Why Sepp Blatter Isn’t the Problem

Two days ago, Sepp Blatter announced that he is stepping down from the FIFA presidency. Many see this as a move that signals a change of direction; perhaps the world’s most popular sport will finally clean up their act. At least, this is what we are hoping.

But the FIFA scandal is bigger than one man.

You don’t have to look far to see that the soccer culture breeds corruption. In fact, the news that made headlines last week should come as a shock to none. Rampant corruption involving bribes, racketeering and conspiracy—all these criminal practices had been carrying on at least for the past decade. What is surprising is that charges are being levied now, given how the soccer association has operated with impunity for so long.

FIFA had acted as the neighborhood bully who pounced on the weaker kids and set the rules for how the game was to be played, to their advantage. Their actions were high and heavy-handed and they couldn’t care less. After all, who was standing up to them? The kids might not have agreed to the rules, but they weren’t about to raise hell about it. Yes, FIFA, we’ll play your game.

Many expressed disbelief at the fact that Blatter was re-elected in the first place. But Blatter is really just an extension of all other constituents in this political powerplay. He served as a figurehead for a system that not only tolerates large-scale corruption but enables it. (A system which, up until this point, has not operated with any real accountability.) Other various association leaders couldn’t imagine replacing him because he has empowered them to their current positions; essentially a pack of hyenas looking after one another.

In their eyes, Blatter isn’t actually guilty of anything that they wouldn’t do themselves. For many of these figures, power is merely seen as a weapon to oppress and take advantage of others. The idea of replacing Blatter would mean allowing someone else with whom they have no standing to perpetuate the same cycle while possibly removing their own authority in the process.

The point is this: FIFA won’t change until the worldview of its constituents change. The culture of the whole association must change. They must be willing to take action against the system, not simply because it is afraid of consequences or because it is seeking reward—but because it is morally right. The people who govern FIFA must be willing to gut the system, or forfeit their positions of authority to others who will. Only then will we truly start to clean up the sport.

Anything less, and we might be resigned to a similar cycle. As Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

thoughts on christmas

I don’t know how I feel about Christmas. For the first time in my life, I suppose since I can remember, I am not all too excited. Some people might say that it’s because everything has become so commercialized. Others say that it’s because I’m getting old, thus becoming more cynical. (Old people, is that true?)

I’m not sure. But what I’ve always enjoyed about Christmas are the things I suppose I’ve always had: wonderful friends and family, much laughter and love. For me, this is a cheerful and joyous time. I get to see my loved ones and celebrate with tons of good games, food, and drink. I am blessed beyond a doubt.

This is not the case for everyone. This season can be especially hard for some, as it might serve as a painful reminder of what we do not have, or what we once had, now gone. Husbands and wives departed, kids you haven’t heard from in years. The loneliness is amplified, and broken pieces of ourselves are recycled. It can be a sort of bone-chilling emptiness.

But then one of my mentors told me something profound. He said that if we look hard enough to see beyond ourselves, perhaps we can begin to rediscover what this holiday is about–giving. If we can give, not just well-intended presents, but of our time and energy and hearts to meet the needs of those around us, then perhaps we would recapture the true spirit of Christmas. We would be modeling after the very Christ, who was sent to heal those who are hurting, mend the torn pieces, and bring life to things once dead.

I thought this was divine. Because if we all lifted our spoons to feed not ourselves but one another, then those with less would have more, and none of us would go hungry. And you don’t have to look far to see that the world is starving for our support, love, and attention.

What if God has chosen us to be a part of the remedy? What if we can bring Christmas to strangers and friends around us? What if we actually look to be Christ to those who do not know him?

For those of us who have been given much, this might seem like a tall order. The problems are plenty and overwhelming, and I don’t know where to begin sometimes. But I think upon Christ, about how God’s son exchanged all his heavenly riches to become human and understand our pain, and I guess that’s where I begin.

So, that’s my encouragement to you this year, by the way of my mentor. Pray to have eyes that are opened to the needs of those around you. Should you look hard enough, I’m sure you’ll find a way to seek and fulfill them.

Let us begin.

These Phantom Nights

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Friends,

It took me longer than I would have liked, but here we are. These Phantom Nights. My first debut short story published through Amazon and available for the Kindle for $0.99. It’s a story written for those who have loved and lost, and for those who are still losing. Check it out if you’re into that heartbreak, failed relationship stuff.

Thank you all for your support and faithfulness to my blog for all these years, even as my posts have become thinner and more sporadic. I hope to be launching a new website soon, so keep an eye out for that!

Cheers,

MY

Giving Up 29 For charity: water

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Hey blogging world,

I just celebrated my 29th birthday this past week. This year I decided to give up my birthday to raise awareness and funds for a greater cause–charity: water. I learned that over 1 billion people don’t have access to clean water, and thousands die daily because of diseases caused by unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions. =(

WATCH MY VIDEO HERE

Normally I don’t ask for presents, but I’m requesting that you consider donating $29 on my behalf to my team’s cause, Village To Village. All 100% of the donations that you provide will go directly to funding a well in a specific area. You’ll be saving lives, literally!

Would you please consider joining me in this mission to change the lives of children and families for the next generation?

P.S. I highly recommend watching founder Scott Harrison’s keynote speech to learn more about the cause!

new york, stop haunting me

I’ll be honest with you.

I woke up right now in the middle of the night and I can’t go back to sleep. I turn over, the clock reads 5:47. I had just gone to bed three and a half hours earlier, and dreamed about a conversation I had with a friend about New York. My mind is running ahead of my body. I stare long into the dark before my eyes take in the scene of my bedroom. Odd. It was once familiar.

I say once familiar because all of a sudden, my room seemed just a little too big, like it should be spliced into thirds, and it felt unnerving that there was so much space–emptiness–that would have been filled up if this were New York. Then it hit me. This sort of inconsolable pit within me because I was no longer in New York. I ran through all the lovely and fascinating people I had come across. Some old friends, others new, all coming together like best-of scenes from TV shows. I couldn’t get them out of my mind.

I thought about one girl in particular.

I thought about how all these people and stories were merely one hundredth of one hundredth, like a spigot I had just discovered and started to turn. The water’s dripping, but really it’s waiting to erupt–like that gushing fire hydrant I passed on my hot summer day in Brooklyn.

How could all these stories be running around the pavements, flying down the subways and taxis and street corners and open parks of New York? There was so much life and activity in these people, in that city, and I wanted more–I need more. Maybe all this is just the writer in me talking. But perhaps, maybe, I’m the one meant to catch them all.

I recalled a speech I heard several days prior. Seth Godin was talking about art and generosity, and in one example, he described how piano players encounter a fermata in their sheet music while playing that tells them to “play it as you feel it”–not just as it is written. And he mentioned how people from all over the world would come to hear one composer do Beethoven because it was his own particular, felt version of Beethoven.

Is this my fermata? To add my own voice to the sheet I’ve been following thus far? Hell, is this even jazz and I’m supposed to break from the sheet altogether?

I don’t know. Right now it’s two hours before I’m supposed to wake up for work and I should probably rest a little more, and think about these things a little more. But there’s something about the city and the people that I cannot shake (shack).

Maybe the seed’s already been planted, who knows. The old me–or I suppose the older me–wouldn’t have even bothered to get up to catch these jumbled thoughts.

Odd. Before this trip, I was once familiar.

How I’m Spending My Twenties

Several months ago, I was passing time in a local bookstore scanning through random books. I remember picking up a woman’s memoir or self-help book of some sort, and I caught a quote from the back cover that has stuck with me ever since.

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

The words are simple but they sunk in heavy. It encapsulated how I felt for most of my twenties. I still remember my first day at my first job out of college. And all the other jobs after that. Yet I find myself here, at the beginning of June, and I can’t tell you how I got here. The years are short.

Oddly enough, when I’m catching up with old friends, I often find myself muttering the same words. If you were to ask me what’s new in my life, I’m not sure what to tell you. I’m kinda slow in the milestone department. No wife. No kids. No house. “Just work, that’s it.” The days are long.

It’s a weird time in life because I feel like I’m caught in the middle of two worlds. I have friends who have long settled into the next chapter of their lives, married with a kid or two in tow. (These are the ones responsible for half of my book sales–so thank you.) I also have friends who are still hanging onto the vestiges of their youth, playing the same cards until it’s out of their system–whatever that means. Me personally? I’m at a crossroads; I’m ready to board but my train hasn’t yet arrived.

There is a temptation to follow the paths of those who’ve gone before me. I wonder what it would be like to be a husband, to wake up early some mornings and cook her favorite breakfast or write her little notes, or how I’d have to think up something clever to make up for doing something stupid, which would probably be every other day. I also wonder what it would be like to be a father. My closest experience was found caring for my little cousin Justin for his first 13 years. Lord knows I would love to be a father.

But for whatever reason, it’s not now. So, in the meantime, I’m actively waiting.

Waiting…

And waiting.

There is something sublime that happens in this waiting period. For one, waiting puts you back in your place. You can’t always get everything you want, whenever you want. Waiting also benefits you in the end. It will intensify your joy and appreciation of that prized object when it does arrive.

I wrestled with this lesson a few weeks ago. Literally. I was rolling with my friends in jiu jitsu. It was my first time, and I wasn’t on the mat very long, but by the end of the night I was spent. I had exerted so much energy trying to attack, predict and defend against the opponent’s moves, but my friends pinned me easily, breaking little sweat. My friend Josh later pulled me aside. He said the ones who excel are not only sound technically, but also patient. Before they execute their moves, they would wait for opponents to make a mistake or tire themselves out. That’s what separates the good from the best. I thought that was rather poetic. Even in a physical, full-contact sport, there is a time and place for waiting.

The waiting room. It is a hard place to be in, no doubt, when most of my peers are jumping and sprinting to their next stages in career and family. But when I learn to embrace this place, it’s like there comes a serenity that falls upon me, wraps around my mind and holds my soul together.

I don’t know when my train will arrive. Some days I even wonder if. But I stopped looking at my watch. When I take the time to look around me, beyond me, the world opens up. There is so much more beauty than I ever cared to notice.

——

“It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry…you will someday.” – Lester 

World, Keep Running

Two days ago, I emailed my mom.

“Hi Mom, I have to do a marathon run in the morning on Saturday. Can I sleep over on Friday?”

Two minutes later, she replied: “Do you know what happen in Boston?”

——

As I’m writing this, the Boston terrorist manhunt has ended. The first suspect died late last night in a battle with police, and the second suspect has just been detained. Now they’re busy sorting out the details of the past few days, trying to figure out the why’s behind such a senseless act and the other who’s involved. Boston, and the rest of us for that matter, can rest a little easier tonight.

As for me, I can’t shake this so quickly. I’m running in an event tomorrow morning, and thoughts of terror quickly surface. What if they plant bombs on the road? What if I get shot by a sniper? Could my last day be tomorrow? This is what acts of terrorism do to you. They look to make you afraid. They try to rob you of your freedom. Soon, I am no longer living for today but arrested by the fear of no tomorrow.

The most sobering thing to me, in this whole tragedy, is my realization that terrorism is an immediate reality for some people living on the other side of the world. Random car bombings at the market. Girls targeted for attending school, trying to get an education. It seems like more people are resorting to violence, expressing their anger or ignorance in extreme ways. This is the new reality.

But in the midst of it all, this terribly mad world, I find a weird sense of calm. It’s like these events scream tragedy and injustice but somehow whisper simple truths. I could die tomorrow. Hell, I could die tonight. It could be from a terrorist attack or heart attack or car accident or simple slip in the shower. What are the odds? Apart from some divine authority you could say it’s a dice roll. In a world full of variables there is very little we truly control.

What I can control is what I’ve been given. Namely, my ability to live in the seconds and minutes–acknowledging that every breath is nothing short of miraculous–to be fully there and not elsewhere. To embrace my friends and family and strangers (and sometimes even enemies when I’m not so hung up with minor grievances) and continue to work, eat, drink, write, sleep, pray and worship. This is what I can do, and to do less than this because of the wicked minority is to allow fear into a place it does not belong. To live at all is to risk. To succumb to fear is to die small deaths long before your final breath.

Boston has taught us many things. One, it’s an unbelievably tough and resilient city. Two, you keep wicked calm and carry the hell on. I will run tomorrow. I will appreciate the ability to move my legs and, Lord willing, I will get through the race. And I will remember all those who suffered this past week. Terror has its moment but it will ultimately, and always, come in second place.

——

Later that day, I responded to my mom: “It’s not a marathon…sorry. I meant ‘mud run.’ It’s a shorter run and I think they’ll have tighter security. Don’t worry mom. God is in control.”

Mom: “ok, I’ll make the bed.”

Gosnell & the Gospel

Until three days ago, I had no knowledge of Kermit Gosnell. The abortion doctor. Serial Killer. Murderer. For whatever reasons, his trial for malpractice and murder didn’t seem to generate much of a blip on the news radar. Nothing was brought to my attention by the major syndicates. I discovered the story only by clicking on a link posted on Facebook. Little did I know about the monster whom I would be unraveling.

I had to face the horrid details about the grisly practices that went on for decades in his clinic. The botched abortions, the un-sterilized instruments, the actual deliveries and cold-blooded murders of premature babies. I was sick to my stomach. For the rest of my day, I had trouble digesting this story and what it meant–for our nation, for our pregnant mothers, and for what I thought I had believed in. I was as much infuriated as I was disgusted by what I had read. How could one man take all those lives? All the born, the unborn, and the unsuspecting patients he was supposed to care for. It didn’t matter, they were just numbers, trophies, dead weight. I wanted to strangle that man. I wanted him to burn and rot forever. I wanted justice to be served.

After a moment of calm, I realized I was faced with something as equally unsettling: the gospel. It is a gruesome story about how God delivered his only begotten Son to be abused, shamed, and crucified. He was abandoned, first by his closest friends, then on the cross by His father. He died a criminal’s death all so that those who believe and repent might be saved from serving our rightful sentence. If I truly claim to believe what I believe, then that means apart from Christ I am in no better spiritual standing than Gosnell. For I can never do enough good to not need grace, and yet the work of men is never so evil that God’s abounding grace cannot cover them. The root of evil runs deep, the chasm is wide, but God’s love covers all.

This is the scandal of the cross that I had so conveniently forgotten. This is scandalous, unsettling grace. In my indignation I had called for justice. But if God were to be completely just, He wouldn’t have sent Jesus Christ. He would have rightfully punished us all. But thank God, He was not fair to us. No, He has dealt bountifully with us.

The Gosnell story is an example of mankind at its worst, what people can do if the greed, anger, lust and envy in their hearts are left unchecked. But I would like to take this story as a caution and encouragement to us all. What Gosnell has committed with his hands is what God says we are all capable of doing in our hearts. Spiritually speaking, we are no better.

Dear reader, until you realize your Gosnell moment, you will not fully recognize your need for the gospel. That was what I was confronted with eleven years ago when I first believed. And that’s what I come back to at the end of the day: the cross–where total depravity is kissed by absolute grace.

Germany, Gospel and Last Samurai

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There are some trips you take that help you to recharge, perhaps to break away from normal routine if nothing more. Then there are others that exist to merely entertain and indulge your senses. Still there are a few that seem to mark your life in a significant way, trips from which you take away lessons or impressions that will stay with you long and true for the next leg of your journey.

When I initially flew out to Germany, I didn’t think it would be that kind of trip. After all, the primary reason for the visit was business, and I was spending only a week in town. I figured, if anything, I’d book an extra weekend so that I might actually explore Germany beyond the view from my office window. To be quite frank(furt), I wasn’t expecting much other than to say I did my 40 hours and stuffed myself with brats and bier. But sometimes these things hit you when you least expect it.

I guess it starts with the country terrain. The land alone is beautiful. Lots of trees, mountains, rivers. (I say this knowing fully that I only explored one region [and a half, I suppose, if you count my day in Heidelberg] and that there is so much more to see.) But as Friedrich would show you, the Germans are inseparable from mother nature. Germany is a biker and hiker’s dream. In addition, there is a lot of history contained in the country, as evidenced by several castles, cathedrals, and government buildings. Not to mention, the people are friendly–most of them speak decent English–and the food was wonderful. If the trip consisted only of this, I’d have been plenty satisfied.

Yet what stood out most was the people. The Germans are a very direct people. They will be upfront with you when pressed with something, and when they say something they mean it. My roommate Matt told me not to greet Germans with “How are you?” because over there it is not a trite greeting. “If you ask, expect an answer that is anything but good.” Because they will tell you how they are doing, really. It was refreshing because I didn’t have to second guess their intentions or what they were really trying to say. Their words are measured carefully. (Which reflects heavily upon me as a man. Do I measure my words carefully? Do I mean what I say, do I follow through on my commitments, is my word my bond?)

So, the few people I met there who considered themselves “Christians” really meant it. They lived out their faith. Their words and actions validated their claims. It was none of this going-to-Sunday-church-but-living-godless-Monday-to-Saturday business. When they say they are committed to being a disciple of Christ, they show what it means to have a definitive break from the world. It means they will say yes to doing some hard things, no to some others, and that persecution from family and friends is expected. They understand they will look weird to the world. They have counted the costs and determined that he is worth it.

Throughout my week, outside of work, I felt like I was on a missions trip, with the main difference being that the mission was me. I felt a bit like Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, where I was coming into contact with a new culture and people that reflected a way of living I had not known before. I experienced sincere kindness from people who consistently sacrificed time and energy to share their lives with me. On a pizza & movie night, I witnessed how a man devoted himself to loving his wife and four kids. I thought to myself, He’s got it right. I want to be like that one day. The German believers made me reconsider how I was living and approaching life, and the beauty in their lives inevitably led me to rediscover the beauty in mine.

What’s more, I think it made me reconsider my bearings on the gospel. Do I truly believe in what Christ has done for me? Do I believe in his power to change my life? How am I reorienting my life–how does it look different–if I claim to be a disciple? I say I believe in God’s all-sufficient grace, but I’m afraid I still live most days with an identity wrapped around what I achieve and what others think of me.

There is still much to process, but I’m thankful for trips like this. God not only gave me what I wanted, but what I needed. It’s like a kid who expected action figures for Christmas and got a shiny bike instead. He went the extra mile to surprise me. Thanks, God.

Only time will tell where this bike will take me.

soul food. 2012

“Until you take the journey of self-reflection, it is almost impossible to grow or learn in life.” – Iyanla Van Zant

I’ve finally had some time to settle down and reflect a bit on the year that was. I’m usually pretty deep in my own head, but believe it or not I wish I had done more reflection this past year. About who I am and who I’m becoming, where I’m going, why I’m chasing after the things I’m chasing after, that sort of thing.

Certainly this past year went by in a flash, and initial indications have me pretty happy at how things turned out. I have no regrets about how 2012 went down. I’ve tried my hand in various things–failed at some, succeeded in some. Sure, I won’t lie, it feels good to reach some of those dreams I’ve had hanging for so long above me. I could probably feel proud about myself. But it’s not so much that.

More than what I did or didn’t achieve, more than anything else I think I’ve had to learn the hard way that character is far more valuable than anything I could ever accomplish. It’s hard to take in, but I had to come to terms with my own fleeting youth. I’m not trying to imply that I’m an old sap or garner sympathy points or anything, but I’m trying to get at this growing awareness that I become more of each decision that I make, whether good or bad, and that the stakes are only getting higher as I mature and take on more responsibilities. It’s at this point that I truly felt like I took a step back this past year. I’ve made some immature and selfish decisions that end up making some things messy further down the road for myself or somebody else. And it’s exactly this, knowing that your decisions aren’t made in a vacuum–they affect everyone else around you, whether or not they are conscious of it–that could cause unnecessary drama or tension in life.

This lesson is nothing new that I hadn’t known or learned before. But for whatever reason, it just seemed to be amplified more loudly in 2012 than in years past. I felt like I was rubbing up against this desperately wild “me” that wanted to cling onto the immaturity and squeeze every ounce of instant gratification. That little devil whispering, “Hey, you only get the chance to do this once before you’re really too old.” (I’m not talking about that YOLO crap–though it might have a little to do with FOMO…) And in a sense, why not, right? It seems so much easier and fun in the moment. Society’s pushing you to do it, people around you all seem to be doing it, even your closest friends are giving you crap for not doing it.

The hard thing is to constantly resist. There’s this little voice that would come in at just the right moment to remind you of who you are and what you’re living for. It’s not to chase after money or skirts or self-glory. It’s about living for a Kingdom that is bigger and greater than yourself and will live on long after my days are done. And I have to trust this is something that will ultimately satisfy me, because God says so–and that’s enough–even when I don’t believe it in the moment. (“Never trade what you know for what you don’t know.”) Yet, it’s scary to realize that I am hearing that voice less, and if I try hard enough, I can even tune him out. Which words will I choose to feed on this year?

I’ve never been much for resolutions because I believe most of them are based on good intention and nothing else. (I even wrote a long allegorical story about it.) Certainly it’s good to have dreams, to have things by which to measure your life. But I believe most of the work needs to be done in the deep. Everyday I have to wake up and make a conscious decision about who to follow (myself, others or God), what to live for, who I want to become. And all this takes much reflection, prayer, study, self-discipline and people who are willing to call you out on your BS. It’s so much easier to just mail it in, clock-in / clock-out, and waste my days away behind the tube. But I don’t want that story–anybody else could write that. I want my life to be great, I want my life to tell something meaningful.

So I guess I’m writing all this to say that we should all take stock of what matters most. Decide on what’s important to you, and be prepared to make some sacrifices and devote your time and energy to it. You become what you study, you study what you love. So love the right things.

I wish you all a wonderful and enlightening 2013. May we all come back at the end of this year and sing of the many great ways we’ve changed the world around us–and how we’ve been changed in the process.

Cheers & blessings,

MY