Archive for category Current Events

Cheating Kids

When I first learned that Josh and I were going to be moving to Atlanta for our time with Mission Year I decided it would be good to do some research on where we would be living. Beyond the typical online research about the history of the city, what it is like, and what there is to do, I decided to check out the news sources in Atlanta to see what the headlines were about. In July when I was doing this research the headlines were overwhelmed with all the information about the release of reports about the cheating scandals in the Atlanta Public School system on standardized tests.

Articles from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post, USA Today, and the New York Times all discussed that for several years teachers and principals changed answers on students tests across the system to increase their passing rates. An outline of the results from an extensive survey of the school system showed that 44 of the 56 schools examined (78.6%) were found cheating, and 38 principals of those 56 schools (67.9%) were found to be responsible for, or directly involved in the cheating. Of these 44 schools, 178 teachers and principals were determined to have cheated (See Washington Post article). At the elementary school for our neighborhood 13 classrooms lead to cheating, which lead to the principal, test coordinator, and 4 teachers being implicated.

The knowledge of this information made me weary of what my interactions with the kids in the afterschool program at Emmaus house was going to be like. I was already nervous about tutoring the kids. While on some days the kids can wear me out, on most days I have a great time with them. The conversation about the cheating at their elementary school has come up, but most either don’t know much about it or don’t know the implications of the cheating scandal. And in my mind I think that is probably for the better. What they do know is that they have a new principal and multiple new teachers. What the community sees is a staff that is working to improve the kids education and pushing them to excel, which includes the teachers and principal providing extra tutoring and after school preparation for the standardized tests.

What I have struggled the most with out of all has been my question about the level of importance put on standardized tests, especially when federal funding is at stake. I question the fact that most of the homework I see the kids working on is focused on those tests, like the girl in 3rd grade that I work with every day. I think back to my days when I was in elementary school struggling with my reading and writing and how I didn’t qualify for the extra help because I passed those sections, even though I barely did. I think about the kids in the afterschool program and the areas they struggle in and wonder are they getting the help they need.

Out of all of this I look into the community and wonder about the importance put on education. I still remember playing the game Life with a single mom and her three kids and how she made them all take the college path not the career one because that was what they would be doing in real life. But then I think about the results from the community survey Emmaus House recently did that shows that most of the population here in Peoplestown have a high school diploma/ GED or less.

Out of all of these questions, I seem to find only more instead of finding answers, and right now I think that is okay. I am realizing that two and half months isn’t long enough to figure out the answers. What I do know is that I can continue to show up to the after school program with a positive attitude, instilling the importance of education in the kids I work with.


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Sympathetic World

We all have the innate ability to relate to others, to attempt to feel what they feel. If the people around us are feeling pain, we try to understand and provide them with some type of relief. Or do we?

In the natural sense of empathy, we ought to see others suffering, have a sense of understanding from our own personal sufferings, and be driven to act; however, our society has been continuously propelled down a technology driven, individualistic path that has allowed us to separate ourselves from these pains. In all reality, our culture has moved more from the ability to show empathy and compassion for others to one of simply sympathy alone. We sit back and think “how sad” instead of trying to actually understand the sufferings the other person may be experiencing.

In the same way, we have become desensitized to the tragedies that are occurring around the world. All you have to do is log on to any news website, and the headlines are full of the recent tragedies occurring both here in the United States and across the world. The problem is that we see these headlines so often that we can simply scan right past them without a second thought. On the other side of this, some of the greatest amount of aid people receive after such events like the tornados and flooding that have devastated the Midwest and South this Spring is right after due to the high amount of news coverage. However, the news goes on and as a culture we move on to whatever the next big headline is at that time. Often forgetting the ongoing needs of the people we were “helping” before.

I don’t sit here proclaiming that I have it all figured out. I sit here recognizing my own faults in this manner, my ability to ignore the needs of my neighbors. We are some of the richest people on this planet. But how many times have you watched the special on the suffering of a group of people and thought, “oh, someone else will give.” I know I have. While we aren’t going to be compelled to act and to give in every circumstance, acting ignorant or innocent is not an answer.

Time and time again in the Bible there are teachings and stories about the need to provide for our neighbors. From the basic laws set out in the first books about the Year of Jubilee and forgiveness of debt every 7 years to the repetitive words of caring for the least of these in Christ’s parables, the Bible teaches us that we are to care for others. God sent his one and only son to suffer alongside us, to understand our pains, and to walk in our shoes. God showed compassion on us and he suffered himself to take care of the mess we made, and through all of this he continues to provide for us. So if we were created in God’s image shouldn’t we share these same ideals?

We were created as creatures who love, who desire relationships with others. The problem is that we enclose ourselves with relationships that feel comfortable and that fit the norm. We struggle to step outside of these boundaries and get to know those “other” people. Christ didn’t come and sit around talking and eating with just the disciples, he went out and sat and ate with the beggars, the tax-collectors, the prostitutes, and the cast-offs. He made other people uncomfortable because of his unending love for others, and that alone should speak to us.

Our neighbors are calling; the question is if we’re willing to answer.

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Justifying Osama bin Laden’s Death

Late Sunday night it was announced that Osama bin Laden, the founder of the jihadist organization al-Qaeda, had been killed. He was most known for planning and organizing the attacks on the United States on 9/11. At this time former President Bush made it known that he would hunt Osama bin Laden down, bringing him in dead or alive. This task got passed onto his predecessor President Barak Obama, who when he took office made a point of making it known he would carry through with this and refocus tactics on Afghanistan.

Last night President Obama announced, “Justice has been done.” And at this time, across the country, celebration irrupted outside the White House, in the streets of major cities, and on college campuses across the country. The online community exploded with status updates and tweets of pro-America chants and celebratory comments of Osama bin Laden’s death.

When I awoke this morning to the headlines stating Osama bin Laden’s death, I began to question the claims of justice being done, celebrations of a man’s death, and need to chant “USA, USA” on my Facebook wall. I verbalized my questioning to my husband, who then looked at me and posed two simple questions, “Do you feel safer? Do you feel that justice was done?” I sat there and realized that no I didn’t feel safer in any means nor did I feel justified in any means in celebrating the death of this man. As we sat there discussing this, we both realized that we would rather be viewed as un-patriotic then renounce our morals and beliefs, our Christian foundation.

Nowhere in the Bible does it teach us to celebrate in the death of a man, even if he is our enemy.

“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall and do not let your heart be gland when they stumble” ~Proberbs 24:17

“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?” ~ Ezekiel 18:23

Didn’t Jesus Christ teach us to love all people even our enemies? Didn’t he teach us that we should not judge others and seek justice when we ourselves are sinners? (Take a look at Matthew 7:1-6)

The Vatican’s statement on the affair is:

“Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end,” Father Lombardi said. “In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred,” the spokesman said.

So I end with this quote by author Mitch Albom,

“Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harms we do, we do to ourselves.”

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Dream for Today: Federal Budget Debate

Activist and minister Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the infamous speech “I have a Dream” while on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. The speech occurred during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which was a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement. His moving words spoke to the hearts of thousands of people and they still ring true today.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” . . .

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” . . .

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Although almost 48 years have passed since Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered this speech, we continue to exist in a broken world where discrimination, poverty, and violence occur, which were some of the crucial evils of the world that he worked to fight. Daily we see headlines filled with the continuous violence in the Middle East, which the United States effortlessly contributes to. We hear countless stories of people in distant countries going to bed hungry and forgetting that there are people who live right around us who face the very same issues. We see and encounter continuous instances of injustice, discrimination, and racism towards groups of people, such as the continued to debates that have broken out over Islam.

We are faced with a government who is willing to propose billions of dollars in cuts to programs that directly support those who need it the most. A government willing to discriminate against the poor and cut funding to programs like HUD, the Community Development Fund, WIC, community health centers, mental health services Peace Corps, Ameri Corps, and US funding to the UN, USAID, and PEPFAR. However, the Defense Department will receive a $5 billion increase from its 2010 budget. (Here is a great article that reviews the cuts proposed from the late night Friday deal with links to the original text)

Martin Luther King, Jr. taught that there is the possibility of equality, peace, and justice. We cannot sit back and doing nothing, but we must become active and involved. We must use our voices, share our dreams, and fight together for what is right. We must hope for the day when we all live in community together.

Our voices can still be heard. The House doesn’t vote until Thursday, and the Senate votes on Friday. Contact your Representatives and let them know how you feel.


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Millennial’s and the Federal Budget Debate

The more I talk with friends about the current federal budget debate, the more aware I have become of the apathy of my generation towards what is going on in congress. Handful of people I talk to are aware of the situation and speaking out, a larger group knows the basics of the debate, and a lot of the people my age seem to be clueless of what is going on. My generation prides themselves in being the ones that made the change and supported the grassroots campaigns that elected President Obama in 2008 and started the Tea Party movement in 2009. Where has this momentum gone? When did the apathy seep in?

Why should we care? Because sitting back and complaining about what the government is doing is not enough. Because complaining you can’t find a job out of college and this is just one more thing to worry about is not enough. Because by not speaking out funding cuts will be made to programs that support job training through the Work Investment Act. Because post graduate volunteers programs will face cuts – Teach for America, AmeriCorps, and Peace Corps. Because by not caring, not speaking out, and being inactive, we become a lame duck generation that still requires our parent’s generation to do everything for us. Becoming active in the political arena every once and a while isn’t an option. If changes are to be made that allow us to have the future we want, we must stand up and speak out.

We are known has Generation Y, the Millennials, and Generation Next. Our generation has become known for its works at promoting human rights and fighting for social justice. Did you know that most of the budget cuts currently being proposed affect programs that directly serve the impoverished both here and around the world? Or that the only area that is really receiving funding increases is the National Defense budget?

So take some time and learn about what is going on in Congress, you might find out that you really do care. I’ve provided some quick facts about the debate to get you started:

What is the Federal Budget debate about?

Check out my prior blog on the debate to get a breakdown of where some of the proposed cuts are going to be made.

How long has this been going on?

In 4 days we are facing a federal government shutdown, which hasn’t occurred since the budget debate during the Clinton years of 1995, and at that time the federal government shutdown for 6 days.  The federal budget for the 2011 fiscal year was supposed to be approved by September 30, 2010, and since this time Congress has passed 6 stop-gap measures to allow the government to keep functioning while the debate continues.

What is a stop-gap measure?

Legislation that has been passed to prevent government shut down temporally while the debate continues. It provides funding measures and cuts for government programs. So far the measures have included $10 billion in cuts.

What happens if the government shuts down?

At this point in time it is hard to tell what exactly will occur, and we won’t know until it happens. Federal agencies have to draft contingency plans to determine what will continue to function and who would keep working. The agencies are to operate only essential operations and obligations and only the required staff are to report at that time. During the last government shutdown in 1995, NIH did not accept new patients into clinical research, CDC ceased disease surveillance, delay in bankruptcy cases, National Park Service sites closures, unprocessed visas and passports, and multiple services were curtailed for veterans.

How do I get involved?

Take some time and learn about what is going on. Contact your State Representatives and Senators with your opinion on the matter. Multiple organizations like the ONE campaign and Sojourners have online petitions on their websites that get emailed directly to your representatives.


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Access to Mental Health Services

Recently I have been really thinking about where I want to go with my nursing career. I keep telling my husband that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up as a nurse. The good and bad thing is that nursing provides many opportunities. I keep feeling my heart pulled in many directions, and I have yet to figure out where God is pulling me. I currently work on a floor focused on neurological and neuro-surgical issues, which means we commonly see patients with mental health issues. So on my drive to and from work today I began to think about my draw towards the mental health field and where that could take me.

My heart continuously breaks for the story my husband shares about the lack of support here in the United States, in Cleveland, for the clients he works with who are struggling in the community with mental health diagnoses. A common thread I continue to come across is the lack of support.  So I began to do some research….

Quick facts on mental illness across the world: “450 million people around the world have mental, neurological or behavioural problems yet the majority of these people don’t have access to appropriate mental health treatment and care.” Or how about the fact that, “40% of countries have no mental health policy and 64% of countries do not have any mental health legislation or have legislation that is more than 10 years old.” Even better is that “32% of countries have no community care facilities defined as any type of care supervision and rehabilitation of mental health patients outside the hospital by health and social workers based in the community.” This all comes from the World Health Organization and their work to promote the rights of people with mental disabilities.

Two years ago I had the opportunity to spend the summer in The Gambia (Western Africa). I was there through a research fellowship I was a part of in college. I spent time with several other students and a professor meeting with representatives from their Ministry of Health, the nursing school at the University of The Gambia, touring healthcare facilities, and working at local clinics. The main purpose of my time there was to learn about the healthcare system in a developing country.

I still remember the one day the representative took us to the only mental health facility in the country. Behind the locked gates was a shut down prison that now houses the mentally ill of the area. The facility was run by Gambian volunteers and several peace corp volunteers. I still remember the discussion we had with several of the volunteers about the lack of government funding and community support for the people that lived at the facility.

Recently I read an article that was released by CNN about how people with mental illnesses are treated in Kenya. And my heart broke once more. There is already such a stigma surrounding mental illness in the United States, and the more I look into it, there seems to be a much wider stigma worldwide. The more I learn, the more I am drawn towards making this lack of access, stigmas, and discrimination known. I just have to find a way, well I guess I have to see how God will show me a way.

While I cannot provide concrete solutions, organizations like the World Health Organization are providing support and funding to the grassroot groups that are providing direct care to this population. So I do challenge you to take the time and learn and look up local groups and ones across the world and what they are doing to make a difference in this cause.

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Federal Budget Debate

The headlines are covered with comments about Congress continuing to debate over the current federal budget and how to decrease the federal budget deficit. There are continuous punches being thrown between the political parties, and currently there seems to be no end with a possible government shut down looming April 8th.

Over the past couple months I have read stories here and there but never really dug deep into what was going on. So over the past couple days I have taken the time to really sort out my opinions. I even took the time to look up the Bill currently going through congress. I will admit I did not read all 383 pages, but I did scan through it and read summaries of the bill that was sponsored by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH). The Bill was introduced February 10. (Here is a good review of the Bill’s progress)

Much of the controversy that has been out there has been how the Democrats disagree with the Republican authored Bill HR 1 and the cuts being proposed. While I will take some time to review the Bill, I must make a note that Obama’s proposed budget has just as much controversial budget cuts. As of right now, neither party is willing to make much of any cuts towards defense spending, and actually there are proposals to increase spending in certain defense areas. So in my review I am targeting both Republicans and Democrats because both have made proposals to cut funding to programs that assist some of the most vulnerable people in our country, and no one seems to want to discuss the big elephant in the room of National Defense spending. A study was done by theCenter for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments that showed in inflation-adjusted dollars, the total National Defense Budget is at the highest since WWII.

Here is a video made by founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Ben Cohen. He does a great job at showing US spending, highlighting National Defense spending.

HR 1: Fiscal Year 2011 Appropriations Bill

The United States has a Federal Budget Deficit of $1.5 trillion, so the goal of the Bill HR 1 is to help make necessary cuts to decrease the deficit. HR 1, in its original form, proposed $61 billion in cuts. Originally the Democrats proposed no cuts, and in my opinion it seems that they did this more out of not wanting to agree with the Republicans in any form. While debates have occurred, the Democrats have approved $10 billion in cuts. Recently, the Democrats stated they would increase cuts to $20 billion and the Republicans said they would be willing to come down to $36 billion. Some Democrats have stated they are willing to consider cuts in the mid-30’s; however, this agreement is dependent on where the cuts are made. Just an FYI, $35 billion in cuts would shave about 2% off the Federal Deficit. (See this Washington Post article)

The problem is that many of these funding cuts affect programs that assist the underprivileged and destitute among us. Here are a handful of the programs facing cuts: (Full list of cuts can be found here)

–          Special Olympics

–          Peace Corps and Teach for America

–          National Endowment for the Arts – provides grants for not-for-profit organizations and special grants for organizations  reaching underserved populations

–          Legal Services Corporation – largest provider of civil legal aid for the poor in the nation, promotes equal access to justice

–          HUD – provides affordable housing for the elderly and disabled, poor families, and veterans

–          Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Food Stamps – WIC provides grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk

–          Head Start – provides education and services to some of the most vulnerable children and families in the country

–          Community Development Fund – enables local organizations in economic development, creating jobs, and developing affordable housing

–          Environmental Cuts – Energy Star, beach replenishment, funding to monitor green house gas emissions, research and monitoring of climate change, the EPA is facing massive cuts

–          Rural Development – provides housing, business, and utility grants and loans to rural areas

–          Foreign Agriculture Service – this is an umbrella of multiple services that provides and supports education, child development, and food security for some of the world’s poorest, and this is the agency that provides to food donations to areas  under emergency needs

–          President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief – provides funding to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis

–          Community Health Centers – decrease in available grants to centers all across the country that work to provide health care to the underinsured and noninsured

–          National Health Service Corps – loan repayment to doctors, nurse practitioners, and midwifes willing to serve 2 to 4 years in high need areas that typically cannot afford to pay competitive wages to draw these healthcare professionals in

–          Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – decrease in funding to provide free immunizations and preventative services

–          Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration – facing cuts in mental health, substance abuse treatment, and prevention services

–          National Institute of Health – cuts in available research grants

What Would Jesus Cut?

Recently the organization Sojourners leader Jim Wallis and a coalition of Christian leaders started a campaign called “What Would Jesus Cut?” They have put out ads with declaration and plea for our politicians to defend the rights of the impoverished as many programs face the threats of millions of dollars in cuts. Jim Wallis is joined by others such as David Beckmann (President of Bread for the World), author and speaker Brian Mclaren, author and activist Shane Claiborne, and author and professor Tony Campolo. On Monday Jim Wallis, David Beckmann, Ritu Sharma (co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide), and Tony Hall (former US ambassador to the World Food Programme and former US congressmen) announced that they will begin a month long fast to bring recognition to the proposed budget cuts that target vulnerable people in the US and the world.

The campaign provides support through the prayer and fasting and ways to take action during this time of budget debate, such as contacting your congressmen through an already prepared letter/email. It doesn’t take much to stand up and speak out. It only takes the courage to do it. So I challenge you to read and learn more about where congress is proposing to make its cuts, make your own opinion, and react. Personally, I find it impossible to sit here and not speak out, and I only hope you will feel the same way.

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’”      ~ Isaiah 58:6-9 (The Message)


Here is a list of others blogs on the “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign:

Mark Tooley –

Doug Bandow –

CNN Belief Blog –

Jim Wallis –

Shane Claiborne –

Visit for more blogs.



Civil Disobedience: Should Christians Break the Law?

What does the Bible say? How has the Church dealt with it? And is it appropriate for United States citizens to travel to other countries to protest? On Tuesday night, I had the chance to listen to a talk at Malone University (Friends/Quaker affliated). The debate was between Rev. Steve Brown (talk show host, author, and pronounced conservative) and Shane Claiborne (author, social justice activist, and pacifist).

While Steve Brown and Shane Claiborne share differing views on topics, it is important to know that they have standing friendship, and during this debate it was quite evident the respect they have for one another. It was nice to hear a debate where the banter was friendly in nature and there was an environment of respect as the other person talked.

What does the Bible say?

Shane and Steve both present countless evidence of people going against the governing body in the Bible, dating back to the days of Pharaoh to John, the author of Revelations, being exiled to an island. They both argue that there is a sense of divine obedience and that the ultimate goal is to obey God; however, there must also be a respect for the leaders that have been put in place. I think Steve really touched on this when discussing that if you are to act against the government because you are being obedient to God, it must be with an attitude of love because otherwise it is only self-righteousness and elitism.

How has the Church dealt with it?

Steve is very open about being a “conservative, cynical old preacher” and discusses that this skews his view point on how the Church has handled their obedience to God. He argues that there is countless evidence that when the Church gains power that they cause just as much problems as when the prior governing body was in charge. He claims that we are a messed up group of people. “Sometime we shined, sometimes we killed, there’s just so much bad in us and them.”

Shane looks back more to the time of the early Church and the time of the apostles as an example of how the Church has handled civil disobedience. He argues that there are many good examples, but over time, as the early Church began to triumph, the essence of God became lost in their mission.

Is it appropriate for United States citizens to travel to other countries to protest?

While up to this point in the debate Shane and Steve actually had very similar view points, the question of protests introduced some of their differing ideologies. Shane spent time in Iraq with the Iraq Peace Team during the time Baghdad was being bombed by the United States.

Shane feels that when there is injustice, we must interrupt it, no matter where it is occurring, so he went to Iraq to put himself, with others, in the face of injustice occurring. He discussed stories meeting with various townsmen and families and seeing the effect of the war of the Iraqi people. In situations like this and how we respond, he feels that the reputation of the United States and Christians are at stake with the global community.

While Steve openly states he admires Shane for what he did and continues to do, he feels that he could never take this type of political stance because of his view of human nature. He argues that we live in an evil place where human depravity is radical and deep. When faced with the many issues of the world, it’s like being “mosquitoes in a nudist colony” and not knowing where to begin.

Concluding Thoughts

I think Steve summed it quite well in his concluding thoughts – whether people disagree or agree with the comments that were made, what is most important is “smelling” like Jesus and living a life that matches up to His.


~ Just an afterward – favorite comment of the night was when they got off topic in the question portion and were discussing the end of times/rapture, Steve said “If God came on Thursday, you’ll all be praying and fasting, and I’ll be getting drunk and buying a Mercedes. Everyone should get drunk once before they die.” If you know anything about the Friends Church, this doesn’t really match up to their ideals, so it made the comment that much better.


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