The Violence Trap Part 7: Springing the Trap

On Friday December 14, 2012, a disturbed individual walked into Sandy Hook Elementary with his mother’s Bushmaster Rifle and started shooting. He killed twenty first grade students and six members of the school’s staff.

Later, that same day, after every news network had covered the story of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, there was another event with guns occurring on the other side of the nation. Anyone driving along Government Way in Coeur d’Alene would have seen a sign advertising a gun show being held at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds that weekend.

Bad timing? Insensitive? Callous? On the day America experienced the worst school shooting in our history, the fairgrounds were inviting Cd’A residents to go buy more guns. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dismay.

I understand that the gun show was scheduled long before the gunman entered the elementary school with evil intent. I know it was too late to cancel the event. And I realize there were sellers there with business that need to make a profit - dependent on customers showing up and purchasing guns. Even with those facts in mind, I still felt the brash street-side signage was disrespectful. They could have still held the gun show without putting out the signs.

When I drove by the fairgrounds that rainy Friday afternoon, I felt sick. And the responses to the picture I posted on facebook were simply disturbing.

“We can't put our lifestyle on hold. Life goes on.”
“Gun shows are a business, not some Broadway musical.”
“It is good business.”

These statements do not tell me anything good or bad about firearms. Rather, they speak volumes about our culture. Americans idolize guns – elevating them as something equal to or even greater than God. It demonstrates how badly we are trapped in a cycle of never-ending violence. We are stuck thinking that violence is the solution to all our woes.

When I hear someone say “We can’t put our lives on hold because of some tragedy,” I hear someone who is trapped.
When I hear the claim “Obama (or Clinton) is going to take away our guns!” I hear they are trapped.
When a Bushmaster advertisement states they’ll take away our man-card if we don’t own a gun, I see customers who are trapped.
When I hear someone say they need guns for “self-defense,” I hear someone who is trapped.
When I hear they need guns to “over throw our tyrannical government,” I hear someone who is trapped.
When a person argues “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” I hear someone who is trapped.
Every time I see a “We don’t call 911” poster with a picture of a sidearm on it, I see someone who is trapped.
When an old man walks into a children’s play area with a 9mm strapped to his hip and brags about how he has a badge for it, I see someone who is trapped.
When I see pictures of pistols on top of bibles, I see people who are trapped.
Whenever someone utters the words “God, guns, and glory” or “God, guns, and country” I hear people who are trapped.

We are better than this. Or at least we should be.

Before I get carried away, I must clarify that I do not wish to disparage any gun-owners. If I refused to be friends with people who owned guns, I would be a very lonely man. My objections are not to guns but to the attitudes of our culture that have us mired believing in redemptive violence. I reject the attitude that the second amendment is the greatest amendment. I protest the attitudes that guns bring us closer to God. Guns do not symbolize your savior, they do not symbolize your manhood, and they do not symbolize hope.

Guns may not be the problem, but they are definitely not the solution. What we have is a people problem. We are stuck in a trap and think we can shoot our way out of it.

Think about quicksand. While the younger version of me believed that the danger of quicksand would be far more prevalent than it actually is, it does exist and it is possible to get stuck in it. When caught, quick and panicked movements will cause someone to sink deeper. Simply put – fighting it makes it worse.

The myth of redemptive violence is like quicksand. We are stuck and the more we fight the worse it gets. We are sinking in clinging to our guns. We are sinking in anti-government rhetoric. We are sinking in gun shows. We are sinking in fatal police shootings and sinking further with riotous response to law enforcement. We are sinking in belief that we can fix our broken country with violence.

When stuck in quicksand, slow and careful movements are essential for escape. If we want to get out of our violence trap, we need to make deliberate efforts and stop fighting.

I don’t believe that banning guns will put an end to American violence. But I do believe that gun-proliferation will make it worse. Both of those extremes would be akin to panicked actions causing us to sink deeper in the quicksand. If we learn anything from other nations like Japan, Switzerland, Mexico, and Honduras, weapon regulations do not increase or decrease gun violence. While common sense gun-control could be beneficial, it won’t fix our people problem.

If we want to end the violence, we need peace. We need to lay down our arms. We need a change of heart. Unfortunately, it is impossible to legislate morality. No law can ever force someone to be kind or humble. If we want to encourage peace, there are things we could do aside from revising gun laws.

Remember the biggest difference between Honduras and Switzerland? One nation is economically and educationally secure and the other is not. If you look at violence in America – the perpetrators and victims are both more frequently found among the most disadvantaged of our population. Poverty and crime dance in tandem.

Do you want to reduce the possibility of homegrown terrorism? Do you want to see an end to school shootings? To you want to see less senseless violence in major metropolitan streets?

Then we need to fix our broken education system that favors those with wealth and burdens kids in poor neighborhoods.

We need to do recognize wage disparity in our nation is a travesty and end corporate welfare.
We need to close the loopholes that allow the rich to get richer on the back of the poor.
We need to maintain safety nets to make sure that no one falls through the cracks.
We need stronger policies to crack down on school yard bullies.
We need to call out hatred and discrimination wherever it exists.

When everyone has access to hope and justice, we will stop believing in violence as a cure. We will be freed from the trap.


The Violence Trap Part 6: A Myth Undone

Theodore Parker was a transcendentalist and an abolitionist whose words influenced both Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. In an 1853 sermon, Parker stated “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

A little more than 100 years later, Martin Luther King Jr simplified the same sentiment, “I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

We should see this is true. Contrary to the headlines broadcast from cable news networks, life isn’t that bad. Our society is acting with more justice than it ever has before. Our kids are safer than ever before. The poor are wealthier than ever before. That doesn’t mean life is sunshine and roses for everyone, just that we are better off as a whole. Our culture isn’t perfect but we are heading in the right direction. We might find evidence of moral decay, but the same is true of any other era in history.

Despite the looming threat of terrorism – from both homegrown and foreign radicals, despite the increasing occurrences of mass shootings, despite the petty bickering over partisan topics on social media, despite the reports of collegiate rapes and sexual assaults finding more publicity, despite the news of police killing unarmed black teenagers, despite the reports of cops being killed in cold blood, despite of all that is wrong in our world, we are better off than previous generations. We continue to engage in war but fewer soldiers are dying in battle. Racism, misogyny, and other forms of hatred still exist, but we have come a long way from the days of slavery, women’s suffrage movement, Jim Crow laws, and the Trail of Tears. We have our flaws but the moral arc of the universe is bent toward justice. We are getting better and we will continue to improve.

But the moral arc didn’t always bend that direction. It once bent toward anarchy. The mythology of ancient cultures is filled with violence and chaos. From the Norse peoples to the Egyptians, from the Aztecs to the Mongols, from the Sumerians to the Romans. Ancient civilizations were inspired by tales of gods and monsters, dragons and warriors. For thousands of years, humanity lived in tribalism. We didn’t care about justice, we only wanted to protect our tribe. We needed heroes who would face our foes and shout “This. Is. Sparta!” Our tribes grew into empires and empires constantly clashed for dominion over the others.

Something changed. Something took the moral arc of the universe and twisted away from self-preservation, pointing it instead toward justice. I believe that change happened with a man, born into persecution in the hill country of Judea.


He was a strange man who preached strange words. When Jesus showed up, he started telling people about an alternative to the myth of redemptive violence. He said “Look, I know it’s always been like this, but there is another way – a better way.” The crowds had been taught to repay violence with violence. The law even allowed the penalty of an eye for an eye. But Jesus said “You don’t have to do it. You could turn the other cheek. You can repay violence with peace. You can respond to offenses with grace.”

Whether you do or don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, one thing can’t be ignored: Jesus inspired a group of people who believed that they could be different. Jesus led a ministry that emphasized justice, love, goodness, and mercy. In the centuries that followed, empires crumbled and civilization became more civilized. We went through an age of enlightenment. We industrialized, reformed, launched space shuttles, and tumbled face first into a globalized society. Along the way, we implemented methods of more humane treatment of farm animals, passed more ethical laws for the treatment of children, provided rights to women and minorities, gave relief to victims of natural disasters and refuge to those fleeing the turmoil in their homelands. Violent crime is going down. Murder rates are lower. Jesus gave us a glimpse of what justice could look like and we have been trying to achieve those ideals ever since.

But it didn’t end peacefully for Jesus. The Roman government executed him in the most violent method they had available at the time: crucifixion. Yet even the death of Jesus debunks the myth of redemptive violence. Instead of a savior committing violent acts to redeem us, The Savior redeemed us through suffering the violence committed against him. Jesus could have resisted. He could have overpowered those guards sent to arrest him. He could have called lightning down upon every centurion who participated in nailing him to the cross. But he didn’t. He showed compassion and asked God to forgive them for their ignorance.

In Jesus, we are given a new model. Violence is not defeated by violence. Violence is conquered by sacrifice. Violence is ended by a love that is willing to lay down its life for its friends. Redemption isn’t found in the perpetuation of violence but by breaking the cycle of violence.

Which brings me back to another statement from Martin Luther King Jr’s 1965 sermon. Before he said anything about the moral arc of the universe, he talked about redemption: “If physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children and their white brothers from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.” Taking a life will not redeem you, but giving up your life will. In a way, King was echoing the words of Jesus, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

There is no such thing as redemptive violence. But there is a sacrificial redemption.


The Violence Trap Part 5: A Violent Myth

There is a lie we all believe: violence stops violence. Some even take it further proposing that violence prevents violence. There’s even a term for it: The Myth of Redemptive Violence. It has become a common story model from ancient legends through modern action movies.

The Babylonian creation myth is one of the oldest examples. It begins in chaos with warring gods and heroes. The worst of them oppress the gods and thrives on breaking the rules. Eventually, one god steps up with a plan – he will defeat the antagonist in exchange for the right to rule above all of the other gods. The agreement is made and absolute power is given to this one god who proceeds to annihilate his foes with increasingly creative and gory methods of sadistic vengeance. Once evil is conquered, this violent god creates the world from the corpse of his greatest enemy. Babylonian mythology teaches how humanity’s existence was built upon brutality – that the violence of the gods redeemed us.

When I was a kid, my favorite show was The A-Team. Unjustly disgraced war veterans make a living as soldiers of fortune, rescuing the oppressed while evading military police.

image courtesy of NBC

Like many episodic shows of the era, The A-Team’s plot followed the same formula from one week to the next. The team worked as mercenaries, hired by people that were in trouble with an array of villainous villains: religious cults, corrupt cops, drug runners, Vegas mobsters, street gangs. Their first attempts usually failed so they hatched a new plan. There was a montage of them MacGyvering a collection of weaponry and modifying BA’s GMC creeper van – all set to epic 80’s action music. This was followed by an all-out assault on the bad guys, their clients were freed from their troubles, and the A-Team walked away heroes just before they could be arrested by the authorities.

The A-Team was one of the most violent shows on television at the time – despite no depiction of bloody wounds or bruises, and the team never killed anyone. The show also perpetuated the myth of redemptive violence. Episode after episode, they confirmed the idea that the weak and powerless could only be saved by an onslaught of machine gunnery and gratuitous explosions. It taught that a peaceful resolution was impossible and an exercise of brute force solved all problems.

We continue to see this myth in superhero movies. Superman defeated General Zod but half of Metropolis was destroyed in their battle. Destruction follows The Avengers wherever they go, from Manhattan, to Malibu, to Sokovia to fight off the threats of demigods, aliens, madmen, and killer robots. Even Captain America and Iron Man viciously pummeled each other over a difference of ideals.

In the real world, we flex military muscle. These days, we engage in preemptive conflict – the absurd notion that we can prevent war with war. We believe that the only way to conquer our enemies is to destroy them. We don’t even restrict our wars to foreign battlefields. We bring it home to our own turf. Rival gangs. Drunken bar-room brawls. Clashes between protesters and police. Martin Luther King Jr – the advocate of peaceful protests repeatedly said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

We believe that mightily overcoming the enemy is the solution we need, but instinctively we know it isn’t true. We know that violence does not bring peace. Violence creates greater violence. This is proven if you’ve ever seen a pair of junior high kids get into a fight. It starts with an insult, then a comeback. The invectives and name-calling escalate into threats. Soon one bumps into the other and the other pushes back. Push comes to shove and the shoves become more and more potent until someone throws a punch. Left to their own devices, the retaliatory punches continue until both are rolling on the ground kicking and pulling hair and choking each other.

In theory, we think that violence redeems us, but in practice, violence is a mold that spreads exponentially. Jay-Z knew this to be true. In his song ‘Justify My Thug,’ Jay-Z rapped, “Now if you shoot my dog, I'ma kill yo' cat. Just the unwritten laws in rap. Know that for every action there's a reaction.” In essence, his words are a warning. If you push me, I punch back. If you step on my shoes, I’ll burn your house down. You injure me, I’ll bury you. Jay-Z knew that life is much more primal – that retaliation will always be bigger than the originating offense.


The Violence Trap Part 4: Polite Society

There is another rhetorical meme that is common when discussing violence and gun control that bothers me: An armed society is a polite society. It sounds believable yet it gives me a creepy sensation.

Why is that?

The idea behind this statement is the assumption that people will be less likely to say something rude or act belligerently if there is a greater likelihood that the target of their ire is armed. In other words, as the chance that you have a gun increases, my willingness to express anger decreases. People who cling to this desire for an armed society believe that people will stop picking fights in there is a good possibility that everyone has a concealed weapon.

Politeness doesn’t exist under duress or obligation or anticipation of lethal retaliation. That is not what it means to be polite. That is called fear. An armed society is not a polite society; it is a society that is afraid. A fearful society is not a safe society. Terror engages our flight or fight mentality. People act stupid when they are scared.

However, the idea of stockpiling weaponry is somehow responsible for creating polite citizens is backed up by statistics. Well, allegedly supported by numbers, as demonstrated here.

The best lies are wrapped in a shred of truth. Yes, both nations have comparable population in terms of gross numbers, however the demographics are vastly different. Honduras does have the highest homicide rates of any nation on earth. Switzerland’s homicide rate isn’t the lowest, but it is extremely low. But the factual statements in the infographic end there.

Are Swiss citizens required to own a gun? Well, yes and no. The government requires all men to enlist in mandatory military service and all members of the military are issued a gun. However, the soldiers can only bring the gun home without ammunition and all government issued weapons are returned upon completion of military service. Civilian gun ownership is allowed but far more restrictive than the above infographic implies: automatic weapons are banned. Concealed weapons require a license, and there is a mandatory background check for all handgun purchases.

What about Honduras? Handguns are the weapon of choice in a vast majority of their murders. Analyzing the map to study the geographic location of deaths in Honduras, it is easy to see that most killings are related to drug trafficking – a problem that is nearly non-existent in Switzerland. And Honduras doesn’t ban guns. Most of the 9mm guns used in violent crimes were legally purchased. Watchdogs describe gun laws in Honduras to be less restrictive than other nations in the region from Brazil, to Venezuela, to Mexico.

Guns are readily available and legal in both Honduras and Switzerland. Yet one nation has the highest murder rates in the world and the other experiences very few homicides. Both societies are armed, but one is clearly more polite than the other. What is the difference? Perhaps some additional comparisons could be relevant.

Consider some of the nations with lower murder rates than Switzerland: Japan, Singapore, Iceland, Monaco. Their gun laws are extremely restrictive and they all see less than 0.5 homicides per 100,000 population. These countries are industrialized, wealthy, and educated. At the other end of the list ranking intentional homicides by country, the top ten with the most murders include many of Honduras’ neighbors: El Salvador, Venezuela, Belize, and Guatemala. These are uneducated, impoverished, and caught up in drug-trade; some are governed by militaristic regimes.

We have one set of nations with gun laws ranging from strict to permissive with low rates of violent deaths. The other set of nations also have gun laws ranging from strict to permissive but experience the higher rates of homicide than anywhere else in the word. What sets the two groups apart is not an accessibility or lack of weapons. The laws in these nations have minimal impact on gun violence within their borders. The difference between the peaceful and the dangerous nations is a matter of economic and educational opportunities.

An armed society is not a polite society. Perhaps the best phrasing might be that an educated society is a polite society.


The Violence Trap Part 3: A Matter of Statistics

After every major shooting or headline grabbing gun-related death, the rollout of statistics is inevitable. Both camps do it. The pro-second amendment people. The pro-gun control advocates. The NRA. Major news networks. Bloggers. Conspiracy theorists. Comedians. Your drunk neighbor. Everyone has a statistic to confirm their biases.

(pictured: your drunk neighbor)

That doesn’t bother me; I love statistics. I am a numbers guy with an analytical personality. The more data, the better. Give it to me in an Excel spreadsheet and I will geek-out for hours. I have worked as a data analyst and a reporting technician so numbers make sense to me. Charts and graphs are fascinating works of art. I have built predictive models based on trends in business metrics. I have used historical measurements and forecasts to make staffing recommendations. I have designed reports to update in real time to give an evolving view of what has happened, is happening, and will happen.

Because of my work background, I have a slightly different perspective than many people. I understand numbers and the math behind them. That comprehension has taught me a valuable lesson: numbers do not lie, but they can be manipulated. You can make numbers say whatever you want them to say.

There are statistics that prove gun-control is working. The state of Hawaii has fewer gun deaths per 100,000 citizens than any other state in the union. Hawaii’s homicide rate and suicide rate are among the lowest in America, and they have the least prevalence of incidents of non-fatal gunshot injuries. However, only one fourth of Hawaiians own a gun – a percentage that is lower than other state in the USA. Furthermore, Hawaii’s gun control laws are far stricter than anywhere else in our nation. Mandatory universal background checks and two week waiting period. Gun owners must all obtain a permit. All firearms must be registered individually and the process to complete the registration is elaborate, requiring multiple trips to fill out paperwork. The permission to grant concealed carry permits is granted at the sole discretion of county police chiefs. It takes a lot of effort to legally obtain a gun in Hawaii.

Contrast Hawaii with the states with the highest rate of gun deaths per 100,000 citizens. Those states tend to be those with lax gun control laws: Utah, Kentucky, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, West Virginia, South Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alaska. For most of these states, no permit is required to purchase a firearm. Many of them allow open carry – the ability to openly carry a gun without any training, certification, registration, or licensing. Some of them allow the carry of a concealed weapon without a permit. These states also tend to have a higher percentage of gun owners. There seems to be a correlation between the ease with which people can purchase and/or carry a weapon and a higher number of per capita gun deaths.

But there are also statistics that prove gun control isn’t working. Cities with the highest murder rates are those with some of the most restrictive gun laws: Chicago, Washington DC, Baltimore, Detroit, and St. Louis. There seems to be a correlation between difficulty of legally obtaining a firearm and a higher rate of murders.

Here is where the numbers go askew.

The statistics about gun deaths that appear to support a need for more restrictive gun control include all deaths involving a firearm – homicide, suicide, and accidental discharge. Murder rates in some of those states are comparatively low. No one in Montana, Wyoming, or Alaska are going on shooting sprees. Accidents happen, and those accidents roll into this statistic. At my local Walmart, a mom was accidently shot and killed by her two-year-old son when he pulled the trigger on a handgun concealed in mama’s purse. An instructor at a gun range in northern Arizona was killed by a nine-year-old student when he gave her an uzi that was too powerful for her to handle. Neither of those two incidents could be considered manslaughter but both contribute to the complete count of gun deaths in their states.

The statistics about murder rates that appear to support a need for looser gun control laws include all killings regardless of weapon. While guns are the predominant instrument of choice, the murder rates include death by knives, blunt objects, strangulation, fire, poisons, and explosives. There are more ways to kill a person than by shooting them. The statistics about higher rates of homicide in cities with strict gun laws also ignore how it is still legal to purchase firearms somewhere else (where it is easier to obtain a gun) and bring that weapon back into the city with stricter laws.

What we have here are two contradictory statistics. Both are true. Both use factual evidence and data. Yet both lead to completely opposite conclusions. There are those that want to take away guns and those that want proliferation. And both will find convincing data to prove why they are more correct than everyone else. Advocates will point to Canada and Australia as examples of where gun control is working. Opponents will point to Switzerland as an example where a high rate of gun ownership is working. Are these statistics even relevant if we know that anyone can find facts and numbers to support their argument?

Yes. Of course.

We might not be able to agree on what should be done to curb gun violence. However, regardless of which statistic you use, one thig is clear: we have a problem. Don’t believe me?

In the USA, there are 112.6 guns per 100 residents. We are the only nation on earth with more guns than people.
Gun sales have spiked in the aftermath of every mass shooting in the US since Columbine in 1999.
In 2015, toddlers shot themselves or someone else an average of once a week. This year so far, that tragedy is happening more frequently.
In 2015, gun related fatalities were practically equal to the number of deaths from vehicle related accidents. Experts expect there to be more gun deaths in 2016 than motor vehicle deaths.
Nearly two thirds of all gun deaths are suicide. The violence we inflict upon ourselves is far worse than what we do to others.

These statistics cannot tell you what to do but I hope it convinces you that something should be done.

Of course, there is one statistic that few ever talk about – especially on networks like CNN and FOX News: the rate of violent crime is actually improving. Handgun related deaths have steadily decreased since the early nineties. The total number of murders are lower than they have been since peaking in 1993 and the rate of murders per 100,000 people is less than half of what it was in 1980. Other crimes like robbery and aggravated assault are also on a downward trend. Despite more frequent occurrences of mass shootings in churches, schools, theaters, and nightclubs, fewer people are getting shot from one year to the next. Despite the increased news of terrorist attacks, we are becoming a more safe, peaceful, and civilized society.

We are making progress, but there is more work to be done. We can still do better.


The Violence Trap Part 2: The Good Guys

It is a common argument: the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If that’s true, who are the good guys?

Are the good guys law enforcement? We should hope so. Their duty is to serve and protect. They are the individuals who undergo extensive training on how to properly handle and fire a weapon. They routinely practice with targets in a firing range and in high stress environments so that they are better prepared to act in the pressures of their job – skills needed when any random citizen they stop in the streets could have murderous intents. More often than not, our movies and TV shows portray police as the good guys. It’s the cops and robbers trope: the criminals are up to no good and the cops must stop them from harming innocent civilians. Our police should be the good guys. Yet the news preys on stories of police brutality. Our headlines are filled with stories of unarmed African Americans being shot by white officers. Elsewhere they killed a six-year-old boy who had autism. Reports abound of evidence of misconduct being buried and reports falsified to protect the thin blue line. Even in the town where I live, an officer shot and killed a dog enclosed in a locked vehicle parked at a coffee shop then lied about the breed. Around the same time, a pair of deputies detained and harassed a couple of kids under suspicion of being drug dealers outside a gas station after the boys made a joke about the band Nickleback. These are the good guys?

image courtesy of NPR

Are the good guys the so-called patriot militias like the motley miscreants that invaded the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge this last winter? Their stated goals seem altruistic – standing up for the freedom of men they perceived to be persecuted, defending the rights of the average citizen, and something about the constitution. They called themselves peaceful protesters. But at the same time, they were armed as if they were prepared to go to war. They gained a reputation of being snide and threatening to local residents who complained of being followed and harassed by members of the Bundy Militia. They were disrespectful of the property they occupied and left a mess in their wake. They caused physical damages to the grounds and buildings; disrupted the lives those who were employed at the refuge, and financially burdened local, county, state, and federal officials sent to control and arrest the insurrectionists. These are the good guys?

image courtesy of Raw Story

Are the common open carry citizens the good guys? These are the people who believe everyone should have the right to carry any firearm of their choice in public without any training, background check, or permit. Studies have shown the average person is not able to draw a gun during an active shooter situation, let alone fire accurately. We want to believe that an armed bystander can save the day and stop the bad guy. There are news reports of that very scenario happening, even though police can mistake the good guy for the bad guy and the good Samaritan is treated as a hostile suspect. For every story where a good guy with a gun is able to stop a crime in progress, there are stories like that of Joseph Wilcox, who tried to stop a cop killer but was murdered by a second gunman. These are the good guys?

image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

I do not believe we can ever objectively determine who is or is not a good guy. By all accounts, Micah Xavier Johnson was a good guy until July 6th. He spent six years in the Army Reserve and was deployed in Afghanistan. Fellow soldiers described him as goofy, nice, religious, and sociable. After discharge, he was providing care for his mentally disabled brother. His rifle and handgun were purchased legally. He wore body armor that was purchased legally. Then on July 7th, Micah Xavier Johnson became a bad guy with a gun when he fired into a crowd of what most people would describe as good guys with guns. Many in attendance at the protest were armed - both open and concealed carry. Johnson’s main targets were the armed police officers who were there to maintain peace. So many good guys with guns and none of them were able to stop the bad guy with guns.

If you want to have a productive conversation about ending gun violence in America, then don’t start with the claim that good guys with guns are the only method to stop bad guys with guns. It just isn’t true.


The Violence Trap Part 1: An Anecdote

Saturdays are our adventure days. Anything to get out of the house. Go for a hike. Picnic at the park. Friends' birthday parties. But plans change. Kids get sick. Weather sours. Sometimes, we camp out in the apartment and do chores.

One rainy Saturday, it was obvious the kids were getting cabin fever. Their rooms were clean. Laundry folded and put away. Dishes washed and dishwasher empty. Video game time used up. Hours spent reading. All before lunch. (My kids are early risers.)

By mid-afternoon, they were turning bug-eyed from the doldrums of being cooped up and the dismal weather outside was not encouraging. They were like caged animals looking for a way to escape their enclosure and would soon turn against their zookeeper. Me.

With that in mind, I took them somewhere dry to play: Carl's Jr. We had already eaten lunch so we ordered sides of fries; I let them play while I caught up on my own reading.

Carl's Jr isn't my favorite place in the world. It always smells odd, but their food quality is a step above McDonald’s and their play area is easier when managing multiple children. For that one wet-weathered Saturday, we had the place to ourselves for most of the time we were there.

Late in the afternoon, and older man came in with his granddaughter. Hunched back, grayed hair, grizzled scowl, defined wrinkles - I would estimate his age to be five to ten years older than my father. He carried himself with the boredom and contempt of a man that is not enjoying retirement. He also had a large firearm strapped to his hip.

The gun did not bother me. I have a few friends who open carry, more who have a permit and conceal carry. They are all calm and competent gun owners. None of them flaunt the fact they are armed.

I was not worried about the old man with the big gun. Since I live in North Idaho, I would wager I am in the company of people packing heat far more than I realize. It is something people do around here.

But my daughter was worried. As soon as she saw it she came up to me and whispered, "That man has a gun."

"Yes, he does." I tried to downplay it as best as possible. "It's OK though."

"But why?" She asked, still at a conspiratorial volume.

"A lot of people do it," I whispered in reply, "It isn't anything to be scared of."

As I finished trying to calm my daughter's fears, my oldest son came around the corner with the same observation. "Did you know that guy has a gun?" Christian was whispering too, but not as quietly as his sister.

Before I could give him an answer, the old man did it for me. "And I have a badge for it," he barked from the far side of the room.

That is when my opinion changed. In one grumpy retort, he went from being an old man wanting to spend some time with his granddaughter to a jackass with a gun. He went from being an ordinary citizen with a weapon to a potential danger. He went from carrying a gun for self-protection hoping he'd never need it to carrying a gun in hopes of confrontation.

I know that is a lot of projection and speculation. Yet, if he was a responsible gun owner, he would have respected my ability as a parent to deescalate the situation with my own kids. There was no need for him to butt into our conversation. Even if interruption was necessary, the manner in which he responded was defiant. It was hostile, terse, and angry. There was no kindness in his voice. No attempt to ease their fears. To the contrary, his irate shout made them even more scared.

When I looked at him he was sneering at us. He knew he intimidated my kids and he was enjoying it.

I was offended. I was pushed into fight or flight mode so we left. (To be honest, we have not been back to Carl's Jr since then.)

As we drove away, the questions came. "Was he breaking the law?" No, no he wasn't. "You mean he's allowed to have a gun like that?" Yes, he is. "Is that normal?" Well, lots of people have guns.

The next question was not as easy to answer. "Why was he carrying a gun?"

The first answer that came to mind: "Because he's a jerk." But not everyone who carries a gun is a jerk. As I said before, I have friends who are always armed. They are good people with valid reasons for keeping a firearm with them at all times.

But this guy? This crotchety old man? "Because he's a jerk" is the only answer that fit. How bitter and broken does someone have to be to get a thrill from scaring elementary aged kids?

And he has a badge? I call BS. You do not get badges for gun ownership. Some states require permits for concealed carry, but not Idaho. We also allow you can openly carry without a permit. The only reason he would have a badge is if he was in law enforcement, but he was far too old to be an active officer or a security guard.

He's grouchy. Most likely dishonest. If he's expecting terrorists to attack a small town fast food joint or preparing to be the hero if a disgruntled ex-employee returns to extract vengeance, he's paranoid and/or delusional. And he derives pleasure from scaring kids. Jerk is the only descriptor I can contrive.

When it comes to talk about gun violence in America, it is hard to escape the rhetoric. Both sides use it. Those in favor of and opposed to any measure of gun control have a weapons cache filled with statistics and witty one liners that support their political stance. The arguments come out after every mass shooting. After every high profile officer involved death. After every riot. After every headline that include the words toddler, accident, and gun.

Murder rates, gun deaths, comparisons to Canada and Australia, spotlights on mental health, second amendment, militias, gun grabbing feds. When I hear these tired terms, "facts," and figures, I can't help but think one thing.

One of the most common pro-gun talking points is that guns are not the problem; people are. It was cleverly turned into a meme trying to draw parallels between Walter Palmer and Christopher Harper-Mercer. It said that a when the gun is used to kill a lion liberals blamed the person, but when the gun is used to kill Christians liberals blame the gun. Ignoring the logical fallacies and false equivalences in that meme, it highlights something that I do believe to be true.

America has a problem with violence. It has an obsession with guns. We have a problem of the heart and a crisis of soul.

If you want to say that guns are not to blame, I will agree with you. If you claim people are to blame, I am with you. People are the problem. But if you believe people are the problem then you should be willing to cede that some people should not be allowed to have guns because of those problems.

In my opinion, that old man at Carl's Jr getting kicks off of scaring my kids is one of those people who should not be allowed to carry a gun in public.


The Difference Between Lust & Love

Several years ago, I was in charge of shipping and delivery at a major clothing retailer. My team would work from 3pm to midnight on merchandising and janitorial tasks until a cargo truck would deliver our freight; we would unload and open the boxes, sort the contents, and restock the store's shelves. Ideally, the store would be properly stocked, cleaned, and orderly by midnight and ready to open the next morning. After work and off the clock, we were all night owls. My crew migrated from the Boise Towne Square Mall to the Shari's Restaurant around the corner. There we would spend a couple hours drinking coffee and snacking on French fries, laughing and telling each other stories.

During this season of my life, there were a couple coworkers that became good friends. After one of the late night shifts and social time at Shari's, he and I lingered in the parking lot leaning against my car and talked for another two hours about God and girls. He had just proposed to his girlfriend and was so giddy – even surprised she actually said yes. His joy was contagious; I had no choice but to feel excited along with him.

I was dating someone at the time, but the thought of marriage and a future were nowhere near a reality in my 21-year-old brain. It seemed like such a foreign concept until this friend of mine made it real and urgent. So I asked a question any young and dumb college aged kid would ask: "How did you know she was the one?"

He answered, "Oh I'm so glad you asked."

"I was reading my bible and I came across 1 Corinthians 13." (The love chapter where Paul detailed love in his letter to the church in Corinth. It is frequently read at weddings and the kind of passage a good Christian boy would read during his devotional time when he's fallen in love.)

He continued. "I know that we're supposed to be imitators of God. And I know that God is love. When the verses started saying 'love is this' I started thinking 'God is that.' Then I wondered if I could say I was that too."

"When it came to my girlfriend, I asked myself, 'Am I patient with her? Am I kind to her? Am I humble around her? Am I unselfish? Do I rejoice when she speaks truth? Do I bear her burdens? Do I believe in and hope for the best? Am I willing to endure hardships alongside her?' As I thought about it I realized I could answer yes to all of those questions."

"Then I thought about her. Is she patient with me? Yes. Is she kind, humble, and selfless? Yes. Does she rejoice in truth? Yes. Is she willing to bear my burdens and endure hard times with me? Yes. Does she believe in and hope for the best? Yes."

"It hit me, Nic," he said, "I love her. And not only do I love her, but I love her the way scripture defines love. And she loves me the same way. That is how I knew she was the one."

As I drove home that night, I thought about my girlfriend. Did I love her according to 1 Corinthians 13? Is that how she loved me? Did we even love each other? By the time I got home, the only answer I could reach was 'I don't know.'

Ultimately, the answer was no. A few months later, we broke up. Her dad convinced her that someone who worked freight at Old Navy was not good enough for his daughter and the two of us went separate ways. My friend invited me to his wedding but I did not go. He quit working at Old Navy and I moved to a new store with more responsibility. The last time we spoke was a week before the ceremony; I have never seen anyone more sure of what they wanted in life.

Fast forward a dozen years and my marriage was falling apart. In the aftermath of divorce, I began analyzing love as if I was conducting a post-mortem examination. Something had died; was it love? What was the cause of death?

I asked myself challenging questions trying to identify where I went wrong. I examined the nature of love and romance and commitment. I wanted to root out the source of failure so that I would never experience the same demise of love.

Did she honestly love me?
Did I truly love her?
Or was I more in love with the concept of her?
If you love the idea of a relationship with a person more than you do the actual person, is it really love?
If it isn't love, what is it?
Is it lust?

Why is it so easy for us to confuse the difference between lust and love? Is that confusion why so many husbands and wives have affairs or leave their spouses for someone younger, wealthier, and/or better looking?

I don't have answers to many of these questions. My mind has frequently returned to that 2am conversation in the Denny's parking lot during the spring of 2000. When I interrogated myself on the drive home that night, the only answer I could provide was "I don't know." Much is the same now. Did she ever love me? I don't know. Did I ever love her? I don't know.

In the absence of definitive answers, I have fought to understand real love. What does it mean? What does it look like? How does it feel? How does it work?

While the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is famous for detailing what love is and is not, what it does and doesn't do, it also provides a chronological perspective of now versus then. Paul wrote, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away." And later, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully."

Now I realize that my understanding is and probably always will be incomplete. For now, I only know in part. I only prophesy in part. I am only staring dimly into a mirror. Paul wrote about a time - a then - when we would know fully and see clearly. Until that then comes, I need answers greater than "I don't know."

What is the difference between love and lust? I have some answers now, but they are still incomplete. I am only answering in part.

Lust is an inward expression; love is an outward expression.
Lust is focused on self; love is focused on others.
Lust asks "What do I get out of it?" Love asks "What do I have to give?"
Lust fantasizes about what will never happen; love builds upon what already exists.
Lust thrives in imagination; love thrives in action.
Lust has zero investment; love is committed.
Lust risks nothing; love risks everything.
Lust gives up; love endures.
Lust wishes; love plans.
Lust skims the surface; love plumbs the depths.
Lust is fickle; love is unwavering.
Lust seeks a cheap thrill; love creates passion.
Lust won't fix what is broken; love is constantly improving what needs repaired.
Lust sees flaws everywhere; love sees the best in everything.
Lust devalues; love redeems.

These answers are incomplete. But until the day I fully understand, this will be enough.


Conversations with my daughter

Having a sick child is not fun. Especially when the contents of their stomachs are moving the wrong direction. That has been my daughter's story this week, which means she can't go school. Despite being sick, she has managed to keep her humor. She demonstrated her wit in the midst of illness yesterday in a text conversation with me. It is as follows.


Sorry you're not feeling well.

How do you know I'm not feeling well?

1. You're texting me in the middle of the day when you would normally be at school.
2. Your mom told me.

Ok. ;)

3. And I'm telepathic.

Nu uh.

I'm teasing. But I hope you get feeling better soon.

Am I going to school tomorrow?

We'll see.


Poop head.

I love you goofy girl.

What time are you picking us up?

This afternoon.

Lion mouth roar.


You're so mature.

Are you smiling?


I'm sorry. I was just trying to get you to laugh.

I lied.
Haha armpit.




Not funny.

Armpit was funny. Sad Simba is not.

It's not Simba it's Scar's son.

Scar had a son? I'm behind the times!

It's Lion King 2.
Have you watched it?

Nope. You're up on me there.
Your Lion King game is stronger than mine.

Thanks daddy.

That's poop daddy to you.




It wasn’t that long ago when the word kaepernicking meant posing for a photo while kissing your flexed bicep. Then Colin Kaepernick sat through the National Anthem as a silent protest against the racial injustices we’ve all seen dominating headlines. Today, kaepernicking has a whole different connotation. The current definition varies depending on your perspective.

For some, it still means showboating. Doing something to bring attention to yourself? You’re kaepernicking. There are many who saw Kaepernick’s protest as a desperate grab for attention. His success as a player is not as great as it once was and he knows his star power is fading. His contract is running short and it is unlikely the 49ers will keep keep him longer than they must. No one cares about Kaepernick any more so he needed to do something to get people talking about him again.

For others, kaepernicking is the new anti-American expression. They see his actions as an unforgivable insult to our military, akin to hippies spitting on soldiers returning home from Vietnam 40 years ago. They think it is disrespecting our flag, it is a stiff upper lip to our country, and a middle finger to all we represent. ‘If he doesn’t like it here,’ they say, ‘he should move somewhere else.’

There are also those who see Kaepernick’s actions as a brave demonstration of our first amendment rights. They believe the cause he claimed inspired his protest is a valid concern an applaud his efforts for using his fame to shine a spotlight on such a pressing issue.

Then there are a few that don’t give a damn one way or another.

Two weeks have passed since Kaepernick’s protest and folks are still debating for and against his silent demonstration. I’ve seen arguments of support from people who can’t stand him and I saw the video of a long-time fan burning a Kaepernick jersey. Critics and advocates all have something to say.

Tomorrow, on the 15th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, the Seahawks have planned a demonstration of unity. As the internet is prone to do, everyone is jumping to conclusions and assuming the whole team will sit out the National Anthem to show support of a quarterback from a rival team. The mayor of DuPont even went as far as cancelling a city rally event to protest the Seahawks possible protest.

Before anyone can get up in arms against the Seahawks, we should take note of a few things. Russell Wilson said he views participation in the National Anthem is an “emotional time” and “truly an honor.” Doug Baldwin said the purpose of the team’s demonstration was “to bring people together” and “will honor the country and flag.” Neither Earl Thomas nor Cliff Avril were aware of what – if anything will happen.

So we do what our culture knows how to do best: yell at each other and preemptively complain about events that may or may not transpire.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion of Colin Kaepernick, regardless of what happens in Seattle before the Seahawks take on the Dolphins, maybe there are conversations we need to have.

To stand or sit or kneel. To sing along or stare into space. Free speech or civic duty. Obligations or privileges. Respect and honor or protest. Difficult decisions or stupid ones.

Perhaps the most important discussion we should hold is if Kaepernick has a point. Let’s forget about his actions for a moment. Does he raise a valid grievance? Are people of color oppressed in America? Are people getting away with murder?

These are not easy questions to answer. Nor should they receive simple responses. The issue of race in America is long and complicated. If I am honest, I am not the best person to provide an answer.

Why not? Because I am the status quo. I am a strait, white, Christian, male. I have never known a time where I was the minority. Asking me to explain what it is like to be oppressed would be like asking a bear what it is like to be a fish. This is a debate in which I have zero first-hand experience.

I do not know what it is like to be a black man in America. But I do have African American friends so I trust their opinions and their experiences.

I have never been a police officer so I don’t know what it is like to be a cop. But I have friends who have worked in law enforcement so I trust their opinions and their experiences.

I never ran for political office so I don’t know what it is like to govern such a fractured society. But I have friends who have served in elected positions so I trust their opinions and their experiences.

There is a lot that I don’t know. But here is what I do know.

There is a fine line between patriotism and jingoism.
America is an awesome nation but it is not a perfect nation.
People are flawed and as long as our governments are ran by people, our governments will also be flawed.
You can still support our troops while recognizing there are injustices happening within our borders.
You can be proud to be an American while pointing out flaws in American culture.
There are other ways to show pride than saluting a flag.
When a presidential candidate is campaigning on the concept that America isn’t great, we should not be surprised when celebrities point out specific examples of what makes our nation less than great.

So let’s talk. And if you – like me – are a member of the majority population, talk to someone that isn’t like you. Talk to people of color. Talk to members of the LGBT community. Talk to immigrants and refugees. Talk to police officers and ex-convicts. Find out what it is like to spend a day in their shoes. Ask them what we can do to make our world better. Maybe if we started doing that a little more, we could motivate Colin Kaepernick to stand again during the National Anthem.


Privilege, LUCK, Effort, and the Lingering Question of Success Part 2

When it comes to the question of success, those who have achieved it are viewed as a strange species by those who have not yet become successful. We have been told over and over that we can do it if we just work hard enough. We think we are doing our best so we wonder what the difference is between their hard work and our hard work. If we are both giving all of the effort possible, why do they see a reward but we do not?

Is it luck?

Ask that question to one of those self-appointed experts and you’ll see their head spin like the girl Regan in The Exorcist. It’s as if the mere suggestion of luck is a personal insult. “No. I work too hard to have my special talent and considerable effort to be cheapened by an insinuation of silly superstition. I did this on my own. I am a product of hard work and sacrifice. Luck has nothing to do with it.”

If it’s not luck, then what is it? What makes you so special? It can’t be hard work and sacrifice alone. Because there are nations in Africa filled with women who work harder in a day than you ever will in your lifetime but they will never know wealth. Because there are physically and emotionally broken soldiers returning from war who have sacrificed more than you can imagine and for many of them the ability to get out of bed in the morning is how they define success.

Would it really be a bad thing to admit you’re lucky? If you still can’t bring yourself to admit you live a charmed existence, then there can only be one thing holding you back.


Which, once again, reminds me of that Steve Taylor song ‘What is the Measure of Your Success?’ At the end of the song, Taylor writes from the perspective of a dying man regretting a lifetime of pride and greed. “I am an old man and the word came. But you can't buy time with a good name. Now when the heirs come around like buzzards on a kill, I see my reflection in their envious eyes. I'd watch it all burn to buy another sunrise.”

Is that your future? Watching your offspring bicker over your fortunes? Wishing to trade everything in exchange for another day of life?

Your ego is so big you can’t even see the ground upon which you walk. You don’t recognize how you benefited from a set of circumstances that allowed your choices to pay off. You may have forgotten about the opportunities provided to you – through education or mentors or supportive parents. Perhaps you haven’t been plagued by debilitating injury or disease. Maybe you were never sidelined by a catastrophic failure of your only means of transportation. You ignore how your personality contributes to your successes and that’s something you were born with – that’s God given and not anything you earned on your own. And maybe, just maybe, chances were in your favor because of the color of your skin or your gender or your religion or your family name or the schools you attended.

I will not dispute hard work is needed to achieve success. But effort will always be elevated by circumstances and events and opportunities out of your control. Diligent effort can also be negated by different sets of circumstances, events, and opportunities. It won’t kill you to admit you’re lucky.

The silly part about this? I don’t even believe in luck. I believe in providence. I believe in hard work and planning. Yet I have no shame in giving credit to a luck I don’t believe exists.

On the surface, one could say I live a blessed life. My kids are delightful. My parents are as supportive as possible considering they live 900 miles away. I have an encouraging circle of friends that are like family. I have a great job and I am good at it. My colleagues respect me, my boss trusts me, and my clients frequently praise me. I have my own private office. My professional schedule is flexible within reason and allows me freedom to take care of my family and hustle on my writing when I am off the clock. I live in a scenic resort town where here is no shortage of things to do and my apartment is within walking distance of my employer, two beautiful parks, the grocery store, and my favorite pizza joint. My bills are paid, my kids are healthy, and I am happy.

Am I successful? Based on the paragraph above, I would have to say yes. I am successful. But that is just the surface. Underneath, I am a single parent to three kids. While I make more money than others in this area, the size of my household places my salary under the federal poverty level. Normal goods, necessities, and housing are more expensive than in neighboring communities because we live in a tourist destination. 90% of my kids’ wardrobes came from thrift shops. I cook at home as much as I possible so that I don’t have to spend money at restaurants. I would love to go out to the movies more and see more concerts but it’s just not in the budget.

Am I lucky? Consider the following. I work in an industry where the average tenure is less than a year and I have stayed for twelve years. I never finished college but got promoted into a position that required a degree. Most of the people that do the same job I do at different companies have degrees in IT. While I may not be educated, I am intelligent which helps in an environment driven by data. Even with my relatively low wages I am still able to feed and clothe my kids and keep them entertained.

Realistically, it isn’t luck. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. It is a result of God’s good grace. I can look at what lead me to where I am and see the results of my labor but I also see where friends, families, and acquaintances have helped where I was unable to do it alone.

I may not believe in luck, but if you tell me I’m lucky I will agree with you. I am lucky. So damn lucky.


Privilege, Luck, EFFORT, and the Lingering Question of Success Part 1

Success is a strange concept. What does it look like? How do you measure it? How do you know when you get there? Why is it so hard for some people but seems easy for others? If it is different for everybody, how can it possibly be defined?

Often, when talking about success, you are apt to hear motivational phrases like "You can do anything as long as you set your mind to it," or "If you dream it, you can achieve it," or "If you work hard enough you will succeed." While the intent is noble, the implications are discouraging. Anything? Dream? Enough?

What are the limits to anything? Is there a dream that is too big? And how much is enough? If my dream is to do the moonwalk on the moon, there might be some challenges. We haven't sent a person to the moon since 1972. NASA isn't sending anyone to the moon. The Roscosmos aren't sending anyone to the moon. Even Elon Musk with his seemingly endless wealth hasn't planned to send his SpaceX program to the moon - he is aiming for Mars. Dream all I want, set my mind to it as much as possible, work as hard as I possibly can, moonwalking on the moon is probably not something that I would ever be able to do. While plausible, success is certainly unlikely. For some dreams, effort and wishful thinking are not enough.

What about realistic dreams? If I’m not able to reach my goals, does that automatically mean I’m not working hard enough? How hard does someone have to work before they can earn it? Is the required indescribable?

So the question lingers. What is success? How can it be achieved?

A quick browse through Amazon shows this is a question that many have attempted to answer. Searching Amazon Books for the word "success" returns over 265 thousand results. Authors like Jack Canfield, Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Covey, and John Maxwell have built careers teaching their roadmap to success. While you might find similarities between the approaches these writers have taken in their lives, one thing is apparent: there are at least 265 thousand different ways to be successful. One could even argue there are seven billion different ways to be successful. If every person residing on earth is unique, wouldn't logic argue that the way we measure our success is just as peculiar as each individual?

Many who have achieved such successes, be it financial freedom, physical fitness, or professional acumen find themselves trying to pass on the lessons they’ve learned. But rather than helping others out of the goodness of their hearts, they seek to monetize their effort. They write self-help books, become life coaches, promote themselves as exercise gurus, peddling their own version of a get-rich-quick scheme. They are self-appointed experts in search of an audience. The lure is nearly irresistible: ‘If I can do it, so can anyone else – but only if they do it just like I did it.’ They insist their path is the only route to success and condemn anyone who contradicts them. It is the classic case of the self-attribution fallacy: the argument that your success is solely due to a unique set of skills and talents and the illusion of hard work. Self-attribution ignores factors and circumstances out of your control that played a contributing role in your success.

But hey – you’re the one that worked really hard, you must know what you’re doing. Right?

Granted, I know not all who specialize in self-improvement are scam artists. There are many who have made their fortunes by actually helping people. Dave Ramsey has built an empire because he knows what he’s talking about and has provided sound advice to thousands. In my book collection, you will find titles from authors that have turned their own successes into motivational material for readers like me. But for every genuine expert there are a hundred more trying to capitalize on their newfound proficiency. These are the people who set the standard to which they believe we should all aspire.

In America, those metrics to evaluate success tend to follow a common theme: wealth, possessions, status, job title, influence, power. It reminds me of a Steve Taylor song, 'What Is the Measure of Your Success?' His lyrics make a blunt confession ("I am driven to possess") and follows it up with an inquiry ("Are you someone I impress?") in a sharp critique of greed and materialism.

Such pursuit is immoral, yet we chase those things. We somehow define wealth as an income twice as large as our own. We think those who have big houses, boats, RVs, and fancy cars are the archetype of happiness but forget about the mortgages, leases, and maintenance costs to maintain such an image. We marvel at the designer suites and limitless cash flow of high level business executives while completely unaware they haven't spoken to their kids in weeks.

We all measure success a little differently. One man's come up is another's abject failure. As Jesus once said, "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?"

Before I get carried away, I do not wish to disparage anyone who has - by their own measure found success. Such accomplishments are a rarity in our world. But I often wonder if the cost was worth it. Observing recent interactions between those who describe themselves as hard-working self-made successes and those who are struggling to do more than simply exist, it almost seems like the price of accomplishment is too high, as there are those who have gleefully lost their soul to revel in the world they found.

If you describe yourself as a successful person, I commend you. I know it wasn’t easy to get to where you are. Please allow me to urge you to consider a few thoughts.

1. Don’t ever forget how incredibly privileged you are. Success is an elusive creature for many. What you have is a gift and should be treated like it could be gone tomorrow.
2. It could be gone tomorrow. Nothing in this world lasts forever. Even if you have adequately planned for and budgeted savings in case of emergency, don’t ever forget your stuff is terrestrial in nature and you cannot take it with you when your time here ends.
3. Do not ever look down on those who are struggling to make ends meet. It is easy to pick apart someone else’s life and tell them what they’re doing wrong. Unless they asked for your input, it is condescending. It is easy to criticize someone for binge watching Netflix when it doesn’t line up with your work ethic, but you don’t know anything about their lives.
4. Sometimes, telling someone they just need to work harder is an insult. I work hard but I know people who work harder than I do and they are facing worse circumstances than I have ever endured. If effort and ingenuity were guaranteed paths to wealth and success, the bulk of this planet’s wealth would be shifted from Wall Street to the African continent.


A Real American Jedi

"Your shirt confuses me," he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked
"It has a Star Wars icon, and ... "

I expected him to say a patriotic theme but I was wrong.

"And it has G.I. Joe colors."
I nodded. "Right."
"What is it trying to say?"

I explained how I got nerdy attire in red white and blue for myself and the kids to wear on the fourth of July. The Millennium Falcon with American contrails was perfect for me.

But what if it was both? What if it celebrated dual fandoms of Star Wars and G.I. Joe? Would that be a bad thing? Because I may or may not have been the kid that took my action figures and made Cobra Commander race Chewbacca on a pair of speeder bikes.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.


Guilty Pleasures

When it comes to art, it seems like everyone has a guilty pleasure: a movie or song they love but would be sheepish to admit it in polite company. Those created works that you know your friends would relentlessly mock if they knew you enjoyed it when no one was looking. Therefore, you keep the thing that makes you happy a secret.

Personally, I hate the idea of a guilty pleasure song or movie or book or video game or Broadway production. If you like something then like it. And if that thing is a bit silly, then let your geek flag fly. If you are ashamed to like something, then maybe you shouldn't like that thing.

Trust me. I am a man who will shamelessly listen have Peter Cetera and Al Green playing in my office at work. I am a man who will occasionally watch romantic comedies despite not having a spouse or girlfriend to force me to do so. I am a man who has songs from Rent, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Music Man, Into the Woods, and West Side Story in various iTunes playlists. I am a man who will sit and play My Little Pony with my daughter. I don't embarrass easily.

Sure I live by such guidelines. But are there not exceptions to rules? I mean, I have my limits.

A while back, I woke up with a song stuck in my head. I was humming it while in the shower and while I got dressed for work. I sung it to myself in the car during the five minute drive to my office. While I completed my morning reports, the song was still playing on my internal jukebox. I could not shake it. So I pulled it up on my iPod and pushed play. But then I immediately paused it. I couldn't just let the song play out loud. I dug out my headphones, plugged them in, and pushed play a second time. Then I smiled. I could listen in peace and any coworker walking by would be oblivious to the tune satisfying my eardrums. Besides, no one needed to hear THAT song blasting over the cubicle wall. What would they think of me?

The song? Just an old country ditty from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Fishin' in the Dark. Don't remember Nitty Gritty Dirt Band? These guys?

So everything I just said about how you should embrace the things you like and if you're embarrassed about it, maybe you shouldn't like it? Ignore me. I clearly have no credibility to make such statements.


Serial Complainers

Serial complainers prior to July 6th, 2016:
"Kids these days. All they do is sit inside and play their video games and binge watch Netflix. When I was their age, I didn't have any of those fancy phones or iPads. We played outside until it was dark. We got dirty and no one cared. We know how to talk to other kids. Today, young people don't have a sense of community. They probably don't even know how to get to the grocery store unless their parents drive them. You know what they need? They need to get out more. Interact with their peers. Go to the library. Visit a park. Take a hike. No more of this watching TV all night mumbo jumbo."

Serial complainers since July 6th, 2016:
"Kids these days. They're every where. Like big masses of dimwitted cattle roaming the streets. Every park, every sidewalk, every coffee shop, every church. There is no escaping them. Hordes of youth taking crazy mumbo jumbo about Squirtles and Pidgeys, and Snorlaxes. Why do they have to invade the park and the library and the grocery store. I just wish they would stay home. They are even out after dark. Doesn't anyone care?"

***Full disclosure: I have not downloaded Pokémon Go onto my phone and don't intend to do so anytime soon. But many of my friends play and I am enjoying the pictures and stories and memes everyone is posting. Despite what the curmudgeons are saying, I believe this game is doing a great amount of good in our world.***