Unknown Parts

20-anthony-bourdain-grub-diet.w1200.h630The news of Anthony Bourdain’s death came to me as I was driving. My wife’s cellphone notified her of a news alert. She gasped in shock as she read the screen and said, “Anthony Bourdain is dead.” I sat there in silent shock. The news did not yet reveal the circumstances of his death, but I suspected what would come next. Suicide.

I knew that would be the report. I did not personally know Bourdain, but I knew his type. A few years ago, my life fell apart. I lost everything that was anything to me, and I did not know how I was going to make it even minute by minute. I was a mess. I was going through counseling at church, but that was only helping me hold onto my faith, not get through the grueling hours of day-to-day life. Don’t get me wrong, I needed that spiritual reinforcement, but it was not enough. A then friend (that’s another story) was a somewhat recovering drug and alcohol addict. He would attend A.A. and N.A. meetings and seemed to get some internal peace through them.

Time went by, and I learned they had these so-called, “open meetings.” These were meetings that were open to the public to attend. Most outsiders that joined these hour-long sessions were students and medical types – nurses, psychiatrists, and the like. One day, he invited me along, and I went.  What I found there changed my life forever.

I discovered people who were just like me. They were broken, lost, confused, and looking for a way to function, day to day, in life and find their way. Much like Edward Norton’s character in “Fight Club,” I found myself in these meetings. Not only did I find myself, but I also found my relationship with God and people. My church meetings help me to maintain my belief in God, these meetings help me to develop my relationship with Him through my storm. More than that, I learned that these people, this group of outcasts people belittle and condemn were some of the most loving, accepting and giving people I’ve ever met.

This company of anonymous train wrecks became my lifeline. They taught me how to build my life back by giving it away. I learned from them that getting out of my own life and helping others is the only way to heal my wounds. The work I do now with UnFinished International was developed largely within the walls of that little building on Brown Street. I was not an addict or user. I did not suffer from an “ism,” but I was accepted nonetheless because I was broken in other ways, just like they were.

As my life progressed and I began to heal, God started opening not only doors for me, but the world. I met my now wife, and we commenced years of international travel. This is why Anthony Bourdain was somewhat of a mini-hero to me. The guy came from nothing and became an international traveler and raconteur after my own heart. That is not to say I place my rubber stamp on all his beliefs and ideas. I do not, nor do I your’s. However, you don’t have to believe what I believe or think like I think for me to respect you. Anthony Bourdain experienced people and places with love and a passion for understanding them. He, at least professionally, was a man after my own heart.

When I heard the news I knew was inevitable, I was heartbroken. That Bourdain took his own life harkened back to my days in those walls with men and women I came to care about who had their lives ravaged by drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety, and all the other things this world throws at you. My heart went out to a man who lived a life I love to live, and, in the end, it was not enough to save him. He left behind an 11-year-old daughter and many friends who loved him dearly.

Once the news hit, social media did not disappoint in its ability to disappoint. What shocked me the most, and I still do not know why I was shocked, were the comments from people who called themselves, Christians. Some of the most horrible remarks about Bourdain’s death came from the posts and comments of fellow Christians. “One less junkie in the world,” “Another liberal blowhard out of the way,” “This guy was a piece of trash,” “Can’t believe people are upset he died,” “He took the coward’s way out.” These are comments from people, in the same posts, that talked about being a Christian.

I feel there are far too many of us out there that don’t take time to understand what people go through. People just don’t get the, “there but the grace of God go I,” mentality. Mental illness is a real disease. More than that it is a tool and an attack from our enemy. People want to throw it out there as a gun control tagline or use it to place others in some kind of caste system. This is not how Jesus would handle the broken. Bourdain was an atheist himself, and that too breaks my heart. We as Christians are too often too content to let others suffer and die in their sickness. When I went through my dark place, plenty of Christians came to my aide, but so did a lot of atheists and agnostics.

I am not a proponent of the current level of celebrity worship in our society – even church celebrity worship. But I admired Anthony Bourdain’s desire to make the world a better place by sitting across the table from another person and discussing differences over a meal. As he put it best himself, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” So many Christian scream about “making America great again,” when they don’t even know their next-door neighbor’s name. It’s time to care about people again. It’s time to stop judging and name calling and living in your bubble. Jesus went into Samaria and ate with tax collectors. Country Club Christianity is failing. Bourdain may have hated religion and been resolved to die without it, but your neighbor might not.

Anthony Bourdain may not have represented many of my personal or religious convictions, but I am sad he is no longer bringing the world into my life. I suppose I will now resolve to stop living vicariously through him and just get out there and do it myself. Perhaps I can save a few people along the way. Perhaps you can too.

God and Country

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Mere months ago, many who called themselves, “Christian,” found themselves severely upset over the removal of monuments dedicated to individuals who fought against the American flag. These people, Robert E. Lee, etc., formed a rival government and led a Civil War against the country of the United States of America. This group of people founded their own flag and killed American Patriots dedicated to preserving the nation. Hundreds of “Conservative Christians” lined the streets of America and pontificated on social media against the removal of monuments and statues honoring these individuals who lead a revolt against the American flag.

Fast forward a month later. Suddenly, “Christian Patriots” are offended that football players are either taking a need during the National Anthem or not coming out to the field at all. My first question is, where were these offended before 2009? Why 2009? Well, let’s look at a bit of history.

Before 2009, not a single football player took the field before the National Anthem being played. Up until 2009, every single player on every single team remained in the locker room until AFTER the singing of the National Anthem. Until this point, the National Anthem would be played or sang, then the team would charge out onto the field in a grand spectacle of fireworks, fanfare, and paper displays strategically placed for that key player to burst through in a great display of domination. No one was offended, and no was in the news decrying the absence of football players on the field during the National Anthem. What changed? What made football, and every other sport, put their players out for display during the Star-Spangled Banner? Marketing. Good ole fashioned Capitalism.

The average cost of a Super Bowl ad was $5 million for thirty seconds of the 2017 game. That is $167,000 per second for an ad in the Super Bowl. Advertisers must see value in broadcasting to football fans. Consider, from 2011 to 2014, the Department of Defense paid the NFL $5.4 million to put players on the field during the National Anthem and flag ceremonies. The National Guard followed suit, paying the NFL $6.8 million from 2013 to 2015 for player representation during military presentations. Before 2009, NFL players stayed in the locker room for the National Anthem, but no one seems to remember that. So, why the change?

This subject is a much deeper topic than I can get into on this individual post. However, we cannot overlook the relationship between the effect of Super Bowl ads and the paid presentation of NFL football players during the National Anthem. The DoD and the National Guard began a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign in 2009 to the fans of sporting events. Much like Michael Jordan selling Nikes, the thought was that sports fans watching their heroes saluting the flag would become more patriotic as a result. This performance was billed in government documentation as a “recruitment expense.” Even the “surprise welcome home” events are a part of this paid marketing. Yes, the government pays the NFL, MLB, and others to do these “surprise” welcome home events during their games. John McCain himself penned a letter condemning this practice. The current outrage that players do not participate in the government-funded activity is proof their marketing dollars are worth the expense.

This attempt to gaslight the public, and us as Christians, to become enraged over a football player not coming out to the field, or taking a knee during the National Anthem, is nothing more than a successful attempt to lure us into blind, unconditional support of the government institution. This manufactured anger over a flag that we wear as bikinis or use to wipe the ketchup from our mouths as a napkin at Fourth of July BBQs takes our focus away from what is real and relevant. Jesus never swore allegiance to the Jewish State. Our Christ never got offended at someone kneeling before the Flag of Rome. Jesus respected Caesar and what belonged to the government, but His allegiance was to the Kingdom of God.

We as Christians have become easy prey in attempts to gaslight groups into outrage over things that are wholly insignificant relative to the Gospel. There is a significant difference between, “God and country,” and “Christ and Kingdom” and Christians need to understand that every issue does not require a response. Jesus spent most of His ministry ministering in silence. We as Christians have become debaters instead of demonstrators. The “Take a Knee” issue has become but one in another matter in a long line of misguided attempts to drag us into the secular culture war. Jesus never fell for this, and neither should we.

The “Take a Knee” issue is not about patriotism; it’s about racism. Racism is wrong, and we as Christians should stand against it, and we need to stop hiding it behind things like patriotism. If you are uncomfortable with diversity, you’d probably hate Heaven anyway. The issue of black football players taking a knee has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with racism in America. Christians should not allow patriotism to cover the sin of racism.

I fly an American flag in my front yard every day of the year. I love my country and admire patriotism. However, the National Anthem is not a hymn. Patriotism is not forcing people to stand and salute the flag. Patriotism is creating a country where people want to stand and salute the flag. Veterans fought for freedom, not a flag. We as Christians need to live lives that draw people to Jesus and taking to social media over every issue is not the way to do that. Jesus did not address every issue. In fact, most of His ministry was worked out in silence. We should be so wise as to model His behavior.