Under Pressure…

I have 1484 ‘friends’ on my Facebook page. Whether I know all 1484 of them personally doesn’t matter. At some point we made a mutual agreement to become acquainted. One of us sought out the other one and said ‘hello.’ The other one responded by accepting that ‘hello’ and becoming friends.

Isn’t that how life happens, how friendships are born?

I find it interesting that we view total strangers as friends. I have never actually met, face to face, with probably 1300 or more of these friends. Still, those perfect strangers are my friends. But what I—and more than likely, you—fail to realize is on the other side of the device (where you are reading this right now) is a person. For me there are 1484 people looking back. Of those 1484 people, probably less than 200 of them actually interact with me. I’m okay with that.

Why?

Well, because they are all people and they have lives and cares and worries. They have dreams and ambitions. Some are sick and in need of prayer or comforting words. Others are fine and life is being very good to them right now. But all of them are people.

A little perspective if you will. On my friends list:

There are rich folks and there are poor folks and there are those in between.

There are folks from every state in the United States.

There are folks from England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Russia and, yes, the Middle East.

There are folks who work as lawyers and nurses and teachers.

There are folks who work as bartenders and taxi drivers and in retail stores.

There are folks who work in factories and in restaurants.

There are folks who work in the business of religion and others who work in the business of politics.

There are cops and firemen.

There are single moms and single dads raising their children the best they can.

There are married couples raising their children the best they can.

There are gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

There are straight folks, too.

There are musicians and voice instructors.

There are successful writers, as well as fledgling ones with dreams of writing for a living.

There are readers who love books.

There are Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Non-Denominationals, Methodists, Nazarenes, Atheists, Agnostics and maybe even a Satanists or two. And yes, there are Muslims, as well.

There are liberals and there are conservatives.

There are folks who like heavy metal music. Others who like rap. Still, others who like classical, and some who like country and some who like bubblegum pop. There are those who like it all.

There are sports fans and there are folks who can’t stand sports.

There are those who love movies and television.

There are those who don’t care much for either.

There are those who love The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and those who have never seen the first episode of one or both shows.

There are those who will only drive a Chevy or a Ford.

There are high school friends on here, too.

There are whites, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans.

Why does any of this matter? Simple: all of them are people. People with hopes and dreams, and people who just want to make it home to their loved ones at the end of the day. They, like you and I, have feelings. They, like you and I, have ambitions. They, like most of us, are saddened by events where people are killed recklessly and needlessly because of hate and fear.

During this week where America celebrated its independence, at least seven people died who should still be alive today. The key word isn’t black or cop. The key word here is ‘people.’ Seven people are dead and millions more are angry and some are even enraged to the point of…hate.

Today I sit at my kitchen table having not only celebrated my nation’s independence, but also my birthday. Seven people will never see another birthday. Their families are forever changed, and many of them are mad, not just at those who killed them, but at other people as well—people who have nothing to do with the events that unfolded this week.

There are those who want revenge and those who want to take away someone else’s freedoms and those who want justice now. There are those who will lump everyone into a category because of a few people’s actions. There are those who will scream and demand change, demand our government do something about this.

Here’s the problem with that: change will never come about until we, the people, change our way of thinking and change our hearts. We, the people, are the only ones that can bring positive change. Not our governments and not our laws. The people. The same folks I have mentioned up above can make a change, but in order to do so, we have to change our hearts, we have to learn how to be compassionate again. We have to learn to love our neighbor. If we can have total strangers on a social media site that we call friends, and some of which we come to cherish and possibly even love, then why can’t we do the same to the people we come in contact with every single day of our lives?

I’m reminded of the song Under Pressure, by Queen and David Bowie. At the end they come to the conclusion that it is love that can make a difference in every person’s life. But love is so old fashioned…

And love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

The way I see it is, love dares you to look in the mirror, but we don’t want to do that. We want to lay blame somewhere else. We, as a people—not as a nation, as a people—need to step back and look at ourselves, and make a change, starting with ourselves. If we don’t, I fear for myself, my children, my friends, my fellow people. Because, the way I see it is if we don’t make a change in our hearts and our mindset soon, then we will never have true freedom again. We will all be prisoners to fear and rage and hate, and no one will be safe.

This, well, this is how I see it. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

SC Strong…

I live in South Carolina. In case you haven’t heard, my state hasn’t necessarily had a good year. To be honest, my state hasn’t had the best reputation for years. According to statistics (and who made these statistics up, I don’t know) we are one of the worst in driving, one of the worst in education and have one of the highest domestic abuse rates in the nation. Sometimes I feel like we are viewed as the armpit of the nation.

Sometimes perception isn’t reality.

Let me tell you about the year we have had in four points:

  1. At the beginning of April a black man was shot and killed by a white cop in Charleston.
  2. Just a little over two months later, in the middle of June, a young man walks into a church in Charleston, prays with the worshippers there and then kills nine of them.
  3. The Confederate Flag, having flown on the state house grounds for years, comes down in July.
  4. Here, at the beginning of October, quite possibly the worst natural disaster strikes in the rains and floods that devastated parts of the state. It was termed the 1000 Year Rains.

Yup, it’s been a sucky year for a state that most folks kind of, well, look down on. But let me fill you in on something you may not know, and I’ll use those same four points to tell you.

Point 1: At the beginning of April a black man was shot and killed by a white cop in Charleston. In case you missed it, the whole thing was caught on video by a passerby who witnessed it. Do you know what happened? The cop lost his job and was immediately arrested. Currently he is in jail and probably will be for a long time.

But wait, there is more. Do you know what happened next? Of course you do. The city of Charleston rioted and looted and destroyed the very place they lived. People died and they had to call in the National Guard and…Oh wait. That actually didn’t happen. No, it didn’t. There were no riots. There was no looting. There was no uprising demanding justice. Why? Because the Charleston police were swift in acting and they did the right thing. They didn’t make excuses like so many other departments.

Point 2: Just a little over two months later, in the middle of June, a young man walks into a church in Charleston, prays with the worshippers there and then kills nine of them. The young man’s name is Dylan Roof and he lived just a few miles from where I do in a place I know well. After he was caught the next day he reportedly said he thought about not going through with the shootings, that the church members had been so nice to him.

Hate is a powerful thing and it drove him to follow through with his plans.

Guess what? The riots started then. It was insane. Oh wait. No, they didn’t. Do you want to know what happened next? The families of those killed stood up and said, ‘We forgive him.’ Did you catch that? Instead of spouting hate, they spoke forgiveness. They spoke love. Crazy concept, this forgiveness.

Point 3: The Confederate Flag, having flown on the state house grounds for years, comes down in July. I’m going to be honest with you, this one had me worried. There was a lot of folks for it coming down and a lot of folks opposed to it. And those opposite view points were vocal and vehement. The weeks leading up to the flag coming down were tense. From the office building I work in I can see the state house—it’s less than two blocks away. If I walk outside the front doors and look to my left, I can see the front steps of the capital building where several rallies took place. I’m not going to lie, I was concerned that there would be some fireworks, and I don’t mean the ooohhhh and aaaahhhh type either.

Then it finally happened. Yeah, you guessed it, riots. And a lot of them. There was even bloo—wait, that’s not right. Sure there were some folks that were disgruntled over it, but there was no violence. Nobody was hurt in the taking down of the flag. Well, some were butt hurt, but that’s about it. As a matter of fact, when the KKK and the Black Panthers from OTHER states decided they wanted to come down and make trouble, the state and the Columbia Police Department made no bones about it: if you come here to cause trouble, you will be arrested and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No violence occurred. No bloodshed. One KKK member became overheated and the image that was plastered all over social media was nothing short of amazing: a black state trooper helping the KKK member. It didn’t matter that this man was part of a hate group, one that hated the trooper’s race.

You see, a lot of us here don’t necessarily see the color of the skin.

Point 4: Here, at the beginning of October, quite possibly the worst natural disaster strikes in the rains and floods that devastated parts of the state. It was termed the 1000 Year Rains.

A buddy of mine, his name is Greg, and he is an amateur weatherman. The entire week leading up to the rains that fell (in some places as much as 20 inches in less than 24 hours), Greg was sending out text bulletins to people on his weather list. He constantly said things were shaping up to be historic. Greg, you are awesome, and thank you for the warnings. All week long I got to see weather maps and hear his thoughts on what could happen. But this is South Carolina. How often do weathermen, professional or otherwise, get it right?

Then it actually happened.

The rains came. The floods followed. Roads were wiped out. Bridges were damaged. Houses were destroyed. Devastation is the only word I can use for what happened. Maybe catastrophic is a better word.

It was crazy. There was mass looting. There were people panicking. There was pillaging. Ummm…no, there wasn’t. But let me tell you what there was: there were men in john boats going down streets that just hours before cars would have traveled along, searching for people in need, pulling people from houses or from their roofs. Police and firefighters and EMS workers and civilians alike were doing their best to save people from harm.

In the aftermath, many people had lost so much, and yes, over a dozen folks lost their lives. But then the most awesome thing happened. Even while it still rained, people began donating money and food and basic items to churches and charities and Harvest Hope. Money donations were given to aid in the recovery. Above all of that, the people of South Carolina banded together. Volunteers came from every walk of life to help those with flood damage, to help them gather up what was left of their stuff and help them move away or help them begin the clean-up. They were there to give hugs and comfort and to say prayers and offer up whatever help they could give. Hundreds of thousands of bottles of water were given out to people who had no water.

It didn’t matter what color you were or what your religious beliefs were or which political party you associated yourself with or even what status you held in the community. What mattered was, do you need help? If so, we’re here for you.

An entire state came together and it was brother and sister and nothing else mattered.

There wasn’t much by the way of looting. From my understanding there were six people arrested for looting. Six. And the government has already said that those six folks will be prosecuted and given the maximum sentence possible. Six people. That’s all.

You know, South Carolina may not be known for much more than our Famously Hot Summers and a few statistics that may or may not matter, but when the chips are down, well, let’s just say other states can take notes on how this fine state that I live in acted swiftly for justice, forgave the brutality of a mass killing, kept the possible uproars and riots at bay and came together when disaster struck.

We’re still recovering. It’s a long road. People are hurting.

I think my buddy, Keith, put it best when we talked about this the other night. “This could be God’s way of unifying us.”

Maybe, my friend.

South Carolina. I was born and raised here. I lay my head down every night here. I met my wife here. I work and contribute to society here. I’m proud to be a South Carolinian.

This is South Carolina. We are SC Strong and that’s something to be proud of.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a Human Issue

One good thing about having my own blog is that I can talk about any topic I want to. I don’t have to ask for permission to state my opinion. It’s my platform. It’s my voice.

Go back and look at the 250 or so posts that appear on Type AJ Negative and you will see most of them are writing/publishing related. Being a storyteller, that is where a lot of my interests are. But there are other things that appear on here, most of them attempts at humor or life stories.

Today, I want to talk about something that bothers me.

Let me see if I can paint the picture for you:

There’s this guy and he’s taking this kid home. The kid is a little girl who is the friend of one of the guy’s children. You follow me so far? Guy taking little girl home. The girl is eleven.

In the middle of the conversation the girl says something that makes the guy asks a few questions. What is that thing?

“I’ve lost friends before because I’m different.”

“What do you mean?”

“This girl (she said the girl’s name, which I omit here) told this boy (again, omitted name) to try and change my religion.”

“What?”

She repeated the statement.

“Why would she do that?”

“I don’t believe in God.”

That caught my attention. I am a spiritual person. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I don’t believe in religion. Believing in God and believing in religion are two entirely different things, in my honest opinion.

“You don’t believe in God?” I asked.

“No. My family is atheists.”

“You’re atheists?”

“Yeah. I’ve never been to church. My family has never been to church.”

“And that girl wanted you to not be atheist?”

“Yeah. I’ve never been to church, but I want to go one day. I may not believe in God now, but I might later.”

There was a lull of silence before I said anything else.

“Well, I tell you what, if you ever want to go to church, let us know, and if your parents are okay with it, we’ll take you with us one day. Okay?”

“Okay.”

So later that night I told Cate about it. Then she said something that really bothered me. Again, no names will be used here.

I told her the story and this is what she said:

“I heard her and the kids talking in there, and some of the kids at school said she worships the devil.”

Let’s stop here. I am going to get on my soapbox for a minute.

I know the little girl who said the things about the other little girl. I know some members of her family, and sadly, I can see them saying something like, ‘if they are atheists then they worship the devil.’

The problem with this thought is it is not true. I know plenty of atheists, and I haven’t known any of them to worship the devil. If they did worship the devil, they would no longer be atheists, but Satanists. See how that works?

The real problem here is that a ten year old said this about an eleven year old and now several of the kids in their class are saying this little girl worships the devil. What? Really?

I am a follower of Christ. I believe He died on the cross for my sins. But—and this is a HUGE BUT—I don’t believe it is my place to condemn someone else for his or her beliefs (or lack of beliefs). Jesus preached love your neighbor, not hate them because they are different. Jesus ate with the sinners of his time and walked with those same sinners and helped those same sinners. He looked on all people with compassion, even the criminal hanging on the cross next to His. He loved people.

He didn’t care if you were Jew or Gentile. He didn’t care if you were black or white or red or brown or yellow or zebra print. He didn’t think less of women or children. He treated them well. He even said, ‘Do unto the least of these and you do unto me.’ (Matthew 25:45)

He loved everyone.

I think Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

There lies the problem with many Christians: the majority of them don’t love everyone. Many of them think they are better than others, that if someone isn’t like them, then they are going to Hell. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. They think being a Christian is a bunch of don’ts and if you mess up once, then you aren’t worthy of Heaven. Many Christians just aren’t very loving. Many of them are not Christ-like to the point of being judgmental. Many don’t teach their children to love one another. That is something that can be taught regardless of your religious or non-religious beliefs.

As a Christian I try to set the example, not with my words, but my actions. You can say you are a Christian all you want, but if your actions and your words present a different image, then it doesn’t matter what you say or do—no one is going to believe you. And if people do believe you, then they are probably going to say something like, ‘if that’s what being a Christian is, I want nothing to do with it.’ By spreading hate, you push people away. By preaching love, you bring people closer.

It’s not just Christians though. The majority of people don’t love others outside of their circle. Many people think they are better than others, and if they don’t look like they do, or make the money they do or drive the cars they do or vote for the politicians they do, then they’re not good enough for them. Many people think they are always right and everyone else is always wrong. It’s a society issue.

The thing with ten and eleven year olds is that most of what they believe they learn from their parents or other adults in their lives. Abusive fathers generally breed children who grow up to be abusive fathers themselves. Racists parents generally raise kids who become racist themselves. It really is a monkey see, monkey do type of thing. Sure, there are plenty of cases where kids made good, even though the parents were kind of crappy to them. My dad is an example of a person who broke the cycle to be a better person than his parents ever were.

Back to the girl. As she said, her family members are atheists, so she is atheist. This is what she has learned, based on how she has been raised. The other girl who started the devil worshipper rumor learned that from someone as well. She may have been misinformed on the topic at some point or drew her own conclusions based on, what? I don’t know. What I do know is she is wrong.

We are all quick to judge what we do not understand. We all have done it. I have. You have. Part of that judgmental attitude comes from fear. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. We let our minds or others tell us what we should believe or say or do. We don’t understand it so we either don’t accept it or we are afraid of it. But something we don’t do that we should do more of is learn about what we don’t understand and make educated decisions based on that education. Don’t just have an opinion. Know the facts.

People, I want to make this clear: I don’t care what religion you are. I don’t care if you worship a god or are an atheist. I don’t care where you are from. I don’t care what your skin color is. I don’t care if you are rich or poor or somewhere in between. I don’t care what your job is. I don’t care if you are single or married or divorced. I don’t care about your political views. I don’t care if you are a woman or a man. I don’t care if you are attractive or unattractive. I don’t care if you are gay or straight. I don’t care if you agree with me or disagree with me. I don’t care.

Do I have to say it again?

But I do care about people. I care about how we treat one another. I care about how we judge one another. I care about respect. I care about whether someone is hurting and if I caused it, how do I fix it. I care about our world and I see it crumbling every day with the self-serving and entitled attitude of so many people. I care about how people lump other people into a category because they are of a certain skin color or religion or political party or income bracket. I care about people.

I will say that again: I care about people.

We are all human. We were all born in the same way. We all have feelings and desires and passions and we all need the same things to live: food, water, a place to live and air. Companionship helps, too. We all have loved at one time and we all want love. Go ahead and deny it if you want, but it’s true.

Honestly, this world makes me sad, and hearing what ten and eleven year old children say about another one because that one doesn’t believe in God saddens me deeply. Where did we forget how to love one another?

This isn’t a Christian or non-Christian issue. This is a human issue. And we have lost a good chunk of our humanity.

Stop fearing and judging what we don’t understand. Don’t just have an opinion. Educate ourselves. Teach our children to be better than we are. And love.

What we forget is we are not the people we are judging—we don’t know what is going on in their lives. We don’t know their situations. One well-placed kind word could make their day better. And one mean-spirited word could crush them.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…