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Who’s to blame for the mess in Afghanistan? Mostly, you and me.

Republicans (and some Democrats) are blaming Biden. Democrats are blaming Trump. The truth is we all — including you and me — share blame for the brutal Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

https://unsplash.com/@sohaibghyasi

Here’s the facts:

  1. Biden inherited a horrible deal the Trump administration made with the Taliban in which we agreed to pull out all our troops by summer 2021. With that said …
  2. Biden did not need to honor that deal. He’s the U.S. President now. He’s reversed several other Trump policies (as Trump did with Obama’s Iran deal), and could’ve done so on this one.
  3. Biden decided to honor the deal and pull out of Afghanistan, a decision supported by Trump, the majority of Congress and 73% of Americans at the time. It was a bold decision after 20 years of the status quo. However …
  4. Biden completely botched the American withdrawal. And his explanations to us have been horrible, casting the blame to Trump. The world is watching, and the U.S. looks really bad and unreliable.
  5. The Taliban not only has power and will undoubtedly return to its inhumane treatment of its citizens (especially women), but also billions of dollars of military equipment that the U.S. gave to Afghanistan.
  6. Russia has already assisted the Taliban fight the previous Afghan regime, and they will likely become allies now. China likely will, too. This will be a huge problem for the U.S.
  7. Trump, Biden and 73% of Americans — including myself — were wrong about Afghanistan. For the future protection of our own country, the U.S. should not have pulled out of Afghanistan. Unfortunately …
  8. We can’t turn back time. However, our country owes asylum to the Afghan people who helped the U.S. over the years. Not only should we maintain control of the airport, but troops should enter Kabul and rescue the dissidents, who will most likely be executed by the Taliban.
  9. This horrendous situation is not just the fault of the Biden and Trump administrations. They were both acting on the will of their constituents (remember that 73% of Americans wanted troops pulled out). It’s our fault. It’s one of the few issues that united us. The overwhelming majority of Americans, including myself, did not bother to educate ourselves on the nuances of the Afghanistan situation. We saw things in black and white. We were ignorant. But how could we have known? …
  10. The media (broad term) failed as well. Our news media is so focused on conflict and immediacy with “click-bait” headlines so stories can be shared easily on social media feeds. There’s no room for nuance. Our politicians have adapted to this, and if something can’t be explained in a headline, a 10-second soundbite or a funny meme, then it’s not a point worth arguing. Americans have rewarded this type of “journalism” with clicks and views. Our social media-driven short attention spans can’t handle more. Shame on us.

Afghanistan is Biden’s fault. And Trump’s fault. And the media’s fault. But ultimately it’s our ignorance that allowed this to happen.

I asked God to find me

Originally published Feb. 18, 2021 as a Lenten Devotional on oconeestreetumc.org

Deuteronomy 1:31
“There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

Footprints (author undetermined)
An elderly man, who had lived his life and left this world to go and meet his Maker asked the Lord a question.

“As I’m looking down on the paths I’ve trod, I see two sets of footprints on the easy paths.

But down the rocky roads I see only one set of footprints.

“Tell me, Lord, why did you let me go down all those hard paths alone?”

The Lord smiled and simply replied, “Oh, my son, you’ve got that all wrong!

I carried you over those hard paths.”

It had already been a long week, even though we were only two days into it. I had not been connecting with the most important people in my life, and was already overwhelmed with work, family, church and baseball commitments.

I woke up yesterday to find my work calendar was filled with back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings, the earliest of which I was already running late for.

Both my personal and work inbox were littered with requests for action items that needed to be finished immediately.

Somehow, I received more than a dozen texts in the span of six hours between 2-8 a.m.

My youngest children were relentlessly arguing. My dog was incessantly barking. And Carla was gone.

I rushed out of the house and into my car, only to find my eldest child left me a near-empty tank.

And halfway through my 50-mile trek to work, the check engine light popped on.

Every mountainous twist on HWY-441 brought fantasies of driving off the cliff. As someone who has learned to successfully live with clinical depression (through decades of therapy), I knew the path I was headed down was dangerous.

Photo by Matteo Di Iorio on Unsplash

I asked God to find me. 

The next eight hours were a blur. I know I successfully taught a class. I was told I impressed a VIP from the governor’s office in one of my morning meetings. I even received a “thank you” email from the parents of a prospective student to whom I apparently spoke with around noon. I managed to successfully lead a very long and potentially contentious faculty meeting. And in between everything, I somehow finished multiple reports that have been sitting on my invisible “to-do” list for weeks.

It was after 4, and I was eager to drive back to Athens to announce the opening day baseball game for Clarke Central and watch Jaydon get his first opening day start with varsity. I’ve announced several sporting events in my lifetime, but this one was special — I never imagined I would have an opportunity to introduce my child in a game.

First pitch was scheduled for 5:55, so I had plenty of time. Walking to my car, I checked my text messages for the first time since the morning. A message at 10:38 a.m. from coach read, “Game moved to 5 p.m. and will be a doubleheader.”

Surprisingly, this did not impact me like my morning did. I accepted that I would be late. I was sad that I would likely miss his first at-bat, but knew there were several other competent parents who knew how to talk into a microphone and do the job for me.

When I arrived at the Clarke Central baseball field, I rushed into the press box and as luck would have it, the first batter I got to announce was, “right fielder, #8, JAYDON DENNIS.”

It gave me goosebumps. And I watched with great pride as Jaydon beat out a grounder up the middle, stole 2nd and 3rdbase, and eventually scored the first run of the season for the Gladiators, as the team swept Oglethorpe County.

As I reflected on my day, I remembered asking God to find me. God not only found me, but carried me throughout the day, and dropped me off at one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Prayer: God, thank you for finding me. Thank you for carrying me when I was struggling to walk. Thank you for gently setting me down to fully experience the goodness of life.

Kuya Egor was a cool dude

Kuya Egor died last week, one of thousands of victims of coronavirus.

My Kuya Egor was a really cool dude.

Growing up as child in a first-generation American Filipino family, it seemed I was meeting a new family member at every gathering — and there were A LOT of family gatherings throughout the year. When I first met Kuya Egor, who had recently married my Ate Regie, I instantly fell in love with him. It was the late 1980s and much to the dismay of my parents, I was getting into the “heavy metal” music of the era and simultaneously was discovering my passion for radio, and like every Chicago boy was a huge fan of Michael Jordan. Kuya Egor talked to me about music, popular Chicago morning man Jonathan Brandmeier and the Chicago Bulls, and I knew this was one cool dude. He always made a point to check in on me at family gatherings, offering advice and encouraging me to pursue my dreams. I didn’t think much about it then, but now I realize how much that meant to me.

Being a cool dude, it’s not surprising that Kuya Egor made our supersized Christmas gatherings extra fun. I always enjoyed going to the home of Kuya Egor, Ate Regie and my supercool cousin Mikki. As karaoke was booming in the Philippines (to this day, the karaoke capital of the world … at least according to an episode of The Amazing Race), Kuya brought karaoke into the family, etching it into family tradition. When it was my turn, he would always have a Guns N’ Roses or Bon Jovi track that he purchased just for me. Kuya Egor was also very generous with his gifts, and would frequently attach a $2 bill to gifts for kids. A highlight of the adult white elephant gift exchange was finding Kuya’s gift, because we knew there was a good chance of some extra cash hidden in there. And for the kids, he would literally make it rain money into the living room from the upstairs loft in his home.

My favorite memory happened when I was “around 21” and my Kuya Bong was visiting from Switzerland. At Kuya Egor’s house, we met up with Ninong Ver and Manong Jun — and we all drank whisky until the next morning. That was the moment when I crossed the threshold to become one of the “Filipino men” of the family. I don’t remember much about that night, but I swear for the first time I started to understand Tagalog!

Although my interactions with Kuya Egor grew less and less over the years as I moved to Georgia, he always reconnected with me when I went back home. And he was the first member of my extended family to visit us in Georgia, dropping by for a visit en route to taking his family to Disney.

Looking back for photos of Kuya, it’s not surprising that the only ones I can find (besides shots of the whole family) are ones of him interacting with my kids as they were growing up. Jaydon, Jackson and Matthew instantly connected with him, as is evidenced in the photos.

That’s not surprising, because Kuya Egor was a really cool dude.

Why are you angry?

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

I get that you’re scared.

You’re bombarded with photos of thousands of angry, mostly Black people marching in the street chanting words like, “Black Lives Matter.”

You’re seeing videos of violent protestors vandalizing statues, destroying property and looting stores.

You’re watching live coverage of your city streets turned into war zones as police resort to military tactics to protect your town.

You’re hearing people spewing hatred on our President.

It’s infuriating.

On May 25, police in Minnesota suspected a 46-year-old Black man of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. From a combination of security camera footage and citizens filming the incident, we see George Floyd was handcuffed and sitting in the backseat of a police vehicle when he was forcefully removed by a police officer and pinned facedown to the ground with an officer’s knee lodged in the back of his neck — a tactic banned by most police departments and only authorized for use in this department if a person is actively resisting arrest.

Floyd was handcuffed and in the police car, before he was dragged out and pinned to the ground by an officer.

We can hear Floyd say, “I can’t breathe,” and “Please, please, please.”

We know the police heard him, because we can hear one officer tell Floyd to, “Relax,” and another officer ask, “What do you want?”

Floyd replies, “I can’t breathe. Please, the knee in my neck, I can’t breathe.”

Minutes later, with the knee still lodged on his neck and two other officers surrounding him, he dies.

An officer who is sworn by law to protect George Floyd murdered him, while three other officers sworn to protect George Floyd did nothing to prevent his death.

Shortly after midnight on March 13, three non-uniformed police officers in Louisville executed a “no-knock” warrant and raided the apartment of a 26-year-old Black woman because they suspected her boyfriend was storing drugs for a dealer down the street. Asleep at the time, Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker were awakened by the sounds of a battery-ram pounding at their door. Taylor yelled multiple times, “Who is it.” No answer was given. Thinking they were being robbed, Walker — a licensed gun carrier — armed himself and as soon as the door was finally knocked down, Walker fired and hit one of the officers (in plain clothes) in the leg. The officers responded by firing 20 rounds around the apartment, hitting Taylor eight times, instantly killing her.

No drugs were found in the apartment.

A legal system in place to protect law-abiding citizens resulted in the murder of Breonna Taylor.

George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just the latest instances of Black people being killed by police. From 2013-2019, 1,945 Black people have been killed by police. Of course, police work is a dangerous job and officers should defend themselves. However, in 336 of these cases, the Black person was unarmed. That’s roughly one unarmed Black person killed every week.

It’s infuriating.

Think again about the protests, the people vandalizing buildings, the looting and those hating on the President.

Now ask yourself, “Why am I angry?”

Be honest.

Is it that our justice system has allowed people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to be unjustly killed?

Or is it the protestors, the vandals, the looters and the Trump haters?

If the answer is the latter, then you should really explore those feelings. You’re valuing property and partisanship over human life.

Your rage is severely misplaced.

Fear, Faith and Oconee Street teens

Originally published on www.oconeestreetumc.org

This devotional is repurposed from a sermon I delivered on Laiety Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019.

2 Timothy 3:10-17 — You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures,which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I have the pleasure of working with the high schoolers every Sunday morning as their Sunday School teacher.

With a full-time job, several side hustles, three kids of my own, coaching baseball, and serving as the church’s webmaster, I’ve often been asked how do I find the time in my schedule to teach a Sunday School class? But I can’t imagine not spending each Sunday morning with these students. It’s been the biggest aspect of my faith development.

Clockwise, Melanie, Jackie, Violet, Lucy, Elizabeth, myself and Jaydon.

As I child, I thought of God as some larger-than-life character in the sky looking down on us. While many may envision that concept as comforting, that concept scared the heck out of me. You mean there’s this guy in the sky who knows my every move, my every thought, and there’s nowhere I can go to hide from him? No wonder why there’s mention of “fearing God” more than 100 times in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16, says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness …” I definitely feared God, finding myself terrified every time I misbehaved or even had bad thoughts. At any minute, God could rebuke, correct and/or train me. The Catholic guilt was deeply embedded in me.

So, when I went to college, I developed a practice I’ve since perfected – avoidance. If I avoided church, if I avoided thinking about religion, I could avoid God. And I wouldn’t have to think about God watching over me. In the back of my mind, I knew God was there, but I could shut God out. I was getting really good at that until I fell in love with Carla, who of course had a great relationship with God. Great. It was clear to me that if I wanted to have a relationship with Carla, I would have to have a relationship with God.

Over the past 20 years, my faith development has tremendously grown — and Scripture has become clearer to me. The words of Timothy are striking when viewing religion through the lens of current events. Timothy says that “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

I can’t help but think about the atrocities happening in the world today at the hands of leaders who use God as a prop to gain votes and power. And their followers, who proudly claim Christianity, trade the words of Scripture with the talking points of their political leader. When Timothy says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for ever good work,” he means that the foundation of all good deeds must be rooted in God. And if you forsake the word of God, you’re in danger of turning aside to myths. You’re in danger of supporting the genocide of Kurds. You’re in danger of advocating for the separation of immigrant children from parents. You’re in danger of promoting cuts to programs that benefit poor children in favor of tax breaks for the wealthy.

Every Sunday morning I get to talk about these issues with some combination of Colin, Casey, Chandler, Elizabeth, Lucy, Jaydon, Violet, Jackie, Melanie and Sienna. Every Sunday they remind me not to keep my faith separate from my deeds, or my deeds separate from my faith. Every Sunday they challenge me with questions I don’t know the answer to, and we talk about it together and maybe don’t come up with a definitive answer, and that’s OK. Every Sunday they confirm to me that God is always with me, but is not some mythical figure in the sky watching over me. God is in them, in me, and in all of us.

Prayer: God, thank you for our children, who challenge us every day to be the best Christian we can be. Help us in our faith development and to not succumb to the myths of this world. Amen.