Anna

I looked at my class roster today, and cried.

There was one less name than there was yesterday. And although I barely knew the student taken off my list of students, it crippled me emotionally.

I love getting to know my students. It’s why I became a teacher. It’s why I choose to teach at a small college. By the end of the semester, I get to know all my students — some more than others, but a little about each person. And they learn a little about me. But I’ll never get that chance with Anna.

I met Anna three times, to be precise: summer orientation, fall orientation and in the first meeting of the freshman experience class I teach. That means I called her name three times, and she responded each time, either by saying “Here,” but more likely by simply raising her hand.

I take that simple process for granted. When I call a student’s name, most will usually be present. There’s always some absences, but I never worry about the missing student. Whether they’re legitimately missing class or just skipping it, they always come back.

But Anna, who’s still on the class roster I printed out at the beginning of the semester, will never come back. Of course, I could print out the new roster with her name removed, but that doesn’t seem right. She didn’t drop the class. She didn’t change majors. She didn’t fail.

She died on her way to class. Tragically killed by another driver who hit her car head-on after crossing the center line on a busy highway.

She’s no longer on my class roster. She’s not on my list of advisees. Her seat will be empty in my classroom. But even though I never got to know Anna, I get this sense that I’ll never forget her.

Just Joe: In the studio with John Mayer

From Aug. 31, 2001 …

I remember walking into the Rock 103-7 studio for my night show and my program director, now Aly on Atlanta’s Alt 105.7, said I would be interviewing this up-and-coming artist named John Mayer. He had a concert that night at UGA, so the interview had to be very quick.

I only had a few minutes to prep for this interview and the only thing I knew about him was that he was popular among UGA students and he often played the Georgia Theatre in Athens. I quickly googled “John Mayer” and the first page of results were about an Indian composer named John Mayer.

Of course, he came in earlier than expected — guitar strapped to his shoulder — and I had to conduct this impromptu interview with no preparation. Making matters more intimidating, a film crew accompanied him, as his record company was putting together a promotional video promoting his soon-to-be-released debut album, Room for Squares.

But John was incredibly friendly and very conversational, making my job much easier. He was also very funny, as evidenced in the liner he cut for me that kicks off the clip. During the interview, he performed “No Such Thing,” a song that became his first massive hit roughly six months later.

 

Devotional: Teach me to forgive

Originally published on oconeestreetumc.org

April 19, 2019

Luke 23:34: Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them; they do not know what they’re doing.”

More than 2,000 years ago today, Jesus was brutally murdered.

I can’t fathom the suffering he endured. I can’t imagine the abandonment he felt that two of his closest friends turned him in and denied knowing him. I can’t grasp the humiliation he was subjected to, as the very people he came to save mocked him, spit at him and cheered as he was hanging from the cross.

Thinking about the crucifixion fills me with emotion, ranging from deep sadness for my hero to rage against those who killed him. But Jesus didn’t show those emotions. Through his immense emotional, physical and even spiritual pain, Jesus found the capacity to forgive.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to never lose someone to murder, but I’m pretty confident forgiveness for the perpetrator would be low on my list of feelings. I find it difficult to forgive those who have wronged me. Like most people, when I’m wronged my first inclination is to seek justice — doing everything in my power to make sure the perpetrator is found and appropriately punished.

But not Jesus. He endured the ultimate injustice, and he forgave. After having bullet fragments in her back and leg removed, Parkland shooting survivor Daniela Menescal forgave the shooter. After spending a year in the hospital recovering from bullet wounds to her stomach, liver and spleen, Rosemarie Melanson forgave the Las Vegas shooter. After losing nine chirch family members, the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston forgave the shooter.

These examples show that even in the most dire situations, God grants us the capacity to forgive. So why is it so hard for me?

Prayer: Jesus, teach me to forgive.

Devotional: Make room for God

Originally published on oconeestreetumc.org

March 6, 2019

Proverbs 29:11: Fools give fool vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.

PBUMC_Pride-400x400I was filled with rage.

I was crippled with anger as the General Conference of The United Methodist Church voted to continue its discriminatory policies on LGBTQ people. I shot argumentative texts back and forth with Carla about leaving the church. I scoured the internet, consuming fiery responses from like-minded Methodists. I provoked social media debates with those who disagree with me.

But none of my actions mattered. The outcome of the General Conference vote didn’t change. The words in the Book of Discipline weren’t altered. I didn’t convince one person to think differently. And quite honestly, I didn’t feel any better.

I was a fool.

In the immediate aftermath of General Conference, I single-handedly took on the issue without God, convinced that my outrage was the solution for the injustice of the day. But my anger did nothing to help the people who were persecuted by the decision — LGBTQ Methodists who were labeled as “less than” by the governing body of their own church.

Don’t be mistaken, I’m not downplaying the importance of speaking out against injustice, but it must be done with God at our side, prayerfully, reflectively and intentionally.

The theme this Lenten season is “Make Room for God.” It’s critical that we take this message to heart as we discern how we — individually and as a church — move forward. Although we cannot change the decision made at 2019 General Conference, if we allow God to help us, we can be confident our way forward will bring calm, peace and love to those who need it most.

Prayer: Dear God, we are hurting today. We are sad. We are angry. We are letting you in. Please guide us. Amen.

Tethered to the Truth

Rising above partisan loyalties

img_5715-1James Comey’s memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” undoubtedly will be remembered for the final three chapters and the epilogue, in which the former FBI director recounts his interactions with President Trump.

Culled from since-released memos he wrote immediately after his encounters with Trump, Comey provides significant detail of his Presidential encounters, noting everthing from the firmness of a handshake to the location of the grandfather clock in the Oval Office. But more than just being there with Comey, the reader gets rare insight into how a career federal law enforcement official thinks. Tethered to truth and justice — a “higher loyalty” — Comey shows no deference to his former boss, calling the President “ego-driven,” “morally unfit” and a “mob boss.”

Many readers will do themselves a disservice and skip to the highly-publicized back of the book seeking to confirm their own criticisms about Trump, or discrediting the author as a self-righteous media hound looking to capitalize on Trump’s unpopularity. By doing so, they’ll likely see Comey as no different from any left-wing partisan who is critical of the President.

But if you read the book from beginning to end — starting with Comey’s time prosecuting the mafia (and Martha Stewart), his internal fights over spying and torture in President Bush’s administration, and finally his handling of the Hillary Clinton email scandal while serving under President Obama — you’ll see that Comey’s actions back up his assertion that he has “a higher loyalty.”

Democrat or Republican, mafia or Martha Stewart, Comey was never afraid to pursue the truth. Partisan pundits who criticize this demonstrated altruistic relationship with justice as being “self-righteous” simply reinforces Comey’s assertion that Trump — and his supporters — are “untethered to the truth.”

Joe’s Judgement: 5.0/5.0 stars

Devotional: Recognizing God

Originally published on oconeestreetumc.org

March 16, 2018

Psalms 27:4: One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

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“Wow. That is so cool that you have your own flower blooming just for you,” one of my advanced writing students said as she walked into my office.

“What are you talking about?” I asked

“Out your window. You haven’t seen it?” she said as she pointed out my office window.

“Oh. Wow. Yeah. That is really cool. I love that!” I answered.

Of course, this was the first time I ever recognized that flower, or any flower that blooms outside my window. Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I looked out that window. My attention has been laser-focused on the 1,000+ unanswered emails on my computer screen, the stacks of papers and tests to grade sitting on my desk, and countless students coming in and out of my office for writing one-on-ones.

I had to lie to my student. We just spent the last class discussing the importance of taking in scenes and environments when conducting in-person interviews or covering events. Journalists have to be the eyes and ears for their readers, and in some cases the nose, hands and taste buds. It’s important that writers recognize the entire scene around them, always observant, like a detective looking for clues. But here I am, failing to recognize the scene around my own office, where I spend several hours each day.

Carla often tells me I have “tunnel vision.” I’m good at reaching the finish line, but bad at recognizing the environment along the way. Although this tunnel vision can serve me well in some situations — such as meeting deadlines or coming through in the clutch — it does impair my ability to recognize God’s beauty around me.

Our church has been focusing on “listening” this Lent. I’ve realized that if I take the time to listen, my sense of hearing will not be the only sense impacted by this practice. Focusing on listening allows my other senses to come alive. As I write this on the bleachers of a baseball field, I feel God’s presence in the gentle, cool breeze interrupting the still air. I smell God’s creation in the freshly cut grass. And I can see God’s miracles as children run around with pure joy.

God has flowers blooming for me, all around me. But one place they’re not growing is in my tunnel. I need to make more conscious efforts to peek outside my tunnel and take in God’s beauty with all my senses.

Prayer: God, you are all around me. Arouse my senses so I can enjoy your beauty. Amen.

Rambo is real, killing Americans by the dozen with an AR-15

Rambo-like bloodshed is happening with legally available weapons

Originally published on Patriot Not Partisan

In 1985, Sylvester Stallone single-handedly killed 58 people over 96 minutes. Of course, the deaths were onscreen in the movie, “Rambo: First Blood, Part II,” which was critically-panned and labeled unrealistic because there’s no way a single person could to take out an entire army.

More than 30 years later in America, there’s real-life, Rambo-like bloodshed, only the death toll is higher, and the people being killed are innocent. Rambo’s once seemingly unrealistic death toll of .60/kills per minute, pales in comparison to the 17 killed by the Parkland shooter in just six minutes, a rate of 2.8/kills per minute, or the 58 people killed in under 10 minutes by the Las Vegas shooter, a rate of 5.8/kills per minute.

In six of the deadliest mass shootings in American history, the gunman used an AR-15, which allows the shooter to fire off dozens of shots in under 10 minutes. The Las Vegas shooter fired a whopping 1,100 bullets in 10 minutes, an average of 110 bullets in one minute – that’s roughly two shots every second.

These murderers attained the weapons, magazines and accessories to complete their killing sprees legally. Our government believes the Parkland shooter, who was 19 at the time of his killing spree, wasn’t old enough to purchase a beer. But he is old enough to purchase an AR-15 and enough ammunition to kill hundreds of people.

Weapons like the AR-15 serve one main purpose — to kill multitudes in a short amount of time. They’re not used for hunting. They’re not used for self-defense. They’re used to kill as many people in as little time as possible.

Republicans continue to offer “thoughts and prayers,” either saying “it’s too soon” to talk about solutions or using mental health as their scapegoat (as if mental illness is a new development in the last decade). But past history indicates there is a solution that has worked in this country just 25 years ago.

In 1994, with overwhelming bipartisan support, the federal government passed an assault weapons ban that made guns like the AR-15 illegal to own. The ban expired in 2004. During the 10 years the law was in place, there were a total eight mass shootings resulting in 51 deaths. Six of the eight massacres involved semiautomatic weapons purchased legally before the assault weapons ban took effect in 1994. The two mass shootings featuring illegally acquired weapons — Columbine in 1999 and Edgewater Technology in 2000 — resulted in 20 combined deaths.

The assault weapons ban worked. Obviously, assault weapons and the ease of purchasing them is not the sole reason for the spike in mass casualties. However, the link between the spike in mass killings and the expiration of the assault weapons ban is undeniable.

We never thought the mass murder Rambo inflicted could be possible, but with assault weapons like the AR-15 easily attainable, Rambo has become real. And he’s after our children.