Does God Ever Change?

Some time ago I was asked, in a roundabout way, if God ever changes. I’ve been contemplating that question, off and on, for a few months now because I certainly don’t want to pass along any misinformation or offer my opinion as factual. I take the task of interpreting the Bible very seriously. The easy and predictable answer to the question at hand, of course, is no. We need look no further than to Hebrews 13:8 for the answer: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” However, I’m not one to simply skim the surface of a particular subject, but instead I typically dive down deeper to see if anything else may be there.

The question is “Does God ever change?” – not to be confused with “Does God ever change His mind?” – which I think is a much harder question to answer. I think the answer to the latter though would also be no. I believe God can do anything and everything regardless of the old trick question commonly proposed by atheists: “Can God make a mountain so big he can’t move it?” Think about it. I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe God is all-knowing; therefore, when a person is miraculously healed then how can it be that God actually changed His mind when He already knew what the outcome of the situation was going to be?

I’ve consistently been in the Word, for several years now, but I do not pretend to know everything about God or His perfect plan. In fact, nobody does: not me, not TV evangelists, and not even the Pope. Those who think they’ve got the mystery of God all figured out are erroneously attempting to put our Creator and Savior in a box. God cannot be reduced to just a neatly wrapped package.

It is my understanding that God does not change. Many churches though have transformed over the years. My church upbringing included Sunday School, youth programs, and hanging out with one cool youth pastor. As an adolescent, church services normally meant spending most of my time fidgeting in the pew and the rest of it belting out beloved hymns from an actual hymnal. Oh how I miss those old-time hymns and the majestic sounds of the church organ resonating from the stage.

Nowadays, in a dramatically changing world, it appears the majority of churches have gone contemporary to attract a different breed of truth seekers, and that’s okay. People of today tend to need colorful lights, special effects, loud music, and an informal dress code in order to explore Christianity. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a church adjusting its ways for the sake of attracting the lost. What’s not okay is when a church changes its Biblical principles and policies to comply with what the world deems acceptable.

Although God does not change, America’s acceptance of sin has significantly shifted over time. I was taught both at church and at home, during my formative years, living together before marriage was a sin. And homosexuality was practically unheard of, at least to this guy, when I was an adolescent. I was introduced to the subject of homosexuality while watching the late 70s to early 80s sitcom, Three’s Company, although John Ritter’s extremely entertaining portrayal of Jack Tripper wasn’t all that authentic since the Jack character was only pretending to be gay so he could live in the same apartment with two women, Janet Wood and Chrissy Snow (ahhh…Chrissy Snow). The threesome’s living arrangement was strictly platonic, but their landlord would not believe such a scenario, and he was not about to allow unmarried people of the opposite sex live together under one roof because he knew it was morally wrong; hence, the reason for the trio’s charade.

Today, shacking up without a marriage license is no longer frowned upon in most circles. Unsurprisingly, due to the times we’re living in, numerous talk show hosts and countless so-called experts even encourage this sort of behavior. These Hollywood types suggest prematurely living together, a trial run if you will, as a way to see if marriage may be right for them…some time in the future. And homosexuality is now frequently celebrated in this country, and transgender people are regularly regarded as heroes and role models. Apparently, a majority of the United States no longer has a problem with abnormal sexuality, but I’m confident my God does not approve of any sin regardless of whether or not society decides to give its hearty endorsement. “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1st Corinthians 3:19).

I wonder why it is that our minds usually go straight to sexual immorality when pondering sin? I suppose it’s because “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1st Corinthians 6:18). Sin is really just being apart from God. We are all guilty of this at times, but it becomes a serious problem when one chooses to remain apart from Him for a prolonged period of time. God certainly continues to love the sexually immoral just as He continues loving those who are envious, liars, murderers, and thieves. However, He surely is sorely disappointed since that’s not His best for any of His children.

Many things change – in one’s life – in one’s country – throughout the world – throughout history – but I believe God does not. I’m pretty sure our Maker is exactly the same in the year 2017 as He was when Adam and Eve strolled through the Garden of Eden. God will always be who He is. God will always do what He does. If He ever did change, His truths and therefore His promises would be worthless. Thankfully, the Bible contains several passages of Scripture that assures us He does not change.


Thus Far

I’d give President Donald Trump a letter grade of a B, thus far. Our 45th President of the United States is already honoring some of the promises he made during his campaign by way of executive orders. Of course, executive orders are the lazy man’s way of implementing change, and they’re only worth about as much as the paper they’re printed on once the president who signed them leaves office. Many presidents from both major political parties have gone solo numerous times during their presidencies, but I’m certainly not a fan of the common practice. It’s simply too easy to undo something the prior president enacted, with one fell swoop of a pen, which is precisely what President Trump has been doing to some of former President Barack Obama’s executive orders.

One such order is in regard to Trump’s differing stance than that of Obama’s concerning illegal immigration. The Donald (is it okay to still call him that?) is making good on his promise to “build the wall.” I’m actually no longer too concerned about building a wall because most of the damage has already been done. Droves of illegal immigrants have already established themselves in this country, during the last several years, and I believe the number of illegals crossing our nation’s Southern border these days is minimal. Many critics have scoffed at the President’s statement that Mexico will be paying for our border security. Obviously, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will not be handing President Trump a check for the project (Nieto has said as much), but I do think somehow, whether through tariffs or future negotiations, Mexico may very well be paying for the wall.

I’m totally on board with Trump’s decision to come down hard on “sanctuary cities.” Miscreants should not be granted immunity just for finding a place where the overseers have no respect for their country’s statutes. Those government officials who refuse to uphold the laws of the land should be held accountable for their actions. The likes of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray should suffer any and all consequences for not complying with the President’s executive order. This includes slashing federal funding for their cities, and I would even suggest a little jail time for the mayors’ blatant disregard for authority.

Another executive order President Trump recently signed was to expedite the review process of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Sound familiar? Probably because it has been in the news off and on – like forever. The shovel-ready jobs were desperately needed during the early stages of the Great Recession, but former President Obama “needed” over 6 years to review the process before ultimately deciding to reject the planned fourth phase of the pipeline project. Those jobs aren’t needed near as much now as they were back then, but they’re jobs nonetheless.

I also agree with Trump’s executive order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He’s definitely not alone in his thinking on this issue. Even two of his political nemeses, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have been very vocal about opposing the trade agreement which includes eleven other countries. The TPP was supported by former President Barack Obama and by Hillary Clinton as well, but many on both sides of the aisle view the proposal as more beneficial to the other countries involved than to the United States. I understand that President Trump’s newest tagline is mostly political rhetoric, but I have no problem with “America First” whatsoever.

I might have given President Trump a higher mark if it weren’t for his continued, and unsubstantiated, accusations of voter fraud in this country. Just this week our 45th President boldly declared he probably would’ve won the presidential election’s popular vote (he won the electoral vote) if it weren’t for the numerous fraudulent ballots cast by illegal immigrants and even deceased people in favor of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. I’m sure some illegal votes were cast, but Trump estimates the number to be somewhere between 3 and 5 million. Come on. Just another example of The Donald’s evident inability to think before he speaks. Many times I like his candidness, but at times it makes him look foolish. The President, like everyone else, should hold his tongue until all of the facts are in.

I’m also a bit leery of President Trump’s desire to fast track the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Republicans in Congress did not offer any alternative plans prior to the inception of Obamacare, and they did not even mention the word replace until the most recent election. I think to successfully repeal and replace the ACA will require sensibility and a delicate touch – not a willy-nilly, hurry-up approach just to appease those who want Obamacare instantly dismantled. The fact is there are millions of people who have purchased health insurance for the first time because of the ACA and whom are very appreciative for being able to do so.

It’s no secret that I’ve been a proponent of the Affordable Care act since day one. My lovely wife and I have benefited immensely by choosing health insurance through the ACA Marketplace; We finally have very good coverage at a very affordable rate. Until the implementation of Obamacare the missus and I had consistently paid good money, for decades mind you, for crappy health insurance. I think good, affordable health care should be a right of every American citizen.

However, we’ve also witnessed firsthand this year the apparent implosion of the government-run program. In the state of Arizona, the number of insurers participating in the ACA Marketplace dropped from a robust 12 companies last year to a measly 1 for 2017. By the way, having only one choice is really no choice at all. Something surely needs to be done about our current healthcare system, but I hope (and pray) our elected officials will compromise enough to get it right this time. President Trump’s future grade depends on it. There’s a long way to go in Trump’s presidency, but our 45th President of the United States is doing a commendable job…thus far.


The Problem With Statistics

Statistically speaking, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, just won the 2016 presidential election. She received the majority of the popular vote. Statistically speaking, and in reality, Donald Trump won last week’s election because in the United States we have this thing called the Electoral College, and the billionaire businessman garnered more than enough electoral votes to claim victory. Both Clinton and Trump “won” this year’s presidential election, and therein lies the problem with statistics. They don’t always tell the whole story. We all know only one person was truly victorious and will soon get to occupy the Oval Office as our new Commander in Chief.

I was kind of expecting Hillary to win the 2016 presidential election, but I certainly wasn’t shocked, or even that surprised, when The Donald came away with the victory. There’s been a lot of speculation as to why Clinton lost the election: Her base was much less enthusiastic than Obama’s was in 2008 and 2012; She was an establishment candidate in an election year primed for an “outsider” to win; And those darn e-mails. I think the Democratic nominee’s loss had more to do with the frequently mentioned, but rarely discussed, 10% of undecided voters. Again, it’s about the statistics. However, neither the pollsters, nor the so-called experts, seemed overly concerned with taking the time to consider what impact the number of estimated undecided voters might have on election day.

To the contrary, I had given the undecided voters plenty of thought leading up to the election, and I had an inkling a good portion of the 10% probably weren’t really undecided. I had a difficult time believing there were still so many people, a couple of weeks before the election, who did not know which candidate they were going to cast a ballot for…or against. I assumed a majority of the “undecided” were closet Trump fans whom most-likely feared the backlash that typically comes with revealing such a thing. Admittedly, I was a tad surprised Trump won the electoral vote, and Clinton secured the popular vote. I had a sense it was going to be the other way around.

By the way, I adamantly oppose electing our nation’s leader via the Electoral College. I felt this way long before the 2016 election, and my sentiments on the subject have not changed. I’m sure the Democrats aren’t too pleased with the system either after losing two out of the last five elections only because of the Electoral College. (Maybe the system is rigged after all.) The current presidential election process just doesn’t seem fair, but that is the system we honor at this time, so there’s no use in complaining. Now back to the topic at hand. Statistics are subjective at best. Many times stats are not only misleading, but they’re purposely distorted in an attempt to provoke us or to “prove” a reporter’s weak point.

For example, since Trump’s victory the media has routinely been using the phrase “a nation divided” when referring to the sparse protests around the country. I think the word divided falsely gives the impression that half of America’s population has taken to the streets. Of course, that is far from accurate. In reality, only a few thousand people, out of approximately 319 million people nationwide, are publically protesting the soon-to-be 45th President of the United States. The number of protesters is microscopic and is a far cry from “a nation divided.” Once again, our trusted media seems willing to attain a story at the expense of the truth.

I never used to be so cynical concerning the media, but I’ve been finding more and more evidence that (like many of our politicians) our mainstream media specializes in false claims, half truths, and out and out lies. Often times statistics are used to give credence to such blatant dishonesty, but the data doesn’t mean much when it’s obviously skewed. I’ve also discovered that many articles appear harmless on the surface, but after further exploration they are found to be steeped in bias and fail to give an entirely accurate depiction of the real story. I think the mother of all dishonest reporting is when a journalist uses both slanted statistics and deceptive headlines when trying to “prove” their feeble point.

For instance, last month I could not help but notice a story in The Arizona Republic (Oct. 6th, 2016). I was curious about the enlarged words and accompanying statistics, directly beneath the headline, more so than the headline itself. I might’ve skipped the article on corporal punishment in schools, but I was so dumbfounded by the sobering stats that were listed. I couldn’t believe I was reading “African-American children in a few southern school districts about 50% more likely than white students to be smacked or paddled by a school worker.” I was even more flabbergasted when reading that in some of those school districts “black children are more than 500%, or five times as likely, to be spanked or paddled.”

I thought how unfair. How can that possibly be? Maybe there is something to all the recent chatter regarding Black oppression. I don’t know how anyone could read those words and not conclude that that’s racial discrimination. But wait. About midway through the story, in much smaller print, the reporter includes a quote from the leader of the corporal punishment study, Elizabeth Gershoff. The researcher said, “The higher prevalence of corporal punishment for black students doesn’t necessarily imply discrimination within schools or classrooms. In many of these districts black students – and presumably black educators – are in the majority.”

So, in a few southern school districts Black teachers are spanking Black children, yet the eye-catching words and statistics of the article certainly implied something entirely different. The story was about corporal punishment in schools, but the writer seemed determined to make it about race. Now more than ever statistics are being used haphazardly, irresponsibly, and even dangerously. During the campaign season we were reminded that statistically there are predominantly more Blacks incarcerated in this country than Whites even though Whites greatly outnumber Blacks. So? Stats also show there are significantly more Blacks playing in the NBA than Whites. Again, so? Not everything has to be 50/50 in order to be fair. I no longer put much stock in statistics because they rarely tell the whole story.


The 2016 Election

Surely, you must have seen this coming. You didn’t think I’d let this year’s presidential election pass by without offering at least a few words on the subject…did you? It probably would’ve been better, for our peace of mind and our health in general, if we all would’ve just paid less attention to the campaigns that have seemingly been going on forever. I once had a boss who would periodically say, “If you ignore a problem long enough…it just might go away.” Maybe not the soundest advice, but every so often his words rang true.

Unfortunately, there’s been way too much, and at times extremely biased and senseless, media coverage concerning the 2016 presidential race to just ignore. We’ve been undeservedly subjected to whining, bickering, mocking, false claims, half truths, and out and out lies for the past year and a half. Finally, the end is in sight. To clarify, only the days of our answering machines filling up with unsolicited political endorsements, our mailboxes overflowing with umpteen unwanted slick mailers recommending even slicker politicians, and our days of being bombarded with those nasty television commercials are almost over. However, the arguing, finger pointing, and political rhetoric will never end. It’s simply unavoidable with America’s two-party system firmly in place.

It’s still so surreal, and quite baffling, knowing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two remaining candidates we’re left with. I’m well aware there will be other choices for president on the ballot, but they have absolutely no chance (zero, zip, nada) of winning a 4-year stay at the White House. It’s been reported numerous times that Trump and Clinton hold the highest unfavorable ratings ever as nominees of their respective parties. The 2016 presidential election is apparently about electing who we despise the least. I’m not here to offer an endorsement, or attempt to change anyone’s mind (not that it would do any good), but I would like to offer a few observations concerning this year’s election.

I haven’t met anyone who is totally on board with either Trump or Clinton. I know those people must exist because I’ve seen them on television, but I’ve discovered firsthand that most supporters tend to be more anti-Trump or anti-Clinton rather than pro-Trump or pro-Clinton. I also recognize I fit into one of those anti categories. I’ve been sporting a “Nobody For President” t-shirt (thank you Kohl’s) during the last few months, and I have received numerous compliments from passersby. An evening at the Arizona State Fair alone produced no fewer than 30 fairgoers concurring with my 100% cotton statement. It was quite refreshing seeing Blacks, Whites, Latinos, both men and women, and the young and old alike in agreement with one another on something. My t-shirt, albeit not the most positive of messages, has been a reminder that we’re all in this together.

I was all set to use this space to assure everyone the 2016 presidential election is not rigged, but then I looked up the meaning of the adjective Donald Trump has been using on a regular basis, and I must admit he is not wrong. Prior to expanding my knowledge through Wikipedia, I thought The Donald was only suggesting that even if he won the election he would still somehow lose due to some sort of corruption behind the scenes. If that’s truly what Trump thinks then I would have to strongly disagree. However, the word rigged does mean manipulated, distorted, and misrepresented. I think many in the media have been guilty of all those things; hence, a rigged election. Sometimes there have been isolated incidents of voter fraud during an election cycle, but I don’t think that’s germane to what’s been going on these past couple of months.

I do believe this year’s presidential election has been skewed (I like that word better) for a long time now. The resistance to a Trump presidency began on August 6th, 2015, during the first Republican debate, with Megyn Kelly’s initial question for Trump. Actually, it really wasn’t much of a question – it was more of an attack and an assortment of accusations. (I think we all know by now how The Donald responds whenever he’s attacked.) The pushback to Trump occupying the Oval Office has been relentless ever since. I cannot think of any other time in America’s history when droves of respected members from one political party defected to support the opposing party’s candidate.

In addition, for the first time in its 34-year existence, USA Today decided to “endorse” a presidential candidate – NOT Trump! The “pile on” continues. I suppose the overwhelming resistance to a Trump presidency makes perfect sense because The Donald is not your typical Republican. In fact, some might even suggest the American businessman is a RINO (Republican In Name Only). That might explain why the ultra-conservative Mitt Romney initiated the Never Trump movement. There’s no denying Trump has endured a skewed election like no other (some deserved, but some not).

What’s surprising to me is how much Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders seem to have in common, yet supposedly the majority of Sanders’ supporters are now in the Clinton camp (although some reluctantly) at the former presidential candidate’s urging. Both Trump and Sanders are “outsiders.” Senator Sanders has somehow managed to represent the state of Vermont as an Independent (instead of as part of the establishment), and Donald Trump is certainly no politician. The “odd couple” frequently speak out against corporate lobbyists and special interest groups. Both Trump and Sanders tend to take a non-interventionist approach regarding foreign policy which happens to differ from Hillary Clinton’s stance. Yes, Trump blathered about “bombing the s**t out of ISIS,” but Clinton has hinted at declaring war against Syria. Those are two entirely different things.

Trump and Sanders were against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) from the beginning. The pair consistently link the TPP to NAFTA and insist the proposed agreement would only further the outsourcing of American jobs and hurt our economy. Hillary praised the TPP while acting as Secretary of State in President Obama’s administration, but she has since come out against the trade agreement as well. However, some political insiders, including Eleanor Clift: a liberal panelist from sadly the now defunct The McLaughlin Group, believe Clinton may secretly still be in favor of the TPP. I guess only time will tell.

Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have recently voiced their opposition to the possible merger of AT&T and Time Warner. I’m not too familiar with the specifics of the planned merger, but once again the real estate mogul and the Larry David look-alike appear to be of the same mind on this particular issue. Meanwhile, Clinton has taken a position of neutrality by only saying the AT&T-Time Warner merger “raises questions and concerns and they should be looked into.” It’s a little difficult, at least for me, to understand why any Sanders supporter would completely loathe Trump when some of the odd couple’s reasoning and proposed policies are identical. Likewise, I don’t know how any Trump supporter can dislike everything about Sanders. There are definitely some conflicting views between Trump and Sanders, but it sure would be nice if occasionally someone from one political party would publicly acknowledge when he is in agreement with someone from another party. I reckon that’s just asking too much in this day and age.

I assume lots of people will go to the polls this year with an angry us versus them mentality, and that’s disappointing, but at least they’ll be exercising their right to vote. I think if we’d all take a closer look then we’d see that the majority of candidates are more alike than we are usually willing to admit, and by acknowledging that maybe we’d have less vitriol in this country during election cycles. Some people will vote their party while others will vote their conscience. Some will go to the polls very concerned about possible Supreme Court Justice nominations while others will be more interested in a candidate’s proposed policies. I do think not voting though, when a person favors one candidate over another (even if it’s ever so slightly), in actuality aids in the success of the less liked candidate.

This past Sunday, my pastor said he needed to say a few words about the upcoming election. I must confess I cringed at first because I’ve witnessed pastors overstepping from the pulpit before, but then I quickly remembered – this is Pastor Brad. Our leader began by telling the congregation that Copper Hills is an apolitical church. He then acknowledged his flock included both Democrats and Republicans who are equally passionate about their candidates. Pastor Brad then said we should vote. He and his family moved here from Canada several years ago, eventually becoming American citizens, so he cherishes his right to vote and believes the rest of us should as well.

Pastor Brad also stressed the importance of praying for our elected officials at all levels of government whether we agree with their agendas or not. The Bible tells us to do so. The Apostle Paul doesn’t halfheartedly suggest Christians pray for their leaders – he practically commands it (1st Timothy 2: 1-3). Pastor Brad finished relaying what was laid upon his heart by assuring his congregation that regardless of how the November 8th election turns out, “God’s got this.” Those three words are always a comfort to me. Before, during, and after the 2016 presidential election…God’s got this!


I Thought I Was Done

I thought I was done writing about race relations and protests against our National Anthem, at least for a while, but this past month I’ve seen and read so much misleading information, on those hot button topics; therefore, I’d like to set the record straight. We keep hearing over and over how America is divided: politically divided and racially divided. I agree that currently our nation is somewhat politically polarized; however, it’s always been that way especially during general elections. If that were not the case then every candidate would receive 100% of the vote – 100% of the time. I adamantly disagree though with those who spout that this country is racially divided. I think many times the word divided falsely implies an equal split, or in this case it fosters a message of Blacks versus Whites. I think in actuality there’s only a small percentage of Black citizens who truly believe they’re purposely being oppressed by Whites due to the color of their skin…although they seem to have the loudest voices.

A select few from the Black community, a select few from the White community (yearning to be politically correct I assume), and the majority of mainstream media are responsible for creating this mirage of racial divide we’re experiencing today. It certainly doesn’t help race relations when renowned talk show host, Tavis Smiley, tells his national audience, “There’s no doubt about the fact that America owes Black folk a debt that it can never repay. Period. Point blank. No debate with me about that.”

Well, I guess that’s that. Case closed. There’s nothing else to say on the subject. Not! Smiley made his “non-debatable” statement (Sept. 12th, 2016) while interviewing “Reparations” website founder, Natasha Marin, who was there promoting her Facebook group which is intended to explore “white privilege” and provides aid to minorities in need. “Reparations” is similar to the GoFundMe website and encourages people to donate either their time, talents, or money to others in need. Marin’s website allows White people to give, but only minorities can receive.

Similar to Tavis Smiley, Deion Sanders recently took advantage of his profession, as a television sports analyst, to speak out on race relations. The National Football League (NFL) Hall of Famer used his air time last week as a bully pulpit to voice his support of Collin Kaepernick’s decision to bring attention to “Black oppression” in the United States. The mediocre quarterback protests his country by not standing during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Sanders proposed that the increase in sales of the player’s jerseys was proof that many fans must agree with his stance. Either “Prime Time” doesn’t realize why so many of the jerseys have been sold, or he’s intentionally omitting some pertinent information to make his claim appear more plausible. I presume the increase in sales of Kaepernick jerseys are in large part due to them being used for patriotic ceremonial burnings and other anti-protest protests. I know of at least one sports bar that’s using the jersey as a welcome mat.

When a select few from the White community hop on the political correctness train then the rest of us are prompted to get on board as well. When both Blacks and Whites promote the manufactured mirage then their way of thinking appears more credible to the public. I was disappointed to see our local sports columnist, Dan Bickley, lobbying for the train conductor’s position. The White reporter called out White former athletes and coaches, who opposed Kaepernick’s actions, in his weekly column for The Arizona Republic (Sept. 24th, 2016). Bickley begins his article by telling his readers that much of the criticism surrounding Collin Kaepernick is “steeped in ignorance.” He condemns Trent Dilfer, former quarterback and current ESPN analyst, for saying, “A backup quarterback should know his place and shut his mouth.” He criticizes Hall of Fame player and coach, Mike Ditka, for stating, “Anybody who disrespects this country and the flag, if they don’t like our flag, then get the hell out.” Bickley said Mike Ditka’s advice “sounded like what you might expect from someone who is old, wealthy and out of touch.”

The columnist placed legendary baseball manager, Tony La Russa, in the same category as Ditka. He took the current Diamondbacks Chief Baseball Officer to task for saying, “If you play for the Diamondbacks, you are representing a team, a culture and a brand.” La Russa noted that if any of his players wanted to protest the National Anthem they could do so simply by remaining in the clubhouse until the song was finished. Well, call me an old, ignorant, out of touch White guy because I totally agree. I found a couple lines from Dan Bickley’s column to be a bit humorous and quite ironic. The sportswriter seems troubled as he declares, “Sports are supposed to heal, not divide. They are not supposed to play out along racial lines.” Does he not understand Kaepernick is to blame for the division (at least any division in the NFL)?

It’s bad enough when people are allowed to use their words (and get paid) to cause division and to alienate others, but I think it’s worse when those same type of people attempt to silence any opposing view. For instance, last month (Sept. 13th, 2016) Lil Wayne, while appearing on the TV show Undisputed, was asked what he thought about the heavily publicized National Anthem protests. The famous Black entrepreneur and Hip Hop recording artist hesitantly answered, “I don’t want to be bashed, because I don’t want to seem like I’m on the wrong side.” It’s unfortunate when a select few can make the rest of us feel as though we’re being prodded to choose the “right side” when expressing our opinions.

Lil Wayne went on to say, “I have never…never is a strong word. I have never, never dealt with racism, and I’m glad I didn’t have to. I don’t know if it’s because of my blessings, but it is my reality.” “Weezy” then mentioned his fan base is predominantly White, and his younger generations of fans thinks racism is “not cool.” The Hip Hop artist also told of a time when a White cop saved his life. Lil Wayne did not get his wish because he was bashed by some in the Black community, for taking the “wrong side,” immediately after his appearance on Undisputed.

And there it is. With all the nonsense making the headlines lately it usually comes down to taking sides (or so we’re being told). Sometimes it seems like I’m the only one not buying what the media is selling. The recent police shootings of Black men are being chalked up to blatant racism, or at the very least an unconscious racial bias, but I think the majority of police shootings are justifiable and have absolutely nothing to do with race. The fact is nearly every shooting has involved resistance to authority. Say what you will about Donald Trump, but I find his position of promoting law and order, and his fondness for America’s law enforcement, refreshing.

I’m reminded of a quote I just heard while watching a Blue Bloods rerun. Police Commissioner Reagan, played brilliantly by Tom Selleck, is reminding his police officer son that he cannot hesitate while on the job. The concerned father then says, “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.” I think part of being a good cop is being able to make the spontaneous, tough decisions that allows an officer to go home to his loved ones at the end of the day. The clever quote is sound advice for the person being questioned as well. If we’re honest with ourselves – I mean truly honest – we’d be forced to admit that the number of shootings of Black men by White police officers are minute in comparison to the number of interactions our law enforcement agencies have with the public day in and day out. However, you’ll never hear that coming from the mouths of our trusted journalists.

The media needs us to be polarized. If there’s no conflict – no side to take – no David vs. Goliath – then there is no story. The media depends upon conflicts of interest, division amongst people, and stories about conquering giants (even if sometimes they’re fabricated) to stay in business. I imagine we’ll continue hearing about Black oppression as long as someone somewhere believes it to be true, and the media continues to provoke the illusion. I for one am not convinced Black oppression exists. Some racism still exists, and it goes both ways, but I find it difficult to believe that a Black man could be elected (twice) as President of the United States if Black oppression was real. Slavery is a thing of the past (rightfully so), and we now have laws securely in place to assure equality amongst all legal citizens regardless of their race. There…now I’m done.


A Not So Holly Jolly Christmas

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting colder. My afternoons of sweating profusely, in the Arizona desert, have somewhat dissipated, and taking an evening dip in the swimming pool is no longer a sensible option. Starbucks is now serving up their popular Pumpkin Spice lattes, and department stores everywhere have swapped out their summer merchandise for shared shelf space between Halloween and “the other holiday.” I am a bit surprised I haven’t had any eggnog sightings as of yet. (Pumpkin eggnog does not count.)

However, last week I did see, for the first time this year, a Christmas commercial on TV. It just so happens I purchased my first Christmas present around that time as well. In barely over a month (Nov. 1st) I’ll be listening exclusively to the illustrious sounds of the season, at home and in my car, until midnight of December 25th. No wonder this is the time of year when I prematurely focus the majority of my attention on Christmas! Therefore, it’s time for another Christmas story, from yours truly, although this one is not nearly as cheery as my previous tales. The following story is about a not so holly jolly Christmas.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all was well. The year was 1998, and it had been a splendid holiday season leading up to the “big day.” The gifts were all wrapped, positioned neatly underneath the tree, and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The list of Christmas Eve traditions, shared each year with my lovely wife’s extended family, had been completed: The Norwegian feast had been devoured (minus the lutefisk, of course – who wants to eat dried whitefish with a gelatinous texture?). Every song had been sung (some more than once) from the small, treasured hymnals used only on December 24th since probably the early 1900’s. The ice cream cake had been savored (one thin slice per person).

The only thing left to do this Christmas Eve, before trying to get some shut-eye, was to attend a candlelight church service with my side of the family. Almost immediately after cramming into a pew with my loved ones, I realized all was not well. As I was jubilantly singing “Joy to the World,” with the rest of the congregation, the joy inside of me was rapidly diminishing. I was overcome by maddening chills. Not only was Jack Frost nipping at my nose, but the icy villain was mauling my entire body. I’d never experienced anything like that before (nor have I since). As soon as I got home I took some Alka-Seltzer Plus (my usual cure-all) and burrowed into bed without even considering taking off my winter coat.

Christmas morning I awoke, and instantly I knew I was in trouble. I was still frigid, and now adding to my misery was a pounding headache – rhythmically pulsating as if keeping time with “The Little Drummer Boy.” (So much for the Alka-Seltzer Plus.) I was painfully aware what this meant, but I certainly wasn’t going down without a fight. I could not bear the thought of “missing” Christmas, so I brushed my teeth, fixed my hair, and tried to act normal (normal for me, anyway). I knew trying to disguise the fact that I felt much worse than the night before was selfish of me, but admittedly the well-being of others wasn’t my greatest concern at the time. Partaking in the day’s festivities was.

It really didn’t matter what my plan was because the missus was not fooled. She has an uncanny way of immediately detecting when a person is sick simply by looking at their eyes. My wife was not about to let me contaminate the rest of the family especially on such a glorious day. However, she did allow me to wander out into the living room to check out the goodies St. Nick had left for us underneath the Christmas tree. What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a Scooby-Doo cookie jar for the missus, a Super Nintendo for our son, and plenty of sports memorabilia for me. Santa did good. He always does.

Those few short minutes of excitement were almost more than I could handle in my delirious state. I knew I had reached my limit of exhilaration for the day. I also knew it was time for my wife and son to leave. They headed off to my parents’ house, for a fun-filled day, while I settled down for a long winter’s nap. As the rest of the world celebrated our Savior’s birth, or Santa Claus, or both, I laid there in bed thinking of all that I would be deprived of on this blessed day.

There were no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head – just nightmarish thoughts of what I was missing out on a mere mile or so down the road. There’d be no customary Christmas “breakfast” (usually served around noon) for me this year. None of my father’s famous fried eggs. No bacon, no sausage, and no biscuits and gravy. Gone was the anticipation and the delight of watching loved ones opening their gifts that were thoughtfully selected just for them. Lost forever was the cherished time spent with family – typically even more precious on December 25th.

I spent the entire day in bed…and in a desolate daze. At one point I attempted to get out of my lowly condition by turning on the television, but even the holiday classics emanating from the screen could not cure my sadness. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”? I don’t think so. Clement Clarke Moore’s ending line from his legendary holiday poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, did not ring true for me in 1998. That year was a not so holly jolly Christmas.


Teddy

I remember it well. It was a long time ago, yet it’s one of those life altering moments a person never forgets. I was only a child, around 8 or 9 years old, when my world came crashing down around me. I could no longer keep my emotions buried deep down inside of me. I sat there motionless in my father’s La-Z-Boy Rocker Recliner, stunned by what had transpired over the past few weeks, as tears cascaded down my cheeks. I made no effort to conceal my tears as I gazed down the hallway at my mother who was conversing on our one and only rotary dial telephone. In fact, I was hoping my immense sorrow would not go unnoticed, so I could finally release some of the burden I’d secretly been carrying around with me ever since I made that awful decision…to give my teddy bear away.

I made the hasty decision to part ways with my stuffed animal soon after attending a Cub Scout meeting. (I was a Cub Scout for an entire two years during my youth.) My Pack leader announced we’d be taking part in a local toy drive. The Christmas season was fast approaching, and he thought collecting new and slightly used toys, for those less fortunate in our community, was the least we could do as a civic minded organization. My ears perked up when the gangly Cubmaster mentioned there’d be prizes awarded, to the top three toy collectors, on the evening of the upcoming annual pinewood derby competition. I don’t remember much more about the meeting after hearing the word prizes, but I do recall thinking what a glorious night that will be: taking first place in the pinewood derby and receiving one of three prizes just for gathering some toys.

When I got home I immediately ransacked my overflowing toy box and found a few items I could donate to help my…ahem…I mean…to help the…worthy cause. The next day I scoured the neighborhood (probably only three or four houses) for contributions. One weekend a few of us even went out with our Pack leader in hopes of finding more donations. The contest’s end was nearing, and I felt pretty good about the number of toys I had garnered, but was it enough? I rummaged through my toy box one last time, but I didn’t find anything. At least nothing else I could bear to part with or what would be acceptable as “slightly used.”

And then it happened. I spotted my blue and white teddy bear, in his usual spot, on top of my bed. I hadn’t even considered parting company with any of the assorted inanimate creatures arranged next to my pillow. But what a greedy little guy I was. All I kept thinking about were those darn prizes. It’s not even as if they were all that spectacular to begin with. I think the grand prize was maybe ten dollars. A nice sum at the time, for a young lad, but certainly not worth the guilt I’d soon be facing.

I began to rationalize how giving away my teddy wasn’t a big deal. Wasn’t I too old for such a thing anyway? I hadn’t even given my stuffed bear a name for Pete’s sake. What kind of an owner doesn’t give their teddy bear a name? Surely he’d be better off with someone else. Rationalization completed.

My mother noticed I had added my teddy bear to the modest pile of accumulated toys situated in the corner of my bedroom. She mildly suggested that I reconsider my decision to give away my teddy. A day or so later, seeing my stuffed animal still occupying the corner, my mother strongly recommended I heed her advice. She then made one last plea for me to reconsider my stance, as I was heading off to the big event, but my infantile mind had already been made up. My excitement that evening quickly waned as the names of the three prize winners were announced, and the realization of what just happened set in. I lost the pinewood derby, the toy drive contest, and my precious teddy bear in one fell swoop.

A few days passed, and I quickly got over not being victorious in the pinewood derby and toy drive competitions. I truly hadn’t given my teddy bear much thought with the hustle and bustle of the season’s festivities and with Christmas just around the corner. However, after the blessed 25th day of December had come and gone, and every child’s coveted winter break was coming to a close, I became fixated with the loss of my blue and white teddy bear. I could not believe what I had done. That’s why I couldn’t stop crying, and hoping my mother would notice my anguish, as I sat motionless in my father’s La-Z-Boy. (My father must not have been home at the time since I was sitting in his chair.)

At last, my mother’s eyes locked onto mine, and instantly I felt a sense of some much needed solace. I was relieved, although only for a moment, until my newfound comfort swiftly transformed into a state of trepidation. After all, it was my mother who earnestly tried to convince me not to give away my one and only teddy, so why should she be sympathetic to my self-induced predicament after I (now regretfully) ignored her previous sound advice? I guess I was about to find out since my mother had hung up the telephone and was headed in my direction. To my surprise, she was sympathetic…and how!

After comforting me for a while my mother came up with a brilliant idea. She couldn’t bring back my teddy bear, but she could do the next best thing. My mother is a fine artist, so she drew (from memory) a life-size, near perfect replica of my teddy onto a large sheet of drawing paper. She then brought the picture to life when filling in the bear’s outline with a couple of colored pencils – precisely matching the light blue on the piece of paper before us to that of the real thing now somewhere in the arms of some lucky kid.

Over the next few days my mother did the same for the remaining stuffed clan arranged on my bed…just in case. She fashioned the likenesses of my light green bunny, small raccoon pillow, and my Ronald McDonald collectible onto other sheets of drawing paper, so I could add them to the teddy bear masterpiece she had created for me. What a mother! Her act of kindness eased much of the hurt her little boy was experiencing.

It’s no coincidence that today is National Teddy Bear Day. I really don’t think we need a specific day of the year designated to honor our teddies, but what the hey. Later this month (Sept. 19th) is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so I suppose, all things considered, a day established to celebrate our teddy bears isn’t so strange after all. I do think about my blue and white teddy sometimes, and I wish he was still with me. If you’re fortunate enough to still have yours…please hug your teddy bear today.