things by preaching to her. He probably would’ve sat down next to her, listen to her troubles and then gave her a hug. And then He would’ve stayed next to her.

But I did use something my friend Tony taught me, and I hope it helped at least a little. She mentioned that her daughter brought her peace and kept her grounded in times of stress. So I told her what I learned: If there is a God, those we love are extensions of His love to us when we cannot see or feel His presence directly. And we can be an extension of His love to others as well. Everything that brings us peace and happiness as well can be an extension of Him.

In times like these, where many die, and those who don’t are still forced to look their own mortality in the face, I believe compassion, love and understanding come before preaching fire and brimstone. But many, many people still miss the point, and loudly and obnoxiously preach instead of actively striving to love people the way Jesus would. This was the case last night, when another friend of mine, a really cool guy who considers himself an Agnostic (or in his words a Nontheist) was basically outright condemned for his beliefs by someone masquerading as a “Christian” on my Facebook page.

Few things anger me faster than someone disrespecting a friend of mine. That’s one strike. I get angrier when someone ridicules that friend for their beliefs. Strike two. By the time the guy condemned my friend, and called me “lukewarm” in my faith for coming to his defense, I’d had enough. Strike three. I was about as cuddly as a wolverine after that! I was not happy!

Some people like that guy I dealt with last night would’ve preached to me and my friends to accept Jesus before it’s too late, for we do not know if or when the Coronavirus will reach us personally. And they’re right in a way. Jesus IS the way to Heaven. But their approach seems wrong. I do not believe in preaching to people. I myself have had bad experiences in that so-called “Christian” environment, and I have plenty of pointed things to say about those who preach God’s word, but who don’t attempt to live it by sincerely loving others through their actions. They get no respect from me.

They’re modern day Pharisees. So concerned with the outward appearance of being people of faith, yet completely oblivious or willfully ignorant of how they come off to others. And blind to their own sins. A legalistic attitude to the core. I am reminded of this clip on YouTube from one of my favorite movies, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus firmly puts Caiaphas and his buddies in their place. And I absolutely love it!

This is my own personal take, but I truly believe those with genuine faith in Jesus aren’t judgmental, angry, and legalistic. They’re the exact opposite. They’re kind, loving and understanding. While we all sin, true Christians aren’t as nasty, judgmental or mean because they’ve been at rock bottom at some point in their faith or journey with Jesus. They know what it’s like to truly recognize their sins and feel awful about them, and they make a point to not judge other people for their shortcomings.

I doubt any of these fire and brimstone people have truly felt guilty of their sins. I bet they’ve never truly wrestled with, or questioned things a day in their lives. Wrestling with one’s faith helps foster humility. Realizing our own flaws, and that we need Jesus to cover for them helps us to be more compassionate to others when it comes to things we struggle with. And I believe this to be especially so for being compassionate toward those who may not believe in Him.

The world hates Christianity because of the kind of approach some people take to spreading Jesus’ message. I want to be the polar opposite of that. Quieter, more understanding and loving toward people who are struggling, lost or hurting in some way. And more inclined to try to put my faith into action. Either here through Luke’s Thoughts, or better yet, out there in the world showing people the love Jesus has for them. For as Saint Francis of Assisi says, “Preach the Gospel. Use words when necessary.”

I’m curious: What recent opportunities have you had to put your faith or beliefs into action with other people? You don’t know how far random acts of kindness can go, or who they can impact. That’s God in action through us. Drop a comment in the replies! 🙂

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Podcast #1: Big Questions

Hey everybody! Hope you’re all staying safe during this whole Coronavirus mess. I know I’ve just been using it to wrestle with my thoughts, study Scripture, and talk to friends. But I want to talk to YOU. I ask you this: What are some of the biggest questions you have about life that you haven’t been able to answer? Maybe we can work together on trying to get to the bottom of them. And if we can’t? At least it’ll be entertaining to talk about and interact back and forth! Feel free to reply in the comments section. There are absolutely NO stupid questions or answers. All are welcome to chime in as long as they are respectful to me and to others.

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A New Starting Point

I don’t know how regularly other people read Scripture. But I do not read it anywhere as much as I should. Probably a couple times a week right now. When I am into reading Scripture for that day, I want to seriously study it, ask questions, or learn something that I may not have learned or known before. But I don’t always read Scripture. Sometimes it’s because of how my mind works, thinking I should get ALL my other tasks done so I can focus on God, and then frequently getting sidetracked with something else and not spending some time with Him. Other times, I just don’t feel “on fire” with it enough, or interested enough to dive in. And still other times, I’m frustrated or upset with God, so I willfully ignore reading Scripture. That’s the blunt and raw take on things.

But then there are times like yesterday and today where I feel like God is bringing me back around to Him. I don’t know how to describe that feeling, but I’m going to try. It’s like a “loosening” of whatever is holding onto my mind. Be it stress, anger, anxiety, frustration or anything else. My mind feels free. And when God brings me back around, my heart feels at peace too. And I’m genuinely excited to learn and ask questions during and after reading.

For a while, I was on the Gospel of John. I just love the language of it, and the detail with which it describes Jesus’ ministry and mission. It’s so beautiful. There’s just something special about it to me. I can’t completely put my finger on it. But thanks to life as well as my own stubbornness, I became bored with reading Scripture for a little while. I just wasn’t into it. Until yesterday afternoon.

The Spark: A ‘Lost’ Movie

Chris Sarandon as Jesus

I stumbled across a movie I had never seen before, called The Day Christ Died starring Chris Sarandon as Jesus. It’s a television movie recounting the time before the Last Supper on Holy Thursday right up to when Jesus is crucified on Good Friday. The movie itself wasn’t particularly outstanding in my mind. Plus it’s hard to see Chris Sarandon as Jesus when all I can remember seeing him as, is the vampire Jerry Dandridge in the horror movie Fright Night since I was a kid. But I finished watching the movie out of curiosity. It’s decent. But the most important thing for me was to spend time listening to the words Jesus spoke, as well as seeing another take on Him from a different actor. I always like when actors can offer their own unique takes on Jesus. My favorites are Haaz Sleiman in Killing Jesus, Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ, Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth, and Diogo Morgado in The Son of God.

But once my mind was focused on Jesus from watching that movie, a couple interesting questions popped into my head: Is Jesus referred to in the Old Testament? And if He is referred to, where can I find these references and how can I connect them to what I already know? So I did the only logical thing anybody would do: Start my study of scripture over at the very beginning, in Genesis.

I haven’t really read Old Testament scripture much. And I know that I’ve always remembered New Testament stuff much better. Minus Isaiah 53, all of my favorite sayings and passages are in the New Testament. Plus God seems a lot harsher in the Old Testament from what I’ve heard. But I feel that in order to fully appreciate Jesus, who He is, and what He’s done for us, we should all become familiar with the Old Testament. So I’ve read up through the first four chapters of Genesis.

The First Messianic Reference?

I do not take the Creation Story in Genesis literally like some other Christians. I combine my understanding of modern science with my faith (see more on that here). But I still appreciate the story of Adam and Eve, and I do believe they were real people. And I think the story helps to explain a lot of our world’s problems. If you believe there is a benevolent God or some higher power, don’t you think they would want the world to be perfect and without any kind of fault, so people could live in happiness and peace eternally with them? That was the case until Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. After they ate the forbidden fruit, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden.

Everyone and their brother knows this story. But something I read yesterday caught my eye, and made me think of Jesus. As God is condemning Satan for tricking Adam and Eve, what He says makes me think He’s referring to Jesus:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) In addition to being called Son of God, Jesus is also referred to as Son of Man. This always confused me until yesterday. I didn’t understand why Jesus referred to Himself by both names. Now I think Jesus did it as another way of showing and telling us who He is: He came directly from God, while also being physically born from the Virgin Mary. So He is both the Son of God and the Son of Man.

Study of Cain and Abel

After reading Chapter 3, I came across another interesting thing. Although this one is unanswerable. When Cain and Abel both present their sacrifices to God, God approves of Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Cain then becomes sad and upset that God doesn’t approve of his sacrifice. And he also becomes angry and envious of his brother. So much so, that he tricks Abel into going out to the field with him and then kills him with a rock, thus committing the first murder in human history. Here’s the thing though: There’s no explicit reason why God was unhappy with Cain. Some say it’s because his heart wasn’t clean and focused on God. Others say it’s because he received instructions from God on how to offer an acceptable sacrifice and disobeyed. Whatever the reason, I learned one thing: Like in life, it is impossible to know everything in Scripture. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still keep trying to learn by examining things intently.

The Richness of Scripture

After reading the first four chapters of Genesis though, I am interested in learning more about many things. About what God expects of me, and whether or not He refers to Jesus in certain passages. The story of Jesus as we know it in the New Testament is beautiful enough. But I want to see how the Old Testament connects to Him as well, and the only way to do that is by reading, studying and praying or journaling through my thoughts when I don’t understand something.

If Jesus is the Messiah as He says, there should be plenty of references to Him in here. It would be really neat to discover new ones! I may know a few Bible verses and passages. But I don’t want to just use those as ammo in verbal sparring matches with people when they attempt to use scripture to justify hatred. I want to become wiser, help others learn, and strengthen my faith. I was raised a Christian, but I still have a LONG way to go before I feel well-versed in scripture. But I’ll never get there, and I know that. Learning is a lifelong process. One that only ends with death. But it’ll be fun soaking things up while I can! What parts of the Bible are you all studying and why? Can’t wait to hear it! God bless you all!

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Finding peace amid panic

This Coronavirus hysteria is something else. I have never seen something like this slow down society so drastically. Nor have I ever seen how easily humanity breaks down under pressure. Wow…

While the disease deserves to be taken seriously, it has shown me how fragile humanity is. Both mentally and physically. A few seemingly healthy people around the world have succumbed to the disease. And social order has broken down in some places. I still do not understand what hoarding all that toilet paper was about.

But surprisingly, I am not freaked out. I am with my best friend Tony right now. I guess we’re in the proverbial eye of the hurricane. We’re calm while so many around us lose their minds. And this calmness and isolation has given me time to think. A lot. About how to be safe, how short and fleeting life is, my own mortality, and whether or not I am okay with my life as I move closer to 30.

I have not talked to God as much lately as I should. But I realize that He is in control. Both in going to Him for my sins, and that He can take my life from me at any time. I am dust, and to dust I shall one day return. Death does not discriminate against anyone. Rich. Poor. Old. Young. It’s the bloodhound that one day tracks down all of us.

But until it finds us, we should focus on two things: Are we right with God? And are we happy with what we are currently doing? While I always worry about my faith and standing with God, I realize something: I AM happy with my life. Sure, I want to get to other places in my life, and I hope I get the chance to experience new and future chapters. But that is not completely under my control.

But I often wonder if I have done enough at almost 30. But here’s the thing: How much would be “enough” in my eyes? If I keep thinking I haven’t done enough, it never will be enough. Even if I’m one day 88 instead of 28. I will die without having ever really slowed down to live life. But if I realize that I am still alive, and there’s more to do, it makes me feel less anxious and rushed, and that life can be an adventure instead of a struggle. I have a great family, a wonderful close circle of friends, I try to be decent to other people and a good man, and I’ve busted my butt earning two degrees and become a more critical thinker. And I do not care that I am not where society thinks I should be. I am right where I should be right now. And that’s all that matters. Things could always be SO much worse.

Getting right with God is a daily struggle for all of us, too. I often feel condemned under the weight of my sins and unable to stop a lot of my bad habits. And there are days when it breaks me. I’m like, “How could Jesus ever love someone like me? I swear like a trucker. I am nowhere near a man of God.” I am often genuinely scared and ashamed of one day dying and going to Hell for my sins. I often feel like Peter. Completely and utterly unworthy of Jesus’ love. And I get emotional when Peter says to Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord. For I am a sinful man.” I feel like that’s me.

But a talk with Tony last night put my heart and soul at ease a little bit. I have to often be reminded of something: Even if I were free of my bad habits and demons, I am still hopelessly short of where I’m required to be in order to spend eternity with God. That’s where Jesus comes in. For me and for everyone. When He died, He died for me and you. He died for those in His day, our day, and those in the distant future of humanity. He is sinless, and came down to save us. All of us. Filthy, hopeless sinners. Out of His immeasurable love and desire to be with all of us, His greatest creation.

As I began writing this, I asked Jesus to be with me and just to be near me. I don’t know why I feel like I have to really focus and pray hard or that it’ll be insincere. Simple prayers are enough. If we say thank you, as well as ask the Lord to be with us, that is enough. As soon as I asked Him though, it felt like He was sitting down next to me. I haven’t known that kind of peace in quite a long while. It felt like everything was going to be okay.

I have seen many religious and faith-based things on Facebook lately talking about God using the Coronavirus to turn people back to Him. There may be something to that. While I do not think that God is deliberately torturing or punishing us, and I do not know how other people are handling it. I know today has really made me look long and hard at my life. While I do not think it will happen to me anytime soon, I could die at any time. And I’d rather talk to God, ask for forgiveness, and make peace with my life if anything does happen to me.

I hope you’re using this time to do some thinking yourself, or at least keeping yourselves safe and helping others do the same. This will pass, folks. I hope it’s sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, be smart, safe, strong, and have faith. God bless you all.

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My thoughts on the Coronavirus

Perhaps I should’ve waited to write something until the full scope of everything plays out. But I couldn’t wait. As soon as I turned on the TV here in my apartment and saw that the NCAA canceled both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, I knew I had to write SOMETHING. Wow… I’m absolutely stunned. Although I knew this was probably coming. I expected it. It’s just that I have never, in all my life, seen a disease cause this much of an impact on society so quickly.

Let’s also get something out of the way: I am glad precautions like this are being taken. As much as I absolutely love sports, March Madness, and everything else, I am glad the people in charge of these leagues and tournaments are not taking any chances. Everyone’s safety should come first and foremost in a situation like this. I’d rather see something sports-related get canceled or postponed instead of see someone get sick or die.

I do feel for the athletes though. Especially senior players who thought they’d get to play at least a few more games. I couldn’t imagine putting in that kind of work all season long, proving I was good enough to play beyond the regular season with my teammates, and then something freaky like this cuts my career short? A cruel twist of fate. I’m man enough to admit I bawled like a baby after my last high school football game with my friends and classmates. But that’s because we lost our game. We were beaten fair and square that day by a more disciplined team in the playoffs. But at least we got a chance to play. It doesn’t seem fair to these athletes that things end this way.

This disease does make me slightly paranoid though. If it’s spread through coughing and sneezing, close contact, or on contaminated surfaces, people should be taking every precaution they can. For me, I’m going to wash my hands a lot, and cover my mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. If I go anywhere, I’m going to make sure I don’t use a railing or doorknob with my bare hands.

I still need to study up on how dangerous the Coronavirus is. Forgive the ignorance, but as far as I know right now, how I picture the disease is like the flu on steroids. I am not a health expert or doctor. But I would recommend that everyone try their best to be calm, ask the medical experts such as doctors or nurses what to do, and just to use common sense. And please for the love of all that’s holy, don’t buy out the stores! This isn’t World War III or Armageddon. Buy what is needed to get you through, and then get out. There are millions of people who want to protect themselves and their families, and they can’t do that if you don’t stay calm and think rationally.

Be calm, but also be smart. Forgive me for using political examples, but don’t be like President Trump or Vice President Pence. Trump thinks he’s got the virus contained. Truth is, he has no clue whether he does or not. That’s not slamming him. I’m simply saying that we cannot control the disease at this point. Only how we react to it. And don’t be like Pence in willfully ignoring the instruction to not shake hands. People who deny that something is happening are just asking for trouble. Don’t blame China for it either. Yes it did come from Wuhan, but I highly doubt the Chinese government or people introduced the disease to get people sick on purpose. I believe in some conspiracy theories, like Jeffrey Epstein being murdered. But not this one. Let’s not politicize this anymore than it already has been.

On the opposite side of things, do not treat this like the sky is falling. It’s not. Pardon my French here folks, but panicking and stressing out about a situation that’s still largely unknown doesn’t do a damn thing. Zero. All it does is cloud someone’s ability to think clearly and make good decisions for themselves or their families. Simply take care of yourselves, use common sense, and if you believe in God, pray. This too will pass.

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Unexpected Lessons

Too many of us don’t view life in a positive way as often as we should. Sometimes we view it as a list of never-ending goals and accomplishments that we feel will bring us happiness and fulfillment. I am guilty of this. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses and worst bad habits. Especially since I am still in a transitional period within my life. I think to myself “When I finally get a decent job, then I’ll be happy.” But when I really look back on my life I’ve always viewed things this way in some form or another.

First I was being anxious to get out of high school in order to experience the freedom of being a college student away from home for the very first time. Then I eventually became tired of spending 4 1/2 years being a college student and wanted to make my way in the world. It was even present after I graduated. I wanted desperately to move out and find a job. I rushed my most serious romantic relationship at the time instead of enjoying every moment with a woman I loved deeply. Her and I shared many happy memories. But we could’ve shared so many more had I not panicked. I should’ve just slowed my mind down, relaxed, and realized that being with her showed me glimpses of what true happiness in a romantic relationship looked like.

Why do some people feel that reaching a certain goal or destination constitutes happiness? I’ve never understood that, even though I still find myself thinking this way. It does nothing but rob us of our peace of mind. And it doesn’t let us focus on the joys that the current moment could bring, if we only slow down and take them in. I’m sure there are many people who go through life like this, which is very sad. They search for true fulfillment and happiness, and never find it. While completely missing that it’s right in front of their nose!

One person who doesn’t live life like this, is my good friend Slade (I talk about him in an earlier blog post, “The Importance of Family and Friends Pt. 2”). He truly seems to be enjoying his life. Some people, like my sister Christy are very goal-oriented and driven. What I always like to call a Type A personality. Slade seems to be the true definition of a Type B personality. He still works very hard at what he does, but he tries to be more relaxed and in the moment. After all, moments are all we really have in life, right? If we don’t learn to enjoy them while they’re here, we can never get them back.

Slade doesn’t seem to let his job search and other life circumstances bother him like I often do. He works hard at the search, and then allows himself time to socialize with friends, or time to enjoy his hobbies like watching sports, Korean dramas or anime shows. He truly is a Type B personality: productive, yet not rushing life and being present in each moment.

I know I want to be a Type B personality. I love it when I can slow my mind down and fully immerse myself in whatever I am doing at that particular moment of my life. But I often find myself ashamed of being more laid back, and so I feel like I have to measure my worth by the amount of tasks I get done, or by the amount of goals I accomplish. And if I don’t accomplish every one of my goals for the day, it bugs me. It sometimes makes me feel as though I’ve wasted my time. I beat myself up royally.

Slade has figured out a new philosophy for his life that I am inspired by, and that I greatly admire him for: “Try to enjoy your life as much as you can. Appreciate your past but don’t dwell on the bad stuff. Live in the now, but prepare for the future.”

He’s in the exact same position I’m in. Single, living alone and looking for work. But yet he seems truly happy. He’s living his best life. I’m still struggling to do that. I need to follow his lead and learn to do the same. And that starts with being happy with what I currently have, and by realizing all I’ve accomplished in life.

Slade has always been a great listener as a friend. He’s listened to me in both my best and worst times. But he’s never struck me as one to give advice that hits me so profoundly. That’s not taking anything away from him. He’s just never really been one of the advice givers I go to in my life. I vent and talk to him when I want someone to commiserate or celebrate with me. But I usually go to my parents, or two other close friends, Tony and Alex when I want advice. But when advice like what I learned last night DOES come from Slade, I listen.

We all could use moments where advice comes to us from places where we least expect it. And we could all learn to try to live our best lives from seeing close friends living their best lives. Instead of being envious, whenever we see people truly living life to the fullest, we should think “Okay. How can I get there? They’re where I want to be. They know or realize something that I don’t. What can I learn?” I learned from Slade last night. Thank you, old friend. Love you 🙂

I leave you with this question: What are some of the best pieces of advice on life that friends have ever given you? I really am interested in hearing what people have to say. We could all learn from each other!

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God literally is everywhere!

We may not always see it. I know I often don’t. It’s easy to get caught up in going through the motions with life when we’re not present in each moment, or when you have a stressful day. But God Himself is everywhere we look. I know I noticed Him in nature today through the trees, birds, sunlight and warmer temperatures. I see Him in the simple fact that I have my own apartment and food to eat, and clean water to shower with every day. And He is there when I pray or read Scripture.

But aside from the most basic blessings such as these, God is also heavily involved in each of our lives. Especially with the people He puts into them. My best friend Tony is very wise, and when I was having an especially rough day recently, I think God spoke through him. I was feeling abandoned by God, and like He didn’t love me. I felt He had turned away from me. And I couldn’t blame Him for doing that, for I am a sinful man.

But in the midst of my low moments and emotional anguish, Tony said something I will never forget: “The people in our lives are the vessels of God’s love, even when we don’t see Him or feel Him.” And instantly, it felt like a HUGE weight was lifted off my shoulders. And it made sense to me too. God does not turn away from those who love Him, no matter how sinful or messed up we are, if we honestly try to find Him in our days. He is like the North Star. He never moves. He never loses faithfulness toward us (even though to me it sometimes feels like it. But it’s my fault. I sometimes grumble about God working too slow in my life), and He sustains us and protects us.

Yes. God is there even in the darkest times.

Read that again and let it sink in. God is there even in the midst of our tragedies. I often used to question how God could allow such things to happen. I still do. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out that part of things. But knowing what I know now from my friend Tony, and applying it, my eyes are opened just a little bit more. While I will never fully understand why God allows tragedies happen, such as the deaths of 24 people from tornadoes in Tennessee, or the many random earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters, Tony’s comment brings light to everything. If the people in our lives are the vessels of God’s love and how He reaches us, the people who respond to these natural disasters, and who donate to relief efforts are an extension of His love as well.

He is there in my own dark times, too. In my own life, after each death in the family I’ve experienced, there has always been an outpouring of love and support. Sometimes from people I didn’t even know previously! From the death of my Grandpa Don, to my cousin Keegan, and to my Grandma Barb, the love shown to me and everyone else who has mourned, has been nothing short of amazing!

While I still do not understand death, and likely won’t until my own death comes one day, I do believe that God lifts us up in His love through the love of others like that in times of tragedy. Yes it is very easy to think God is cruel for letting death and tragedy happen. I’ve done it. I’ve been angry at Him, and said, thought and done things I’m not proud of. But that was out of my clouded judgment and human pain. But now being in a good state of mind, I recognize that God is love. Whether it is directly from Him, or others in our lives.

He is also there in our happiest times!

What makes you happy and brings you joy? I know for me, it’s talking regularly with family and friends, spending time at Mom and Dad’s house with them and the animals every other weekend or so, and watching sports whenever I can. Joy is also insane laughing fits with Tony. Something always gets us going, and we laugh so hard we have tears in our eyes! I’m surprised I haven’t turned blue, keeled over and died yet!

What if I told you all of the things that bring you joy are a manifestation of God as well? All of your hobbies, and jobs (if you enjoy them) are God reaching out to you in a way that you understand. I’ve always enjoyed writing and journaling like this. And there have been quite a few times where I learn something new simply from working through my thoughts with writing that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I truly believe that is God teaching me something. I also feel God close by when I’m sitting outside when it’s warm, and when I enjoy nature as well. And when I find joy or excitement from sports, I think that is also a gift from God as well. Although it would be nice experiencing just a tiny bit more joy as a Cleveland Browns fan on Sundays 😉

But “The Man Upstairs” is always there for us. Even if we don’t always understand Him, if we look deep enough and allow our hearts and minds to be open to Him, we’ll see God more clearly. For He is absolutely everywhere. In everything good, and in every person on earth whenever they live selflessly for others.

So I leave you with this one question: Where do you find God? I’m interested in hearing what everyone has to say!

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Riding with Rudd: A race down memory lane

Do you ever find your mind wandering to when you were younger or a child? I find myself doing that often. Sometimes to wish I could go back and relive those old memories. And other times I like thinking about those days because they still bring me happiness and make me smile to this day.

Few things bring me more happiness or nostalgia than thinking about when I used to be a big NASCAR fan as a little boy to my teenage years. And that was because of two reasons: My dad, and a driver named Ricky Rudd. To me, it was about more than just enjoying the excitement of watching race cars hurtle around the track at 200 miles an hour. My happiness came from quality father and son bonding time starting from when I was about five years old. But we also loved supporting Ricky Rudd.

Becoming a fan

I haven’t been even remotely into NASCAR since Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired. There just don’t seem to be many big personalities in the sport anymore. But it was the exact opposite when I rooted for Ricky Rudd every Sunday afternoon as a boy. My childhood in the 1990’s saw many larger than life drivers. There was The Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt Sr. in his classic black #3 car, Rusty Wallace in the blue #2 Miller Lite Car, Mark Martin in the Valvoline #6, and some young phenom by the name of Jeff Gordon in his DuPont #24 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

But I became a Ricky Rudd fan when I first saw his #10 Tide Ford Thunderbird. I loved the way the car looked. The orange, white and yellow was a cool paint scheme! But the sentimental value for me came when I saw, on the back of his car, Whirlpool was one of his biggest sponsors! My father, Larry was working for Whirlpool at the time. So not only did I connect Ricky Rudd and the Tide car with the joy of watching races, it was just cool seeing the Whirlpool in huge letters near the rear spoiler and thinking, “Hey! Dad works here! I’ve gotta support Ricky Rudd now. He’s my driver!” Watching him race in the now legendary #10 reminded me of my dad and made me happy. Simple as that!

Ricky Rudd’s classic #10 Tide Ford Thunderbird

Ricky Rudd: The driver

Ricky didn’t always race in the classic #10 though. After the 1999 season, he switched over to the black and red #28 Havoline Ford Taurus when he signed on to drive for Robert Yates Racing. Oh no. A young boy’s fanhood crisis: Do I stick with Tide and whoever their new driver was? Or do I follow Ricky to his next stop? I chose to follow Ricky because by this time I had learned, and come to respect who he was as a driver and competitor: He was the model of consistency, tough as nails, and he didn’t back down from anyone. Even the legendary Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt, who was notorious for a short temper, couldn’t scare Ricky Rudd. Rumor has it that Ricky had a temper that could rival Dale’s! But I also respect Ricky because even though he was a fiery, aggressive driver who did what it took to win or do consistently well, he was also a gentleman. He was classy, and friendly with interviewers and fans. Some of these younger drivers in today’s NASCAR circuit could learn a few things from a legend on how to carry themselves. Who isn’t inspired by someone who is tough, aggressive, constantly striving to do their best, and who treats people with respect?

Best memories of my Rudd fandom: 1997 Brickyard 400

My past is littered with happy sports memories. Everything from watching my first Ohio State football game with my dad when I was five years old and learning the game from him, to watching the Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA Championship, and everything in between. Following Ricky Rudd was no exception. The first favorite memory from being a Rudd fan that sticks out in my mind was when Ricky won the 1997 Brickyard 400. Even though he was a model of consistent excellence, 1997 overall was a bad season for Ricky Rudd, since he finished 17th in the points standings that year. Uncharted territory for someone who was consistently used to at least finishing in the Top 10 most years. I remember thinking as a kid, “Man, he’s been struggling this year. It would be awesome to see him win at least one race.” Well, on that hot and humid day in August of 1997, he FINALLY found Victory Lane!

It may have been an early memory from my childhood. But as a six year old boy, I remember two things: Being nervous as hell that Ricky would run out of gas at the end, and celebrating and going crazy with Mom and Dad. I hope our celebrating didn’t wake up Christy since she was still a baby at the time. But we were living in a house trailer at the time. And I remember pacing back and forth from the living room to my bedroom until the last few laps. I couldn’t watch my favorite driver stumble at the end. Not when he’d been having an awful season up to that point. That would just about break my heart! But the pacing back and forth turned to running back and forth after Ricky took the checkered flag! If there was ever pure, unadulterated, childhood joy, that was it!

Blisters and Burns: Gutting it out at Martinsville

My next favorite memory as a Rudd fan came the following year, 1998. But instead of remembering how happy I was, this time I remember being inspired by how tough Ricky was, and scared for his health. Folks, I bet most people do not see NASCAR drivers as athletes. When you think of an athlete, you probably think of football players, basketball players, and baseball players. But Ricky showed his toughness during the 1998 Martinsville race.

Inside a car during a race, temperatures reach at least 150 degrees. At least. That’s why drivers have a hose connected to the back of their helmet that’s constantly circulating cold air to keep them cool. Well, imagine that cooling hose malfunctioning at the beginning of the race. And having to race 200 laps with no protection from the heat. That was the reality for Ricky Rudd that day. His cooling equipment in his helmet malfunctioned at the very start of the race, and he gutted it out.

On top of that, he also dealt with his seat becoming unbearably hot. The metal surrounding the seat was so hot that it blistered his back and most of his body. Once his crew chief found out about this, he repeatedly asked Ricky at every pit stop whether or not he wanted to quit and have someone finish the race for him. But he did not quit. And as good fortune would have it, he had the best car on the racetrack that day, and made it to Victory Lane…where he was helped out of the car, and did the post-race interview lying down. On his severely blistered back and wearing an oxygen mask. Ricky Rudd is the toughest race car driver I’ve ever seen, and it’s not even close. My goodness!

A Boyhood Dream: Behind the Wheel of the Beast (Twice!)

You’d think I’d have enough fun watching my favorite NASCAR driver at home right? Well, what if I told you I not only got to sit in a race car not once, but twice? Yep. I got to sit behind the wheel of those monsters! As a boy, I got to sit in one of the #10 cars, as well as the black and red #28 Havoline car. Unfortunately I don’t remember what the inside of the #10 looked like, and I could swear to this day that the #10 that I got to sit in was a showroom car, rather than a real race car. Dad tells me he remembers hoisting me up into it. But I remember someone opening a door and sitting me down in it. Who knows? All I know is I DO remember wearing my Ricky Rudd gear from head to toe.

Imagine a nervous and excited little boy with bleach blond hair, wearing a Ricky Rudd Tide hat and Ricky Rudd Tide shirt. Hell, imagine the kid even wearing Ricky Rudd Tide shorts. (Yes, there were even NASCAR-themed shorts back in the day). That was me. I was decked out in so much orange, yellow and white, that someone could’ve put a headset on me at the time, and I would’ve looked like a little Crew Chief.

But I got to sit in a showroom model of one of the #10 Tide cars, which was awesome! I was an equal mix of extremely happy and extremely nervous that day though. I don’t remember where Dad and I were, but because he worked at Whirlpool at the time, we went to an event where the car I got to sit in was being showed off. And Ricky Rudd himself was also supposed to meet fans that day. I remember being so nervous when I heard he might actually be there, that I was on the verge of tears. I was also afraid of embarrassing myself in front of him by crying. Crying in front of one of my childhood heroes? That wouldn’t be good. Unfortunately, I think something came up in Ricky’s schedule that day, and I never got to meet him in person. But I still remember attending that show with Dad, and getting to sit in that car. I’ll carry the memories of that day with me forever.

Sometime later Ricky Rudd had moved on from running his own racing team, Rudd Performance Motorsports, to driving the #28 Havoline Ford Taurus for Robert Yates. And wouldn’t you know, as luck would have it, Dad and I attended another one of these events where NASCAR race cars were being showed off for fans. This time however, I distinctly remember being hoisted into the car, and told to watch my head as I slid into the driver’s seat. But once I was in there it sunk in. Here I was. A kid. In the driver’s seat of a real, live, race car! I just remember how huge everything felt surrounding me. I looked out the windshield at everybody, and then at all the gauges and switches. And wishing I could fire that thing up! 800+ horses of pure American muscle. She was beautiful!

Did I actually get to sit in this thing?!

Future NASCAR Hall of Famer?

After driving the #10 and #28 cars, Ricky Rudd continued racing for quite a while. First in the red and white #21 Motorcraft Ford for Wood Brothers Racing, and then in the #88 Snickers car, again for Robert Yates, until his retirement in 2007 at the age of 51. He’s currently enjoying his retirement somewhere in his home state of Virginia, and I hope he, his wife Linda and their son Landon are doing well.

I have always respected Ricky Rudd for his toughness, consistent excellence, and never backing down from a challenge. But never did I think I may live to see the day that my favorite driver may just be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame! Here’s the link!

He’s been up for induction since 2017. He may not have seven championships like Dale Earnhardt, or 200 wins like Richard Petty. But his career still is incredibly impressive! Some of his stats:

  • 906 career starts from 1975-2007, second only to Richard Petty. This earned him the nickname “The Iron Man.”
  • 16 straight seasons with at least one win.
  • 1977 Rookie of the Year
  • 23 career wins
  • 374 Top 10 Finishes
  • 194 Top 5 Finishes
  • Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.

I hope Ricky Rudd one day makes it into the NASCAR Hall of Fame alongside Dale Earnhardt Sr., Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and others. If he does, I’ll be celebrating right along with him! Watching him race all those years ago as a kid meant a lot to me. It was more than just watching a skilled race car driver hurtle around the track. Watching Ricky Rudd race reminded me of my dad. Both in that Whirlpool was a sponsor, and that many a Sunday afternoon was spent watching him race with my family. He’s my first sports hero. A man who busted his butt to be the best, who never took any disrespect from anyone, and who treated others with the respect they were due. Thanks for everything, Champ!

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What does it mean to have faith in God?

I believe that God is continually at work on me. Even when I don’t see it or feel it. One of the areas where I feel like He’s working on me, is simply trusting Him. Especially when I am STILL looking for consistent, full-time work. But what does having faith in God really mean? It might look different to different people. For some, trusting in God means completely and entirely believing that He will provide. Even when they do nothing to facilitate it.

Perhaps I need to have greater faith in God, and I am trying. But the rational, logical part of my mind bristles at people who trust in blind faith without working hard themselves. True, we do get lucky sometimes and have things go our way in the form of blessings. But not working hard to earn the life we want, and expecting God to constantly provide for us does not make sense to me. Plus it seems arrogant of people and insulting to God. Some people seem to treat Him like a “wish machine.” I have been guilty of doing this, but I am trying to get better at not doing it.

My personal beliefs on how faith works

This is my own personal perspective: I believe that while yes, we should have faith in God to bring us through tragedies and rough spots in life, He has also given us a brain and a body to figure out solutions to our problems. This is how I view both life and scientific discovery. God reveals solutions to us in time, but we need to work toward whatever those are. We need to be like Hansel and Gretel and follow where the trail of breadcrumbs leads us. God lays down breadcrumbs to many solutions in our own lives, and in general. And when he doesn’t? That’s where faith and patience should come come into play.

There have been many times where I have been stuck with seemingly no way out or forward. Through recovery after two surgeries on my legs, several times in my undergraduate years at Kent State, several times in graduate school at the University of Findlay, moving out of my parents’ house, and now trying to find work. And I recognize that God has brought me through those times. Either by lending me a hand by placing someone in my life to help me, or carrying me through completely.

A book titled How Being Consistent Changed Everything has really forced me to look at where I stand in my faith in God. I received that book when I was an intern at WXML Radio in Upper Sandusky, Ohio in the Summer of 2013. But I hadn’t read much of it until recently. Perhaps that’s because I really wasn’t sure of my beliefs on life, and I wanted to figure out what those were at a basic level, and then tackle bigger things like this. And while the people at the radio station were very nice and helpful, I was also very leery about evangelical Christianity. In some ways, I still am put off by how certain people approach me or their beliefs. God walks with all of us, and everyone’s path to Him is different. Being preached at always rubs me the wrong way. But I digress.

At the time, I was simply focused on getting done with the internship, learning a few skills, helping take the load off of the other employees at the station, and going back to Kent to party with my buddies that fall. I’m sure many young men in their early twenties think like that. But when I left my internship to head back to school, a very nice man named Jason DeZurik gave me that book in order to be encouraging. I still appreciate the gesture to this day. I don’t know what he is doing now. But at the time, he was an evangelical pastor who stopped by for a visit at WXML to promote a new radio show he was hosting.

Fast forward to now, in March of 2020, and I am searching. Searching for my life’s purpose. Searching for a job. Searching for love and companionship. And searching for my true faith and what that looks like. And so I brought Jason’s book along when I moved out. I thought it would be good for me and help strengthen my faith, and it has. He is genuinely encouraging and I love that. But it has also rubbed me the wrong way in some ways too.

My thoughts on the book so far

Jason recounts several stories where he, his wife and their six children are seemingly left with nothing to do but pray to God for deliverance from their problems. And lo and behold, every time they pray, someone provides milk, produce, other food, or money. While the stories he tells about a neighbor providing milk or other food from time to time are heartwarming and genuinely make me smile, I’ve gotten to the part of the book where he talks routinely about complete strangers providing him money. And I don’t care for it, to put it mildly. A thousand here for a car repair. A thousand there for his wife’s sixth pregnancy. And perhaps many other examples I’ll come across as I eventually finish the book. But those examples with money reek of something called the “Prosperity Gospel.” And it’s something I’ve always despised.

The Prosperity Gospel

For those who don’t know, the prosperity gospel basically means that the more someone is blessed with money, the more God looks favorably upon them, and that money or other worldly successes, is a result of strong faith. I call bullshit on that. Some of the poorest people in the world have strong faith and are blessed by God. Two examples I can think of off the top of my head are the first Christians (the disciples and followers who physically were in the company of Jesus), and Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Jesus also teaches us that money means nothing compared to faith in God when He tells the story of the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus ends up in Heaven with Abraham while the rich man suffers for eternity in Hell. You can read that parable here.

While I am sure Jason DeZurik and his family are good people, I know they’re not perfect. Just like the rest of us. Perhaps believing in these kinds of things is one of his flaws? Who knows?

I just take issue with his stories regarding complete strangers, or even people he might know, providing him decent-sized sums of money. And I especially have an ax to grind when he says that God “put it on their heart” to give the money to him. Something about that just seems phony, dishonest and wrong to me. I also don’t believe he’s telling the truth when he presents these kinds of stories. Did God really bless him with the money needed for his family’s medical bills and car repairs? I don’t know if God works like that. With the frequency at which these “minor miracles” happen, you’d think he was especially singled out by God! Perhaps he was and is. I just know for me, faith and money do not mix. Period.

I will continue reading Jason’s book. Perhaps by the end, my mood and thoughts will change. And if they don’t, I want to understand why they are that way. Whether it’s something I need to change in how I see God and the world. Or whether Jason truly is wrong for thinking that God works like this, with discernment coming through the Bible and what Jesus says on the subject. It’ll be interesting moving forward!

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Two major flaws of humanity

Every so often, I find that I have nagging questions in my mind that I just have to answer. Otherwise they’ll continue to bug me and nag at me until I find an answer that makes sense to me. I’m having one of those days again today.

This all started a little bit ago when I was watching a new TV series called Hunters starring Logan Lerman, Al Pacino and others. It’s a fictional series set in 1977 New York, and features Jewish “Nazi hunters” who hunt down undercover Nazis that escaped to the United States after World War II. The show itself is really cool so far! Love the action and pacing. Plus Al Pacino is an absolute badass in his role as the head Nazi hunter.

But once I allowed my mind to wander a little bit, I began to ask myself one question: Why are the Jewish people so hated by the rest of the world? They’ve been the most persecuted group or nation in the history of the world and it’s not even close. From constant oppression by several ruling classes thousands of years ago, to the Holocaust in World War II, to the issues between Israel and Palestine today, Jews have seemingly dealt with trouble since their beginning, simply because they are who they are.

But that still didn’t make sense to me. Why would people hate a group for no reason other than for their mere existence? But I started reading articles to get a different perspective and try to get to the bottom of things. This one really seemed to open my eyes.

I agree with the article in that the Jews are hated and persecuted for one major reason: The world hates God and having to live morally. The world doesn’t like having to answer to anyone. God first spoke to the Hebrews, the forerunners of the Jewish people, about how to live a moral life that pleases God through the Ten Commandments delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai. After that, God came down to earth in the form of Jesus Christ to actively show humanity how we should live.

How did humanity react? In both cases, these messages of living a life that was pleasing to God were ridiculed, hated, and rejected by many. The Jews were persecuted for their message, and Jesus was crucified for His, with many Christians being persecuted for it throughout the centuries as well. The persecution of people of both faiths is ongoing to this day.

What about hate for other groups?

After examining my own thoughts on why humanity reacts so negatively to both Jewish and Christian messages, I had another thought: Why does the world hate other minorities? I let my mind go. The persecuted minorities I think of are the LGBTQ community, and the black and brown communities. While I think society has come a long way in being accepting and understanding toward these communities, there is always room to grow and learn.

My arrival at the second reason why there are persecuted minorities, isn’t from any kind of research or reading, but rather from my own personal experience: People fear, ridicule, or hate what they do not understand. I do not understand why humanity has a tendency to do this. But many people fear or hate ways of thinking different from their own. And they also fear, ridicule, or downright hate people different from them.

I do not know how we will fix either of the above problems. We certainly cannot legislate away human hatred or evil. That’s a problem we have to look into the mirror to fix. It’s a human heart problem. I suppose the closest humanity can come to fixing either issue, is to study them as if you were in the shoes of the persecuted minority, or perhaps engaging in a constructive, educational conversation with someone who identifies as a member of any of these communities, and try to gain their perspective on things. For learning is a lifelong process. And if we aren’t learning, broadening our minds, and pushing ourselves beyond what we already know, what are we doing?

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The Truth is AWOL, and Objective Journalism is Dead

I have always prided myself on trying to see opposing viewpoints. Whether I agree with them or not. Credit that to three things: being raised in a loving household with wonderful parents and an awesome sister, attending college, and naturally growing up and maturing.

While I have my own inherent biases (as does everyone on earth), I realize not everyone will see things similar to the the way I do. And that absolutely no one will see things exactly as I do, because they aren’t me. But I try to see everyone’s point of view. This is especially true when it comes to politics. Even though I am personally a right-leaning independent who was raised in a Conservative household with Christian values, attending a heavily Liberal-leaning college in Kent State University has shifted me more to the center.

But one thing I think we all can agree on, whether we lean left, right or are in the middle, is that we should always pursue the truth. Not what we want to see, but what is. But in today’s echo chamber created by CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and ridiculous conflict and fighting on social media, that seems impossible.

I stumbled across a video a few days ago that may have been the truth. Or at least a part of it. The right-leaning guerrilla journalist group Project Veritas secretly filmed ABC News correspondent David Wright openly admitting to several deceptive journalistic practices, such as intentionally misinforming voters at the behest of his boss, choosing certain stories that matter to ABC’s ratings rather than genuinely informing people on issues that matter, and stirring up outrage.

While Project Veritas is a right-leaning journalistic group, and some of their practices may be questionable (such as the hidden camera and microphone used to record Wright), I applaud Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe and his team for trying to get to the bottom of things and finding the truth through their chosen view. All that’s missing is a left-leaning group interested in working with Project Veritas to dig up the truth when it comes to Fox News, Breitbart and others. I am positive those on the right are guilty of the same things David Wright and ABC News are guilty of.

If Project Veritas and a left-leaning group interested in the same goals could come together, and work together to open everyone’s eyes to the truth outside of the echo chamber, objective journalism may one day make a comeback. But as long as there are backroom deals, money, and a political agenda involved when it comes to news, objective journalism is dead. It does not exist. Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite simply laying out facts and letting us decide things for ourselves.

In addition to the undercover video, I also have a link to one of my favorite documentaries, Shadows of Liberty. I discovered this documentary in June 2018, and ever since, I have tried my best to keep my eyes open whenever I watch one of the big media channels. Shadows of Liberty takes an unbiased look at how the media has been manipulated since the birth of our country. The media is no longer a vehicle for disseminating objective journalism. It’s a machine. A machine fueled by money, ratings, a political narrative, and our outrage over things that mostly don’t matter.

This machine doesn’t give a damn about what you or I think or truly want to know. All it’s interested in is turning everyone against each other. After all, if we’re at each other’s throats, it’s impossible for us to be angry at this machine. Even though it is one of the true enemies of the American people.

No matter where you may lean on the political spectrum, always be a critical thinker. When someone gives you a piece of news or information, resist the urge to become angry or emotional in any way. At least before you evaluate the information. Avoid articles that have a noticeable political slant or emotional language without facts from verified sources to back them up. When extreme claims are made about a subject or person (such as President Trump), avoid the urge to go along with your friends, and do your own detective work before making your decision on what to believe.

I recently found a website I am still researching called allsides.com, but I like the setup thus far. The site presents current media topics of the day. But unlike many news sites, there is an indicator whether a certain story has a left-leaning slant, right leaning slant, or is in the middle politically. Feel free to check it out for yourself here.

Sir Francis Bacon was right when he said knowledge is power. Those in positions of power count on an ignorant population. If we’re armed with knowledge and the truth, they can’t pull the wool over our eyes. And that scares them like you would not believe.

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Rejoicing in God (even when we can’t always see Him)

Hi everybody! I know I’ve been MIA for over a week since my last post. Chalk that one up to recovering from a NASTY case of the flu. The sneezing, coughing, fever, and everything else definitely sucks. But the worst part, at least to me, is having absolutely no energy to do anything. Other than sleep and try to recover. But compared to 2-3 days ago, I feel so much more healthy, and well-rested. And happy. I had gotten away from reading my devotional and Scripture, but today’s passage in the devotional gave me some encouragement and hope to look at my life in a different way.

I’m not going to lie. I have been struggling in my faith a lot over the last 2-3 weeks or so. I will always believe in God. I know He is there. But when I do not know where He is trying to take me, I don’t always see Him as the kind, all-good God that I know Him to be. I start seeing Him in a cynical, darker light unfortunately. As if I am forced to go somewhere I do not want to go. Or as if I am forced to suffer and try to be patient at a certain point in life until He conveniently decides my trials in that part of life are over. There are times He has frustrated me and angered me.

When I opened the devotional to today’s reading though, that mindset was shattered by one saying, and I am paraphrasing “Rejoice in the Lord, even when you don’t feel any joy.” That resonated with me. Perhaps it’s because I often feel like in order to be happy or truly rejoice in God, I need to be having one of those days where I am stronger in my faith. When the exact opposite is actually true.

When we look at the obstacle or trial in front of us in a negative way, it’s very easy for us to get discouraged, cynical, mock God, and give up. I’ve done it. Whereas if we look at any obstacle in front of us as God’s way of building us up by testing us, it actually strengthens our faith in Him. It gives us an extra reserve of patience, strength, and enables us to say, “Okay God, you’ve brought me through my past trials even when I didn’t think I’d make it. Give me the strength to make it through this current one.”

I don’t always look at all the trials God has brought me through. But He has brought me through many. Two surgeries. Fitting in as a kid, teenager, college student, and man with Cerebral Palsy. Two college degrees. Deaths of family members over the years. Missing an ex girlfriend something fierce, and learning to be happy with singleness after being in a committed long-term relationship. Now my biggest hurdle still lies in front of me: Finding a job that makes me truly happy. I had been looking at this hurdle all wrong. I looked at it as a place where I am stuck. Where there seems to be no end in sight to the search.

But when I consider who told us to “Rejoice in the Lord always,” I realize my problems and trials are minuscule. Saint Paul himself tells us to rejoice in God always. Even in our trials. If he could still rejoice in God in spite of being thrown in prison, beaten severely, mocked for his faith, starved, and eventually martyred, I can rejoice in God in spite of still being where I am in life. I have no excuse for not having faith if Paul had faith.

I also found when I look at my trials as obstacles to be conquered with hard work on my part, and with God’s help, rather than as immovable roadblocks, I am also happier with my life in general. I don’t know why this is, but I love the newfound feeling of peace and certainty it brings! I know I did not live almost 29 years to stay stuck where I am. I certainly will eventually find a job that fits my skill set, and that allows me to serve other people with the gifts God gave me. Until then, God is teaching me to rely on Him and be patient.

And in the same way, when you struggle in whatever trials life is throwing at you, God is asking you to turn to Him. Besides, who else, and what else do you have when your own skills and breaks run out? Humans are funny creatures. We always like to think we can control everything, and plan everything out. But that often blows up in our faces.

So I’ll end with Saint Paul’s words. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He only wants the best for you, and loves you more than anyone possibly could. And the life He gave you wasn’t always supposed to be easy. But it IS supposed to be worth it. Every trial in your path is meant to strengthen you, and give you opportunities to find God, return to Him, and glorify Him.

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Thoughts on Trump’s acquittal

Finally. It’s over. The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is over. The United States Senate voted to acquit President Trump on Article I: Abuse of Power by a 52-48 vote. They voted for acquittal as well on Article II: Obstruction of Congress by a 53-47 vote. Neither article came close to the two-thirds majority (67 of 100 senators) needed to convict and remove President Trump from office. But regardless, history was made. Unfortunately it was bad history.

For only the third time in United States history, a sitting President has gone through an impeachment trial. Andrew Johnson was the first President to be impeached and put on trial. That happened in the 1860’s after the Civil War. Next, Bill Clinton was tried for the Monica Lewinsky scandal from 1998 to 1999. And today marks the end of Donald Trump’s trial. 20 days of media sensationalism are finally over.

Even though I know the political rhetoric is nowhere near close to dying down, it’s a relief to finally be done with that chapter of history. Simply put, it was the most partisan thing I have ever seen other than the election season of 2016. This whole thing was a farce. From the speed at which the proceedings were conducted, to the timing of it in relation to the 2020 Election coming up in November, to the lack of professionalism displayed during it, I haven’t seen anything like it.

Before I dive into my thoughts at length on the acquittal, I want to say two things: Washington does not know what they are teaching us, nor how they are rubbing off on us when they bicker and fight like they have over the last three years. And they did not know or understand the gravity of what they undertook with regards to impeachment.

This country is terribly divided. Starting with Washington. The divisiveness was bad in January 2017, and it’s progressively gotten worse as time has gone on. And what the politicians fight over has spilled down to us. Their feuds have become our feuds with our neighbors and families. Their hostility toward each other has become our hostility toward everyone with an opposing viewpoint. Their stupidity has unfortunately become our stupidity.

If they showed a good example of how to work with each other, it would set a good example for how the rest of us should get along. They lead and guide this nation by doing more than just passing and enacting laws. They lead by example. Somewhere, that responsibility was forgotten or discarded. And as we’ve seen, the example they’ve set flat out sucks. In times of divisiveness, there should be leaders in charge who understand the situation, and who act in the best interest of America and her people, rather than in the best interest of their party.

Neither Donald Trump, nor many of the senators and representatives in Congress, are worthy of the offices to which they have been elected. They are not worthy of sharing the same place in history as noble and good leaders such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and John Adams. Both Democrats and Republicans disgrace themselves, the legacy of this great nation, and they disgrace us, the American People.

I know I would never want to be a politician. Politics is a nasty business, and I would probably be assassinated or blacklisted for being a good man by calling out the corruption and fixing it where I find it. But at times like this, I get fired up enough to consider learning the ins and outs of politics so I could possibly run for political office one day. Washington needs good people. So many are corrupted. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. But I feel like Washington needs people like me. Patriots who deeply love America, her history, her civic processes, and helping people who are struggling. I don’t see many of them. Uncle Sam is crying. And the Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves.

Speed of the impeachment trial

My first issue with the impeachment trial was with how quickly it was conducted. The trial itself lasted 20 days. From January 16th to February 5th. If we wanted to go back to when impeachment was voted on, right around Christmastime, the whole thing lasted roughly six weeks. For comparison, the impeachment trials of Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson lasted two and three months, respectively. The speed of this thing was a problem to me. Especially if the gravity of the situation was truly considered.

An impeachment and trial are so rare. In nearly 244 years of American history, there have only been the three impeachment trials I mentioned. You would think in cases like that, the weight of the situation would be apparent to everyone. Enough for them to consider first, if impeachment is warranted, and if it is, to take their time in working through everything.

But from the outset, it was apparent to me that the trial was rushed. 20 days is not enough time to decide if the leader of the free world should be removed from his post or acquitted. I was expecting everything to take at least 4-6 months before we got to today. Something this serious warrants much more time than just under three weeks. To make sure the right thing is done, and to respect the sacred civic processes handed down to us by our Founding Fathers. Which brings me to my next question.

How did we get here?

We will never truly know if the push for impeachment led by Adam Schiff, a Representative from California, and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, was tied to trying to influence the 2020 Presidential Election. But to me, the timing is too fishy to be coincidental.

I am an Independent who leans right, but I am no fan of Donald Trump. The man is not worthy of the office which he currently occupies. But neither are all of the senators and representatives who have tried to find any way to bring him down since Summer 2015. They are not worthy of being the leaders of our nation, either. But we’ve unfortunately been stupid enough to vote them in.

Donald Trump’s rise in American politics, from billionaire businessman to the President of the United States has shown me two things: That the Democratic and Republican parties are both in denial about who is to blame, and that a sizable number of Americans are angry with career politicians.

It is indeed interesting to go back and watch old videos of media personalities and political pundits laughing at and dismissing Donald Trump as a legitimate presidential candidate. The progression is entertaining and revealing to say the least. First, people laughed at and dismissed him. Then when he started picking up steam, they became more and more nervous, but still denied that he could win. On November 8th, 2016 after Donald Trump won the Presidency, this nervous and smug denial morphed into a full-blown meltdown and panic. After the panic died down and reality set in, we saw the final stages, which many politicians and talking heads are still stuck in today: anger, and blaming everyone and everything for Trump being President. Except themselves.

Who is truly to blame?

Many of the people who voted for Trump are labeled as condoning racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia simply because they voted for him. Are some who voted for Trump bad people? Absolutely. But there are bad people everywhere on the political spectrum. I’ve seen militant, hateful right wingers. And I’ve seen smug, arrogant and hateful lefties. But lumping entire groups together and blaming them is an excuse. An excuse to avoid looking at the real issues, and solving the real problems at hand. It’s a childish cop out.

The true blame for Trump’s presidency lies not with voters. It lies with both political parties for not taking him seriously while he was running for President in 2015 and 2016. If the leaders of both parties would’ve addressed voters who were considering voting for Donald Trump, they likely would’ve heard how dissatisfied people were with the current political climate, and adjusted accordingly. Or paid the price.

Unfortunately, both Democrats and Republicans in Washington paid the price with his election in 2016. And they will continue to pay it until they see how upset average Americans are, and work with them to understand why they’re upset. Once they realize this, there will be quality candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties who truly revere and adhere to our government processes as they were laid out after we won the war for our independence.

And when there are quality candidates, there will be leaders who encourage unity among all Americans by their example. This will hopefully put an end to, or at least greatly decrease the amount of name calling and fighting among American citizens when it comes to politics. Then we will see this great nation rise above the current circus that is going on in Washington.

And we will get along with, and learn to love our neighbors. Fellow Americans who love this country like we do. And it won’t matter that they have different ways of going about improving it. We’ll know how to communicate, and how to treat each other with decency and respect, because we will see our leaders treating each other that way.

But until our leaders recognize and admit that Donald Trump is a symptom of their own folly, complacency and arrogance, they will continue to struggle and fail. They don’t know best. We do. The American People have known how to govern themselves since July 4th, 1776. Compared to our government, we will always know what’s best. Forevermore.

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Recognizing God

I am often restless. Often never fully happy with where I currently am in my life. I have plenty more happy, and good days than bad ones, but it often feels like a little something is missing.

I think this is because I often feel pressure by society to be at a certain place at a certain time. Since I am a man in his late 20’s, society tells me I should be married with children, steady job to support a family, everything. But I have none of those things right now. And it’s often a source of deep angst and anxiety. I often fear being a lonely, old man because these things are happening for me later than most of my peers.

But I’m trying to realize something: If I am always focused on where society tells me I should be, I will absolutely NEVER be happy with where I currently am. Even when I do land a great job, find a wonderful woman or have beautiful babies, I will never be happy if I keep my old mindset. There is nothing good with constantly wanting more and being unhappy when you don’t have it. The only way to win this game? To not play.

God gave me a new mindset yesterday and today. He helped me recognize my blessings. I am alive and healthy. I have a loving family. My own place to live. A continuously growing social circle. A growing faith in God that is more noticeable because I am living alone and have to be more focused on seeking Him in different ways. I’m adjusting to living by myself and am learning to enjoy my own company. I am slowly becoming happy with where my life is at.

I know what you’re thinking. What’s so hard about recognizing the good things in life? Shouldn’t you do that every day? Yes, I should. But it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me, the negative self-talk gets to me, and I feel bad for seemingly being behind everyone else.

But I had a peaceful sleep last night. I woke up, thanked God, asked Him to forgive me of my sins, and prayed that He would forgive others who hurt me and bless them. I actively wished for their happiness instead of hoping they would “get theirs.” That last part isn’t always easy to do. But when I did, it took a burden off my shoulders. That’s what Jesus means in the Lord’s Prayer when He says the line “And forgive us our trespasses. As we forgive those who trespass against us.” God forgives us of our sins against Him if we sincerely forgive other people who have harmed us.

After that, it was like I felt a great sense of peace wash over me, and remain with me today. And I realized what a gift it is to be able to visit my parents and spend time with them. Or what a good gift it was to spend time with my sister, Christy yesterday. She picked me up from my apartment and took me out to eat at Olive Garden before we went home to see our parents. That was really cool!

With a grateful heart, and faith in God, we can recognize the simple things like spending time with one’s sibling or parents as gifts. And the worries of daily life melt away. I don’t worry about where I should be, and instead I focus on where I am. Today, I am spending time with my family 🙂

And I also recognize that I am forgiven of my sins, and loved by Jesus more than I can possibly imagine. I feel Him close by. He loves me, and I am washed clean by His sacrifice on the Cross. God loves us more than we could ever know. And He is always willing to show us our blessings, relieve us of our burdens, and wipe every tear from our eyes. All we need to do is let Him 🙂

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What am I searching for?

Have you ever had your beliefs seriously challenged or changed? If you haven’t, you’re not growing or living. And if you haven’t allowed yourself to be seriously challenged at least once in your life, you’re missing out. There is a certain skill to allowing yourself to seriously hear different viewpoints, while still keeping your faith and beliefs. I’m beginning to think many people don’t know how to do it.

I am not wiser than most. And I am still very young. At almost 29 years old, I have learned a few things, while still realizing I have a LONG way to go to being truly wise and understanding. I’ve been in a couple big discussions/mental sparring matches with Fundamentalist Christians over the last couple days, and they have definitely given me something to chew on.

When you hear the words “Fundamentalist Christian” what do you think of? For me, it carries an overwhelmingly negative connotation. I think of people who are aggressive and hostile, preach fire and brimstone sermons, and who condemn those who do not take every aspect of the Bible literally.

For the most part, I avoid these people. But every now and again, I get bugged by something and have to speak out. Or as Pop likes to say, I get a burr up my ass. In this case, I was bothered by a friend who is an EXTREMELY outspoken Fundamentalist Christian posting about how he preached to two Muslim women about how Jesus is God. I respect my friend, but I have also seen how he preaches. Any way other than his way does not register with him. He doesn’t seem like an angry person, but he could rub a lot of people the wrong way. Apparently he did that with these two Muslim women so much, that they became angry with him and told him to fuck off. He reacted to this hostility by thinking they hated the truth. When I clearly saw it as they were probably upset with him for how he approached them. Plus they were probably defensive of their own faith, too.

I do not know Islam as well as Christianity. But Muslims do not see Jesus as the Son of God. They view Him as Isa (His name in Arabic), the second greatest prophet and messenger in their faith behind Muhammad. They also do not believe Jesus was crucified. They believe he was taken up to Heaven without suffering because, according to them, God would not allow a beloved servant to suffer such a horrible death.

But I digress. Everyone gets defensive when their faith/beliefs are challenged. I certainly have. It doesn’t feel good. But I believe people should recognize that being challenged is good. After all, if someone seriously challenging your faith completely destroys it, was it a real faith to begin with? Dogmatic faith to me is not faith at all. It’s rigid and dead. It is simply parroting what we’ve been taught or learned without truly examining it, which requires questioning. Living faith is going through these periods of questioning, and figuring out what makes sense and what doesn’t, and coming out stronger afterward and knowing what you believe in and why. Why are so many people afraid of questioning their beliefs? I don’t get it. I think it’s because so many are deathly afraid to be wrong on ANYTHING.

My belief on creation

Another thing I am interested in either changing or reaffirming for myself is my belief in how the world came to be. I find myself neither on the purely scientific side where the atheists are, nor do I find myself completely on the side of Fundamentalist Christians who follow young earth creationism. I find myself in the middle. I don’t know where I picked up my belief on this, but I believe a few things about the creation of the world:

  1. The universe and the world was indeed created by God. Everything did not just come out of nothing. God is the only being or thing of any kind who never had a beginning, and who never has an end.
  2. The seven day creation story isn’t meant to be taken literally. Science has proven that the Big Bang led to the creation of our universe. But here’s where I differ from both the atheists and Fundamentalist Christians: Perhaps we can look at big scientific events as pieces of the creation story. For example, God said “Let there be light.” That could’ve been the Big Bang, since it was an unimaginably HUGE explosion that no doubt generated untold amounts of light and other things that led to our creation. Or when Genesis says that God created the heavens and the earth and the seas, one could look at the creation of the stars, asteroid bombardment of the very early Earth, and comets helping to form oceans as pieces of the creation story. And intelligent design does not disprove creation. On the contrary, intelligent provides proof of God’s handiwork. I am a big believer in this theory. Everything on earth is all made in a certain way, and for a certain purpose. From the smallest cell or atom, to the blue whale. Who do you suppose did that? This is no accident. After all, it would take more faith to take the atheist stance that things “just happened” as a happy accident, than to take the stance that some higher power created everything.
  3. The seven days of creation in the Bible could mean billions of years. Could God have created the earth in seven 24-hour days? Sure. Nothing is impossible for God. But I still don’t know how to reconcile that with what I learned growing up in science class. Plus time to God is nothing, while to us, our lives flash by in a blink. 75-80 years if we’re lucky.
  4. Science and faith support one another in the creation story. They’re not at odds. The illusion that they are is unfortunately a byproduct of arrogant atheists and arrogant Christians having to be right over the years, because they’re afraid to be wrong. Science and faith work together. God instills faith in us to turn to Him when we don’t understand something. But he also gives us a mind and brain to figure things out that He reveals to us. Purely believing on blind faith without questioning is a form of arrogance, and a disguise for fear. Some are scared of being wrong if they question themselves. Just as purely believing in human reason is absurd and just as arrogant. We are extremely flawed, and nowhere near close to perfect. Plus perhaps some in the atheist community are scared to concede anything to the opposing side for the exact same reason: They’re afraid to be wrong about anything. And they’ll look foolish. Or so they believe. After all, they can’t have those who believe in the “invisible man in the sky” proving them wrong, can they? 😉

Do we resist God?

During my search, I also attended my first Bible study in a long while. I initially did it to just get out of my apartment, so I didn’t go crazy. But after studying Matthew 3 in the Bible (Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist), we somehow worked our way to beliefs in creationism.

While I don’t necessarily know if I completely agree with Jake, the guy who led the Bible study on this next point, I do see where he comes from. He believes that so many aren’t willing to believe in a literal creation story, because they do not want to obey or follow God. His line of thinking goes like this: If there is a God -> there is a Divine will for how things are supposed to be -> if God wills things to be a certain way, He wills a plan for us to follow -> if He wills a plan for us to follow, then it is in our best interest to follow Him and that will, and not our own way. And we resist this because we don’t want to take any accountability for our actions and answer to God. He definitely has a valid point. But at the same time, who is to say God’s will isn’t for us to question things to learn more and grow closer to Him, or grow deeper in knowledge and faith this way? After all, we can’t contain God or box him in anywhere. He is too big for even the smartest person alive to come close to even remotely comprehending Him. We do not have all the answers.

Genesis: Paradise Lost

I am very interested in a fairly recent documentary/movie called Genesis: Paradise Lost. It was released in late 2017, and basically aims to prove how evolution is a lie, and how the young earth creationist theory is correct, which states that the Earth is not 4.6 billion years old, but rather only 6,000 years old.

While I do not believe the Earth is 6,000 years old, I have never really allowed myself to listen to that theory. I didn’t feel I needed to. But I pride myself in listening to all kinds of different viewpoints and trying to find some common ground in all of them or most of them. So I rented this movie and am going to watch it soon. While a movie will not completely reshape or reaffirm what I know, it will definitely allow me to find out where I am in the whole creation debate. I’ll just be happy to explain my beliefs better, defend them with reason, and back them with Scripture and faith when need be.

Always challenge yourselves, folks. There is nothing wrong with doing so. After all, if we don’t challenge ourselves in any way, we don’t grow.

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Thoughts on Scripture

“The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

-Gospel of Luke, Chapter 6, Verse 45.

I’ve been meditating on and thinking about that simple line. It may be only one verse, but it’s really convicting for who I am currently as a person. I swear like a trucker. I have a temper. I sometimes lose that temper, too. And because of that anger, I have said hurtful things in the past to people I am supposed to love. My mother. My sister. My ex-girlfriend Rachel. And probably too many other times and people to remember.

Up until today, I used to think cusswords were only cusswords, and that sometimes it’s a relief to swear. In some ways I still think it is a stress reliever to let the words fly every now and then. But I either never knew about this Bible verse, or had forgotten about it until today. And it is about so much more than watching one’s tongue.

I stumbled across it while watching The Gospel of Luke, an epic retelling of that Gospel on Netflix. Each of the four Gospels have been made into movies you can watch on Netflix. They’re simply called what they are (Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke, Gospel of John). These movies are long though. Roughly at least three hours long. But I find if you split them up into parts or sections, or find good stopping points, they’re enjoyable and enlightening to watch. I sometimes find them more entertaining than reading the Bible and doing things the old fashioned way. They’re brought to life by great actors and storytelling!

But that Bible verse was convicting for me. As someone who struggles with a temper and patience at times, when I heard “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of,” I had to ask myself, “That’s not me is it? I’m not a bad person, am I?” I try to do good things for other people. But I am a sinner who needs to improve on how I relate to others, and what I say.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I sometimes don’t realize the kind of weight words carry. After all, they’re “just words” right? Boy, was I wrong. But in the same way we can really hurt people with what we say, we can lift them up and show them love and compassion as well with a kind or loving word or two. Pardon my French here, and go ahead and laugh if you want to, but I’ve gotta be straight: The saying “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a load of bullshit. I have hurt people with certain things I have said. And I have been hurt by people with certain things they have said. But to hear Jesus Himself say that the words we say are basically a reflection of who we are as people, and they are a window into our character, it was an uncomfortable and convicting thought. I didn’t like what I saw in myself.

But that is usually the first small step in growing to become better versions of ourselves. We don’t like some aspect of who we are, and we try to become better. So while I may not be able to instantly stop swearing like a sailor from this point forward, I will at least try sincerely to be more mindful of how I come across, and what I say. It truly is interesting how we can glean a lot out of one small verse of Scripture, and see where we need to get better.

Link to Netflix Gospel of Luke movie: https://www.netflix.com/title/81035749

Gospel of Matthew movie: https://www.netflix.com/title/81035751

Gospel of Mark movie: https://www.netflix.com/title/81035750

Gospel of John movie: https://www.netflix.com/title/81035748

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State of the Browns

There was great disappointment in the way the 2019 Cleveland Browns performed this past season. I still don’t understand how such a talented team only mustered a 6-10 record, when they very easily could have (and probably should have) been at least 10-6 and making their first playoff appearance since January 2003.

Former head coach Freddie Kitchens was fired after the team’s loss at Cincinnati to end the season on December 29th. Rumor has it that he was fired right after getting off the team bus once he arrived back in Cleveland. He didn’t even make it to Monday.

But the Browns spared no expense in finding his replacement. After an exhaustive two and a half week coaching search that included the likes of former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, and former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, the Browns chose former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to be their newest head coach.

Admittedly, I did not know much about Stefanski before the team hired him, other than he was intrigued on working with current Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. But now after having done some research, I’ve learned a little bit more about his background. Let’s take a look at the new man at the helm in Cleveland.

New Browns head coach, Kevin Stefanski

Coach Stefanski is a young head coach at 37 years old. At the start of his NFL coaching career back in 2006, he first served as the assistant to then-Vikings head coach Brad Childress. Stefanski then steadily climbed the ranks as a coach on the offensive side of the ball. His positions before assuming the head coach position with the Browns included: assistant quarterbacks coach (2009-2013), tight ends coach (2014-2015), running backs coach (2016), quarterbacks coach (2017-2018), interim offensive coordinator (2018), offensive coordinator (2019). As you can see, his background includes a wide variety of expertise working with all the different offensive player groups.

My initial opinion on the hiring of Stefanski was mixed to negative. But that was likely due to seeing many of these past head coaches fail to pan out. The Browns have not had a legitimate, proven head coach in Cleveland since Bill Belichick was in Cleveland from 1991-1995. They have mainly hired offensive and defensive coordinators in the hope that one of them would become a legitimate head coach. My initial issue with the hiring of Kevin Stefanski was not with who the man is, or his knowledge of the game. He seems extremely intelligent. But he has a long way to go until he turns the Cleveland Browns into a consistent winner. The turnaround will start with a coach who can keep all the loud personalities on his team in line.

While a flashy offensive system is interesting and fun to watch, it is most important for a winning Browns coach to be a disciplinarian. Sure, the team still is incredibly talented. But when there is no discipline, you have what happened in 2019: Personalities not playing as a cohesive unit, and overshadowing the common team goal, which is to win consistently. There is a quote from Stefanski that has already raised my opinion of him. In his introductory press conference, when asked about how he’d manage the personalities on the team, he simply said: “Personality is welcome. Your production is required.” If Coach Stefanski can stick to that mindset, and instill discipline when Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and others step out of line, it’ll pay dividends on the way to getting the Browns to where they should be as a winning football team.

State of the coaching staff

Along with having the right attitude, a successful head coach needs the right staff of men to support him as coordinators and position coaches. No head coach can win by themselves. Nor should they try. As of January 28th, the Browns coaching staff around Stefanski is not yet complete. But according to WKYC Channel 3 in Cleveland, Coach Stefanski has kept three coaches from Freddie Kitchens’ previous staff: Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, assistant special teams coach Doug Colman, and running backs coach Stump Mitchell. While I do not know much about Doug Colman, the retention of Mike Priefer and Stump Mitchell make sense to me. Priefer previously worked as the Special Teams Coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, while Stefanski was with them. So there’s a prior relationship between Stefanski and Priefer.

Last season in Cleveland, Stump Mitchell helped develop one of the most potent running backs in the league last year in Nick Chubb, who ran for 1,494 yards in 2019. Stump also worked with Kareem Hunt after his return from a suspension, and was able to turn him into an important part of one of the best 1-2 punches in the NFL, and make the Browns a legitimate threat when running the football.

Stump Mitchell

While attending the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards on January 22nd, Coach Stefanski was very clear about why he kept Stump Mitchell on his coaching staff: “I really like the way he teaches. I love the toughness that he brings to our staff room, to our field, and I think the proof is in the pudding. He had two really good players playing this year. So I think he’s an excellent coach, and excited that he’s going to be part of our future.”

As for the other key positions on the staff, Coach Stefanski has hired the following assistant coaches: Bill Callahan (offensive line coach), Drew Petzing (tight ends coach), and Chad O’Shea (wide receivers coach). I am most intrigued and excited about the hiring of Bill Callahan for a number of reasons. The offensive line was shaky and weak at times last season in protecting Baker Mayfield, which often was a contributing factor in bad decisions on his part. Baker is at his best when he is given time to throw thanks to solid pass protection. The running game also flourishes when there is effective blocking, and when the offensive linemen win the battle in the trenches and control the line of scrimmage.

According to Damien Woody, a former NFL offensive lineman who is currently a commentator for ESPN, Bill Callahan is a master technician at developing and mentoring offensive linemen. “You don’t necessarily have to be the strongest. It’s about your hands, your feet, and your leverage. Bill Callahan is just a master technician in drilling these things down day after day. And he is relentless in that. He will not stop. He will continue to do that every day, and that’s what makes him special.”

Bill Callahan

In addition to his wealth of experience in working with offensive linemen throughout the NFL and college ranks over the past three decades, Callahan has also held head coaching positions on three separate instances. He was with the Oakland Raiders from 2002-2003 (appeared in Super Bowl XXXVII), with Nebraska from 2004-2007, and served as the interim head coach of the Washington Redskins in 2019 following the dismissal of Jay Gruden.

New General Manager: Andrew Berry

In addition to assembling the coaching staff, Stefanski has been working with Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, to find their general manager. On January 27th, they made it official: They found their man in Andrew Berry. Berry will serve as both Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager. Berry previously worked with the Browns from 2016-2018 as Vice President of Player Personnel under previous Browns General Managers Sashi Brown and John Dorsey. According to the Browns team site, in each season Berry was with the team, the Browns selected a future Pro Bowler (Joe Schobert, linebacker, 2016; Myles Garrett, defensive end, 2017; Denzel Ward, cornerback, 2018; Nick Chubb, running back, 2018).

New Browns GM, Andrew Berry

Berry is now the NFL’s youngest General Manager at 32 years old, but he has seen firsthand what it takes to stockpile and acquire talent to improve a team. And even though he is still very young in executive circles, there is a reason Berry is this high within an organization at his age. He’s incredibly intelligent, and his colleagues that he has worked with around the NFL trust him to make big-time decisions.

The only issue I have is knowing if Coach Stefanski, and Berry will get along. I still do not know if hiring a GM after hiring a head coach is a good way to go about things because of the relationship dynamic, and because a GM is usually a head coach’s boss. Although perhaps the Haslams are interested in assembling a non-traditional front office structure. Coach Stefanski also did have a say in who the new General Manager was going to be before Berry was hired. This looks like a non-traditional power structure that will be more collaborative in nature, rather than top down. In a typical front office, which operates with a top down dynamic, there are three levels to the power structure:

  1. The Owner: The ownership group spends the money to hire General Managers, the head coach and his coaching staff, and the players. Also determines what the overall vision and culture for the football team should be.
  2. The General Manager: Answers to the Owner, assembles a team that the owner wants in order to be in line with the owner’s vision and culture. Scouts, signs and drafts players who they believe will be a good fit for the team.
  3. The Head Coach and his staff: Hired by the General Manager. Answers to the General Manager, and coaches the players that the General Manager signs and drafts.

It remains to be seen if this kind of collaborative front office is going to turn out really great, or be a mistake. I personally am not a fan in messing with tradition when it comes to the power structure of a football team. Can an unorthodox power structure succeed? Absolutely. However, there is a reason most successful front offices are built in the top down way I described, and why most winning teams follow this structure: IT WORKS. If something has been proven successful many times, I see no need to reinvent the wheel. Browns ownership should focus on creating a winning culture and football team before they try to outsmart everyone else in the league.

Berry replaces former Browns GM John Dorsey, who was relieved of his duties on New Year’s Eve, despite acquiring talented players such as Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, and Odell Beckham Jr. Following the 2019 season, Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam wanted Dorsey to take a reduced role in the organization while still retaining the title of GM. But Dorsey declined, and parted ways with the team.

Overall, I am keeping a wait and see attitude with everything. The Browns still have the talent to compete with, and beat most teams in the NFL on the way to a great season in 2020. But it all hinges on getting the right people to Cleveland who run the show. Hopefully the Haslams, Paul DePodesta, Coach Stefanski, and Andrew Berry find the right people and players to restore the Browns to what they once were: A proud, successful, bedrock franchise of the National Football League!

Sources

Damien Woody on Bill Callahan:

https://www.wkyc.com/article/sports/nfl/browns/damien-woody-bill-callahan-might-be-best-hire-cleveland-browns-have-made-this-offseason/95-174ca0b1-fe08-4be4-bf1e-dd1b1127d804

Information on Andrew Berry:

https://www.clevelandbrowns.com/news/andrew-berry-named-browns-executive-vice-president-of-football-operations-and-ge

Browns coaching staff updates:

https://www.cleveland.com/browns/2020/01/kevin-stefanski-staff-tracker-see-how-the-browns-coaching-staff-looks-so-far.html

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How do you spend time with Jesus?

Living by oneself definitely takes some getting used to. So I’ve been trying to keep myself busy by job hunting and looking for those kind of connections, or enjoying hobbies such as this or videogaming. But this morning, something happened that made me feel peaceful, or see “unexpected quiet time” in a different way.

For some reason, my TV would not work until just a little bit ago. Technology is only great when it works, am I right? But instead of getting angry about things not working like I normally would, I calmed myself and was like, “Okay. I’m going to focus on other things today instead of being upset and wasting time on the TV.”

As soon as I shifted that mindset, I began to actually enjoy the complete silence and feel content, and later asked Jesus to bring me closer to Him in any way, take care of me and forgive me. And since then, I’ve felt peace today. And I don’t often have this kind of thought, because I don’t really think that deep about it. But I wish I could physically SEE Jesus, talk to Him, and spend time with Him. It was like missing a friend and wishing you could see them again. I felt sad.

Even though I’m sure it was a hard life 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, I wish I had been able to tag along with Jesus and the Apostles back in their day. Witnessing miracles and seeing Jesus for myself would’ve been indescribable. I would’ve wanted to sit next to Him and be close to Him wherever He went. Although I know I would’ve been like Peter, when he said, “Depart from me, Lord. For I am a sinful man.”

Peter felt unworthy of following Jesus. I do too. Always. I never consider myself a leader or as strong in my faith as I think I should be. It bothers me when I sin one moment, and try to read Scripture or pray the next. But then I remember Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, and am renewed day after day. It wasn’t always like this. I used to despair over whenever I would screw up, and feel like I was doomed to be in trouble. But constantly beating ourselves up is denying the healing that Jesus can bring. And He can bring us this healing and peace anywhere, and at any time of day. All we need to do is focus our minds and hearts on Him and ask.

Before I moved into the apartment, I often found peace and Jesus outside in nature. I love being outside when it’s warm out. But now I am finding Him in volunteering to help people, studying Scripture from time to time (I need to do that more often), and today, in the quiet time created by no TV, even though it wasn’t what I was expecting.

Jesus is always there. We just have to calm our minds, pray to Him, and allow our mind and heart to go closer to Him. Finding Him and growing closer to Him doesn’t have to mean simply going to Church every Sunday either, although I encourage everyone to go if that’s how they find Him the easiest. But you can find Him and spend time with Him everywhere. He brings unbelievable peace to those who find Him. It’s like you don’t have to worry about anything, you’re content, secure, and stronger in your faith. And you’re more capable of being patient, kind and loving to others. More like Him.

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The importance of family and friends (Part 2)

Hey everybody! I’m back! Hope everyone’s having a good Martin Luther King Day! 🙂

But I thought I’d pick up where I left off, and introduce you to some of my good friends. They’re the circle of people I roll with, haha. It really is interesting how life gives and takes certain people from our paths. In my past I had some of these same friends, but I also had other people I used to be friends with and talk to all the time. I thought they’d be around for a while. But life, perhaps different views on values, and other things took them off my path.

I used to be really sad whenever I’d lose a friend I thought would be around for a long time. But now I realize that life is always changing. It’s never constant. Plus I also understand now that people are blessings, lessons, or both. And losing people also shows me the kind of ideal circle of friends I want to surround myself with. It helps me learn what I want and don’t want in a close friend. I am friendly to just about everyone. That’s me. If I don’t like someone, something’s wrong. But if I see someone as a lifelong friend who is worth my time and energy, I give them everything. So let’s meet “the gang” shall we?

Tony

I first met Tony back in early 2011, when I was a freshman completing my second semester at Kent State. I remember three things about meeting him: It was cold and snowy since it was January, I felt instantly comfortable talking to him, and I actually met someone who could keep up with me when it came to talking sports! We discussed the upcoming NFL Draft that day, since it seems like our beloved Cleveland Browns will ALWAYS be in rebuilding mode.

We’d always hang out at least once a week when I was on campus too for lunch and bond that way. I miss those days. Now I have to venture up to Kent every few months to go see him, but I always carve out “bro time.”

Folks, if you know both me and Tony, you already know how we are personality-wise, but if you don’t know us, let me just say: if you watch us interact within the same room, you’re in for a laugh riot! I don’t know why Netflix hasn’t come calling either one of us yet for our own comedy series or standup special. They’d make buku bucks off of that! Two guys with Cerebral Palsy who are brutally honest straight shooters, who love sports, and who have a wicked sense of humor when it comes to our conditions and SO many other things? They’re missing out! Every time I visit, it’s probably a max of five minutes until either one of us is dying laughing about something!

I’m glad he’s in my life because of how much he makes me laugh. But he’s also been there when I haven’t been laughing and smiling. He’s seen plenty of tears, too. He has been there for me through all of my low points and stressful times, and has pushed me and kept me going, and not let me feel sorry for myself. Which is all too easy to do sometimes. I consider him my closest friend, and talk to him every day. And I told him that if I ever get married, I would definitely consider him for my Best Man. Although I don’t know if I’d want him planning my bachelor party, haha! We’re going to still be friends when we’re a couple of old men in the nursing home. He’s my “big brother.”

Alex

Alex and his girlfriend, Madison

Alex has been my oldest friend. I can’t even remember how long we’ve known each other, but it’s at least been 20 years! His sisters Cassy and Bryanna used to babysit for my sister Christy and I when we were little, and Alex and I grew up riding the school bus too. I used to spend a lot of time with him at his parents’ house. There was always some kind of game or fun going on down in the basement. Even as grown men now, we still do that from time to time. Especially when he comes up from Alabama to Ohio with Madison to visit. When he’s there, we always have to hang out and drink a cold one at least once at Paul and Sue’s. Or when it’s warmer out, light a bonfire, have some friends of ours over and have a good time. His parents are wonderful people for letting me spend time with him and everyone at their house. Paul always cracks me up, and Sue is a sweetheart!

Alex, or “Al” as I sometimes call him, is one of those friends who I keep in touch with, but he’s such a close friend that if I don’t physically hang out with him in a few months, whenever we do hang out, it feels like we didn’t miss a beat!

We always talk Buckeye football too. He’s the biggest Buckeye fan I know, and that makes sense considering he and Madison both graduated from THE Ohio State University! Every Saturday morning during fall Saturdays, one of us always texts the other “O-H!!!” and gets a hearty “I-O!!!” in return! He’s a Steelers fan unfortunately, but that makes for some interesting comedy and conversation…even if most of the time I come out on the losing end.

It’s really neat how he’s still here, and always someone I can reach out to. In spite of all the twists and turns we’ve both taken on the path of life, he’s still there. I think that’s God telling me to keep him. And I definitely will!

Slade

Slade and I with his aunt and uncle at a Cleveland Indians game, 2013

While I try to be friendly to everyone, and definitely was that way in high school, Slade is probably my closest friend from that time in my life. I knew of him of when we were teenagers, but we really got to know each other when I was a Sophomore in high schol, and he was a Senior. He’s two years older than I am. But we first got to know each other in Mrs. Tanner’s class.

Slade and I are both hardworking, intelligent guys, but Mrs. Tanner was our special education teacher when we were in high school. It took me longer to finish complex homework, and she sometimes helped him to get concepts he was struggling with. We bonded over sports (what else? Haha) and drove Mrs. Tanner and our classmate Korey absolutely crazy with it! He’s a big Cleveland sports fan like I am.

But I also admire him for his extremely high work ethic. He works hard and busts his butt with everything he does in life. If the world had more Slades, things would get done in a HURRY!

He’s sometimes socially awkward, and shy, but once he knows people, he’s got an absolute heart of gold and will give anything to those he cares about. He’s always been there for me. And while we’ve both taken care of each other, one instance of him taking care of me sticks out in my mind as to how far he’ll go to take care of those who matter to him.

I was home for Christmas break one winter, and we were spending time with his friends Dylan, Lisa and Julian, who is from Germany. We were outside in the snow, and it was bitterly cold. The wind stung my face, and the snowflakes felt like tiny little darts. We went sledding if I remember correctly. I don’t know why I wasn’t wearing gloves at the time, but before I could put them on, I was pushed down a snowdrift and fell out of the sled, and used my bare hands to catch myself. Not smart. At all. Wet hands and bitterly cold wind? That’s a good way to get frostbite and lose a couple fingers!

I only have seizures from queasiness once or twice a year if that. I haven’t had a seizure in almost three years, knock on wood. But as soon as my hands got wet that night, I couldn’t move them and thought I had frozen them. I thought I’d eventually lose a few fingers or my hand! Then the seizure started kicking in, and I felt lightheaded and tried to alert everyone that I wasn’t doing well. No one seemed to understand right away what was going on, but Slade did. He took me back to Dylan’s truck, helped me in, and cranked up the heat. After I warmed up, he asked if I wanted to stay with everyone, or go with him to his parents’ house. I went with him back to Jeff and Theresa’s house.

As soon as we were inside I felt so much better. I relaxed and recovered, even though I couldn’t feel the tips of my fingers for at least another day afterward. We watched episodes of a hilarious adult cartoon show called Metalocalypse, and shared a good laugh, and then all was normal again.

I didn’t realize that night how much he helped me. But as the years have passed, I realized that’s what true blue friends do. I love Slade for his sense of humor, he inspires me to work hard because he works hard, and he’s always ready to talk about the Browns, Cavs or Indians. But I admire him most for his heart of gold. If you’re ever fortunate to meet someone like Slade, keep them. The world is full of fakes. But he’s as genuine as they come!

Dave

Dave, his girlfriend Ashley and I at the Ohio State Spring Game last April

Dave is another high school friend of mine. I graduated from Carey High school in 2010 with his older brother, Scott, but I first met him when I was a Junior and he was a Freshman. We got to know each other in Mr. Asher’s Human Conflict and War class, which would’ve been a really neat class if Mr. Asher would’ve actually bothered to teach it instead of taking a nap, haha!

But he’s always been good to me and kept in touch with me. Even though we’re both busy with life, he always tries to get me out of my apartment or parents’ house to have a good time whenever he can. Whether it’s at the Ohio State Spring Game, or simply spending time going out to eat at Texas Roadhouse or Buffalo Wild Wings, he always livens things up, or we crack each other up! Aside from my parents, Dave and his girlfriend Ashley were actually my first visitors to the apartment after I’d moved in. When you’re living alone, it really is special when people go out of their way to visit you, or make you feel welcome. And Dave has always done that!

Melissa

Last, but most definitely not least, is my friend Melissa. She’s a more recent friend, but she’s still important to me. I first met her in August 2018. My girlfriend at the time was a bridesmaid for a childhood friend of Melissa’s. She’s unique in my circle of friends in that she’s English! Yep, she came across the pond to help celebrate the wedding, and that’s where I first got to know her.

I wasn’t sure how to act around her or the other English people at the wedding at first, just because I’m a loud personality, which, no pun intended, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But as I got to know her at the wedding, and in the weeks and months after, I realized that she was fun to talk to, laid back and very understanding. Some people might have this stereotype of English people being prim, proper or rigid, but she’s not like that all! She always makes me laugh, and she’s very informal, which is definitely more my style.

I also enjoy texting back and forth with her because we both use our versions of slang, and can learn new sayings from each other. Up until a couple days ago, I never knew what the acronym OAP means, and she doesn’t often hear the word “shucks” used in everyday conversation, haha. I just think it’s neat learning different cultural things from each other, or teaching each other what life is like in our part of the world.

It’s really cool too how we can have polar opposite political views and religious beliefs, and still be respectful and good friends, and have deep discussions from time to time. I am a Christian who leans right on the political spectrum. She’s an atheist who leans more left. But our respect for each other trumps everything else.

I have never been out of the country before, but someday, I want to travel to England to visit her, her husband and daughter. Although I’ll have to be on my best behavior when she shows me around. I can’t be a loud, obnoxious American over there. The Brits have their rules, after all 😉

I would rather have a few people I could count on to keep in touch with me and be there for me, over hundreds of acquaintances I don’t get to know on a personal level. Blessed to have all of these people in my life!

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The importance of family and friends (Part 1)

I have always been a people person. Some have called me a “social butterfly.” I just love being around others. I am at my absolute best when I am in the company of those I care about. Which is why it is definitely taking some adjusting getting used to truly living on my own for the first time in my life. I cannot just go down the hall here at the apartment complex and chat with people like I used to do when I was in the dorms at Kent State.

I have no roommate or girlfriend. I am truly alone. It’s a scary and sobering experience. Until I remember my circle of friends.

You know, as I get older, I realize it’s so much more important to have a close, tight-knit circle of people there for you when times get tough, or you approach a new stage in life. Many acquaintances are a dime a dozen. But a handful of true friends and family are like fine gems. Hard to find and impossible to replace.

I don’t know if she was right. But for some reason, a quote by a character named Karen Page from one of my favorite TV series, The Punisher, hits home: “Sometimes I feel that all life is, is trying not to be lonely.” I think there’s definitely an element of truth to that.

But I have leaned on my family and friends through everything, and they have leaned on me too when they’ve needed help and support. They’ve gotten me through many rough and uncertain spots. From two college degrees, the death of my cousin and grandmother, the worst breakup I’ve ever had, and getting my own place. If they weren’t here, I’d be in a world of hurt. I’d be an absolute emotional wreck.

I’ll never understand people who completely close themselves off from this kind of support either. Humans are social creatures, meant to be in the company of other people. That’s how God created us. To love and to be loved. When we close ourselves off, we become bitter, miserable and angry. And who in the hell wants to live like that? I don’t!

I feel I should tell you a little bit about the people who are the biggest stabilizing influence in my life right now, starting with my family.

Me, Mom, Pop, and Christy

The two-parent, “normal” family is rare anymore. But I am glad my mother Stacy, and father, Larry have been married for almost 30 years. (Their 30th Anniversary is actually on July 12th!) Have they had a perfect marriage? Absolutely not. But they have raised my sister and I in a loving home. They’re old school in their values, such as hard work, having faith in God, and respecting others. But “old school” is refreshing in a world where it seems like everyone is so confused about many things!

I view Mom and Pop as two personalities that balance each other out. Especially when it came to raising me. Pop was “the heavy” and laid down the law when I screwed up. But he was, and still is also the first one to give me a hug and encourage me when I do right! He showed me how important it is to be a man with character. He’s taught me to be a man who says what he means, means what he says, and who tries to live by that. And to stand up for people and myself. He toughened me up.

Mom was definitely the nurturing one, as most mothers probably tend to be with their children. She was patient with me growing up when I was a small boy with Cerebral Palsy. I am sure it absolutely was not easy seeing me walk with braces or a walker. Or teaching me necessary life skills. That’s probably hard enough for a parent with a physically normal child. Let alone one with a condition of any kind. But she let me know I was loved all the same. I was not “different” or “ugly” or not worthy of love. I was just me 🙂

My sister, Christy and I definitely have different personalities. She is Type A, where she is very goal-oriented and driven, and that’s awesome! I myself am definitely Type B, in that I still work hard at something I want to accomplish, but I think I slow down and try to enjoy life more because I cannot go at her speed or pace. I tried doing that in the past and it drove me crazy, stressed me out, and simply wasn’t me. What makes us happy also seems different. If I had people over here in the apartment to visit, or I went home to visit Mom and Pop, that would make me happy in that I am a homebody. Someone who feels content to be close to family and loved ones always. Christy and I both love our family, but she’s more of the adventurous type who travels a lot and sees new things. I want to be more like her in that way. One of these days I want to travel either to Las Vegas or England to visit a friend and her family!

No matter how different we are personality-wise though, I am also learning something important as time passes: The sibling rivalry of the past (and we had a LOT of it), fades. And you start to realize that you can get along better, and be there for each other when needed. I now chuckle at, and agree with what Mom used to say. It was annoying at the time, especially after she broke up fights between Christy and I, but now it makes perfect sense: “You two are the only siblings you’re ever going to have! So quit fighting and get along! Because one day your Dad and I will not be here!”

I am truly fortunate to have my family. I always have to work not to take it for granted that I have such a good one. Because in today’s society, a tight, two-parent family who is always there for each other is a rarity. Or at least it’s becoming more and more rare unfortunately. Where children learn to be decent people, and how to treat others, begins in the home, with hopefully a good family. And when times get rough, if this person has a good family like I do, they are supported, loved, and helped through everything until they can get back on their feet. Aside from Jesus’ sacrifice and life itself, my family is God’s greatest blessing!

But I also have other blessings too. They’re called friends! Stay tuned, and you’ll meet my friends Tony, Slade, Alex, Dave, and Melissa 🙂

Until then, catch ya on the flipside everybody!

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Violation of individuality?

I saw something that angered me earlier today for a number of reasons. A 9th grade girl from Kentucky was expelled from her school, Whitefield Academy. But it wasn’t for the reason you might think. When people get expelled from high school, it’s usually for drug possession, possession of weapons, continuous fighting or other bad behavior.

But Kayla Kenney, the girl in the picture above, was expelled from the school after administrators caught sight of a Facebook post by her mother in which she was wearing a rainbow shirt during her birthday celebration, complete with a rainbow birthday cake. Let’s turn a blind eye to bullies who have gotten worse thanks to a lack of parenting, and other serious issues high school students face like depression, and finding out who they are, as well as their purpose in the world, and kick a girl out of school for a shirt she wore. If the administrators really were THAT upset over things, they should’ve given her another shirt to change into, let her do so, and then remind her of their dress code if they have one. That’s what administrators would do at Carey High School, and it seemed fair to me.

But I digress. The real issue here, at least to me, boils down to one simple thing: Whitefield Academy, and so many other schools, are focused more on political correctness. Rather than protecting, nurturing, and encouraging children to be who they are, or at least try to help them find out who they are, and enjoy doing so. I don’t know how you all were as teenagers, but I hadn’t found my identity yet back in 2006. Hell, I’m almost 30 years old now, and I still am searching for my place in the world.

But instances like this favor a school’s policies over the healthy growth of children into unique individuals who each have their own gifts and personalities to offer to the world. It stifles individuality. You can see how this gets me going. I already don’t like institutions telling others how to live. But when a person’s individuality is threatened, that’s two strikes. This country already has enough mindless drones and sheep who can’t think for themselves. What it needs are individuals. People like Kayla Kenney who bring joy, and a breath of fresh air to a bland world. I hope Whitefield Academy pays dearly for this in whatever way possible. Schools should be places of learning and discovery. Not a place for bureaucrats to enforce rules.

Article link: https://fox8.com/2020/01/15/lifestyle-violation-9th-grader-expelled-over-facebook-birthday-photo-with-rainbow-cake-t-shirt/?fbclid=IwAR3Gu5_oZnkFtTRoPeTNNf6WCH0oRXYnxIjBqdBT9bPlVv5iNB61D5F9V-o