A Note to Graduates 

May 13, 2017


Dear Graduates,

The month of May is possibly my favorite. I love the weather — summer is trying to shove its way in with welcomed warm breezes, yet spring is holding its own, providing crisp mornings and pleasant evenings. Birds chirp outside my open window at dawn, and a late-inning baseball game glows on my television screen at dusk. There is a freshness in the air that makes me feel renewed. Life is grand.

Perhaps the best part of May, however, is school letting out for the summer. I think back to my own school days and can vividly remember the feeling of sheer excitement and joy as that final bell rang each year. Having kids of my own and working in a school now, I must admit I still feel it — maybe for different reasons — but there is still that sense of adventure that lurks at the start of each summer.

For you, this year truly is the final bell. It’s the endless summer. Social media is filled with photos of you in your caps and gowns. Smiles are plastered across your faces and invincibility twinkles in your eyes. Many of you are heading off to college, while some will opt to go find jobs. You will become our next generation of doctors, teachers, farmers, politicians, steelworkers, lawyers, carpenters, and accountants. The world needs all of these and one is no better than another — remember that. You “kids” will be taking care of the rest of us just a few years down the road. And believe me, kids, the years will go fast. So fast.

I don’t know much, but I’ve managed to figure out a few things along the way. I’d like to offer you some simple advice. I’ll keep it short, as I know you have better things to do:

1. Advance your education beyond high school. Whether it’s a certificate from a trade school or an advanced degree from a university, education gives you power and promotes the freedom to change jobs and careers. Do it now, because going back to school when you have a wife, kids, a job, and other responsibilities is really hard (trust me). Take your education seriously.

2. Happiness isn’t expensive. Yes, you need to make some money to reach a certain level of happiness and to give you and your family some opportunities. But be very aware there is much more to life than striving to “be rich” and possessing material things.

3. Despite everyone telling you who and what to be, please do what makes you happy. You may not even have a clue yet what you want to do with your life. That’s okay. You may think you’ve figured it out, then change your mind. That’s okay, too. Whatever you end up being, be a great one. Trying to be your best self will make your life better in many ways.

Look, kids, I know you’re not really paying attention. I’m trying to give advice to 18 year olds who already know everything. I used to be as smart as you all are… If nothing else, remember that regardless of our age, we are all writing our own stories. My generation has already written many chapters, and you may be searching for the right words to get started, but none of our stories are complete. No matter how much or how little we have written, no matter how many failures, hardships, and disappointments we face along the way — and there will be many — as long as we are alive, we get to keep writing. So make your stories long, fill them with love and kindness, include many crazy and wonderful adventures, and — most of all — make sure you keep writing until you are happy with the ending. It’s never too late for any of us to change our tale.

Now get out there and make a difference. Each one of you can alter the world in at least some tiny yet amazing way. We are counting on you. 

Sincerely,

A Friend

While We Wait…

April 16, 2017

The Bible makes Jesus out to be a pretty great dude. I’m not talking about rising from the dead (although this would be a totally bad-ass ability to possess), I’m talking about the less amazing things. I’m talking about feeding the hungry, helping the poor, breaking bread with sinners, and sheltering the homeless. These are things that Jesus’ apostles often questioned and couldn’t quite comprehend — much like many (though certainly not all) of his followers today. However, doing these things are a simple way to walk in Christ’s footsteps. 

I won’t be going to church today, but I will continue to try to be better at genuinely befriending and helping people of all walks of life. I hope those attending church will consider doing the same. Christians have been waiting over 2000 years for their savior to return. I’m not saying he isn’t ever coming, but in the meantime I don’t think Jesus would mind if we turned the other cheek and tried to save one another. In fact, I think he would expect it. 

Happy Easter. 


I’m probably overreacting. It’s probably no big deal. This too shall certainly pass. Still, I’m genuinely concerned about the direction our country is heading. What direction, you ask? Increasing violence? Decreasing human rights? Social security running out? Healthcare in limbo? The economy? The threat of terrorism? These are all extremely valid concerns, but I’m most troubled by how we seem to be losing any interest in kindness and mutual respect, and seem to get off on being hateful. 

For the record, I’m not attacking or blaming any one group. I can point a finger at Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Jews, athiests, jocks, freaks, nerds, and geeks. Oh, and even me. We all seem to be on the bandwagon of hate — even if we don’t see it, or worse, somehow justify it. Is this magnified and blown out of proportion by the media? Definitely. However, is it real? You better believe it. 

We live in a time when our president tweets hateful messages on a daily basis, religious leaders post discriminatory messages on Facebook, and the news media is on the constant lookout for any controversial, disappointing, or downright hateful news. We are possibly as divided nationally as we’ve been since the Civil War, and there is little evidence indicating improvement anytime soon. I truly fear that in the not too distant future it will be considered acceptable for bank tellers to look us in the eyes, smile, and say, “Thanks so much for banking with us, and go fuck yourself.” 

Despite our very serious problems, all hope is not yet lost. I know for a fact that there are great people doing incredible things every day. We may not all share the same political, religious, or economic views, but there are people putting kindness first. Every single day. It’s not sexy, it’s not popular, but it’s happening, and it needs to get noticed. It needs attention so it can gain traction. This matters — maybe more than anyone realizes. 

It’s not always easy to be genuinely kind and respectful. In fact, it’s damn hard. It’s far easier to lash out, to try to prove a point, to try to make someone feel small, while we make ourselves feel clever. I struggle with it regularly. Taking the high road is sometimes an agonizing climb, but I’m always proud of myself for getting to the top. What people forget — or maybe haven’t learned — is that it feels good to be kind, even to people you disagree with or simply don’t like. If we truly gave everyone a chance, we might just discover that we get along with far more people than we thought. 

I think I was born a realist. I know we will never see eye to eye on everything or be just like one another. Man, I’m glad because life would be awfully boring. I’ve chosen to be an optimist, partly because it just feels better, but also because it forces me work at being a better person. I hope we (and we includes me) can put an effort towards being kind and respectful, because we are all in this together. This is life people, it’s not a drill. Can we agree to stop judging those who are different? Can we let people — as long as they are not directly harming anyone — do what makes them happy? Can we not only accept those who are different from us, but actually wish them the best, and then expect the same in return? 

We all think our opinion is right. We all have beliefs we think others should follow. Many see this as conviction, a positive, the only way. I will continue to do my best to make my conviction kindness. When I’m kind and respectful I always feel like I’m doing what’s right. 

If we care about our nation’s well-being, I hope we will not just agree to disagree, but learn to sincerely respect each other and be honestly kind to one another. This isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. It takes practice. It requires trying to see the world through the eyes of others, even if we don’t always like the view. We can choose kindness. Don’t jump ship — we can change our course — it’s not too late. However, it’s a big ship, it’s a pain in the ass to steer, and we all must have a hand on the helm. 

A Few Words on Blasphemy Day

September 30, 2016


Today is Blasphemy Day, an international “celebration” of speaking up against religion and religious laws. I am all for the separation of church and state. I’m against any laws based on religion — laws are made to protect citizens, not promote any agendas. I’m also very glad I live in a country that allows people to stand up for what they believe in, whatever those beliefs may be. However, I don’t like any religious ideologies being shoved down my throat. Similarly, I don’t need to have non-believers shouting about how ridiculous religion is, which is what Blasphemy Day has become in many cases.

Religion is probably the world’s leading cause of war, hate, fear, guilt, and anxiety. I can’t imagine a God who would willingly put His creations through the suffering that we humans are suffocated by on a daily basis. Are we all just some school project that the Lord is working on? Are we rats in a cage being tortured by a Master, seeing what lengths we will go to in order to receive a piece of everlasting cheese? I don’t think so, but it isn’t my place to criticize those who believe. It’s counter-productive. I have better things to do.

There’s a thought that’s been regurgitated by philosophers for thousands of years, which basically states: a wise man realizes he knows nothing. This belief is paradoxical and somewhat self-deprecating…and pretty damn perfect. Count me in.

Today, like every day, we have a choice. We can criticize those who believe differently, or we can accept it and move on to fight more useful battles. Some will put their faith in religious texts, some will put their faith in science. Both of these leave plenty of room for error and modification. I will choose to put my faith in those of any religion, or lack thereof, who use their energy towards making the world a bit better for everyone living in it. If there is a God — and I can’t say that there isn’t — I think it’s what He would want; taking care of each other and our world. Let’s be good to each other. Anything else seems like blasphemy to me.

Today is International Day of Peace. This year’s theme is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace,” and emphasizes ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity for all. These are nice, lofty goals, and I hope significant progress is made in each area.

However, today — and every day — I think it’s important to focus on what peace really means. What begins the process of ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity? What makes people want to be better as a whole? What can you and I do on a daily basis to make a difference?

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” In other words, teach those close to you the importance of loving our families, our neighbors, and ourselves. Show kindness and respect to everyone. Take responsibility for our neighborhoods. If we all did this on a local, personal level, it would naturally start to take hold globally. Perhaps this sounds naive and over-simplified, but to me it makes perfect sense. Some are doing it already, and seeing results. But not enough.

When we tune into any news source, we are bombarded with stories of violence and hate. It’s true that the good news — and there is good news — doesn’t get the airtime it deserves, but there are a lot of bad things going on out there on this planet we must share. If everyone had been brought up being taught the need for kindness and generosity, would we have different newscasts today? If criminals had a parent or someone else tucking them in at night, saying “I love you,” would the world be a better place? If you and I made an effort to simply genuinely smile and say “hello” to the many different people we encounter each day, would it make a tiny impact? The answer is definitely yes.

If you find that these things are difficult for you to do, I have to think that you may need to make peace with yourself. It took me many years to figure it out, but I can promise you that being kind will not only make a difference to those around you, it will also change your own life in ways you can’t imagine. Forgiveness is a breath of fresh air. Positivity trumps negativity every time. And, most importantly, loving feels so much better than hating. To any naysayers rolling your eyes and assuming I’m some kind of tree-hugger, I assure you that peace has nothing to do with being a hippie. Peace is about being happy, and happiness is damn nice.

So on International Day of Peace, please go home and love your family. Make it a priority to teach — and show — those around you the importance of love, kindness, respect, and generosity. These are truly sustainable goals. Spreading love in our own home is the first and best building block to peace. Pass it on.

Every Voice Matters

January 18, 2016


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is one of my favorite inspirational quotes. It is fitting in so many different circumstances, not only in the context that Dr. King used it. I believe the crux of the quote is that we are all responsible for the well-being of others, and when we strive for this, we improve our own lives in the process.

Dr. King could have remained silent. He could have quietly gone about his life and still made an impact as a pastor, father of four, and husband. He could have died an old man. But he had to do more. During his short life, Dr. King made a lasting impression that continues to impact our nation and world today. He was a proponent of peace, love, and equality — something that, unfortunately, we are still searching for nearly fifty years after his death. Many people (especially men, it seems) will roll their eyes when the words peace, love, and equality are mentioned. Perhaps there is some correlation with flowery hippies that comes across as unmanly to some. But, honestly, what could be more important in life? To me, as a father and husband myself, there is nothing I want more. Not just for my family, but for everyone.

Various sources report that FBI files contained hundreds of death threats towards Dr. King. Despite these threats, he repeatedly stood in front of thousands, delivering his message. That’s manliness in my book — standing up to the fear of death in order to help make change a reality. I know that I have never had to be so brave. As we all know, Dr. King was ultimately assassinated. A peaceful, loving, Nobel Prize winning pastor, father and husband’s life was ended by the bullet of a racist coward. I won’t mention his name, although I imagine that Dr. King would want him to be forgiven.

Whether you are enjoying a day off work or school, complaining about the bank being closed, or just going about your day as usual, please take a moment to think about what Dr. King did to help not only the civil rights movement, but the progression of our nation as a whole. Despite his early death, Dr. King had an extraordinary life. He lived like few others until his final breath, refusing to remain silent about things that matter. May we all do the same.

  
Humor me for a moment, and please hear me out. Let’s pretend that you love the color red. You have a sporty red car, and love to just drive around on sunny days with the windows rolled down and the radio on, minding your own business. But wait, one day someone stops you on the street.

“Whoa, hold up, buddy. What are you doing in that red car?”

“Oh gosh, I just love the color red,” you reply with a chuckle.

“Hmm, well, we don’t allow red cars.”

“Excuse me? Why not?”

“Because I have this book here, which says that anyone with a red car is evil and should ideally be killed by stoning. Cars are only intended to be the color blue, no exceptions. I can’t really kill you, but you will need to have your car painted blue immediately. Oh, I almost forgot — unless you ask for forgiveness, you will spend all of eternity in a bottomless fire pit. Nothing is actually going to happen now, but when you die watch out, because that’s when it starts.”

This conversation sounds ridiculous, yet way too familiar. Maybe I’m just becoming more aware as I get older, maybe I’m just paranoid, but doesn’t there seem to be more and more hate and social injustice in America? Specifically, hate and injustice in the name of God — because the Bible says so.

I’m not trying to insult the Bible or Christianity. I know many Christians who are truly great, caring people. The majority of Christians are like this, as with the majority of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, atheists, etc. I completely respect the opinions and beliefs that most Christians adhere to. Likewise, the Bible has countless verses that emphasize (and, in fact, demand) kindness, compassion, and love.

Unfortunately the Bible also contradicts itself. A lot. There is a growing number of people who choose to overlook the message of love, and focus on the parts of the Bible that condone the avoidance, oppression, and even persecution of those who do not believe or act a certain way. I know from repeated firsthand experience that there are many Christians who believe they will experience eternal damnation if they show any support or kindness to so-called “sinners.” Just last week, one of my lifelong friends told me that I will never understand unless I believe the way he does. “It’s a heaven and hell issue. I listen to what God tells me in the Bible.”

So, to these people I ask this question:  Can God change His mind? I’m being serious. Is it possible that the Bible needs updating? Thousands of years later, is there just a chance that God has grown wiser with age? Could He feel bad that He has caused so many of His children to turn against each other? Maybe there should be a Newer Testament, in which God declares that He is sorry for all the guilt, fear, hatred and war that Christianity has caused, and that He has decided we should just be kind and respectful of others. He might also remind us that we can leave the judging to Him.

Many will scoff at this. They will bring up the omniscience of God; that He knows that past, present and future, so why would He possibly need to change His mind? Fair enough, but why then do we bother to pray? Is it just to try to make ourselves feel better? If a baby is expected to surely die, and we pray for mercy, and the baby survives, did God change His mind and perform a miracle? If the baby dies is it because God decided not to change His mind, and therefore simply works in mysterious ways? If He knows everything, why did He create us? Why put us through this exercise if He knows our fates already? It’s like God is just watching a rerun of a horribly sad reality show. Ah, yes, here is the part where Bob sins, and then…wait for it…asks for forgiveness! Yes, Bob, you are good to go until you screw up big time in March of 2019. But then you ask for forgiveness again and everything is fine when I take your life by way of a massive heart attack in 2028…

My goal is not to question God or bash Christianity, but just to make people consider that if there could be even a razor-thin possibility that God could change His mind, then there would be nothing wrong with a mere mortal doing the same. The Bible can be followed the way Mother Teresa did, or the way the Westboro Baptist Church does. You have a choice, and either way you are following the word of God. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have decided to stick with love, hate is too great a burden to bear.” Living with hate and fear sure seems like a hard life to me.

Christian extremists — those of you who feel that people who believe differently than you are not just wrong, but a threat or even evil — please consider and remember one Bible verse above all others:

Colossians 3:12,

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

This is actually a great message for any of us, regardless of our religious views. I’m far (really far) from perfect, but I want to get better. As hard as it is for me sometimes, I won’t hate the haters — but I will try to change their minds. Let’s all get older and wiser. Let’s just be nice. I’ll go first.