What I am Thankful For

Over the past several days, I have spent countless hours hanging out with family. We have relaxed and watched football. We got out our instruments and jammed together. We sang. We ate a lot of food. We sat around and enjoyed one another’s company. We put down our phones (sometimes). We cooked. We took pictures. We laughed. And we were thankful.

I noted a couple days ago, that this was my first time in five years that I have made it to my grandparents for Thanksgiving. Last year, I was up in Detroit responding to the 11-13 Aug Flooding with the AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT). The year before that, I was volunteering my time alongside some of my ERT teammates in Washington, IL, after a tornado swept through that community. Before that, I was hanging out with FEMA Corps in NYC, responding to Super Storm Sandy. And two years before that, I spent the day in Houston, TX with Sun 7, my original team from AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

While I am thankful for the time spent with family this year, I am even more appreciative of my experiences in National Service with the various AmeriCorps programs that I have been a part of. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve in response to disasters and beside some of the most amazing people, the best of friends, and a family that continues to expand across the world.

I am thankful that I am starting a new job in just over a week. It’s been a long spell of waiting, but that time is over. It is stressful, trying to locate housing and put down some type of roots.

I am thankful for the support of friends and family, because I know too many individuals who do not have the same network of support that fills my life. I am thankful for all those with whom I am able to stand shoulder to shoulder with, supporting and celebrating each moment with them.

I am thankful for moments of silence, when all the chaos of the day fades away and I can finally breathe. I love being with my family, but sometimes there is just too much going on. As an introvert, I get overwhelmed by the questions, by the activities, by the constant ‘go-go-go!’ of the weekend. I am thankful for times when I can unplug and relax and not have to worry about anything other than thanking God for the day.

There are times when we are overwhelmed with emotion and cannot remember to be thankful for everything we have, have experienced, and have lost. Step back. Take a breath. Say thank you. And dive back in!


Thoughts on Prayer and Love in a Dark World

Over the past couple weeks, our world has been filled with darkness. From terrorism and natural disasters to fear and hatred. We witnessed the attacks in Paris unfold and the search for suspects associated with terrorism end in bloodshed and more lives lost to senseless violence. We have witnessed racial tension within our own nation, here in the States, as black students stand for their rights and the backlash of hate and anger at a system of repression. We have witnessed the hate and fear that has spread as the flood of refugees fleeing from death and war now stands at our door and the politics that has painted all those of the Islamic faith as terrorists.

We stand on the razor edge of war as bombs are being dropped with ever increasing frequency. Violence is spreading through our own streets in the name of race and hate. And our hearts have been hardened by suspicion and fear.

We stand on the edge of darkness as we watch our world sink lower and lower into the chaos of hatred and fear. And if we want to fight against this trend of mutually assured destruction, we must learn to wage a new kind of war.

I pray every day for the suffering of those around the world. Victims of violence and oppression, but also the survivors of war and natural disasters. I pray for peace, but that starts with a prayer for those who hold the weapons of violence and wield the blade of fear. I pray for my enemies, those who wish to kill and destroy, that they come to know the power of love. I pray for the warriors who stand in the line of fire, the heroes of the battlefield, but also the men and women who work on the front lines of emergencies, the police men and medical personnel who are witness to the violence that is tearing us apart from within.

And I pray that my heart and eyes be open to the love that can change the world and the truth to set my feet on the right path.

Our war starts with prayer. It starts with a change in our thoughts. And it starts with a willingness to love. Unconditionally.

I’ve been told that my prayers have no scientific affect on this world. No, you may not be able to record the difference they make. You may not see the change of a heart as it opens up to love. But you will be able to feel it if you allow yourself to open your heart to change and learn to love everyone as a brother or sister.

The movement #PrayforParis was more than just praying for the victims and survivors of a terrorist act. It was a call to unify humanity to stand up to fear and fight through love and hope. We gathered together with #PrayfortheWorld to remember that it isn’t just one action, a single event that unites us, but the suffering across the nations that need a helping hand and an extension of love.

Praying has nothing to do with Religion. And at the same time, it has everything to do with Faith. It does not matter in what language you pray, what you call the building you gather to be close to God, nor the name in which you call God. You don’t even have to believe in a God to pray. That is what unites us.

What unites us is our faith in the fact that Love can change the world as we know it.

Later this week, as families across America gather together to be thankful for what this past year has brought, I challenge you to give thanks for the power of Love. And think about how much the world would change if we loved one another with reckless abandon.

How would the world look if we showed love and compassion to those fleeing the war and destruction of their homes and cities? If we embraced one another in love, despite the differences in beliefs, in the color of our skin, or the faiths of our mothers and fathers? What would it look like if we responded with love to those who wish us dead?

This war we wage with love will not be won in an instant. It will take time. But we can be the generation that changes the world through peace, forgiveness, and compassion.

I know this in my heart.

And I am thankful for all the times when the power of love has given me second chances and opportunities to heal the conflicts of life.

L’amour Gagne Toujours

These words have echoed across the world in the past couple days, ever since the Friday the 13th terror attacks in Paris. They have been written on the ground and on every heart that has felt the pain of this attack. It is our rallying cry and our prayer for this broken word.

Love Always Wins.

Love is our weapon against terrorism. Love is our weapon against fear. Love is the weapon that will unite us in a world that is broken.

It isn’t just love for the victims and survivors of the attacks in Paris. It isn’t just love for those affected by terrorism around the world. It isn’t just love for those suffering from events beyond their control. It is a love that has the power to consume the entire word.

Love does not discriminate against race, religion, creed, or points of view. Love accepts us for who we are, and for who we are not.

When I first thought of what I was going to write about, my first working title for this post was going to be “Why Do The Innocent Have To Suffer.”

Love leads to compassion. And compassion leads to healing. And we need healing in this time of pain. Not war. Not accusations. Not closed doors.

I heard today that a number of our political figures have decided to make a stand against allowing refugees fleeing from conflict and war to settling in our nation. There is a fear that, because one single individual in the attacks in Paris may have smuggled himself into the country through the mass of refugees that have flooded into Europe, another radical fanatic is hiding among those individuals fleeing to the U.S.

One individual. And the terrorists have won.

They have won because we are responding in fear. And not with compassion and love. They have succeeded because we are afraid to love unconditionally.

There are thousands of individuals who are seeking safety at our doors. These are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Agnostics, and Atheists. They are victims and survivors of war, of persecution, of fear. And they are seeking not just safety, but a new life. New opportunities. And a new hope for their families.

We are a nation of immigrants. We come from around the world to seek the American Dream. We are the melting pot, the salad bowl of nations. Together we make up what it means to be American.

We were not stopped at the border because of our religions, our beliefs. So why start now?

Love always wins.

The only way we will win against those who seek to spread terror is to combat it with love. Unconditional love. If we do not love those in the world around us, especially those refugees seeking safety within our nation, then all we are doing is spreading fear and hate.

When we choose not to love, we loose. The rest of the world sees our fear, and those who wish to harm us, to kill us, see our weakness and will act on it. And the refugees that are at our doorstep, waiting for us to let them in, see this fear. They notice when we choose not to love.

When people are met with apprehension and fear, they are reluctant to become part of their community. They feel forced out, so they do not make the effort to interact. From there, fear becomes hate. And the cycle continues.

The only way we can combat that, is to love.

Love always wins.

And when we learn to love, we understand that, though we may be different, we are all in this together. And united we will stand against fear and terror.

And in this war of terror, Love Always Wins.

Why I Pray

Yesterday, our world was rocked by terror as men stormed the streets of Paris in a deadly rampage that left over a hundred individuals dead and thousands living in fear. I saw reports through social media as I headed out with my grandparents for dinner. My first response, like many others, was to say a silent prayer. As we returned several hours later, and saw the extent of the terror on the news, I joined hundreds of others through the hashtag #PrayforParis.

But the simple fact is that the events in Paris was not the only event that rocked the world. The earthquake that rocked Japan. Bombings at a funeral in Baghdad. Suicide bombers in Beirut. And another earthquake and a hurricane in Mexico. I have seen reports that over 115,000 individuals died yesterday in these events.

Let us not forget about the 147 individuals killed in the recent attack on Garissa University Collage in Kenya. Or the countless other, smaller acts of terror that happen each and every day around the world.

Today, I saw Social Media filled with support for the victims of these attacks and events around the world. But I also saw an ugly side of this phenomenon.

I saw several individuals and articles attacking the use of the hashtag #PrayforParis. “We don’t need more religion!” they shouted. One of my friends stated “… religion is the cause of this evil, all religions and not just radical Islam, are a plague on our society.” Others have stated that our status posts and updated profile photos in the colors of the French flag were hollow gestures and and insincere acts. They stated that while our prayers may be sincere, our validation of those prayers through social media are destructive and disingenuous.

And despite these remarks, I still believe that prayer is our most powerful weapon in this war of terror that has spread throughout our world.

I pray because the world needs peace and love, not more violence. Yes, I want these individuals to pay for their actions, but right now, we must support the survivors of these tragedies. If this means prayer, then I will pray. If this means holding the bloody hand of a victim after their blood has been shed, I would do that. If I could, I would be among the first responders. But the simple fact is that I am not there. Right now, my prayers and vocal support are the most powerful act that I have available to me.

The act of praying may not have any scientific proof behind them, but I have seen the power of that support. I saw it firsthand in Joplin and in the depths of Uganda and Togo. By expressing and sharing that we have prayed and are praying in a response to these events, survivors know that they have our support, that we are standing with them in their time of need.

You may not be able to see the affects of these prayers. You may not be able to measure them. But they are there.

When individuals state that our prayers are hollow and meaningless, I smile because I know otherwise. When they belittle us, saying that our status posts are insincere, I am reminded that they do not know the individual that is behind the screen.

I had two friends within the stadium in Paris. They know that I was praying for them and the city that they have come to love. And our voices would not be heard if it were not for the power of social media.

I pray because these prayers are an act of love that is more powerful in the long run, than the terror that fell upon us last night. I pray because I know that every voice counts. And I share my prayers because I know that someone will see it and will be lifted up out of darkness. But there are so many prayers that remain unspoken and hidden within the depths of my heart.

I will continue to pray every single day for love to conquer all. For healing to settle upon us. For a time when peace allows brothers from all faiths to embrace one another in acceptance. For the strength to continue on and be a light to a world shrouded in darkness. I will pray with every breath of life through my actions and words, to the best of my abilities.

I pray for the end of terror and fear, but I am not naive enough to believe that things will change without action. And love is my act, the banner in which I rally behind.

The War on Christmas

Recently, social media has exploded. And I find it rather pathetic. The following is a post by B. Cone in response to the outcry of many vocal Christians in response to Starbucks holiday coffee cups not having Christmas decorations (the original post has been linked above):

In case you’ve had your head in the sand the last few days, there has been a huge controversy brewing, and blowing up all over social media. It’s all related to this year’s Christmas cups at Starbucks. If you’re not a Starbucks regular, let me explain: Every year during the holidays, Starbucks uses special cups, which have always been red and adorned with some type of theme, such as snowflakes, ornaments, or trees. This year, their cups are plain red without such ornamentation. Why is this causing such a stir? Christians are claiming that the plain red cups are part of the “War on Christmas” and that Starbucks is denying Christ by not putting snowflakes on their cups.

There is more to the post that I will get to in a couple moments. But my first issue: IT ISN’T EVEN THANKSGIVING YET! But that aside, why are people so concerned with this? Lets continue the post and listen to his responses:

Here are my thoughts:

1) It’s petty stuff like this which makes Christians look so foolish. Freaking out about plain red cups does nothing to bring people to Jesus.

2) Starbucks has made it known that they in no way celebrate Christ or anything Christian, so we can’t expect them to celebrate Christmas.

3) Symbols like trees, snowflakes and reindeer are not a representation of why us Christians celebrate Christmas.

4) We have way larger problems to worry about in the world. World hunger. Terrorism. Genocide. Human Trafficking. Millions of people who don’t know the name Jesus. Lets focus our time, energy, and anger on something that matters.

5) A video going viral is suggesting that we need to tell the barista’s at Starbucks that our name is “Merry Christmas”, so that they are forced to write it on the cup. Not only is this obviously lying, and so childish, but does nothing to lead the barista closer to Christ. If anything, it hardens them to the Gospel because they see how foolish Christians are.

So in summary, lets focus on what God has called us to do: make disciples. And that might mean spending a Sunday evening sitting in a Starbucks, chatting with the Barista about life and faith, being polite and courteous to them to show them the love of Christ (which should probably include a generous tip)……all while sipping on a delicious peppermint hot chocolate from a plain red cup.

This dude makes some very valid points. Why the [edit] should I care about a simple, red cup? Are we going to wage war on Santa next? Because that is not what Christmas was ever about either?  Just sayin’.

As a follower of Christ, this really irritates me. And it shouldn’t even be an issue.

Every year, I am reminded how much I dislike this season of the year. I detest what Christmas has become. The decorations. The ornaments. The songs being played earlier and earlier each year (I started hearing Christmas music at the beginning of October). The focus on worldly things. Possessions.

Don’t get me wrong: I love spending time with my family. I enjoy watching the happiness on the faces of my niece and nephew when they open their gifts. But, to be completely honest, that is not what all of this is about.

To hear that people are complaining about a red cup makes me shake my head and want to distance myself from the label of Christian. When I hear people upset because someone said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” all I think about is how petty it all is.

Instead of trying to force Christmas on people, wouldn’t our energy be better spent on showing our love through our actions? Wouldn’t our time be better spent helping those in need? Helping the poor? Protecting those who are being slaughtered by war? Those fleeing conflict with no place to go? Both at home and those overseas.

There are so many other things we could fight against, but yet we choose the injustice of a simple red cup? What the [edit] is wrong here? Is this really something I should be worried about? No.

If you want to boycott Starbucks, that is your own business, but do not try to make this a Christian thing. This is stupidity at its finest. Evidently, we have already lost the true meaning of Christmas. And this time, before the season is really upon us.

The Dark Side

If any one of you know me personally, you will understand the fact that I am a Star Wars nerd. I was the one who would watch the original trilogy over and over again, though my favorite has always been (and will always be) The Return of the Jedi. While I did attend the midnight showing (when they still opened movies at midnight, not 7pm the night before) of The Revenge of the Sith, I refuse to accept the prequel trilogy as actual Star Wars due to the horrendous acting, over-use of CGI technology, and that character that was supposed to be the comedic relief.

I was the kid who collected and played the Star Wars Customizable Card Game (CCG) made by Decipher, Inc. Heck, I still am the kid who collects and continues to play even though Decipher lost its license and stopped producing and developing cards back in 2001. The fact that there is still a community out there who plays, has tournaments (including Worlds), and continues to operate is proof of how amazing the game is, but more importantly, how powerful Star Wars has become.

After the prequel trilogy, I was disappointed with the route George Lucas took my beloved childhood memories. Yes, lightsabers are cool and Jedi are awesome, but the story that made the originals so powerful was lost to flashy moments and technology. I was even more apprehensive when Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars and announced the continuation of the story in Episode VII. Princess Leia is a bad-[edit], not a Disney princess. And who in their right mind would let a mass murderer and Jedi slayer walk among children at an amusement park (does nobody remember the scene with the younglings!?).

I watched as J.J. Abrams was announced as the director for The Force Awakens (does nobody else understand that he is now the most powerful being in the galaxy after the remake of Star Trek and now Star Wars?). And I smiled at the teaser trailers, knowing that Abrams was not going to give us much, the name of Star Wars could have carried the movie to theaters without showing Han or Chewie. But then we got the official trailer. And the world went crazy.

If you haven’t seen the official trailer, I have one question: Have you been living under a rock?! Go watch it and try not to smile. I dare you.

Now, the big question that I have seen all over the place is: Where is Luke?  Is that his mechanical hand touching R2? Why isn’t he seen on the poster? We hear his voice in the teaser, but we want to see him?

And now there are theories that he is one in the same as Kylo Ren. But I’m not going to talk about that.

What I do want to discuss is the theory that surrounds the duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the throne room of the second Death Star. Did Luke Skywalker fall to the Dark Side of the Force?

Simple answer: Yes. Maybe.

No matter how much people try to explain the Force when it comes to the Light or Dark Side, the simple truth is that it is too fluid for any of us to comprehend. One one side, we have good. The other, evil. But what about the grey in between? According to the Jedi, it is either one or the other, a black and white world. And the Sith, well, they all start out with good intentions, right? Uhhh, no?

Luke sets out to confront Vader with the hope of redemption. He believes that it is possible to return to good, even after being consumed by evil for such a long time. In addition to this, we see Luke get captured in the hopes of giving his friends a chance to succeed at their mission and bring down the Death Star’s shield.

He has good intentions. And then he falls.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I believe that Luke Skywalker falls to the Dark Side when he lashes out in anger and strikes out at the Emperor. He knows it. And fights to regain his composure. Look at how he hides and tries to refuse to fight Vader. And once Vader senses his fear and preys upon it, Luke again falls to anger and fear. He goes crazy and strikes with reckless abandon. He is consumed by the Dark Side.

And to be honest, I think it takes him a lot longer to recover than The Return of the Jedi makes it out to be. Luke is still defiant, still fights against it. And suffers for it.

Now, I’m warning you before hand, I’m going to get into speculation and possibly some spoilers, so… you are warned.

There is a lot of theories out there regarding what the heck happened to Luke Skywalker. If you have read the Shattered Empire comic series, Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, specifically volume four, we realize that Luke is still alive, still fighting and stealing back these random trees that I have never seen before (I wonder, are they going to be a part of the story line?).But then evidently he goes into hiding?

By the sound of the trailers, Luke has disappeared. The entire idea of the Force has gone underground. Like it never happened. There are stories, myths about the Force and Luke is nowhere to be seen. It seems as if he has gone underground.

Unlike the original Expanded Universe, where Luke reconstructs the Jedi Academy and they all live happily ever after (lies). Instead of the Jedi Academy, we have the greatest Jedi, the hero who brought the fall of the Empire, nowhere to be seen.

My theory is that Luke is still recovering from that brush with the Dark Side. He is hiding because he is ashamed that he allowed himself to be consumed by anger and hate. I believe that he realized how powerful the Force can be, especially the Dark Side of the Force. There is a sense of shame that I could feel when we see this character reaching out to R2-D2. And R2 turns away.

I saw somewhere that all Jedi wear brown. Sith wear black. And those characters struggling between Light and Dark wear a mix of black and brown. To throw something more into the mix: Luke wears black. All black. Even in the comics.

The story of Luke is powerful because it is a story that we can all relate to. And that is what Star Wars is all about. I’m definitely looking forwards to The Force Awakens.