Month: March 2012

“Everybody deserves a second chance” – the Kenny Turner story

The story that I’m about to tell you was never in the national headlines. Nor was it made into an inspirational movie, endlessly talked about by sports writers and newspapers, or considered by anybody to be an uplifting story that deserved attention from credible sources.

Back in 2002, Kenny Turner was only a sophomore at Olympia High in Florida, but he was already considered a football prodigy in the Orlando area. Turner’s coach at Olympia, Mike Cullison, once remarked, “He was unbelievable. He could have played at any school he wanted to because he could have played any position on the field. He’s just that good. He knows football.”

At a mere 16 years of age, Turner had an extremely bright future, along with his best friends on the team, fellow tailback Chris Johnson and wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker. But early in the morning on a humid night in July 2002, Turner’s plans were derailed.

Turner and several friends were at a Chevron gas station at about 3 AM in the early hours of July 27, when they got into an argument with several men in the parking lot. The dispute was momentarily settled, and Turner walked back to his car. One of the other men, 21-year-old Yvon Bernard, shot a pistol in the air to send a message to Turner and his friends.

Thinking the shots were aimed at him and his friends, Turner reacted with his gut, taking a handgun from underneath his driver’s seat and shooting both Bernard and 18-year-old Aruni Andre (Both were taken to the hospital and later released with non-fatal injuries). “I wasn’t thinking, I was just going,” Turner says. “No one was going to hurt me and my friends.”

Turner was arrested with two counts of attempted murder, although he pled self-defense and agreed to a lesser charge of battery with a deadly weapon. Less than two weeks before he turned 17, Turner was sentenced to five years in prison at the Dade Correctional Institute near Miami.

Turner was never a troublemaker before that night at the gas station in Orlando – in fact, he was quite the opposite. The son of a Pentecostal preacher dad and a day-care working mother, Turner had a good life and a supportive family – something that many convicted criminals can only dream of.

Turner’s time in prison was especially difficult as he saw Johnson and Sims-Walker become successful at the college and the NFL levels. As of right now, Johnson is an all-pro running back for the Tennessee Titans, while Sims-Walker plays wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Turner, meanwhile, is still waiting on his chance to be an NFL star.

However, Turner didn’t waste time feeling sorry for himself while he was behind bars. Sure, he’ll be the first to admit that he missed out on going to senior prom, graduating high school, and just being with his family. But Turner refused to give up on his goal of playing football. He trained hard and worked out relentlessly with the help and guidance of older inmates, some of whom had similar situations and backgrounds.

In June 2007, Kenny Turner became a free man. With several letters of recommendation as well as the good word of an old friend, Turner chose to enroll at Fullerton Junior College in California and play football for the Hornets. Because he hadn’t been on the gridiron in five years, Turner served on the scout team during his first year at Fullerton. But in September 2007, Turner tore his ACL in practice and was forced to rehab his knee for the next year of his life.

In the fall of 2008, a healthy Turner played his first game for Fullerton, but while returning a kickoff, he re-injured his knee, requiring a second surgery. Turner’s doctors believed that he could never play football again, but helped by his friends and family, Turner persevered and gave it one more try in 2009. He ended that season as a junior college All-American after rushing for 1,513 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Still, there were many more obstacles to overcome. Many college coaches were intrigued by Turner’s uncanny athletic ability, but they eventually stopped talking to him because of his knee injuries and his checkered past. One of the few head coaches that was genuinely interested was DeWayne Walker of the New Mexico State Aggies.

Walker decided to give Turner a shot, but he knew it would be difficult to sign an athlete, however talented, from such a turbulent background. Therefore, Walker and athletic director McKinley Boston formed a sub-committee of sorts to interview Turner when he visited the NMSU campus. In each interview, Turner spoke about his desire to learn from his mistakes and his appreciation for a chance to play for NMSU. Shortly thereafter, Turner was officially offered a football scholarship to play for the Aggies.

Walker was approached several times by the media about his recruiting of Turner, a convicted felon. But Walker refused to waiver, saying, “I’m going to treat him like every other player on the team….if anyone knows what the repercussions are going to be if he screws up, it’s Kenny Turner.”

Today, after two excellent seasons with the Aggies, Turner, now age 25, is preparing for the NFL draft. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see the speedy tailback eating up yardage for a professional team, and even if he isn’t drafted, there’s little doubt that Turner won’t give up. Today, Turner is a confident young man who is determined to reach his goals. As he puts it, “The NFL is my dream. My plan B is to execute plan A.”

Sounds like a winning attitude.

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A Christian…in the Hollywood industry?

As a Christ follower at a public university, preparing for a chance to be in the wonderful-but-secular world of filmmaking, I have a lot of challenges in the future. But I’m not worried.

Hollywood is very different from the rest of America. Not only is it different from a cultural and relational standpoint, but it’s also unusually sheltered from the rest of American society. Yes, California is home to some of the biggest churches in the world, but many have struggled to remain relevant in a post-modern celebrity culture.

The general consensus of Hollywood is that everybody has their own truth, and that it is an intolerable sin to think that what you believe is right for somebody else. In the eyes of many celebrities, no one is all good and no one is all evil – just a product of a cultural upbringing.

Angelina Jolie was once directly asked if she believed in God, and she gave a response saying that she hopes that for the sake of religious people, there is a god, but “there doesn’t need to be a god for me.”

Atheism in Hollywood is also nothing new – the great silent comedian Charlie Chaplin once remarked, “By simple common sense, I don’t believe in any god.” My future goal of being a director may seem less glamorous when you realize that many influential filmmakers – Woody Allen, Don Siegel, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Altman, and James Cameron – are all atheists.

In Hollywood, movies and TV programs are the gods, the movie theatre is the church, and an Oscar, Emmy, or Golden Globe is an eternal reward. So many people look for satisfaction in the wrong places, and many are theologically confused – or even worse, simply unsure of their own futures. Anthony Hopkins, an outstanding actor who has won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, once said, “I love living life, because what more is there?”

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that there is hope for Hollywood and the film industry in general. Los Angeles is a redeemable city – much more of a Nineveh than a Sodom or a Gomorrah.

The reason I have a desire to make films is because I want to provide hope, peace, and a reason to live – something that the entertainment industry so desperately needs. We can point fingers at Hollywood culture all we want, and claim that they are the reason that American society is becoming post-Christian. And the truth is that Christians have only themselves to blame. We haven’t taken the opportunities to influence L.A. for the good, or to actively participate in the film industry and live out our faith. Instead, we sit on our couches and become appalled at the lack of morality in Hollywood culture. If we really want to turn the tide in America, it starts with the entertainment industry. We need to hit this issue head on – for God’s glory. Get up off your seat and do something! I’m willing to do that, and I hope and pray that you are too.

Is America a Christian nation?

I must admit that I hate political debates with a passion, especially this one. I only write this blog post to get my views out there, and to correct what I believe is a huge misconception.

There is a distinct difference between a Christian nation and a nation founded on good morals. America falls into the latter category.

So what is America, then? Well, I’ll start with what America is not.

America is not a theocracy, nor should it pretend to be one. I believe that the signers of our Constitution did not want a Christian nation, but rather a nation where its citizens would respect Christian values, regardless of their own beliefs.

The greatest blessing that we have as citizens of the United States is freedom of religion, as well as separation of church and state. We don’t pay taxes to a formal state church, nor are we forced to attend a certain type of church, mosque, synagogue, etc. Many people in third-world countries would literally die to have the ability to worship without fear of torture or death. It pains me to know that we all take that freedom for granted.

America is not “God’s favorite country.” We don’t have a special bargaining chip to deal with God, and we shouldn’t act like we’re entitled to have freedom of religion. All of our freedoms could be taken away in an instant.

So what is America, then?

America was, however, founded on Christian principles and values. Not all of the Founding Fathers were genuine believers, but all believed in God, many were well-versed in the Bible, and most had great respect for the Gospel message. For example, James Madison was a great believer in sound Christian education, Benjamin Franklin was a firm believer in the power of the Gospel, and George Washington viewed America as impossible to lead justly without Biblical guidance. Benjamin Rush, one of the less famous signers of the Declaration of Independence, once remarked that the Gospel “prescribes the wisest rules for just conduct in every situation of life.”

At the same time, however, many other Founding Fathers were deists who viewed human reason as more important than Scripture; Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and many more fell into this category.

It is clear that our nation was established by God-fearing men. However, none of them wanted religion to interfere excessively in public life. Unfortunately, I believe that American churches currently meddle way too much in public affairs and political arenas. Christians should be involved when they can make a difference, but they should never be obsessed.

The bottom line is this: let the preachers teach the Bible, and let the politicians make the laws. Christians shouldn’t have a completely hands-off approach, but again, we shouldn’t get too involved either. Politics, by its very nature, is contrary to the Gospel – in that it essentially promotes backstabbing, conflict, and corruption. We must be cautious about how much we get involved.

I believe that the only document that can keep America afloat is the Bible – not the Constitution. America is not dying because of bad economic policies, excessive debt, or expensive welfare programs. America is dying because we haven’t always submitted to the Lord and His commands. God forbid that we ever neglect His Word or the wisdom in it.

So is America a Christian nation? No, but there is no question that our country is founded on moral absolutes.

2012 NMSU football schedule

So it’s hot off the press: the official NMSU football schedule for the 2012 season. And I must say that it appears to be a relatively weak slate for us. I could see us being competitive in all our games (save for the trip to Auburn) and winning six or maybe even seven.

Aug. 30 – Sacramento State

Sept. 8 – @ Ohio

Sept. 15 – @ UTEP

Sept. 22 – New Mexico

Sept. 29 – UTSA*

Oct. 6 – @ Idaho*

Oct. 13 – Bye

Oct. 20 – @ Utah State*

Oct. 27 – Louisiana Tech*

Nov. 3 – @ Auburn

Nov. 10 – San Jose State*

Nov. 17 – Bye

Nov. 24 – BYU

Dec. 1 – @ Texas State*

 

*Indicates WAC game.

If all the pieces fall into place, the Aggies should finish 6-6 and get a bowl berth. The only teams I see us losing to right now are Auburn, Ohio, BYU, and maybe Utah State or LA Tech (though the last two could go either way).

The UTEP rivalry seems to be up for grabs this year after it was a defensive struggle in 2011. This year, it’ll be played in El Paso.

Meanwhile, we should match our record four game winning streak against the Lobos when they visit Aggie Memorial on September 22.

The brand-new conference members (UTSA and Texas State) should be easy wins, as well as the season opener at home versus FCS member Sacramento State. The San Jose State and Idaho games will be hard-fought, but I could see NMSU pulling out of both with wins.

Go Aggies! Let’s make this a year to remember…bowl or bust!

Why I am an evangelical, but not a fundamentalist

As someone who grew up in an extremely sheltered environment, I have my views about Christianity’s relevance today. Here are some things that I believe that differ from  the oh-so typical fundamentalism that I grew up with and interacted with on a daily basis.

~By their very nature, fundamentalists rely solely on Scripture, seeing faith as opposed to reason. I believe that the Bible is inspired, but I also believe that God has gifted us all with intellect that we can use to defend our faith.

~Fundamentalists are (historically speaking) conflict-seekers, attempting to convince people (especially mainline Protestants) that what they believe is wrong, and alienating them in the process. However, the spirit of the Gospel is one of peace, that we become united in Jesus Christ rather than divisive.

~Fundamentalists spend way too much time on things that they see as a priority (i.e., creationism, politics, theological issues) rather than on matters of eternal significance. I’m not saying that it’s not important to think through these issues (theology, politics, the accuracy of Scripture, etc.), but our first goal should be to reach the whole world with the Gospel.

~Fundamentalists are rigid and opposed to interacting with non-believers on a sincere level. Homosexuals, secular college students, Democrats, and many others are shunned just so fundamentalists can remain in their Christian bubble.

~Fundamentalism is dogmatically literal about the Bible – even the Jewish law. This leads to legalism and unnecessary regulations regarding Christian living. All we need is the Bible; we don’t need cultural rules and expectations to be a “good Christian.” Jesus said that “by their fruit you will recognize them” – not by their good deeds, their haircut, or their lack of tattoos.

~Fundamentalists are automatically die-hard conservative Republicans. Jesus accepts all who call on His name – and He can transform anybody. You just have to believe that Jesus died to save you from yourself….you don’t need to become a Republican to be a Christian.

~Fundamentalists want you to “get your act together” before you even step into a church building. However, Jesus welcomed all, regardless of their spiritual condition.

~Fundamentalists are stereotyped for good reason. One of the reasons that Hollywood hates Christians is because of the damage that separatism has caused – whether it be fundamentalism or other sects of Christianity. We need to be more like Jesus and less like Pharisees.

~Fundamentalists shoot their mouths off about everything (e.g. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, etc.). The Apostle Paul commands us to lead quiet lives and to mind our own business. Conflict-seekers should not meddle in affairs that they know will alienate people.

~Fundamentalists despise Roman Catholicism and everyone associated with it. Rather than putting aside our differences and working together to share the Gospel, Fundamentalist Protestants only want to work with other Fundamentalist Protestants. Church should be done as a team – I mean, don’t we all believe in Jesus?

~Fundamentalists get so worked up about small theological issues that they forget how simple the Gospel message truly is. They may quote the “ABCs of salvation” but they may not follow it.

~Fundamentalists avoid all types of secular entertainment, no matter what the value of the subject matter is. When Paul talked about focusing on whatever is just, pure, of good report, etc., he didn’t mean that we just ignore everything that unsaved people do. Rather, Paul wanted Christians to have an eternal perspective. In fact, many secular movies, TV shows, and music have important messages that Christians shouldn’t be ignoring.

 

In conclusion, these are some of the reasons I am an evangelical Christian, but not a Fundamentalist. I hope that this blog post has helped you understand the differences and break down the unfortunate stereotype that all Christians are the same.