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. 

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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. 

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.

 

Photo Credit: wallpaperup.com

 
As I try to keep my head above water in the ever-cresting tide of gun violence, I posted a simple observation about guns on Facebook this week:

Despite the strange popularity of handguns and assault rifles, I can’t recall hearing any uplifting, feel-good stories about them — just murders, suicides, avoidable accidents, and other tragedies. I can’t wrap my little brain around the fascination with devices designed specifically to kill humans.

Within minutes of posting this, “friends” I haven’t heard from in years were coming out of the woodwork in defense of the sacred and beloved Second Amendment. One or two comments were a reasonable attempt to defend this Almighty Right, but most were basically calling me an unpatriotic idiot. One family member even commented that I shouldn’t post such “nonsense,” and that my dad would be upset with me. I laughed out loud at this one. Oh, is my daddy going to be upset? (By the way, he’s not.)

If you read my post again you’ll notice that I never mentioned anything about gun control or the Second Amendment, yet that is where so many gun supporters — gun lovers — took it. So this got me thinking about both the Constitution and safety, as well as the current state of our nation.

First, let’s talk about the Constitution. The Second Amendment is a hot topic. Most who support the right to bear arms claim that we must never give up this right. I, like most people in favor of gun control, do not want to see this right given up or have all guns confiscated. But let’s look beyond the term “gun control” for a moment, and focus on the Constitution. When the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 our country had been independent from England for only eight years. Militias were still in regular use, despite being somewhat frowned upon by some (including George Washington). The army and navy, both established in 1775, were still in their infancy. Guns were regularly used for hunting as a source of food, and were typically very long (and difficult to hide), single shot muskets that had to be slowly loaded through the muzzle.

When I process all of this information, the right to bear arms in 1791 makes perfect sense. We weren’t packing semi-automatic handguns in our pants or carrying assault rifles that can spray hundreds of bullets per minute. But hey, maybe our incredibly wise founding fathers, the framers of our Constitution, would have been okay with the average farmer or blacksmith owning these types of weapons, too.

I’m sure that gun-lusters — wait, that’s not fair, Constitutionalists is a better term — are also familiar with and in favor of all the other amendments. I have to assume that they think all amendments are equally important and relevant today. Like the Third Amendment, which limits the government’s ability to use our homes to house soldiers during wartime without the consent of the owner (FYI, this practice is completely forbidden during times of peace). This doesn’t seem very relevant today, but I guess you never know when we might be at war, and a law could (legally) be passed to force us to let soldiers occupy our homes. Completely irrelevant today — and wrong, yet widely accepted by our all-knowing founding fathers — is the exclusion of rights for minorities and women in the Constitution. In fact, many of these enlightened men owned slaves. Oddly, this is rarely mentioned by those supporting the Second Amendment and/or Constitution today. When brought up, some will remark that, “It’s just how things were back then.” I have to chuckle when I hear this because it only supports my point. It’s also strange how modern gunslingers, while using the rights of the Constitution and the Second Amendment as their defense against gun control, simultaneously bash those using their First Amendment right to express opinions in favor of it.

*Quick side note: the First Amendment also covers freedom of religion. Is it just me or are many pistol-packers also very religious Christians? I mean, what’s up with that? Doesn’t God have their backs?

The term”gun control” almost always refers to an effort to make guns and gun ownership safer, in turn making our country a safer place to live freely. It should not be associated with banning all guns, as many jump to conclude. I seriously ask what is wrong with increasing safety measures? Why should it be easier to buy a gun than to buy a car, or even get a license to drive? Why can someone on a terrorist watch list purchase a gun legally? Why should any dude — with no training and potentially no good judgement or common sense — be able to buy an assault rifle that trained military personnel have accidents with? What’s wrong with increased safety?

For example, no right-minded person says:

Henry Ford, our brilliant forefather in the automobile industry, didn’t have life-saving seat belts in his cars. And that’s why we shouldn’t have them today. It’s just that simple. By the way, the laws of the road are infringing on my freedom. Before you know it the government is just going to take away our cars. 

Football used to be played without helmets or pads. That’s how it should be today. Batting helmets, catchers’ gear, and gloves in baseball…stupid. Sports today are too safe and that’s why no one wants to play or watch them. Pretty soon the government is just going to ban sports. 

Don’t even get me started on the absurdity of things like building and fire codes…it’s all just the government taking away my right to get hurt. I refuse to give up my rights!

I suppose it’s true that bad guys, not guns, purposely kill people. Guns just make it much easier for them to kill more people. Potentially many more. If you are one of the gun supporters who say a bad guy will use a baseball bat if he doesn’t have a gun, my response is simple — I’ll take my chances with the bat, and bats don’t make good weapons for mass-murders. Bats do create some great feel-good stories in baseball, however. Handguns and assault rifles serve a purpose in the military and for police — even though sometimes these service-people are bad people who abuse their power. I personally see no reason for any civilian to own any weapon capable of literally shredding a body in seconds, however I am willing to listen to respectful, intelligent arguments to the contrary. Most in favor of these assault weapons chastise Democrats for their disapproving stance, yet many Republicans, including Ronald Reagan, have also openly opposed them. There is no reason for this to be a Republican or Democrat issue. Violence is an American problem.

Good guys have handguns and sometimes protect themselves from bad guys. Good guys use rifles for hunting and feeding their families. Children and adults are regularly involved in deadly yet avoidable accidents involving guns that good, responsible people own. In these cases, I would argue that guns — not just bad guys — do in fact kill people. Guns also make suicide much easier, although I will concede that people who want to end their lives will find a way without guns.

Here’s the deal, guns are made for one purpose — to kill. Sometimes this killing is for protection or food. Sometimes it’s not. I stand by my original Facebook post. I simply can’t comprehend the fascination with devices used to end human life. Why do so many people find guns to be so cool? Why do so many people immediately get defensive — no, downright angry — at the mere mention of changing gun laws? We live in a scary, messed-up world. Guns will never go away, but if we can’t unite as Americans and at least have a dialogue about making guns and gun ownership safer, we are going to have a much bigger problem on our hands. Progress only happens with change. I hope it’s not already too late.

Hating Isn’t Helping

March 22, 2016


More sickening, heartbreaking news. This time it’s a terrorist attack in Nice, France. Tomorrow it could be in Rome, London, the Middle East, or even the middle of America. Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” She of course was referring to ripples of kindness, love, and compassion, but right now it seems the only ripples most of us see and feel are those of hate, fear, and chaos. These ripples are becoming waves, dividing both our nation and the world.

Let me remind some of you — I worry a growing number of you — that the creation of hate, fear, chaos, and division is exactly what terrorists lust after. I’m in no way suggesting that we turn a blind eye, but we must not allow hate to breed upon itself. We can’t allow ourselves to wrongly assume that all Muslims hate Christians, and we must let it be known that the majority of Christians (and the rest of our diverse population) do not hate Muslims. Remember who the enemy is. It is a relatively small group of extremists, cast out by friends and family who once loved them. These people who have turned their backs to terrorists are now being judged as inherently evil by too many Americans. Let us not get caught up in the hatred. If we decide all Muslims — or any other group of people as a whole — are bad, we are only playing into the hands of terrorism. We are literally making new enemies out of innocent people, many of whom are living peaceful, productive lives in the United States.

The division of our country is as dangerous to us as terrorism; possibly even more so. Obviously there is media sensationalism, but the rift between our political parties, races, religions, and nationalities is truly a widening fissure. It is a gap that will soon become difficult to bridge. Anyone reading this has heard the phrase Make America Great Again. If we sincerely want America to be great again, we must stand together. We can (and will) disagree, but we cannot disrespect. We must believe that most people — at home and abroad — are inherently good, then fight against evil, terrorism, and oppression as a united front. Only then will we be great again. Only then will we have a chance to succeed.

Some will say I’m naive and dreaming of some unrealistic utopia, but that is not the case at all. In fact, I’m a realist. Hate is a strong force that will never completely cease to exist, but adding more hate — even under good intentions — only strengthens its power. Please join me in casting stones of kindness and compassion. I alone can only make small ripples, but together we can make a mighty tide. Hating just simply isn’t helping.

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.