The Hard Truths About Terence Crutcher and the Need for Racial Justice and Healing in America

22286900533_4fe3a2c2a5_bHundreds of mourners descended on Antioch Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma yesterday to pay their final respects to Terence Crutcher. During the solemn service, one of the speakers declared, “We’re not going to stop until we have full justice, say it, full justice.” The assembled crowd responded, “Full Justice.” All of America is swept up now in the Crutcher family’s quest for justice as our nation wrestles with serious questions of race relations, criminal justice reform, police accountability, and the need for all citizens to be treated equally before the law.

Last month, no one knew Terence Crutcher, other than the friends and family of the 40-year old African American resident of Oklahoma. Today, Crutcher’s name is well known. All because of a tragic shooting that resulted in his death. Most Americans are familiar with at least the basics of what happened. Millions have watched the heart-wrenching video footage released by Tulsa police.

On September 16, Terence Crutcher briefly abandoned his vehicle in the middle of 36th Street North just west of Lewis Avenue. Subsequent to a couple 911 calls, police arrived on the scene. By all accounts, Crutcher was disoriented and unresponsive to police questions and instructions. Crutcher was also unarmed and, for most of the encounter with police, had his hands in the air. Nevertheless, as more cops arrived, he was categorized as a “bad dude” in need of a taser. When Crutcher angled toward the vehicle and appeared to be reaching towards it, one police officer fired his taser. Another discharged her weapon. And Terence Crutcher slumped to the ground in a pool of his own blood. He would die soon afterward.

When Tulsa police released their video footage, social media predictably exploded with rage. To many, Crutcher’s death wasn’t simply a tragedy. It wasn’t simply a police mistake. In their minds, Crutcher was “executed” for no reason other than the color of his skin. While many dispute that allegation (including, obviously, the police), it is beyond dispute that, at least some of the police officers on the ground (and in the helicopter overhead) judged Crutcher to be a “bad dude” rather than someone who needed help. This despite the fact that he was unarmed and his vehicle “cleared” of any danger or weapons. This seems a textbook case of race prejudice. What’s more, Crutcher’s bleeding body lay on the pavement clinging to life for over two minutes before officers rendered any kind of aid. This kind of callous, heartless treatment of a dying and UNARMED black man can only bolster claims of a race-motivated killing.

The fatal and unjustified shooting of Terence Crutcher came at about the same time of another shooting of a black man in North Carolina (although the latter involved a black police officer and circumstances that were much different). Still, the two shootings unleashed more unrest in the country, including violent protests in Charlotte, North Carolina.

And these shootings happened when Americans were quite animated over the refusal of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to stand out of respect for the national anthem. Kaepernick told NFL Media that he would not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” The Tulsa and North Carolina shootings bolstered Kaepernick and brought more athletes (including at the high school and college level) to his cause. Hailed by many as a hero, Kaepernick has now made the national anthem a platform for protest, essentially undermining its original purpose.

Though I’ve strongly criticized Kaepernick (and still maintain that critique), I acknowledge that patriotism should not be coerced and that he has (and should have) every legal right to engage in such a protest. I further acknowledge that the issue he raises is an important one. All Americans, regardless of race, deserve equal protection of the laws. No law-abiding citizen should ever fear the police. And Americans should not tolerate or accept situations like the killing of Terence Crutcher.

Many will of course point to statistics which show that more whites are killed by police than blacks. They’ll likewise point out that the officer who actually shot Crutcher has been arrested and charged with manslaughter. And they’ll point to the unarmed whites killed by police (killings which receive little attention) or the horrifyingly high black-on-black homicide rates in places like Chicago. While some of these points may be valid, they ignore a larger reality. It’s a reality tough for many white Americans like myself to confront, but it needs to be confronted.

civil_rights_march_on_washington_d-c-_dr-_martin_luther_king_jr-_and_mathew_ahmann_in_a_crowd-_-_nara_-_542015_-_restorationAs much as I love the United States of America (and I do), it’s a fact that, for most of America’s history, black Americans were treated as second class citizens (at best) and, in too many cases, subjugated and victimized. You can’t just ask a black person today to forget about slavery, Jim Crow, lynch mobs, clearly racist (and often violent) police departments of the past, segregation, and so much more. Yes, the United States has made great strides. And, yes, everyone (regardless of race, color, gender, etc) needs to make good choices and should be held accountable for bad choices. And, yes, the so-called ‘race card’ is sometimes played when it shouldn’t be. Nevertheless, black Americans aren’t operating from a blank slate. And, regardless of how many whites today deny it, there IS still racism in America.

When it comes to police, it’s a fact that many (not all) law enforcement officers will profile people based on certain characteristics. Many years ago, as a teenager, I was driving a co-worker home late one night. I was 19. My co-worker and friend was about 20. We were in my red Chevy Camaro. It was after midnight and we were one of the few vehicles on the road. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a pair of headlights rush up on me from behind and weave around behind me. Within moments, he pulled me over. I had been abiding by the speed limit. Doing nothing wrong. But the officer approached, gruffly asked why I had been “weaving,” and then asked if I’d been drinking. I said “No, sir” and he leaned in to see if he could smell any alcohol. Then, he abruptly and quickly retreated from my car, saying “thank you” and “have a good night” and was gone. My friend and I looked at each other, thinking “What was that about?” The only explanation I can think of is this: A police officer saw two young guys in a red Camaro late at night and figured we were likely up to no good. That’s profiling.

Now, here’s the point. That happened to me once. Once. And I still remember it. How often does it happen to our fellow black Americans? Many of them would say it happens a lot. They are used to being profiled and approached by police with suspicion — for no other apparent reason than the color of their skin. And this is not divorced from context. It’s in the context of past hostility from majority white police departments, especially in the South but also in other parts of the country. And it’s in the context of all the past mistreatment and discrimination black Americans have sadly and tragically endured.

When you then add the shootings into the mix, well now you’ve ratcheted things up to an unacceptable level. Stopping and frisking someone who “looks” suspicious is one thing. It’s offensive. It’s alarming. But when you’ve got, in the words of Colin Kaepernick, “dead bodies in the streets,” now you’re talking a whole new level.

At this point, I want to be clear on several things.

  • I love the United States of America. We live in a great country. And it’s a country that deserves our love and allegiance, regardless of the color of one’s skin. The good far outweighs the bad.
  • Most Americans are not racist. And I think this is the case across the board. Most Democrats are not racist. Most Republicans are not racist. Most conservatives are not racist. Most liberals are not racist.
  • Most law enforcement officers are good, decent, honorable men and women. And most police officers are not racist. They certainly don’t want to shoot unarmed black men.
  • Contrary to what some allege, there is no systematic, national conspiracy today to kill unarmed black men.
  • Any association of the United States (especially the US of today) with Nazi Germany is absurd and repulsive.
  • While we’re talking about comparisons with foreign governments, anyone (looking at you, Mr. Kaepernick) who criticizes the United States for oppression while wearing a T-shirt celebrating Fidel Castro should be immediately regarded as woefully ignorant or unbelievably twisted in their sense of reality.
  • We (all of us) MUST be patient, especially during highly-charged controversial episodes like police shootings. We must not jump to conclusions without all the facts. We must hold the government accountable, while at the same time, letting the process play out.
  • Social media is NOT a courtroom.

In saying the above, however, I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that there are real problems of injustice and inequity still in our society. There are some real issues that need to be addressed. In spite of the fact that most Americans (including most police officers) are decent people who believe in racial equality, the question must be asked: how much poison is required to make a bottle of water fatal?

Our country overall is not racist. We live, in fact, in the greatest nation in the world. But we’ve allowed racism to fester for too long and in too many areas of our society.

At the same time, when it comes to facing the injustice in our society, hatred is not the answer. That includes hating cops, hating the country, or hating all white people. We must love one another. Love is what will conquer racism. Not hate. No matter how much injustice there is in the world, you must not lose your faith in God or your love for others. You can and should still find room in your heart to honor the nation in which you live and, as Martin Luther King did, call upon America to live UP to its ideals. Never yield to hatred or cynicism. That is the way of darkness. And our nation needs light now more than ever.

God bless you.

5 Ways to Be Smarter in Life: Tips to Keep Yourself Learning and Your Mind Sharp

Pr9“Knowledge is power.” So proclaims one of the most famous quotes in history — a quote commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, the medieval English philosopher and statesman. Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian diplomat who served as the Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1997 to December 2006, expanded on Bacon’s wisdom by declaring: “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

It is indeed a fact that those with knowledge go further in life than those without knowledge. And those who add wisdom and discipline to their toolbox go even further! If you wish to become successful in life, you must lay a foundation for success. That foundation will be in your faith, mindset, and intelligence.

Here are five ways to keep yourself learning and your mind sharp:

1. Make Wisdom Your Top Priority

King Solomon, widely regarded as perhaps the richest man who ever lived, declared: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). Wisdom should be a higher priority to you than money, health, security, or anything else you may desire. Solomon wrote that wisdom’s proceeds “are better than the profits of silver and her gain than fine gold” (Proverbs 3:14).

While some may argue that relationships (particularly your relationship with God) are more important than wisdom, the truth is that you can better understand, appreciate, navigate, and enjoy your relationships with wisdom than you can without wisdom. Relationships without wisdom are doomed to frustration and failure.

2. Listen – and Listen Some More

It’s more important to understand others than it is for them to understand you. A person who only wants others to understand him or her is inherently a self-centered individual. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said it best: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

My mom used to say I was born with two ears and one mouth, which means I should listen twice as much as I speak. This is good, common sense wisdom. But…

It’s not enough to just hear somebody. You must focus and concentrate on what the other person is saying as well as what they are not saying. You need to read the lines and read in between the lines. You need to gauge the other person’s emotions and reactions as well as the words they are actually saying. Communication takes a lot of work and patience, but it pays off when it’s handled correctly.

3. Manage Your Anger

Those who fail to manage their emotions, especially their anger, will struggle in life. And they will often make life very difficult for those around them. If you want to be successful and if you care about those in your life, you MUST learn to manage your emotions.

Angry people don’t think straight. Their minds close (more on this in a moment). They start pointing fingers. They take verbal or physical shots at others. They want to strike back and vent their rage. And, in that angry state, people often do things they would never do otherwise.

4. Keep Your Mind Open

A closed jar can’t receive any more liquid. A closed refrigerator can’t receive any food items. A closed store can’t receive any customers. And a closed mind can’t receive (let alone process) new information. If your mind is closed, you will not learn anything new. Period.

Some believe that a closed mind is appropriate or they think that opening their mind will threaten long-held convictions. I can only speak concerning my own faith. The Apostle Paul says we should “test all things” and “hold fast what is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21). All things means…all things. Test everything. If it’s good, it stays. If it’s not, it goes. But in order to test, your mind must stay open.

This is the case especially when you’re upset about things. The other day I engaged a couple people in an online conversation about the role of a church pastor. Rather than respond to specific points I was making, the people with whom I was conversing could only talk about the frustration or anger they had experienced with their own pastors. Because of this, they completely brushed aside the article written by an expert on church life (the article I was defending) as well as the points I was offering.

A similar example came up many years ago when the country was transfixed with the allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas by his former colleague Anita Hill. To this day, we don’t know for sure what happened, but one of my college friends “knew.” We’ll call her “Bonnie.” Bonnie was convinced Clarence Thomas was guilty of sexual harassment. How was she convinced? What evidence did she have? Well…Bonnie herself had been sexually harassed.

Note that her assessment of Thomas’ guilt had nothing to do with Hill’s charges, any evidence, or any analysis of said evidence. Rather, Bonnie was judging Thomas guilty of sexually harassing Anita Hill because Bonnie had been sexually harassed. And her mind was made up.

Now, I’m not saying anything about the Hill-Thomas relationship. I don’t know what happened between them. My point isn’t to defend Thomas. It’s to point out that Bonnie’s mind was made up (based on NO facts of the case at hand — and only a personal, very unrelated experience) and her mind was closed to anything further.

This kind of thing happens all the time. People see or hear things. They have an initial reaction, often based on their background or personal experience. They often personalize what they’ve seen or heard – and, depending on the situation, their emotions kick in. And then they’re off to the races (so to speak) with their minds closed tight!

I’ve spent a lot of time on this point, because I believe it’s among the most important reasons why many people don’t get smarter and don’t keep their minds sharp. If you want to be smart and successful…you MUST keep your mind OPEN.

5. Spend Time With Smart People

Solomon said: “He who walks with wise men will be wise” (Proverbs 13:20a). If you want to be smart, hang out with smart people. It’s quite simple. And yet how many people actually do this?

There are a few ways to invest time with smart people. You can directly spend time with them (going to lunch, hanging out after work, networking, etc). You can also closely observe smart people. You can read what smart people write. You can listen to what smart people say.

Don’t know any smart people? Go to your library. There are plenty of books penned by some really, really smart people over the years. Read them. Take notes. You can also go on YouTube or Vimeo and watch speeches or lectures by smart people. And, again, take notes as you listen to them. You can listen to smart people on your CD or mp3 player as you drive to and from work. There are many ways to connect with smart people. You just have to do it!

Getting smarter is not going to happen by accident. It takes work. It takes commitment. It takes time. But it’s very much worth it. You’ll be a more successful person as a result.

Why The National Anthem is a Big Deal (and Why Many of Us Wish Colin Kaepernick Found Another Way to Protest Injustice in America)

Colin_Kaepernick_in_2013Why is it such a big deal that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick publicly refused to stand for the playing of the national anthem? Sure, it’s a pre-game NFL tradition. And, sure, it’s expected that Americans show respect to their nation’s flag and stand during its anthem, but there’s no law requiring that. Indeed, the First Amendment to our Constitution gives everyone the right to free speech. Not only was Kaepernick exercising his freedom of expression, he was doing so peacefully. His protest was nonviolent and non-disruptive. So, why all the fuss? Why the firestorm of controversy?

I hope you will indulge me as I attempt to explain why in this article. I’m aware that most people have made up their minds and dug their heels in. This has become yet another polarizing episode in our country, and I’m under no illusion that this article will persuade masses of people. But for the two or three of you still open-minded enough to want to hear other perspectives, I hope you will allow me to lay out mine.

Peaceful Protest is a Fundamental Right

Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem was an act of protest. And Kaepernick has a right to protest. In his case, he harmed no one. And he didn’t do anything to disrupt the playing of America’s song. He simply refused to show respect himself. What he did had all the marks of a peaceful, nonviolent protest. And…

It was effective. No one can deny that Kaepernick has drawn attention to his cause. An important cause. Would we be talking this much about Kaepernick’s views if he simply wrote a letter to his congressman?

I want to be clear on this: Kaepernick has and should have every legal right to sit during the national anthem. No one, in fact, should be forced to stand during the national anthem. This is not Hitler’s Germany where citizens are compelled to salute the Fuhrer or the Swastika. This is the United States of America. There should be no legally coerced patriotism. If a citizen wishes to disrespect the United States, that citizen should have the right to do so. And no American should try to take that right away from him.

Kaepernick’s Cause Should be Our Cause

Not only should Kaepernick have the right to do what he did (or, more properly, didn’t do), let’s agree that the cause he is embracing is noble. Kaepernick, like many others, does not want to live in a country that accepts blatant injustice. He doesn’t want a society where law enforcement officers can kill black Americans (or Americans of any minority group) with impunity. A nation committed to equal rights should be a nation that values all lives regardless of race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and which holds its law enforcement officers to the highest standards of professionalism, justice and accountability.

2000px-No-racism.svgKaepernick is correct that the issues of civil rights, race relations, and police accountability are vitally important and should not be ignored or swept under the rug. And while some of the specific shooting incidents are in dispute as to the facts, there are some troubling statistics that deserve our attention as well as an honest conversation across the board. (And there are some police shootings that are indisputably unacceptable!)

Kaepernick doesn’t just attack bad cops, however. He indicts the entire country. The Niners quarterback describes the United States as a “country that oppresses black people and people of color.” That’s an explosive allegation! And if it’s true, then all stops need to be pulled out to correct it. But is his accusation true? The only way to know for sure would be to stop, put all the facts on the table, and then carefully and logically analyze those facts. But it seems the country isn’t taking the time to do this. Instead, we’re screaming at each other and running on pure emotion.

The Need for Healthy Discussion

The United States needs to have a healthy discussion on the issues that Kaepernick and others are talking about. We absolutely need to be talking about race relations and civil rights; life in the inner cities; criminal justice reform; police recruitment, training, and accountability; and much more. All these issues are vitally important. And discussions need to be had. But these discussions won’t happen in a polarized society charged up with hatred, bitterness, and rage.

In order to have this important discussion, we must welcome all voices to the table. People from all races, a wide range of neighborhoods, different political perspectives (right, left, centrist, etc), religious leaders, and so forth should be included. Lots of people. The conversation will only be meaningful if the voices taking part are truly diverse and truly representative of all of America.

And, in that national conversation, we must be willing to engage all the facts, confront all the questions (including the tough ones and the uncomfortable ones), and do so in a spirit of civility and national unity. And that leads us to…

The Importance of National Unity

Diversity only works if there’s something around which to unify. Our unofficial national motto (which predates even our official motto “One Nation Under God”) is E Pluribus Unum. And that means “Out of Many…One.” If we lose the spirit of this motto, we lose our unity. Lose that, and we lose the country.

The United States was founded on ideas. You don’t have to be born here to become an American. You can come from any region of the world and if you go through the proper legal channels, you can become just as much an American as any other American. (The only exception is that only natural born Americans can run for President). Though borders are important, we are a not a nation based on geography. Nor are we a nation birthed by some accident. We are a country founded very intentionally and deliberately on a set of ideals. The United States came into existence on July 4, 1776 with an articulation of those ideals in the Declaration of Independence.

We have always been strongest when we look to the ideas and principles of our founding. General George Washington had the Declaration read to his troops during the American Revolution. Francis Scott Key alluded to the Declaration and its principles when he penned our national anthem during the War of 1812. (We’ll get back to him and our anthem). Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln appealed to the Declaration and the Founders in their fight against slavery. The suffragettes pointed to our founding principles when fighting for the women’s right to vote. And Martin Luther King, Jr. eloquently cited our nation’s founding principles when waging the fight against segregation. Put another way, the greatest reformers in history called Americans to the flag and the ideals it represents rather than against the flag. Would that Kaepernick looked to their example.

flagThe Danger of Emotions

Following the American Revolution, the people in France decided to get themselves a new government as well. Rather than separate from an empire, they toppled their own government. And rather than let cool heads and noble principles guide them, they let anger drive them. Rage set in. And the French Revolution degenerated into a bloodbath that led to chaos and eventually dictatorship.

The biblical book of James warns that the “wrath of man works not the righteousness of God.” Whether you are a Christian or not, it’s sound advice. When you let anger get the best of you, it rarely ends well. It’s certainly no way to build a nation.

And what is it that can restrain our rage? What is it that can restrain our dark passions?

Simple.

An ideal greater than ourselves.

Something like…the American flag.

The American flag and its anthem have emotional power — power given to them by the blood and sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have served under the flag. And it’s this positive emotional power that can counteract the negative emotions we see all around us.

Patriotism can unite us. It can and should unite the very people who are divided today. If we want to see better relations between police departments and some inner city neighborhoods, for example, why tear down the things that were given to us by our forefathers to unite us? Why not use our national symbols – like the flag and the Star-Spangled Banner – to cultivate and encourage the justice and unity we all say we want?

It can inspire us. Love of country can get us through the turbulence. If our love of country remains greater than our anger over particular issues or differences, we can come out alright in the end. But if we lose that love of country, then what is there to unite us as Americans? McDonald’s? Kim Kardashian?

The National Anthem

francis scott keyWhen Francis Scott Key watched the British bomb Fort McHenry in September 1814, he didn’t know whether the infant United States would survive. Had the British succeeded in taking Ft. McHenry, they would’ve done to Baltimore what they had already done to the nation’s capital. It would’ve been devastating. The Mid-Atlantic would have been gutted! It’s hard to imagine how the United States could’ve survived that.

Yet against all odds, the United States held off the British on land and on sea. Ft. McHenry did not fall. Baltimore was saved. And so was America. A jubilant Francis Scott Key penned the words to a poem that would become our national anthem.

The song represents America surviving through a dark hour, proving itself as a sovereign nation. Were it not for the USA enduring the War of 1812, we would not be a free and independent country today. We certainly wouldn’t be the powerful and prosperous nation we are today.

Thus, when the national anthem is played, it’s something that all Americans (black and white) can appreciate. It’s something that should unite all of us. It reminds all of us that, when push comes to shove, we’re Americans! Even back in the War of 1812, black Americans defended their very flawed country against the British. They did this in spite of the existence of slavery in the southern half of that country. Why? Because they were Americans!  And, ever since, black Americans, as well as Americans of all colors, have served in every war and have pledged allegiance to the flag under which they served. And, yes, they stood when the national anthem was played.

Why Kaepernick Should Find Another Way to Protest

When someone like Colin Kaepernick refuses to show respect for the American flag, he’s not just protesting a cause. He’s disrespecting an entire country. And not only that, he’s striking at the very heart of what keeps us united as a people. The flag is our symbol of unity. Remove it or undermine it and you undermine our unity.

How many school kids this year will refuse to stand for the national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance because of Colin Kaepernick’s example? How many Americans in general will follow his lead? And what kind of precedent does it set? Should people sit out the national anthem for any reason or over any policy or practice in America they deem objectionable?

I foresee a slippery slope here where, in time, the playing of the national anthem becomes simply another platform for political protest or social grievance.

It will cease to be what it’s supposed to be, namely a reminder to all Americans of what we should be thankful for in our country as well as an opportunity to set aside our differences and demonstrate our unity – as Americans.

And it’s all thanks to Colin Kaepernick and people like him – and people who support him.

It calls to mind the stirring lines of Sir Walter Scott’s poem on patriotism. The poet asks:

BREATHES there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
‘This is my own, my native land!’

Apparently so. Apparently such a man plays football for the San Francisco 49ers. And, judging by the support he’s received, he’s not alone. And it makes me weep for my native land.

Don’t Let Politics Ruin a Friendship

Politics and friendship. Politics and family. These things don’t always mix. The other day, I had lunch with a dear friend. We talked about the election and he pointed out that this election season is ruining a lot of friendships. He’s right, and I wish he wasn’t. A week ago, a friend of mine sent an email out to a bunch of her friends talking about how she had worked up the courage to wear a T-shirt to the store for her particular candidate — and the various reactions she got as a result. According to her email, her neighbor shrieked when she saw the T-shirt and asked her never to speak with her…again, ever!

It’s truly a shame that friends and families allow differences over politics to undermine and even ruin their relationships. In this election cycle, let me say it plainly: Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton are worth ruining a friendship over. They certainly aren’t worth severing family ties.

I recognize that politics are important. And I know the issues matter. But we have to not lose sight of the forest for the trees. We need to step back and ask ourselves why politics matter. Why do elections matter? We care about politics – or at least we should – because we care about each other. And if that’s the case, why would we let political differences jeopardize the very relationships we care about?

What’s more, given that we (meaning myself and most of my readers) live within a democratic republic, isn’t working through our differences the nature of our system of government? When we allow civility to break down and relationships to be destroyed, we undercut the very foundations upon which a democracy rests. If we aren’t willing to talk with one another and LISTEN to one another, democracy is doomed.

Politics and friendship don’t often mix. But they should. Politics and family don’t always go well together. But they should. If we can’t discuss our political differences in a spirit of civility, then much more is at stake than simply one election.

Five Ways to Deal With Stress

It’s sometimes difficult to juggle all the things life throws at us. As a result, stress can easily seep into our minds. It’s important that we get our stress levels under control. Otherwise, if left unchecked, anxiety can be toxic to the human body. High levels of stress and anxiety can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Here are five ways to deal with stress — before it deals with you:

1. Eliminate or significantly reduce your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants. They don’t decrease your levels of stress; they increase them. Alcohol is a depressant in large amounts — and a stimulant in small amounts. Drinking alcohol may seem like a good way to deal with stress, but health-wise, it’s one of the worst things you can do. Instead of reaching towards the alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, grab some water or herbal tea. These are hydrating and are much better with stress relief.

2. Increase your physical activity. Appropriate levels of exercise and physical activity can help your stress levels to go down. Consult with your doctor about what constitutes appropriate physical activity in light of your specific health, weight, age, and other factors.

3. Get more sleep. Not getting enough sleep can drive up one’s stress levels. Unfortunately, stress is sometimes the reason people can’t relax and fall asleep when they want to. If you are having this issue, try taking a warm bath or reading before bedtime.

4. Try relaxation techniques. Keep a ‘stress diary’ and record the things that seem to cause stress as well as those things which help you relax. And do more of the latter. Effective breathing techniques can help you relax. Prayer and meditation can also be quite effective. You could also attempt saying one word repeatedly to yourself that holds meaning for you. Don’t worry if these relaxation tips don’t work right off the bat. Relaxation is a skill that takes time to master.

5. Talk to someone you trust and who can help. Letting someone know how you feel is a great way to reduce your stress. Many people have said that it’s like a weight being lifted off their shoulders. Stress can cloud our mind and prevent us from thinking clearly. Talking through your situation with someone can help you figure out a solution to what you’re stressing about. Start with your doctor as well as your pastor (or rabbi or imam or whatever religious figure is appropriate to your faith).

Take care of yourself. Stress invades everyone’s lives, but you don’t need to surrender to this invader. You can effectively manage and deal with stress. With the right help and tools, you can even defeat it.

Whatever Happened to Personal Responsibility?

Recently, a Pittsburgh teenager crossed a street while playing our society’s latest obsession Pokemon Go. Unfortunately, she didn’t look both ways (as most parents teach their kids) and was hit by a car. And who does she blame? Herself? Not a chance. She blames the makers of Pokemon Go. Oh, and her mom does too!

The human race has always had its share of people who pointed fingers of blame at others for their mishaps, setbacks, and failures. But the refusal to accept personal responsibility seems to have reached critical mass in recent years. Denying personal responsibility is frankly becoming the norm. That’s not just sad. It’s dangerous.

Embracing personal responsibility is a crucial cornerstone of maturity, health, introspection, mutually rewarding relationships, wealth or at least financial stability, and an orderly society. When parents don’t teach personal responsibility to their kids, they rob them of an indispensable ingredient of success. They also foist upon society kids who will likely weigh their communities down as opposed to helping build them up.

It’s true that life isn’t fair and that the world is full of bad people. It’s true that we all face obstacles in life — some more than others. It’s likewise true that much of the misfortune and many of the calamities that befall us are brought on by people or circumstances beyond our control. All that is true. But the answer isn’t to jettison personal responsibility. The answer is to cling to it.

History is full of people who were dealt a bad hand, and yet who achieved extraordinary things in their lives. The toughest and most honorable men and women in our history were those who refused to accept defeat and who refused to succumb to bitterness and cynicism. They pressed on – and made the world a better place.

Be a man or woman who embraces personal responsibility. And when things get tough, be the person who looks for solutions, opportunities, and important lessons.

How to Stop the Hate and Heal Our Nation

With all the violence in the news, we are seeing the catastrophic consequences of group identity politics. When you allow yourself to believe (and/or encourage others to believe) lies such as all (or most) blacks are ‘thugs,’ all (or most) whites are racist, all (or most) Muslims are terrorists, all (or most) evangelical Christians are haters, all (or most) police officers are trigger-happy and abusive, and so forth….you get the divided, polarized society we have today. We need to stop dividing ourselves up by groups and start loving and appreciating one another as individuals. We need to love one another, forgive one another, be gracious to one another, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and treat everyone (to the very best of our ability) with kindness, civility, and respect.

Don’t Give Up on America

Don’t give up on America. Whether it’s corrupt high-ranking officials getting off scot free or heart-wrenching police shootings or the decline of our civil rights and basic freedoms, too many people want to take the “easy way out” and just give up on America. Some will even cite the Founding Fathers as inspiration, forgetting or ignoring the fact that the Founders took many YEARS (and multiple resolutions, at the continental and colonial level, calling for prayer and fasting) before finally taking up arms against the British Crown.

No country is perfect. And this nation will always have problems and challenges. But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, not eternal cynicism. Humanly speaking, the solution to our problems is civil, constructive, and informed ENGAGEMENT – not rebellion. And spiritually speaking, the ultimate answer is prayer. If people of faith spent more time praying than we do complaining or worrying, I imagine we’d see much greater progress.

The men and women who gave us our great nation and have helped preserve it for now 240 years didn’t give up. We shouldn’t either.

5 Reasons Why George Washington Was a Great Leader

496952669_63c8d2f127_bGeorge Washington was the most beloved American of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and is still regarded as one of our greatest leaders. There were specific qualities that defined Washington and that enabled him to become such a monumental figure in not only American, but also world history. What made George Washington a great leader? Here are five reasons why George Washington was a great leader:

  1. George Washington was passionate. When Washington committed himself to a task or mission, he was “all in.” There were no half measures with Washington. And even when things got rough, Washington remained committed because of his deep-seated passion. The Revolutionary War is a perfect example. Washington considered the American cause a “sacred cause,” and put his entire heart and soul into the fight. Great leaders are men and women of passion….just like Washington.
  2. George Washington was morally upright and trustworthy. While the “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree legend is regarded as a myth by most historians, there is no dispute that Washington’s contemporaries regarded him as an honest and moral man. Thomas Jefferson would later write of Washington: “His integrity was pure…He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.” Washington’s greatest act of integrity was his refusal to become king or dictator after the war and to instead resign his commission and go home. Even when called out of retirement to serve as President, Washington served only two terms and retired once again to Mount Vernon. Washington was, as King George III exclaimed, “the greatest man in the world.”
  3. George Washington was prudent. Jefferson considered this Washington’s strongest feature of leadership, writing that Washington never acted “until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed.” Certainly there are situations where slow, deliberate decision-making isn’t always possible. As a battlefield commander, Washington understood this. But more often that not, leaders get themselves into trouble by saying or doing things before or without thinking those things through. Washington was careful and intentional as a leader. And America was better for it.
  4. George Washington was courageous. If more people knew of Washington’s bravery under fire during the French and Indian War and later the American Revolution, they would be in a state of perpetual awe. Washington defied danger. When one reads of his exploits, which included recklessly riding in between lines of British and colonial soldiers firing on each other by accident during the French and Indian War as well as deliberately exposing himself repeatedly to enemy fire during the Revolution, it’s amazing the man lived as long as he did! One might even argue that he was too brave with his life, but no one can question his courage. And it was a courage that inspired his men and won the respect and admiration of his country.
  5. George Washington was a man of prayer. While not all of my readers are people of faith (and I respect that), it would be unfair to not recognize that George Washington was a man of faith. Whatever the specifics of his faith (and there has been much debate on that subject), Washington believed in the power of prayer – and regularly practiced it. This shaped his view of the world, influenced his character, and made him recognize there was an Authority outside of himself.

If you’re a leader or wish to be one some day, there’s much you can learn from George Washington. The father of the United States is indeed one of the greatest leaders in the history of the world.

**For more on George Washington, check out The Religion of George Washington by Brian Tubbs

10 Best Leadership Books for New Leaders: Must-Have Leadership Books for Your Bookshelf

Those new to leadership or looking to get into leadership positions should grab the following ten leadership books as soon as possible. Add them to your library and read them. These leadership books are excellent and are must-reads for new and experienced leaders alike.

  1. The Book of Proverbs by King Solomon and others — Featured in the Bible, this collection of ancient biblical proverbs is something no leader should be without. Most of the Proverbs are attributed to King Solomon, but others (including Moses, Lemuel, etc) contributed to the collection. No matter the particulars of your faith, don’t even try being a leader without availing yourself of the wisdom from Proverbs.
  2. The Art of War by Sun Tzu — Every leader should read this classic ancient text on military leadership. Much of the wisdom contained in Art of War applies not only to war, but also to politics and business.
  3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie — Leaders must deal effectively with people. Dale Carnegie’s classic is the best book on people skills ever written. If you want to better understand people and develop productive and mutually beneficial human relations, then read Carnegie.
  4. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield — This is one of the most personal development books I’ve ever read. Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, knocks it out of the park with this comprehensive and systematic take on personal success.
  5. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey — A leader must be a master of effective habits. That’s what Covey’s classic is all about.
  6. Winning With People by John C. Maxwell — Maxwell’s Winning With People is probably the second best book on people skills ever written.
  7. Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips — There have been many biographies written on our sixteenth President. Among the best are Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln. I highly recommend each of those, but this book focuses specifically on Lincoln as a leader. No question that Lincoln is among the most effective leaders in history. The more you study him, the better off you’ll be.
  8. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell — Maxwell explores all the key principles and facets of leadership in this well-renowned classic. Definitely a must read.
  9. See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar — This is probably the late, great Zig Ziglar’s magnum opus. It’s one of the best self-help books written in the 20th century and is something any leader (especially new leader) can benefit from.
  10. The Art of a Leader by William A. Cohen — A retired Air Force general and former student of the great Peter Drucker, Cohen authored over 50 books and textbooks, including The Art of a Leader. While some may not agree with my including it on this “Top 10” list, it was one of the first leadership books I read after college and was helpful in getting me started on the path to leadership. I believe you’ll find it a very influential and helpful addition to your library.

There are many other great leadership books, including biographies of and autobiographies by famous leaders from our past, but the above ten are must-haves for any would-be leader’s library. Get them and read them as soon as you can. You’ll be a better leader as a result.