My J

You, kid, challenge me to keep up. You're my sporty child, my athlete. Baseball games and football practice are unexpected additions to my schedule that I never imagined becoming a part of my routine. It's made my life exciting. It has stretched me and forced me to grow. And I'm a bit out of breath at times.

Seeing you play (and you play hard) is a joy beyond measure. Like when you were playing shortstop and scooped up a ground ball before it rolled out of the infield, then you ran all the way to first base to tag the batter out instead of throwing it. I was so impressed that you made it there before the runner - covering twice the distance in a shorter amount of time.

You're strong. You're fast. You're coordinated. You're stylish. You're brave. And you can dance.

I was none of those things when I was your age. So I have a bit of a learning curve in learning to be your dad, the kind of father you deserve. I'm lucky you're so easy going. You are forgiving of my mistakes. You don't mind when I throw a football and it strays wildly off target; you still run to retrieve it. You are also easy to please. I know it doesn't take much. A hug, a high five, Orange Crush cake that you've been looking forward to all year since you first found it at the grocery store last Christmas. Or getting the perfect gift for your birthday - the long board your really wanted.

There are a few things I want you to know. You will always have my support. I will always be on your side, cheering for your team. I will always encourage you to try something new. And I will always be amazed by what you can and will accomplish.

My favorite days are those when your laughter fills the air, when you return to me drenched from sweat, and when your eyes light up with happiness. Today, I could achieve that by giving you a skate board and feeding you cake. Happy birthday kid, my J-Funk. My JJ.


What about the comic books?

This blog has been overly serious lately. So glum. I mean, understandable with the grim news lately, but still. Perhaps a bit of geekery could brighten up this place. How about we take a look at the world of comic books and see what’s going on.

Remember the cover of Captain America #1, released in 1941? It featured Cap punching Hitler. Those were good times.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Oh, look, it’s Punisher War Journal #8. Frank Castle sets out to take on a warped little Nazi named Hate Monger. That was when Hate Monger teamed up with the National Force, a hate group bent on violently removing anyone that wasn’t white from America.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Speaking of Hate Monger, he got punched in the face by T'Challa in Black Panther: The Man Without Fear! Vol 1 #523. Gosh, that costume looks familiar.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

For a while, Sam Wilson (AKA, The Falcon) took the mantle of Captain America. In his turn as Cap, he fought against the Sons of the Serpent – Marvel’s discount version of the KKK.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

What about the Marvel DC crossover? Nazis didn’t fare well there. Joker was disgusted to learn that Red Skull wasn’t faking his anti-Semitism and wanted to kill the Red Skull. Joker may be a psychopath, but at least he’s not a Nazi. Batman wasn’t impressed by Red Skull either.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics and DC Comics

image courtesy of Marvel Comics and DC Comics

And in 1949, Superman was lecturing kids about the importance of diversity and taking a stand against un-American racist bullies.

image courtesy of DC comics

Racism is wrong. It isn’t a difficult thing to say. Presidents of both major parties have spoken against it with ease. Comic book writers have been saying it since World War II. Granted, when it comes to portraying minorities, comic book publishers do not have a stellar track record. They’ve been known to portray the worst stereotypes possible. But they’ve been consistent in how they describe Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists, and other hate groups. Those characters were always the villain and the heroes always kicked their asses.

I won’t condone violence. Not because I am a pacifist or think violence is inherently evil. I oppose violence because I think it is usually pointless and does nothing more than perpetuate a downward cycle. But I also believe that some things must be opposed. Those who hate others because of their color of skin fall into that category. This is not an issue with many sides. We have hate groups and bigots on one side, and those who believe in justice, equity, and goodness on the other.

So, pick a side. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather side with the heroes.

I must take a stand. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to look my kids in the eyes. My youngest who wants to grow up to be like Batman, mostly because he’s rich. My daughter who has a crush on Iron Fist (the comic book version, she’s not old enough for the TV show). And my oldest, who identifies with the X-Men because he knows what it is like to be different from everyone else. If I am to be the real-life hero of a dad that they deserve, then my duty is to oppose the ugliness of racism and bigotry whenever the opportunity arises.

That opportunity is now and I will not be silent.


Legalized Racism and What We Should Do

Saturday evening, I posted a GIF on Facebook of a man ripping a Nazi flag in half with my thoughts about the demonstrations, protests, and violence in Charlottesville. I said: “To speak nothing against evil is to endorse it. Hatred has no place in civilized society. What happened in Charlottesville is evil. Those who want to "reclaim" their racist past are evil. Driving a car into a crowd of protesters is evil - it is murder, it is terrorism. History taught us what happens when power is given to one group of people who believe they are racially superior. We cannot allow it to happen again.”

It elicited a curious response. "Nic, what specific action do you recommend?"

It is a tough question to answer because racism is so ingrained in our culture. Legally speaking, the law allows racism and is helpless to prevent it. Which means course correction is our responsibility. We the people. It is our duty as individuals to take a stand. So, what do I want? What specific action do I recommend?

I want my kids to grow up in a world where this vulgar display of hatred and racism is uncommon. I want the next generation to enjoy the fruits of diversity. But how? Is this even possible? Maybe. But first ...

Every GOP leader must condemn the White Nationalist movement. Not all neo-Nazis and modern Klan members identify as Republican, but the majority tend to vote for Republican candidates. Rebuking these organized racists might cost some incumbents a few votes, but they might also gain support for taking a principled and moral stand. It must be known, racism is not welcome inside the Republican Party. If our elected officials don’t know what to say, they can follow the example of a few of their party peers.

Like Arizona Senator John McCain: "White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special. ... American patriots of all colors and creeds must come together to defy those who raise the flag of hatred and bigotry."

Or Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse: "These people are utterly revolting--and have no understanding of America. This creedal nation explicitly rejects 'blood & soil' nationalism."

Or Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: "White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated."

Or Idaho Senator Mike Crapo: "I condemn and reject the racism and hate perpetuated by white supremacist groups."

Or Idaho Senator James Risch: "White supremacy – and every other form of prejudice – does not represent our American values."

Or Idaho Representative Mike Simpson: "White supremacy and their hateful rhetoric and violence, have no place in this country. Let today unite our nation against this evil rather than allow it to be divided by a petulant minority that does not represent the values of America."

Or Idaho Governor Butch Otter: "We’ve had those problems in Idaho before, and fortunately, for the most part I think we dealt with it in the right way. They weren’t welcome here." (Note, Idaho was formerly home to the Aryan Nations)

Religious leaders must also condemn hatred as a violation of their beliefs. Churches, temples, parishes, wards, and synagogues across America should hold hope for those who claim supremacy to reform and abandon their hatreds, yet it is essential we call racism what it is - a sin.

One of the pastors at my church posted a single bible verse - Acts 17:26: "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth." This is what I want to hear from every pastor, priest, clergy, and minister in the Christian world. Whether it is preached from the pulpit or in newsletters or on their social media platforms, Christian leaders need to emphasize scripture speaking of unity and racial equality and reconciliation. Churches must honor and celebrate diversity as a part of God's beautiful design.

Like Christine Hoover on The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention: "He (Jesus) teaches me that His Kingdom is the country and people to which I belong, and that this Kingdom is formed by every nation and people group. ... Being a Christian in the face of racial hatred begins with Christ’s church falling to its knees in lament and confession and asking for his Spirit to move us toward Him and toward one another."

Or Tim Keller on The Gospel Coalition: "Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. ... this is a time to present the Bible’s strong and clear teachings about the sin of racism and of the idolatry of blood and country."

Or Rev. Renee Roederer of Fig Tree Revolution: "White supremacy is the catalyst, the motivation, and the actualization of a wave of terror taking place in our nation. ... in the wake of it, we have the crucial occasion to decide that we will stand definitively alongside the most marginalized people in our nation."

There are also official positions taken by churches. Like The Wesleyan Church whose announcement begins, "I denounce any behavior couched as Christian that dehumanizes people and elevates one group over another. Our doctrine as Christians and history as Wesleyans in particular compels us not to be silent or inactive, but to engage in love." The Church of the Nazarene addresses racial equality in their manual, “We believe that God is the Creator of all people, and that of one blood are all people created. We believe that each individual, regardless of race, color, gender, or creed, should have equality before law … We urge our churches everywhere to continue and strengthen programs of education to promote racial understanding and harmony.” At the 2017 General Assembly for the Nazarene Church, they accepted a proposal to add the following to the manual:

Finally, every American must decide if they believe in the ideals our founder wrote into the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” If we can’t uphold this, if we cannot vigorously defend these words free of exceptions or qualifiers, then America has lost. These wars have already been waged and won. If we are to uphold the American values of equality, we must now fight against the new Nazis and the new Klan who are bringing violence to our streets and poisoning our culture.

White supremacists must know there is no safe place for their beliefs even if the law protects their right to be racist. But I will not be satisfied until they are aware their views are not welcome. Not in politics. Not in houses of worship. Not on American soil.


Morality and Where the Law Falls Short

In moral matters, the law is insufficient. The government cannot legislate good morality. They cannot pass a law to compel me to be a nice person. There are no statutes able to control thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. While it is illegal to murder someone, being rude to a person instead of killing them is (and always will be) allowed.

Then we see events unfold like what happened in Charlottesville this last weekend. Permits were given to a hate group to gather and promote their racist beliefs - two rights that are protected by the first amendment. Many of them arrived armed, a right protected by the second amendment (according to law enforcement, event organizers encouraged demonstrators to bring weapons). This mix of white supremacists and self-proclaimed Nazis threw rocks and urine-filled bottles at police officers, they clashed with protesters opposing their hateful message, and one of them drove a car into a crowd of people in an act of terrorism.

After these types of tragedies, it is common to feel a righteous anger at the injustices in our nation. It is easy to get exasperated. We wonder how racism is still a thing. We ask, “Why do we let this happen?”

Unfortunately, we let this happen because we have to.

If I want the liberty to say whatever I want, then the same right must be afforded to those who want to say things I do not like or statements with which disagree. If I want the freedom to be critical of President Trump, then those who support him should have the ability to express their appreciation of Trump. If I wish to gather in my church and worship my God without the government's intervention, then those who worship other gods should have the same allowance. If I want the right to hold unpopular opinions, so should every other American, even if their opinion is as disgusting and vile as the white nationalists who organized and attended the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville.

There is a part of me who would love to see each and every one of them arrested and tried for some crime but I cannot escape the notion that the law allows them to be racist scum. As far as the government is concerned, they are free to be as bigoted as they desire as long as they do not violate any laws.

That makes it difficult for those of us who believe white supremacy has no place in civil society. It is a challenge for those of us who oppose seeing hatred and racism so easily displayed in public spaces without any legal ramifications.

Because there is no option for the law to curtail racism, I have a message for the Richard Spencers of the world. To the boys (and let's be honest, they usually are boys) like Jason Kessler, Peter Tefft, Peter Cvjetanovic, James Allsup, James Fields Jr, and Cole White.

Image courtesy of Us Weekly

If you want to be a racist clod, you are free to do so. I cannot stop you from hating the Jewish and black friends whom I consider family. I cannot prevent you from despising my Native American kids. I cannot force you to abandon your hostility toward my Latino coworkers, neighbors, and friends.

I cannot use the force of law to litigate your hatred out of existence. However, if you are free to possess and vocalize your intolerance and prejudices, I am also free to express my disdain and my revulsion of your beliefs. If you want to be permitted to espouse your discriminatory attitudes, then you must also endure those, like me, who wish to denounce and/or ridicule your xenophobia. You are on your own. You cannot be tried in a court of law, but you will be held in contempt in the court of public opinion.

You want respite? You want a reprieve? You want to avoid the natural consequence of your behavior? Well, in the words of Rage Against the Machine, "There be no shelter here."


A Retirement to Celebrate

A friend of mine is retiring. This friend is a big reason I pursued writing. A few years ago, he and I chatted about my blog. I had only recently re-branded into The Faithful Geek and starting to define who I was as a blogger. There are several writers in our area and he told me that I was one of the few who could truly write. He added how any time he sees me post something, he pays attention. I recently divulged my evolution as a writer, but that story was incomplete. These words from my friend were the first that made me believe I could be a real writer, that I could have a career doing this thing I love.

Why was the encouragement he delivered so much more powerful than the others who told me I was a good writer? Because it was Dave.

Dave spent his life working in journalism. Writing has been his job for longer than I’ve been alive. He came to the Coeur d’Alene area twenty years ahead of me, and blogging is what brought the two of us together. Over a decade ago, the Spokesman-Review gave him the opportunity to translate his editorial duties from a print only column into an online platform. Through moderating a newspaper blog, Dave promoted other local bloggers, often using their stories to create new content for the SR. I was one of those bloggers.

He was paid to write. On his writing income, he was able to buy a house, raise his kids, put those kids through college, and enjoy a fulfilling life. So, when he told me I was one of the few, it was more than a compliment. He spoke with the authority of someone who knew what he was talking about. There was a legitimacy to what he said that helped me feel like something more than a random dad who blogs as a hobby. After my conversation with Dave, I felt like a writer. It was one of those defining moments in life.

Last summer, Dave and I had another conversation, one about something incredibly specific. He told me that my post about divorce was the best article he had ever read about the topic from an evangelical perspective. Once again, I was humbled by his perspective. Such a powerful compliment from an industry insider. That blog post was one of the most difficult things to write. I was scared to hit the publish button. And here was a man I respected, a trained and professional writer telling me how much he was impressed by my writing.

Which brings me to now. I am writing a book. Something I always wanted to do but lacked the confidence to actually do it. Without Dave’s encouraging words, I’m doubt I would be doing it. I might still be blogging, but I would probably still think of it as nothing more than a hobby. But writing a book? I don’t think I would be writing a book if Dave had never told me I was one of the few writers who could really write. His remarks about my piece on divorce is what convinced me I had more in me than a blog.

It's now time for him to retire. The footprint he has left on Coeur d’Alene and surrounding communities is immense. As he moves into his new adventure of retirement, there will be a vacuum left behind, an absence of his voice. But the impact he’s had on my life is a story only I can tell. This week, I want to congratulate him on a job well done. More than that, I want to thank him for his role in helping form who I’ve become.

Dave, your retirement has been earned and well deserved, may you enjoy it to its fullest.


Oh, Sunburn (in other words, ow)

Sunburns are a rarity in my life. Perhaps that is because my day job keeps me inside for most daylight hours. Maybe as a writer, I'm driven to work where there is a wi-fi connection: coffee shops, libraries, fast food joints. Beaches are not known for offering internet access, and let's be honest, I'm not the kind of guy who is going to bring his laptop to the beach for a three-hour writing session.

Looking back on the thirty-some-odd years I have been alive, I wasn't the kind to frequently burn - even when outdoors more frequently. Those occasions I did turn a little red, the strawberry tint would quickly fade into an enviable tan.

Until this weekend. I took the kids swimming on Saturday and we spent a few hours at a Spokane Valley public pools. Everyone had fun and afterwards, I felt like a normal human being. I changed back into street clothes, and headed to Art on the Green with my daughter. Zu and I ate some fair food. We wandered through the vendors and crafters. Zu tried samples at every booth that offered them. Even then, I still didn't notice any ill effects of prolonged sunlight exposure. Night approached, I began to feel a little funny, like something was off. When we got in the car to return home, I wondered 'why do my shoulders feel so warm?' It wasn't until I was standing shirtless in front of my bathroom mirror when I realized the full extent of what I'd done. A bright red hue covered my upper body. Biceps into my shoulders and down onto my pectorals. Forehead. A little on the cheeks and tip of my nose.

I'm sure my naked appearance is far more comical than usual. I should mention I had sunscreen with me and failed to apply it.

This burn is the worst of my adult life. Perhaps the worst since high school. But I've been thinking. Is it the worst ever?

The first truly memorable sunburn I ever got was a series of burns over the course of a single summer. At the end of my seventh-grade year, my grandparents drove me from Seattle to visit family near Kansas City, Missouri. In the few weeks I was there, my cousin Allen and I spent our days playing in a local park, hanging out at his dad's church, walking to the candy store in downtown Weston, or swimming.

Twice a week, my aunt would drive Allen, his sisters, and me across the river into Leavenworth, Kansas to go swim at the public pool – a twenty-minute drive each way. My aunt made sure we would get there as early as we could and stay as long as possible. Twice a week, for three weeks, for hours on end, with no use of sunscreen, my cousins and I would play in the water with little shade and fewer breaks. I left the state of Missouri looking like a skinny tomato.

My next road trip was from Weston to Cheyenne, Wyoming. A long drive through the cornfields of Nebraska listening to nothing but country music with my mom's little sister and her husband. My mom was in Cheyenne and we stayed there for Frontier Days before heading back west. The second leg of my journey home was from Cheyenne to Twin Falls, Idaho with my mom and her aunt. We stopped for a weekend long family reunion in Twin Falls - camping at an RV park that had a pool with water slides. I spent two full days riding those slides. There, I received another burn on top of what I got in Leavenworth.

We finally returned home and I resumed my normal summer routine: hiking in the Cascades as much as possible. Toward the end of summer, I attended my church's youth camp on Elbow Lake outside of Yelm, Washington. The camp gave us three hours for free time every afternoon and I spent most of my free time on the water in a canoe … working on my third sunburn of the summer.

After the pool in Leavenworth in June, the water park in Twin Falls in July, and the lake in Yelm in August, I turned into a human slice of toast. By the time I started school again in the fall, those consecutive burns had turned into the darkest tan I've ever been.

The second major memorable sunburn happened when I was fifteen and hiking above the Paradise Lodge on Mount Rainier. The air gets thinner above 5500' elevation. And that afternoon, at 6800' the sky was the deepest and clearest blue I had ever seen and the sun was deceitfully warm. So close to the glaciers and walking on snowpack, I would have expected cooler temperatures. As the day wore on I stripped off layers; by midday, I was down to shorts and a tank top.

(incriminating evidence)

There were two things that my skin had not anticipated. The UV rays are stronger in thinner air. Also, sunlight reflects off snow. At the end of the day, it was obvious I was burned. Legs, arms, shoulders, neck, sides, and back. There were clear tan lines (red lines?) outlining the length of my shorts and shape of my tank top. What made this sunburn memorable are the burnt areas that had never burned before. Light bouncing up from the snow tinged the undersides of my chin and nose.

Now, I'm burned again and it feels like the worst ever. But is it? I don't know. In comparison, it is mild compared to what I've done before. Maybe my age has made me over sensitive. Or it has been so long I've forgotten what it feels like. Or maybe I've lost the youthful energy that compensated for the pain in my younger years. Regardless, I am not enjoying this experience and I am eager for it to fade away.

Going forward, I’ll be adhering to the admonition offered in Mary Schmich's commencement column, which she published in the Chicago Tribune the year I graduated high school: "Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience."