Wednesday was Flag Day, and as they have for the past few years, Athens State University graciously hosted a program that included music and speeches to commemorate “The Grand Old Flag” and all that it symbolizes. To the dismay of some present at the ceremony, it was estimated that almost half of those gathered in the ASU Ballroom did not place their hand over their hearts during our national anthem. Why that was the case, I have no idea, but it made me curious as to the history of the hand-over-heart tradition.

So, I looked into it, and found that many of our traditions regarding flag etiquette go back to 1942, when we as a nation, as well as the rest of the free world, were in the fight of our lives. There became what was known as the U.S. Flag Code, which was written in 1942, and it has never been adjusted, amended or retired. It spelled out the protocol for how one interacts with the flag, others, and music in public settings where we say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Interestingly, what we now think of as the proper way to salute the flag was not adopted until 1942, when it was apparent that we needed to abandon what was known as “the Bellamy Pledge.” The Bellamy pledge started in the late 19th century, and unfortunately was a dead ringer for the same motion used by Nazis to show their allegiance to the Fuhrer. Removing one’s hat and placing one’s hand over one’s heart (or a standard military salute for currently serving or former military personnel) quickly became our symbol of appreciation for the flag and all “for which it stands.” When it came to women, back in the day they were not required to remove their hats, due to the fact that hat pins were still in use. These days Emily Post says that women should remove hats if they resemble baseball caps, otherwise other types of hats may stay put if you are a gal.

There was a time in my life when I mirrored the actions of a former U.S. president during public ceremonies involving flags, and stood with my hands folded in front of me during the Pledge or the national anthem. I “abstained due to conscience,” and I understandably as well as rightfully made a lot of people mad. I was the Associated Student Body President at my Left Coast high school, and had been radicalized to the point that I was deeply ashamed of my country. I used such words as “sick” to refer to America, and would have actually been thrilled if it had been destroyed. Then I had a transformational experience with our Savior, and one of the things that took awhile to bloom was a sense of love for my country, the Constitution, and those who shed their blood for me. They died so that I could be an idiot if I chose to, and it was one of the most profound privileges of my life to live amongst them in Baghdad for three years in order to begin to say “Thank you.”

I imagine that some of the reason that a significant amount of people present on Flag Day didn’t put their hand over their heart was due to oversight or ignorance. One older vet at the Museum maintains that “[t]hey are just not taught to anymore.” That could very well be true, but here is my request for anyone who even marginally loves the Stars and Stripes: take a moment to learn how and why we touch our hearts when we collectively speak to a piece of cloth that once upon a time I would have rather burned. I think you might find that you will stand taller and your shoulders will be more squared away, and that is always a good thing.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner.
About a week ago, my family and I had a chance to see “The Lion,” a remarkable true story about a young Indian boy who was separated from his family, adopted by loving Australian parents, grows up on Tasmania, and then 25 years later miraculously finds his family of origin. His name is Saroo Brierley, and he was 5 when he became lost in the subcontinent of India in the middle of nearly a billion people. He did not know his mother’s first or last name, (other than “Ammi,” a Hindi term of endearment), he mispronounced the name of his town to the point that no one recognized it, and Saroo was utterly vulnerable. He spent two days on the train and ended up in Calcutta, lived on the streets, was nearly sold into sexual slavery, but managed to escape. Before you say, “Look, there’s enough ugly stuff in the world, I think I’ll pass,” I am going to be the spoiler and let you know that it has a real-life happy ending, and Saroo has two families today who love him desperately. It’s also not a chick flick. My husband’s protective “guy heart” was so stirred he could hardly finish the film. I saw that same heart every day when we lived at an orphanage in Mexico, and it is not that of a wimp.

The journey from lost little boy to greatly loved adoptee to a wild searcher/seeker, to a finder and lover of two utterly disparate families is compelling, and worth the ride. Any parent will want to hug their kids and hold them tight, no matter how old they are. It is a gorgeous film, and for the life of me, I have no idea how they got Sunny Pawar, who plays young Saroo to portray a lost little kid in such a convincing manner. His performance was heartbreakingly real, as was that of Dev Patel, who played the adult Saroo. Dev was introduced to the west as the lead actor in Slumdog Millionaire.

So, what are the lessons? What first comes to mind is the powerful role of fathers, in this case, fathers who choose to adopt. Adoptive moms get a lot of press, adoptive dads not so much, and this dad is a true hero. David Wenham, who plays the part of John Brierley, Saroo’s Australian dad, absolutely nails his performance. His understated but obviously deep love for both of the boys that they got from India is like a quiet, nourishing river. What made the Brierley’s situation even more challenging was that Mantosh, who was adopted after Saroo, had even deeper issues, including self-battering which I believe is still a problem, as well as substance abuse. John Brierley was most definitely “there” for his kids, and while he couldn’t heal their torment, I have no doubt that his love and influence was and is their rock.

Secondly, the “lioness” heart of a mom, that of birth moms and adoptive ones is not to be trifled with, and never gives up. Saroo’s Indian mom, who was single, illiterate, and supported her kids by carrying rocks, looked for him literally for years with no resources for the search. Sue Brierley, who is played by Nicole Kidman, is one remarkable mom, fighting for her sons, wanting them close while letting them go. It’s every mom’s journey, adoptive or not. The film shows the moment in real life when the two moms met for the first time, and I am having a hard time seeing my computer screen as I type, just thinking about it.

The quest for finding one’s family against all odds is as epic as Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey. While it consumes the adult Saroo nearly to the point of a complete nervous breakdown, the prize of perseverance and the resolution of his “root” questions inspire one to “dig deep” when it comes to tackling the impossible in other arenas.

Most importantly, The Lion is about the power of love. Love that would cause adults to take on two utterly traumatized kids and raise them well, irrespective of the cost. Love that is insistent upon the truth, no matter how shattering it might be. Love that transcends culture, illiteracy, poverty, comfort and trauma,that is what The Lion is. Rent it and happily bring Kleenex. You are going to need it.

Most of the time I am pretty much death on what comes out of vending machines, with possibly the exception of water. This is because the stuff in them has been relegated through uber-processing to what famed neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf calls “food-like substances,” and rightfully deserves the title of “junk.” However, my heart leapt with joy when I learned that on Saturday, May 20 at 2 p.m. in Tanner, there will be an unveiling of what is fair to say a “vending machine with virtue,” at least potentially.

I suppose the virtuous vending machine could also be looked upon as an ATM of sorts, except that instead of money, you will be able to check out something even more priceless, books from our library! Its official title is a “book lending machine” and it is the first one in the entire state of Alabama. Paula Laurita, the Executive Director for the Athens-Limestone Public Library told a crowd at the Chamber of Commerce about how the community had come together to make this happen through a project called Branching Out. The machine is located in the strip mall in Tanner on Swanner Blvd, safely tucked away from the elements under an awning between Tanner Medical Clinic and Mighty Warrior Church. The address is 20104 Swanner Blvd, and there will be refreshments as well other giveaways, including gift cards.

Here’s how it works: You swipe your library card to get in, and then access the machine’s computer to see if the book you desire is in there. Books will be rotated in and out, and there will be hardbacks, paperbacks, audiobooks, as well as DVDs. In addition, you will be able to return items to the machine, somewhat like taking DVDs back to any Redbox irrespective of the location of the original machine. Some of you who grew up in cities remember the Bookmobiles that would come to the neighborhood grocery store parking lot on Saturdays. You climbed the steps to the bus, walked through and looked at what was displayed on the shelves, checked them out with your paper library card from a human seated at a desk, (who was also the bus driver) and then exited the bus. This is fancier, and there are no humans involved, but it’s the same idea. Paula told me, “This is not meant to replace the library; it is to add convenience and increase service in the county, especially to people who have limited transportation.” She chuckled as she also referred to it as “bite-sized reading.”

Humans will be on the premises for the ribbon cutting on May 20 beginning at 2 p.m., and if you don’t have a library card, you can apply for one. And, speaking of humans, many such beings worked together to make this happen – Steelcase, BBVA/Compass Bank, Brad Stovall, Tanner Medical Clinic, Southside Pharmacy, CR Mechanical Construction, and the Athens Limestone Library Foundation, to name a few.

So, why is this such a big deal? Because literacy and a love of reading more than text snippets is what keeps people sharp and free. When Steve and I were running a school at an orphanage in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, I met a man who was an expert educator as well as someone who had done research on the impact of literacy in contemporary culture. You know what he told me? That the one thing gangs have in common, irrespective of their race, location, ethnic background, or “mission statement” is a disproportionately high rate of illiteracy. In addition, the leaders of the gangs typically are the ones who can read and write. In a word, leaders are readers, and hopefully this little vending machine will be able to inspire some who might not darken a library door to check out a book under cover of night. Many thanks to all who have made this possible, and may it be the first of many in our county, and the rest of the state.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

I am the unashamed and self-proclaimed Queen of the self-help book industry. If you come to my house, you’ll find that typically I am reading about four books at once on any number of topics, but there is always one in the mix that has to do with getting better….at something. This is a good thing; it beats what my husband calls “lying around on the couch in your bathrobe, eating bon bons, and watching soaps.” Unfortunately, it can also be the creator of clutter if left unchecked. I have such choice titles as Success For Dummies, Your Perfect Weight, Fifty And Fabulous (except now I am in my 60s), and of course, there is a whole section on beating clutter, including the Don Aslett classic, Clutter’s Last Stand. The problem is, that particular section in my personal library to which I am referring is, er, cluttered. Truth be told, I make great strides, and then I backslide.

However, today I learned something about my dilemma that just may prove to be of help, and it’s called the “broken window theory.” I realize we can get fed up mighty quick with feeling like we are at the continual mercy of psychologists and social scientists who have garnered yet more grant money to study God knows what, and then apply their findings to humans. And, from where I perch, humans are fabulous, flawed, they are redeemable if they are willing, and are created in the image and likeness of an amazing Creator.

The “broken window theory” was a concept that was first advanced from a field experiment that placed a seemingly ownerless, vulnerable, abandoned car in a not-so-great New York City neighborhood in order to see how quickly it would get stripped or vandalized. The theory morphed into a much debated criminological premise and of course became politicized, then rejected, and finally re-embraced on a modified basis. In simpler terms, the idea is that if you have a window that has one pane broken out and don’t fix it right away, it won’t be long till that one broken place seems to attract more breakage, and before you know it, someone has taken out all the windows. The broken window theory is touted as one of the keys to urban decay as well as urban renewal, and I think it has some definite weight.

I know that if I plop my purse, keys and other work-related schmutz on the dining room table rather than put it away when I walk in the door, in a maddeningly short amount of time there are piles everywhere, and I get tempted to go put on my bathrobe and collapse onto the couch because it’s so overwhelming. Then there’s the obligatory shame-and-blame-fest, and finally I get fed up enough to do something about it, although not as a very happy camper. However, I happen to believe that God cares about little things like this, and I am fully aware such a concept is annoying to many people of faith. They think that He is only engaged in the big stuff, and you are on your own for the rest. I don’t have the strength to debate that here at this Point, all I know is that I have been praying about my own inner and outer “broken windows,” and BOOM! I came across this stuff today right in the middle of putting the paper together.

Could it really be that simple, that the tiny things add up and compound at the speed of light? It makes sense, and Lord knows, I am ready for a change. The proof will be in the pudding, my dears, and by grace I am purposing to put the bowl used to make that symbolic pudding straight into the dishwasher from here on out, no excuses. Join me?

We have just finished celebrating Passover and the Resurrection, both being the proof of unmerited, wholesale, supernatural deliverance from death. We know from history that not long after Yeshua was raised from the dead, intense persecution began at the hands of the Romans. We also know that it is the mystery of persecution that causes people to either run straight to faith, or speedily away from it. The term “being fed to the lions” has become part of our modern day cultural idiom and is used to describe many other things besides not denying the Savior, including having a rough day at the office, or giving a presentation where there was some push back.

But what if actual lions turn the tables and become the deliverers? In a report that just came out from an outfit that has been smuggling Bibles in the Middle East for 40 years, that is exactly what happened this past Easter Sunday. The story is told by Paul Ciniraj, director of Bibles for Mideast. Paul was raised as a Muslim and became a believer in Christ around 40 years ago. His organization preaches the gospel as well as establishes nondenominational house churches known as Assembly of Loving God, and they live under the continual threat of death. Paul has also triumphed over leukemia. In addition, he reports what many have been saying for the last ten years, and that is, while Islam is most definitely the dominant religion in the region, thousands and thousands of Muslims are converting to Christianity. It is also commonly known that these conversions often come about as the result of visions and dreams, something I discovered when I was in Iraq. Anyone experiencing this type of conversion knows that death could spring at any point from any place, and it makes “Whether we live we are the Lord’s, whether we die we are the Lord’s,” take on a reality that so far in the States we have not had to face.

Paul had himself been attacked by jihadists, and was being cared for in the home of some friends living in a forested area. His group had also been working in the area to spread the Gospel. In the home where he was recuperating, there were also several other believers, including preschoolers under the age of four, a woman who was seven months pregnant, and an elderly woman of 80. Paul reported to World Net Daily, “Suddenly, a group of militants reached the house, armed with steel bars and other weapons.” They all thought, “This is it.” Paul puts it this way: “Losing all hope, we thought for sure this was our last day,” and they began to pray together one last time before death surely came.

Then, what can only be described as a miracle happened.

“Completely unexpectedly, a lion ran from the forest, leapt toward the militants, and seized one by the neck. When other combatants tried to attack the lion, two other lions bounded toward them. The terrified militants fled the site, and the lions left us completely alone,” Paul said.

“Equally astonishing, records show no lions are supposed to live in that forest,” Paul stated.

This story gives me chill bumps, and I have no reason to doubt its veracity. It is a fresh reminder that we need to find a way to live life with this kind of sharply-honed spiritual readiness within, even though we live in one of the safest counties in Alabama. As for me, I am reminded that it’s time for spring cleaning, and I do mean more than my garage.

What if we were having coffee and I looked across the table and said to you, “What are you missing?” Your first instinct might be to panic and think that you’ve misplaced your cell phone. Or, you may think that this is some new, trendy joke, and you haven’t seen enough memes on Facebook, which is resulting in the false dilemma that somehow you aren’t “in the know.” What I would propose is that what you are missing, or may have temporarily misplaced is your “garment of praise.” I know that I certainly do from time to time, and the result is needless stress and being a self-piteous sour puss.

What is a “garment of praise,” and where can I get one? As is so often the case with the Hebrew language, the concept is,( and please forgive the pun), “layered.” The word for “garment” is pretty straight forward. It just is a “wrap or mantle.” Ahhh, but the word for “praise” is a veritable feast. It is tehillah, and don’t get mad at me that it rhymes with “tequila.” I didn’t come up with this stuff! The first layer is that it means “to shine.”

Do you know any “shiny” people? I can think of some, and they are not bliss ninnies, choosing to exude an artificial joy. To the man or woman, they have had great sorrow in their lives, and by the grace of God they have chosen to exchange their “spirit of heaviness” for the “garment of praise.” These are the people that have discovered a great secret, which is, no matter what horrible or exhausting thing is going on, somewhere in all the poo there is a real live pony, and they won’t stop until they find it, train it, and ride it! And, their joy is so inarguably genuine while doing so that they don’t set your teeth on edge.

Halal, the word from which tehillah is derived, also means “to flash forth light.” I think of a lighthouse, something whose sole purpose is to illuminate the rocks that want to destroy your ship, and to bring you home safely. People who have chosen to wear the garment of praise are not only “shiny,” they are safe people to be around. They’ve got your back, and they’ve got your front. Are you one of them?

The rest of the “word layers” have to do with music, being a boaster, (obviously not about yourself), and for those of you who might just have too much starch in your collar, “to be a fool,” or, my personal favorite, “to act like a mad man.” Notice that we never have any problem at all acting like fools or mad men at the Iron Bowl, but the idea of getting that way over all the blessings of life, the privilege of being free, and lavishing our Maker with unabashed, deeply grateful love for being undeservedly forgiven somehow seems beneath us. What are we missing? In this season of renewal, where we celebrate the passing over of the death angel and the triumph of the Resurrection, my assertion is that you need to toss back enough tehillah to make you shine, and wrap yourself up in a garment that will never go out of style.

Last week I was visiting my friend Julie and her family in Orlando, having just had an incredible two days working at the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention. She asked me a very simple question: “Have you seen I Am Second?” My answer was no, and she sat me down to show me a sample from the site. It would turn out to be something that has so deeply encouraged me that I knew I had to share it with you, and the more I hear people’s stories that have been a part of it, the more aware I am of how redeemable we can be if we let God love us.

I Am Second was started in Dallas by Norm Miller, the founder of Interstate Batteries. It was designed to strengthen believers in the DFW Metroplex area, and since then has become an international movement. The site, which can be found at iamsecond.com, is organized into topics such as anger, success, pornography, divorce abuse, drugs, fatherlessness, etc, and you can go straight to a topic or to the person who is telling their story. It is a feast and a “life hack,” and I am a raving fan.
The format is elegantly simple. People of all walks of life sit in a comfortable white chair and tell their stories and struggles as though they are at your kitchen table. They make it very clear that God is first and they are second, and they end their segment with “My name is so-and-so, and I am second.” Anyone can become a “second.” While the majority of people may be well known in their field, or be true celebrities who are household names, what is wonderfully jarring is the simple humility with which they tell their stories, on average in about seven minutes, and how quietly those stories seep into your soul and remind you that you are not alone.

Mike Huckabee talks about being a political figure, but with deep tenderness speaks of his wife’s health challenges. Scott Hamilton talks about being an Olympic Gold medal skater, as well as his battle with testicular cancer. Kathy Ireland talks about being a super-model, and what it took for her to pursue true and lasting beauty from within. LeCrae is a rapper, Josh Turner is a country music star, Stephen Baldwin is an actor, Bethany Hamilton is a surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack.
Each one of the stories of the famous folks is touching because it is so easy to think that fame and fortune equal happiness and a problem-free existence, and that is far from the case with these “seconds.” There are other stories of people whose lives were complete train wrecks, filled with crime, violence, prostitution, drugs, and while in a different way they light up the grace of God in neon, sometimes people who just have “regular lives” (whatever that is) feel as though they have no testimony of worth. However, the “normal people” show up on I Am Second, too, and their stories are just as riveting.

I have always found that learning the back story of anything– a song, a book, or a person– invariably gives a depth and ballast to what they have created, but I was not prepared for what I heard from film maker Alex Kendrick. Alex and his brother Stephen are the producers of Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous, and War Room. Their success is an anomaly in the movie industry, but what I learned from Alex sitting in “the white chair” is that his own marriage was in trouble when Fireproof was being produced, and he actually had to apply the 40 day marriage challenge called The Love Dare to his own relationship with his wife. Alex had to come face-to-face with the fact that he wasn’t stepping up as a dad, and the call to fathers that is so beautifully portrayed in Courageous is in part based on his own life.

Alex knows that each story they produce is going to be harder and harder to do, and the cost will get deeper, no matter what return is garnered at the box office, but he is willing to be second, and he inspires me to be truly second. Will you join me?

When I was a kid back in 1966, Diana Ross and the Supremes had a hit song entitled, “You Can’t Hurry Love.” It is still considered to be one of the top 500 songs that shaped contemporary music, and it was based on a gospel song that was produced in the 1950s. The most notable part of the song is the chorus, immortalizing the words of a wise mom who says to her daughter:

You can’t hurry love
No, you just have to wait
She said, “Love don’t come easy, it’s a game of give and take”

The chorus is repeated, and the young woman is barely comforted as she laments her loneliness, but ultimately, she hangs on to the words of her mother.

It’s 50 years later, and while humans don’t change all that much intrinsically, parents and grandparents who weathered their own storms with regard to love and relationships are up against some new challenges when it comes to helping their younger loved ones: social media. We now have the ability to instantly and without any filters let the entire planet know how things make us feel as many times a day as we choose, and, our “friends” are expected to respond each time. Part of the reason this format is so powerful is that every time someone responds, a small bit of dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters that causes us to feel good, is released, and thus our complaint is rewarded with a tiny and only temporary fix.

You might ask, “Well, isn’t that the same as going to a friend or loved one to gain solace?” No, and the reason is deceptive. If you go to a friend who listens and gives you wise counsel, you hear their voice, you see their eyes, you might have a cup of tea, you might get a hug, and perhaps they will pray for you right then and there. It is the cumulative effect of “facelook” as opposed to Facebook that can help turn the tide more readily and with better results.

By contrast, emojis are at best well-meaning masks, or in the case of the furious ones, not so much. Please understand, I am not trying to bash social media here, and I have been gratified at times when I have gotten a ton of “likes,” whether it’s related to Athens Now or my own page. I am just saying that our kids first of all are told they are ultra special and invincible from morning till night, they “deserve”_________ (just fill in the blank), are given trophies for showing up, and have helicopter parents hovering over them in case they “fall down and go boom,” literally or emotionally. Millennials are miserable, and some of the fault is ours.

How do we manage this ourselves, no matter what age we are, or healthfully help our young people? No one likes to be told, “You just have to wait. Love don’t come easy…” Like all things that really matter, it’s by instilling in ourselves and our kids the belief that delayed gratification makes everything sweeter, deeper, and more fulfilling. And more importantly, it is walking in the truth that if you want love, you need to give it. In addition, you need to become your best self so that you are not a black hole that sucks any love that does come your way into the far reaches of your emotional universe. We are in a season where we are talking a lot about love—love of Athens, love of country, love of freedom, love of God. “Love don’t come easy,” just ask our Savior. But pursuing a life of love is always worth it.

I have a love-hate relationship with what has come to be known in America as “Awards Season.” Most of the time you have to squint and wince to see past inflated egos in order to find any redeemable God-given talent; often you really have to prepare yourself for all manner of bizarre and/or inappropriate fashion or political statements. Sometimes you just groan and shake your head, wondering if all the world has gone daft. Sometimes I have yelled at the TV, as though it had any control over people’s choices, artistic or otherwise. And yes, I do realize that I have control over the remote, but what fun is that?

However, there is a sassy little songstress by the name of Joy Villa who has successfully and royally rankled the Hollywood and Nashville creative establishment, and is currently laughing all the way to the bank. She made history for her notable moxie at the recent Grammy Awards, and to me her story is utterly refreshing as well as worth the telling.

First, we are going to look at Joy’s appearance, the wonderfully diverse package in which she lives. Next, we will discuss her dress designer, along with the now iconic dress Joy wore to the Grammys. Finally, we will discuss the blowback as well as her currently burgeoning bank account.

Joy is quintessentially American, a veritable one woman melting pot. Her father was an Italian American Reverend, and by contrast, Joy is a Scientologist. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for those discussions! Her mother was African American and Choctaw, and Joy sports a ‘fro that vies that of Angela Davis, as well as cheekbones that would make Senator Elizabeth Warren green with envy. The coup d’état is that Joy is married to a Danish photographer and writer by the name of Thorsten Overgaard, and he happens to be nearly a quarter century her senior.

Joy’s dress designer, Andre Soriano, legally immigrated to the United States from the Philippines and is homosexual. He is also by his own admission a Trump supporter, a lover of America, and according to one interview, he said the dress is made out of a Trump flag he had flying at his house. When Andre heard statements made at the Women’s March suggesting that it would be a good idea to blow up the White House, he had had enough. He told Joy, “You know what? We have to make a statement, we have to put America together, and we have to promote love. And since her music is about love, and I have this Trump flag in front of my house, I’m like, ‘I’m going to make you a Trump gown, sweetheart,’ and then that’s what happened.”

So, Joy arrives at the Grammys doing deep cover in a white cloak, removes the cloak, struts the gown, and boy, then it was on like Donkey Kong. The ever tolerant and love-centric Left called for her death, literally, or at the very least, the death of what they felt was a pathetic career. She was called a “red carpet troll,” as well as other things which cannot be printed, but I don’t think anyone in their wildest dreams and/or nightmares could have anticipated what happened next.

On Sunday night prior to Joy’s gutsy move, her 2014 album, ironically entitled, I Make The Static was listed on Amazon at number 543,502. Honestly, I had no idea they had ratings that went down by half a million, but there it was. And then, it blasted up to the Number 1 slot, past Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, et al, and it was still there when we went to print. As is the case with so many things going on today, the only thing you can do when something like this happens is scratch your head and mutter something along the lines of “Only in America.” Joy Villa has intestinal fortitude, and our country is rewarding her for it far more than it is vilifying her. When asked why she did what she did, Joy said simply, “You can either stand for what you believe in or fall for what you don’t.” I couldn’t agree more.

It’s February, and depending on your level of cynicism, love is in the air or being extracted from your wallet. This is the month when love is celebrated and upon which it is capitalized commercially, and in our culture, we tend to get either squishy or grumpy about the demand in February to tangibly prove our love to those we love. You’ll find that in this edition of Athens Now the theme throughout is love, from love for the city, love for chocolate and history, love in food, properly loving the muscle that pumps blood throughout your body, and on it goes.

Why are humans so obsessed with love? We literally can’t help it; we were hard-wired for it by our Creator. How do we know that’s true? Faith and science. Now, here in the region of the Rocket City I am sure there are people of letters that pooh pooh the idea that faith and science can peacefully co-exist, let alone corroborate each others’ findings, and I am not here to debate them. To me it takes way more faith to believe in scientism than it does to believe in creation or intelligent design, but that’s a topic for another day.

What is now being able to be seen in our brains and our hearts is that the only way we function well is on love. It was first discovered in 1998 by Dr. P. Eriksson that our brains are made to change for the better, and the term neuroplasticity was formed to describe the process. Prior to that, it was believed that we were born with a certain number of brain cells, and our personalities were basically set by the age of seven. It’s simply not true, and even the most cynical of scientists know it, they just don’t always know what to do with the implications. It is now possible to literally see the difference between a brain bathed in the chemicals of love and forgiveness, and a brain made brittle by bitterness. The latter looks like a forest of burned trees.

We now know that we have a heart brain, that literally the heart and brain are linked together in function and purpose. We also know that “going by your gut” is not just something that Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs does each Tuesday night on NCIS, it’s a function of your brain that is not to be dismissed.

The brain registers social rejection in the exact way that it registers physical pain, and by contrast, love has a powerful impact on our total health. Dr. Amy Banks, MD, an instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said the following: “…Being pushed out of social relationships and into isolation has health ramifications. In fact, there was a book done by health advocate Dr. Dean Ornish, called Love and Survival. There has been study after study done on the positive impact of loving relationships. What he had said at the time in that book was that if we had a drug that did for our health what love does, it would far outsell anything that has ever been made. The efficacy is that potent.”

Dr. Caroline Leaf, Ph.D, neuroscientist and author of numerous books on the topic, including Who Switched Off My Brain? puts it this way: “Our choices—the natural consequences of our thoughts and imagination—get “under the skin” of our DNA and can turn certain genes on and off, changing the structure of the neurons in our brains. So our thoughts, imagination, and choices can change the structure and function of our brains on every level:”

Literally, love makes good sense, and not just in February, so let’s get after choosing to grow new hearts and brains all year long. We’ll all be better for it.