Tag: empathy


This is My America


After tonight, everything is different.

It’s 11:48 PM on Tuesday, November 8th, 2016. All signs point to an inevitable, if unbelievable, conclusion: Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. Let me say that slightly differently. The former host of the Apprentice, a man who has publicly stated that has he sexually assaulted women, that Muslims should be banned from entering the country, that he will prosecute his political opponent, that Mexicans are rapists, that women should be distrusted when they are on their periods; a candidate who hasn’t released his tax returns, who praises Vladimir Putin, who disagrees with his Vice President, who called his opponent a “nasty woman” and claimed that there are some “bad hombres” in this country, who criticizes the freedom of the press, who has bankrupted several companies despite not paying contracted workers and threatening to sue them if they protest, who has divorced his first two wives before landing on a supermodel immigrant – despite his notable and avowed hatred for all those who are not American – and who now inevitably accepts and will praise the electoral system that he previously considered “rigged”: this narcissist is about to become the leader of the free world, and one third of the most powerful government on the face of the Earth.

(The previous paragraph is only moderately catastrophizing. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the fact that this man – who is provoked to vehemence at all hours of the night by tweets from Rosie O’Donnell – will now have control over the United States’ nuclear arsenal. I refuse to believe that someone could start a nuclear war. But, also, I now know that what I believe or refuse to believe has absolutely no hold over reality.)

It’s now 12:03 AM, November 9th. It’s my mother’s birthday. Yesterday, she posted a picture of herself in a navy pantsuit on Facebook – a celebratory gesture, paying homage to the preferred garb of our then presumptive future Madam President. But today, we know the truth: that America is not what we thought it was, and that hate has trumped love.

Evil has conquered good. Division has conquered unity. And in a very real way, straight, Christian, white, and male has trumped gay, Muslim, black, and female. It feels like that’s the case, doesn’t it? And on some level, it is – no matter how hard we try to erase this night from the history of our great nation. But no matter what the truth is tonight, the beauty of America is that we can change tomorrow.


Understanding Jon Cruz: Role Model, Family Friend, Convicted Felon


To compete in the Tournament of Champions is to take your place among the crème de la crème of high-school debate; it’s like making the NFL playoffs, but far more difficult. And for nerds.

At the end of my junior year, I had earned three “bids” by winning smaller regional tournaments, and had thereby qualified for the 2008 TOC. Standing at my gate in the Delta terminal of the Minneapolis airport, I did all that I could to not visibly freak out on account of my excitement. After countless hours of research and practice, only a two-hour flight and one night of sleep separated me from competing in the tournament of which I had dreaming for the past three years.

When I landed in the Promised Land of Lexington, Kentucky, however, I quickly realized that something was terribly, terribly wrong: my coach was nowhere to be found, and time would make clear that he wasn’t sick or delayed. He ghosted, and didn’t show up for the most important tournament of my career. Even more, my parents and I found that he had neglected to book me a hotel room in Lexington (~800 miles away from my hometown of Lakeville, Minnesota) and he didn’t even enter me in the tournament. And, of course, as it was now the night before the first round would commence, the registration deadline had passed. Just three hours after my bright-eyed reminiscence in the MSP airport, I had no hotel, no team, no coach, and no place in the tournament.

Enter: Jon Cruz. Jon was 24 years old, very young for a debate coach and younger than I am today – and yet, he had already led the Bronx High School of Science program to be the lodestar of the debate community. His program was massive, recruiting four times more students from each graduating class than mine had in total, and by all accounts he displayed immense care and was an impactful mentor for every one of his 200+ debaters. Given his incredible workload both as a coach of his four TOC-qualified debaters and as the chief correspondent for the “Victory Briefs Institute” webpage, the most-visited site for both debaters and their parents who sought real-time tournament results, he had no free time with which to help me. I mean, the guy hardly even knew me: I hadn’t attended his debate camp, the aforementioned VBI; I wasn’t a big name on the national debate circuit, just eeking out my bids in small Midwest tournaments; I had attended a round-robin tournament he organized a year earlier, but was just one of ~15 debaters there. And yet, in this time of need, Jon Cruz went out of his way to help me.

I’m still unclear on exactly how Jon learned of my predicament – my mother may have reached out to him, or I may have bumped into him in the tournament hotel’s lobby (that entire weekend is something of a stunned blur for me to this day) – but long story short, Jon successfully petitioned the TOC’s organizing committee to suspend the rules and reschedule the first two rounds of the tournament to allow me to compete. And, as icing on the cake, he offered to let me stay in a hotel room with his four debaters (in which I ultimately slept in a desk chair; it was better than the alternative of homelessness, given that all the area’s surrounding hotels were sold out for that weekend).

And so, just a few more hours removed from my realization that my nominal coach had abandoned me to have a mid-life crisis, I had a hotel. I had a place in the tournament. And, in an intensely meaningful way, I had a team – and a mentor to look up to in Jon Cruz.


On Friday, September 23rd, 2016, Jon Cruz pleaded guilty to one count of receiving child pornography, a charge that carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum sentence of 20 years. This plea after over a year of pre-trial litigation and processing. He was initially charged with producing, receiving, and possessing child pornography in March 2015.


Upon Further Review: Why I Write


When people first hear that I wrote a book, they generally think that I’m nuts – either admirably or clinically – and embark on a line of questioning that can occasionally sound accusatory: Why write a book? Didn’t you get writing out of your system in college? How could you even find the time?

These are all good, well-intentioned questions – and I’ve wondered how to answer them ever since I started writing Agnostic-ish as a recent college graduate. The truth as I came to understand it was that I didn’t have just one motivation, but a whole host of them. I wrote my book because I thought that I had a message worth sharing, one that I thought could do some good for folks from my hometown. I wrote to help myself stay relaxed after work, to connect with my family and friends, and to challenge my assumptions about Christianity. And, in the words of Tim Ferriss, I wrote to “scratch my own itch” for a book about religion that wasn’t vitriolic or divisive or out-of-touch with modern science. It takes a village of motivation, I found, to pony up and write a book; without any one of the aforementioned, I’m not sure that I could have written a (faux-)professional, (debatably-)readable final product.

But those answers aren’t really satisfying, are they? Most folks seem to agree that they’re not, and upon further review, I agree. The real reason for why I wrote a book is deeper – it must be – and after reflecting more on the question of “why,” I think the best way to uncover the truth may be to first turn to a broader question: why write at all?