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T-Minus 40 Days

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

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

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

Where do I stand?

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

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

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

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

Ranked Choice Voting

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

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

However, I do see two cons to the system:

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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A Wonderful Opportunity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once a Blue Devil, Always a Blue Devil!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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F1 Race #8: Italian GP

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

End of an era at Williams Racing

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

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

Frank Williams and his daughter, Claire

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

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

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

Limping Pony: Part II

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

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

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

Party time for Pierre!

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

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

Pierre Gasly, 2020 Italian Grand Prix winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Italian Grand Prix Results

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

World Driver’s Championship Top 5

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

World Constructor’s Championship Standings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless and take care everybody! 🙂

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Browns Fever!

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

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

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

NFL Head Coach

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

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

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

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

Browns Classics

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

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

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

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

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

Building the Browns

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

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

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

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Stipe Miocic: The G.O.A.T

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stipe: The Fighter

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

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

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

Stipe: Man of the People

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

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

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

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

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Deja Vu: In England for two!

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

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

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

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

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

The Flying Dutchman!

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

Max Verstappen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

70th Anniversary Grand Prix Results

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

2020 World Driver’s Championship Standings

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

2020 World Constructor’s Championship Standings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Gospel of John: My favorite part of Scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you all! Take care, everybody! 🙂

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Life through the eyes of an underdog

I have often envied my friends and peers who I feel are “farther along” in life than I am. Constantly comparing myself to them, and feeling like I do not measure up, or that I have failed in life thus far. Folks, I cannot tell you how many times I have viewed my life this way. And every time I do, it makes me bitter, angry at myself, hopeless and sad.

Thankfully, I wasn’t feeling this way today. I have actually been in a great mood! The weather is gorgeous, so I’ve spent my afternoon outside taking care of some stuff. Not to mention my friend Melissa from England FaceTimed me, and we had a nice chat. She always makes me smile! Not to mention all the little British cultural things and sayings I learn from her make me chuckle too. It’s like we speak different languages and live in different worlds, haha. I talked to Mom and Dad too. And I’m going to FaceTime with my buddies Tony and Michael later tonight. Those guys are like my brothers. So thankfully I’ve been in a mostly happy mood today.

But on those days where I envy others because I feel like they’re farther ahead in life, or that I am a failure, it’s absolutely soul-crushing. Those especially bad days absolutely kick my ass. Although I think I just may have found a way to view life differently, and shift my mindset: by looking at life as though I am an underdog. I understand that I have had a great amount of help throughout my life to get to where I am, and I thank everyone who has helped me get to that point. But my life has always seemed to move slower than most people’s. I arrive at milestones later than other people. But I still get there and accomplish them. It takes me an extra step or two to accomplish things, but I do it. Perhaps this has something to do with my Cerebral Palsy, and other related obstacles? I don’t know. But I’m not going to use that as an excuse.

But I feel like truly embracing that underdog mindset will toughen me up, make me hungrier, and help me to appreciate the successes I do have, rather than leave me feeling bad for myself or feeling hopeless when life gets hard. I’ve been “soft” for a little while. It’s time I change that. And that starts with recognizing that I am an underdog. Even though I have a wonderful family and friends who have helped me out in life, and who have loved me unconditionally, now that I realize it, I feel like I’ve been an underdog from birth.

I was diagnosed with CP at two years old. I didn’t learn how to walk on my own until I was five years old. I had two painful surgeries on my hamstrings to help me grow properly. Most seem to complete their college educations at 22. I finally completed mine at 28 years old. Most seem to move out at 24-25 if not earlier. I moved out of my parents’ house in December of last year at 28 years old. A lot of people seem to be married and have kids by my age. I had my first serious, adult romantic relationship at 26 years old, but I’m not married and certainly don’t have any children as I inch closer to 30. Everything in my life has gone slower than everyone else’s.

But today was the first day I truly embraced that as normal. I am on no one else’s timetable but my own. So I need to focus on moving myself forward and becoming a better man in whatever way I can, and the hell with where society says I should be!

I offer encouragement to everyone reading this who feels like they have failed, or that they may be behind their peers in some way: It is absolutely okay to not be where everyone else is with life. It’s okay to be behind the eight ball at times. After all, if you or I were up with everyone, we’d be rushing through life and not truly appreciating the success and sweeter moments, when they do come along. And even though it may not feel like it, there are probably MANY, MANY more underdogs out there than you realize. Many people have to work harder to get to that next step. And it’s completely okay if you’re one of them. Continuing to keep your head up, and work hard when life isn’t fair is the hallmark of an underdog who makes it.

I also encourage you all to have faith in God when it seems like your life isn’t going right, or how you want it to go. You may work hard, and that’s awesome. But having faith in God is what will keep you anchored as you wait patiently for Him to open life’s next door. This morning, I read a faith-based devotional given to me by a former coworker who is a wonderful friend of mine. She’s a sweet lady. The message I saw in the devotional though? Continue to have faith in God and be patient with Him. Even when it seems like every way forward in life is closed to you. That message hit home for me, because it’s EXACTLY what I’m feeling at this point in my life. For everyone also feeling like that, know this: Faith in Him and perseverance will win out in the end.

To all my fellow underdogs out there, I’m with you. Whether life isn’t going well, you’re frustrated, sad, or you feel like giving up, DON’T. Continue to persevere, keep your head up and have faith. After all, victory in life, whatever that ends up being, is infinitely sweeter when it does come to you!

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F1 Race #3: Hungarian GP

The world’s biggest sport on four wheels ROARED through Budapest last Sunday for race #3: The Hungarian Grand Prix! It was great to see 20 of the world’s best drivers compete on a different circuit, since they’d spent the last two weeks in Austria, jockeying for position at the famed Red Bull Ring.

The Hungaroring brought its own unique challenge for teams though, as rain played a factor in the early going. Haas Team Principal Gunther Steiner was the first team leader to notice how big of a factor rain was going to be on track conditions, tire grip, and car handling. So he opted to have his drivers, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, start the race directly from the pit lane rather than the starting grid. This put Haas at the back of the pack…until all of the other teams decided to pit on Lap 4 for slick tires. The early gamble paid off, as both Haas cars ran as high as 3rd and 4th place at one point! Haas is the only American-based team in F1, based out of Kannapolis, North Carolina and owned by Gene Haas. They’re a small team compared to the others. But seeing both Magnussen and Grosjean race hard, and hang with the front of the pack for a little while definitely made me smile! Not to mention I grinned when I saw the Stars and Stripes painted on the side of the car!

Haas F1 Team 2020 Car

Unfortunately, they were not able to hold onto those positions. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. It’s just hard to consistently hang with the big boys like Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull, when they have so much more money and resources at their disposal than Haas does. I see Haas in F1 like I see the Cleveland Indians in baseball: When we’re comparing the payroll of smaller teams to that of the larger teams, it’s not a level playing field. Not even close. In order to be competitive, and consistently battle with other teams, the smaller teams have to make it work with the resources and money they do have. And perhaps outsmart the bigger teams every once in a while 😉

But Haas did finally manage to pick up their first points finish of the season, with Kevin Magnussen coming home in 10th, and securing one point. After back to back races where both Magnussen and Grosjean either didn’t finish due to mechanical failure, or they finished near the back of the pack and well out of the points, it was nice to see them finish a race, and be able to drive as aggressively as they did. Hopefully they build on it for the rest of the year, and pick up some more points!

Another interesting storyline for the Hungarian Grand Prix, was the absolutely PHENOMENAL job by Red Bull! All around, that team certainly earned finishes of 2nd by Max Verstappen and 5th by Alex Albon. And even though Verstappen and Albon are both young, world-class drivers, perhaps what made their finishes even more sweet, was how the entire team overcame adversity. About 20 minutes before the start of the race, Max Verstappen crashed into the wall, severely damaging his car. In any normal circumstance, that would spell absolute doom for a team and a driver. They normally wouldn’t be able to race after that. According to Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner, a repair job like that would normally take 90 minutes, guaranteeing that a driver would be out for the day.

Red Bull mechanics working on Max Verstappen’s car

But after Verstappen drove his damaged car to the pits, the entire team worked at a breakneck pace to repair it, as you can see above. There might have been some divine intervention going on, because Verstappen eventually rolled to the starting grid in a machine that looked like new, starting in 7th place with 20 seconds to spare! After that, the Dutchman drove that car like he stole it, finishing in 2nd place, and picking up 18 points! Even though my favorite team to pull for is Haas since I’m an American, it was certainly inspiring to see teamwork like what Red Bull showed on Sunday!

Smiles weren’t only coming from the Red Bull garage after the race though. Racing Point turned in another solid finish, with Lance Stroll finishing just one place off the podium in 4th, and seasoned veteran Sergio “Checo” Perez rolling home in 7th place. No one is likely going to seriously challenge Mercedes this year for both titles. But if Racing Point keeps improving at their current pace, who knows where this team will end up for the rest of this season and beyond? They’ve had incredibly fast cars every single race. With a stroke of good luck, teamwork, and great driving, I could see either Stroll or Perez atop the podium at least once in 2020. That would be really cool to see either one of these guys win a Grand Prix, since both have yet to win a race in their career. Hopefully they get it done!

Lewis Hamilton just continues to make history. With yet another win last Sunday at the Hungarian Grand Prix, this is win #86 of his storied career. He also ties Michael Schumacher’s record for most victories at the same Grand Prix with eight. Schumacher won eight races at the French Grand Prix during his career from 1991-2012. Lewis certainly continues to find himself approaching rare company with every win he puts under his belt. While as a fan I want to see someone challenge Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes very soon, I can’t help but marvel at how good Lewis Hamilton is, and how dominant Mercedes is as a team. He’s currently 35 years old. But say Lewis races until he’s at least 40. There’s a very real possibility that could mean five more World Championships. He and Mercedes are just that good. They’re in another galaxy compared to everyone else.

But let’s cool the engines on that rocket ship for now, float back to earth, and land in England. That’s where race #4 of the 2020 Formula One World Championship is going to be, as the famous Silverstone Circuit will host the 2020 British Grand Prix on August 2nd. The COVID-19 pandemic may have shortened the season. But there has been plenty of high-octane action and thrills so far this year! And that promises to continue. The Silverstone Circuit is a speed demon’s dream, with several wide open straightaways, plenty of passing opportunities for drivers, and long DRS zones. I absolutely cannot wait to hear those cars SCREAM by at over 200 miles an hour!

2020 Hungarian Grand Prix Results

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

2020 World Drivers Championship Standings

  1. Lewis Hamilton (63 Points)
  2. Valtteri Bottas (58 Points)
  3. Max Verstappen (33 Points)
  4. Lando Norris (26 Points)
  5. Alex Albon (22 Points)
  6. Sergio Perez (22 Points)
  7. Charles Leclerc (18 Points)
  8. Lance Stroll (18 Points)
  9. Carlos Sainz (15 Points)
  10. Sebastian Vettel (9 Points)
  11. Daniel Ricciardo (8 Points)
  12. Pierre Gasly (6 Points)
  13. Esteban Ocon (4 Points)
  14. Antonio Giovinazzi (2 Points)
  15. Daniil Kvyat (1 Point)
  16. Kevin Magnussen (1 Point)
  17. Kimi Raikkonen (0)
  18. Nicholas Latifi (0)
  19. Romain Grosjean (0)
  20. George Russell (0)

2020 World Constructors Championship Standings

  1. Mercedes (121 Points)
  2. Red Bull (55 Points)
  3. McLaren (41 Points)
  4. Racing Point (40 Points)
  5. Ferrari (27 Points)
  6. Renault (12 Points)
  7. AlphaTauri (7 Points)
  8. Alfa Romeo (2 Points)
  9. Haas (1 Point)
  10. Williams (0)
Featured

Gaining Empathy

I don’t know where I picked up my passion for it, but I have always loved political discussions that are civil, polite, and that can help people participating come to some sort of new understanding or respect for one another. I had one such discussion with three of my friends over the last couple days via Facebook, and even though I didn’t expect it, I gained a new sense of empathy from them, and for people who are suffering, particularly those of the Black community.

While I still am angry over the death of Jessica Doty-Whitaker, the white woman killed in a scuffle with BLM supporters, and I hope her killer gets the long arm of the law, I now realize how much the media has affected my ability to cool down, listen, and genuinely care about all the Black people who are scared in today’s society. The media is AWFUL at spreading and perpetuating fear, hate, and stereotypes of groups of people. Fox and CNN both suck.

Reading into Fox’s narrative takes away my sense of empathy for the upstanding people who want justice and fairness for the Black community, by perpetuating fear. It paints all BLM supporters as thugs, scares me about a possible uprising or civil war after November’s elections, and just is awful for my mental health. Plus perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t show the good examples of people within BLM who are working to make their parts of the world better for all. We need more of that on the airwaves.

On the other side of the coin, CNN is also awful in that it turns a blind eye to those in BLM who commit crime for the sake of committing crime. Those who destroy business, steal stuff and the like, need called out for their behavior in the same way true racists need called out for theirs. They aren’t pushing for equal justice and protection under the law. They’re just looking for an excuse to be violent and destructive. And they give those truly pushing for change and equality a bad name.

The network also seems to be intent on shoving the concept of white privilege down people’s throats, rather than trying to teach them what it is, or gently correct their biases. They seem to be set on shaming all currently living white people for the injustices perpetuated upon the Black community, even though the ones responsible for initially perpetuating injustice have long since died. Although there are systems put in place by those people that definitely need fixed, such as the prison system, and housing practices. That being said, I’m personally not sure if white privilege exists. If it does exist, are poor, homeless white people counted among the “privileged”? That’s the question I have. That’s where white privilege doesn’t make sense to me. And I know I personally am not a racist guilty of anything ugly against the Black community, either. I have nothing personally to apologize for. But I do realize I have a new perspective to learn, and biases to figure out and correct over my entire life.

I learned from my friends, that I am only seeing a small fraction of the truth by not seeing the whole story of those who are pushing for justice and equality in America today. I’m only seeing the bad examples the media spews out every day. I also did not initially see how the criminal justice system needs fixing, and how there is a current system in place that really is not fair for all people. I was shortsighted, stubborn and wrong. As people tend to be when they get defensive and combative. But one of them understood where I was coming from and why I was defensive. They understood my fear and why I saw BLM the way I did, even though she obviously didn’t agree with me.

My friend Milena, the first person to welcome me to graduate school at the University of Findlay in 2016, taught me two things yesterday that I want to try to always remember from now on: That we should always try to avoid seeing things as a single story, and that I don’t necessarily have to agree with BLM, or different viewpoints. BUT that the disagreement with those things should only come after I have formed educated opinions on them by studying them. She recommended that I watch this TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer. It’s a bit long but very interesting, and gave me a new perspective, and something to chew on and think about! Watch it below:

I learned new perspectives and approaches not only from this video, but I also learned a new way to see things because Milena approached me in such a way that she helped me to see where I was off the mark, but still did so in a compassionate way as well. She never insulted me or made me feel stupid. She routinely reminded me that she saw me as a compassionate, good person while she was talking to me. Everyone could learn from her example. HOW SHE COMMUNICATED WITH ME IS WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS IN TERMS OF COMMUNICATION! There is too much screaming and not enough listening. Too much stubbornness and not enough compassion. Too much demonizing and not enough human empathy. Too much shaming and not enough gentle correcting. The lack of these things is why people dig themselves in. They entrench themselves when they feel threatened.

It takes a wise, compassionate and strong person who truly cares, to be able to approach someone in a caring way. The qualities I listed above are truly rare qualities to have. And I am grateful that my friend Milena has them, and grateful that she sees me as a genuine friend in spite of our many political differences, and different beliefs. Hopefully I can develop these qualities and become a better man.

I am grateful as well for my thesis advisor, Mr. Harley Ferris. While I do not agree with many of the things he said in our discussion, or many of the aspects of his worldview, the one thing I learned from him that I need to do, is examine the history of injustices of white people against the Black community. I need to look at those things that aren’t exactly pretty, comfortable, or downright ugly. For it is only by seeing uncomfortable, ugly, nasty things, that we realize now NOT to be. In response to this, I have begun watching the Netlix documentary 13th, a film on how the US prison system is rigged and flawed against the Black community. It is very eye-opening and interesting, and sad. While I do not agree with everything said thus far in the documentary, I can understand and get behind the majority of what is said. It is definitely worth a watch. If people can put aside their biases or preconceived notions, it might teach them a couple things. Here’s the trailer:

Moving forward, I still do not feel comfortable with supporting Black Lives Matter as an organization. But I do feel the need to educate myself and see new perspectives, see good examples of people pushing for racial justice and equality, stay away from big media, and learn to examine WHY I get angry or defensive at certain things or situations.

Personal change is uncomfortable. It’s slow. Growth is painful. But we should always try to move forward and do so. Even if it takes baby steps. If we learn to see our biases against certain people or things, where those biases might come from, and work to correct them, we become better people. We become more understanding, more empathetic, more caring, and better people. And even though I unfortunately have not talked to Him in a while, one thing popped through my mind yesterday: When we examine where we are flawed, and work to become more understanding and loving, we become more like Jesus.

I always wonder what He would be doing in today’s society. I wonder how He sees everything? I do not know how He sees it. I feel like He would be with the protesters who truly push for justice and equality. He would be walking with them. but He would probably shame those who are destroying the businesses and livelihoods of innocent people. But by the same token, I am reminded of an episode in the Bible: His overturning of the tables of the money changers.

While Jesus is incredibly loving and forgiving when we are truly sorry for our faults and failures, He also absolutely DESPISES sin, injustice and corruption. He overturned the tables of the money changers and called them all out. He was furious. He wasn’t always peaceful and loving when He was down here. He got angry sometimes. And His anger was righteous. He stirred shit up when people needed wake up calls. Would He help tear down statues? We’ll never know. But trying to put myself in His shoes will definitely give me a new way of looking at things.

Going forward, I will try to see different angles and perspectives, and try to put myself in Jesus’ shoes when it comes to being more empathetic and caring toward other people. We could all learn to emulate Him better. Especially in situations that call for us to care for others and listen to them.

Featured

F1 Race #2: Styrian GP

There is a lot of political stuff going on in the world today, and many, if not most sports, are on hiatus or flat out canceled. And I am certainly not going to let my poor brain turn to mush by exposing it to big media 24/7. I do that enough already! So I had to watch the Styrian Grand Prix this past weekend, the second race of the 2020 Formula One World Championship to get my sports fix.

Even though it was a differently named race, it was still at the same track as the first race of the season, the Red Bull Ring in Austria. But there were no shortage of storylines during and after the race. With his most recent win, one of the greatest drivers in F1 history inches ever closer to possibly breaking one of the sport’s greatest milestones. The sport’s most successful team finds itself in unfamiliar territory. And a relatively new Formula One team has an impressive showing by both drivers, bouncing back from last week. Let’s take a look!

Lewis Hamilton: Racking up the wins!

Ever since his debut in the sport back in 2007, Lewis Hamilton has established himself as the top driver of his era. With six World Championships under his belt, one shy of tying Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of seven, and a cool and calculating racing style, the 35 year-old Brit continues to chase down history. But he’s not only gunning for another championship, he’s also chasing Schumacher’s all-time win total as well. Michael holds the record for most wins in Formula One history with 92 Grand Prix victories. With his win this past weekend at the Styrian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton notched win #85. I knew Hamilton had a lot of wins under his belt, but I didn’t think he had THAT many!

Lewis Hamilton

If he keeps going at the pace he is currently on in terms of longevity, driving skill, and if Mercedes continues to be the dominant team that they are, I think Lewis WILL eventually break both of Michael Schumacher’s records. The man just knows how to win. Period. And he’s surrounded by an awesome team, led by Team Principal Toto Wolff. Many seasoned F1 fans seem to hate Lewis for how much he wins. They think he comes off as cocky, full of himself, and that he’s a snob. While I don’t really have a good or bad opinion of him, I will say that he almost has earned the right to be full of himself a little bit. When you win a lot, people start to hate you. But when is winning a lot a bad thing?

The Limping Pony?

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton have been winning a ton over the past decade. The same cannot be said for Ferrari. Historically, Ferrari is Formula One’s most successful team, having competed in every F1 season since the sport’s inception in 1950. Over their storied history, Ferrari has won 16 World Constructors Championships, and 15 World Driver Championships. But the most recent trophies might be gathering a little dust, as Ferarri hasn’t won a championship of any kind since 2008. That year, they won the Constructors Championship with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen as their drivers.

The Prancing Horse was the “Limping Pony” at last week’s race though, with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc both wrecking and experiencing irreparable damage early on in the race, forcing both of them to retire. I haven’t been an F1 fan for very long. I’ve only followed the sport seriously since March. But I’ve studied enough and learned enough since that time to learn just how high the standards are for Ferrari. I view them as like the Boston Celtics of F1: A team with a storied, successful history followed by a passionate and vocal fanbase. They’ve won a somewhat recent championship, but are now being consistently beaten by a better team for the current title.

Mattia Binotto, Team Principal of Scuderia Ferrari

After the first two races of the 2020 season, Ferrari currently sits in 5th place in the Constructors Standings, and I can’t imagine that too many folks are happy in Maranello, Italy right now. If Ferrari doesn’t finish within the top three in the standings by the end of the year, it would not surprise me if current Team Principal Mattia Binotto was handed his walking papers and shown the door. That would definitely be adding insult to injury, since I have seen SO many memes about how the guy looks like Harry Potter! Binotto had better conjure up some serious magic, or he’s out!

On Point: Perez and Stroll

While watching the race, I was pleasantly surprised by how both drivers performed for Racing Point, a relatively new F1 team, founded by billionaire businessman Lawrence Stroll in 2019. Last year in their inaugural season, Racing Point finished in the back half of the Constructors Standings, in 7th place with 73 points. While they certainly weren’t the worst team last year, Racing Point had an up and down season. Not to mention they had a bit of a rough start to this year as well, as Lance Stroll was forced to retire from the Austrian Grand Prix.

Sergio Perez (left) and Lance Stroll (right), drivers for Racing Point

But last week Sergio Perez led the charge for Racing Point, finishing 6th and picking up 8 points while his teammate Lance Stroll finished right behind him in 7th place, earning 6 points. This was especially impressive considering both men really seemed to struggle in qualifying. Stroll started in 13th while Perez started in 17th. But they drove very aggressively, and made a number of clean and close passes while keeping up the pace with the front of the pack. Their car is definitely improved from last season. I’m still not sure what to think of a pink and white paint job. That’s a unique color scheme. But if these guys can build on the showing they had last Sunday, who am I to judge or complain?

If you want to get the full breakdown with race highlights, click here!

That’s two races down, and plenty more to go. Next up? The Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest on Sunday, July 19th. I’ve been entertained by the season thus far. Can’t wait to watch these guys go at it yet again!

2020 Styrian Grand Prix Results

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

World Drivers Championship Standings

  1. Valtteri Bottas (43 Points)
  2. Lewis Hamilton (37 Points)
  3. Lando Norris (26 Points)
  4. Charles Leclerc (18 Points)
  5. Sergio Perez (16 Points)
  6. Max Verstappen (15 Points)
  7. Carlos Sainz (13 Points)
  8. Alexander Albon (12 Points)
  9. Pierre Gasly (6 Points)
  10. Lance Stroll (6 Points)
  11. Esteban Ocon (4 Points)
  12. Daniel Ricciardo (4 Points)
  13. Antonio Giovinazzi (2 Points)
  14. Daniil Kvyat (1 Point)
  15. Sebastian Vettel (1 Point)
  16. Nicholas Latifi (0)
  17. Kimi Raikkonen (0)
  18. Kevin Magnussen (0)
  19. Romain Grosjean (0)
  20. George Russell (0)

World Constructors Championship Standings

  1. Mercedes (80 Points)
  2. McLaren (39 Points)
  3. Red Bull (27 Points)
  4. Racing Point (22 Points)
  5. Ferrari (19 Points)
  6. Renault (8 Points)
  7. AlphaTauri (7 Points)
  8. Alfa Romeo (2 Points)
  9. Williams (0)
  10. Haas (0)
Featured

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?

Featured

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.

Remembering Grandpa Don

It’s been 17 years to the day since he left this earth behind. But I always miss him. My Grandpa Donald Wickiser was quite the character! The things I remember most about him, are his bluntly honest nature, never knowing a stranger because he was really outgoing, and his fierce love and protective instinct for those he loved the most.

He passed away on this day in 2003, but I often wonder what he’d think of the current society we’re living in, and how people treat each other. He was born in 1934, so he was definitely old school. He came from a generation where a man was only as good as his word, where he was expected to be strong, and where there wasn’t any filter on what many people said. There also wasn’t any thought of creating a carefully polished self image, and then broadcasting it to the world like we have now with social media. Grandpa was who he was. What you saw was what you got.

Most of the time people loved what they saw and got with Grandpa. He had so many friends! From the people he knew as a farmer, to his coworkers and the kids he drove to school when he was a bus driver for the Carey School District, to the neighbors who lived next to him and my Grandma Bernie, many people loved “Dynie” as he was affectionately called.

I know everyone who knew Grandpa has their own memories of him, but I remember a few that still make me chuckle to this day. He never turned down good food, for starters. He would eat just about anything! And he always loved to drink Diet Coke. I chuckle how he used to think it was healthy, haha. But I still find myself misting up whenever I see Diet Coke, and I’ve definitely drunk a few in his honor. I also remember spending a LOT of time with him and Grandma Bernie as a little boy…although I remember having to sleep downstairs a few times because he snored so loudly! And even when I was downstairs it was hard getting to sleep. His snore sounded like a diesel engine!

But I have sentimental memories and stories too. When I was very little, he would hoist me up into the cab of the old John Deere 4430, or the red and white 1086 International tractor, or sometimes the combine, and he would take me out into the fields with him when he was working ground, planting crops or harvesting crops. It was peaceful out there. I know he was working very hard as a farmer. But as a little boy who couldn’t have been more than five or six years old, that time with him meant everything to me. I was his little “farming buddy.”

I remember how often he worried about me too. I think he worried about me a lot because of my Cerebral Palsy. I don’t know if he ever fully understood what the condition was, but he knew I was somehow different from the other kids, even though he loved me with all his heart like any good grandpa would! He probably thought that I was more frail due to my condition, which I completely understand. He was a worry wart at times, but I know that his heart was always in the right place and he always meant well.

I often struggle to reconcile that side of Grandpa with who he normally was around everybody else. Here’s this decent sized guy who I always saw as incredibly tough, and someone nobody messed with. He was either their loyal, caring friend or their worst nightmare! Who he was to somebody depended entirely upon how they treated him. But when it came to family, I remember him worrying and working himself up so much at times that he’d cry. It just goes to show that even the biggest badasses have soft hearts for those they love the most!

I still remember a dream that I had shortly before Christmas 2013. It’ll be one of those that I remember until my dying day. I remember visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s house in the dream, but for some reason only Grandpa was there. And I was sitting across from him as he was sitting in a blue folding chair. He didn’t say anything to me, but simply smiled and opened his arms as if to say he wanted me to give him a hug. So I walked over to him, and squeezed him tight. Folks, it was one of those dreams that was so vivid, that I could literally feel him hugging me, and smell the Old Spice he always used to put on. But as I hugged him, I woke up in my dorm room at Kent State. I try to be a tough guy most of the time, but there have been very few times in my life where I’ve cried that hard. I woke up from my dream and cried like a baby!

But it was as if he was trying to say, “Hey Luke Duke! I’m doing fine upstairs, but I figured I’d just check on you to see how you’re doing. I’m always here for you. Love you!” I know not everyone believes in this kind of thing, but I truly believe dreams that vivid and comforting are messages from departed loved ones who are in Heaven. I absolutely believe that wholeheartedly. I wasn’t missing him terribly or hysterical when I had the dream. He just showed up seemingly out of nowhere. If that’s not a message from Heaven, nothing is. I haven’t seen him in a dream since. But it would be nice if he showed up again at some point.

But even though he’s physically gone, I recognize him in a lot of my own mannerisms and traits. I’m incredibly outgoing and love meeting new people, and talking with them a lot. I often say what I think, with a few choice words here and there. Sometimes that’s gotten me in trouble. But most of the time, I think people admire that quality about me. I like and try to befriend the vast majority of people I come across. But if I REALLY don’t like somebody, which is rare, I let them know it! I have the temperament of anywhere between a puppy dog or wolverine depending on how people treat me. And I fiercely love those who are closest to me with everything I have!

All of those qualities are given to me by God. But I think he made sure Grandpa Don lived on through them as well. If I ever have a son, I have sometimes considered giving him the middle name Donald or Don to honor Grandpa. But until then and always, I will remember who he was: An old school man who said what he meant and meant what he said. Someone who gave everything to those who were good to him. And someone who loved God and his family with every fiber of his being.

I know there’s no perfect example to follow on how to live one’s life other than Jesus. But for the most part, Grandpa Don certainly lived a life worth emulating. I’m just glad I had the honor of being that great man’s grandson! 🙂

College Football Chaos!

Well this sucks. The Big Ten Conference has handed down their decision regarding the upcoming 2020 football season. Led by new Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, the university presidents of Big Ten member schools voted to cancel the season in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Whether or not the vote ended up being unanimous I don’t know, as I believe Nebraska and Iowa were in favor of still playing, with the other 12 member schools, including Ohio State, all being in favor of canceling.

Regardless of the Big Ten’s decision, as a fan, this bites. I can understand why it was done, and I’m not arguing against that. But I’m still bummed out about it. When the pandemic first hit here in the States five months ago, I was actually fine with most sports being postponed or cancelled. But I made the comment to friends and family that if there ended up being no Ohio State football in 2020, it would break my heart. It looks like that has become a reality. I understand a game is a game, and that player safety should come first. But where my point of contention is, starts with the plain realization that our society is still VERY, VERY far from being even remotely normal. And who knows when the hell normalcy will happen. Society might not go back to normal for another year or two, honestly.

But in the midst of all the weirdness, sports can help to bring some shred of normalcy to a seriously messed up year. Some tiny sliver of hope that everything is going to be okay, and that we will eventually make it out of this. College football can give people something to look forward to, make them happy, and actually bring an otherwise severely divided country together over the common interest in rooting for our favorite teams. After all, we could use SOMETHING to bring us together between now and November 3rd, the day of the 2020 Presidential Election, when the shit hits the fan!

But as it stands right now, at least four conferences have cancelled their seasons. The Big Ten, Mid American Conference, Mountain West Conference and PAC-12 have cancelled, with several more conferences still on the fence as to what they’re going to do. As of this article, there have been no official decisions yet from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12 Conference, and Southeastern Conference (SEC). It’s also hard to tell if all conferences will eventually cancel their seasons at this point. Especially when there is an interesting conspiracy theory floating around: The SEC creating a “super conference” or “mega conference” apart from the NCAA.

Hypothetical Mega-Conference

This conspiracy theory definitely has me interested. Particularly in how teams from outside the SEC, such as Ohio State, would be chosen. Especially if the conferences of schools outside the SEC have already said no to playing football in 2020. Also, if this theory is true, does one conference have the legal power to defy the NCAA and strike out on its own? Who knows. But it would certainly be interesting!

I know people would certainly watch football if a mega-conference ended up materializing. LSU and Alabama could be joined by schools like Ohio State, Clemson, Penn State, and others. I certainly would watch! There would be a big enough chunk of the country who would watch the most talented teams go at it, that it might be successful on its own. I don’t know how much money the SEC helps the NCAA make every year. But that conference has absolutely DOMINATED the college football landscape for over at least the last 15 years, with most of the recent National Champion teams coming out of that part of the country and conference, so I’m sure the SEC makes plenty of money to support itself. If the SEC does have some legal authority to operate apart from the NCAA for a season, I would be in favor of this!

Possible Spring 2021 Football

Here’s another interesting option if college football isn’t played at all in 2020. From what I’ve heard and read thus far, this seems to be the way the Big Ten is leaning. However, the two main issues I have with this are: How are the conferences who want to play a full-length Spring football season going to make this work without screwing up the NFL Combine or Draft? Both are held during the Spring, with the Combine being held in March, and the the Draft being held either in late April or early May.

I know that speaking at least for my team, many Ohio State players who are going to be drafted might have their draft stock screwed up in some way. Not to mention the players who would be seniors this season may or may not be granted an extra year of eligibility. It seems unfair to me, if college athletes aren’t able enjoy one last season with their friends and teammates. Also, is it really a wise thing to play a Spring 2021 football season when players have been spending all of this Spring training and conditioning their bodies for a shot at playing this Fall? Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is against Spring football for these exact reasons, and I am complete agreement with him.

If conferences do opt for a Spring football season, to me, that means the next football season shouldn’t be played until Fall 2022 at the earliest. Having athletes play two full-length seasons in less than one calendar year is asking an awful lot of their bodies and minds. I’m obviously not a world-class college athlete like many of these guys are. But I’m sure they have to do a LOT of grueling and painful work to beat themselves into top physical and mental shape for a season. If conferences are truly concerned about player health and well-being, they should push back the next Fall season to 2022 if they choose Spring football for 2021.

I don’t know where I stand on the whole football/no football thing. As a fan, of course I want to see college football in some capacity this year. I miss following and watching the Buckeyes like you would not believe. I’ve passionately loved that football team since I was five years old! And like I said earlier, I think college football could help bring some sense of normalcy to an otherwise weird year, and intensely fractured country. It would certainly help many people’s mental health to have something “normal” in life again. But if the people in charge of these cancellations are truly making them in the interest of player health and safety, and not some ulterior political motive, it would probably be a good idea to wait until Fall 2021 to play the next football season. But I can see both sides of the argument. Both sides are valid.

Stay tuned with me, ladies and gents. It’ll be interesting to see how everything unfolds!