Neighborly Love Podcast, Episode 31 – Eli Santiago

Ordinary People. Extraordinary Conversations.

If “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” collided at an intersection, then the Neighborly Love podcast would be the result. It features casual conversations over coffee in a “virtual coffee shop” that lean into the power of empathy. It’s about feeling heard, valued, and understood. It’s about serving others. It’s about depositing money in our relational banks.

Neighborly Love is an original podcast by MindWolves. Host Marc Casciani, author of Craft Your Calling, interviews ordinary people about their heart for God and serving other people for the greater good.

Eli Santiago

Neighborly Love, Episode 31 – Eli Santiago (3-29-23)

Marc interviews Eli Santiago, President, CEO & Managing Principal at Alpha Savings Consultants. Eli answers three thought-provoking questions: (1) Tell me about a time when you did something nice for someone?, (2) What would you do for a living if money weren’t an issue?, and (3) Do you have a dream that involves serving others? Eli gives an answer to serve as a catalyst for reflection on what being nice means, discusses his interest in a ministry that invests in real estate to provide decent and respectful community housing, and shares his dream to fulfill the greatest commandments, to love God first and you neighbor as yourself second, by creating in every person the sense of love expressed in 1 Corinthians 13.

Forgiveness is the Key to Success

In 1950, Earl Nightingale was inspired by the words “we become what we think about” in Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich, and around the same time he bought an insurance agency. He provided weekly motivational speeches to the agency’s sales staff. In 1956, he recorded a motivational speech to be played while he was on vacation. Nightingale’s employees spread the word of the speech, and demand for the recording grew so large that he and his friend, Lloyd Conant, formed the Nightingale-Conant Corporation to manage sales. Thus was born The Strangest Secret in 1957. It has sold over one million copies, received the first Gold Record for the spoken word, and helped launch the fields of business motivation and audio publishing. It was later adapted into print and video forms.

In The Strangest Secret, Earl defines success as “the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” He argues the ability to incrementally progress towards this goal is a function of what you daily allow to occupy your mind. He compares the human mind to fertile soil. Like soil, your mind does not care what you plant but will return what you plant. If you plant corn, you’ll harvest corn. If you plant nightshade, a toxic perennial herbaceous plant, you’ll get poison. Corn or nightshade? You get to decide.

In my own life’s journey, I believe I’ve uncovered the root cause of a person’s ability to plant corn vs. nightshade, forgiveness. Bitterness, anger, envy, or jealousy are heavy weights to carry around every day. If you allow them to take root in your mind, they feed your Evil Wolf. We must learn to refrain from attacking our opposition or decrying the injustice of their charges against us. Despite the injustice, we need to remain unprovoked and grow in the virtue of forgiveness. It’s easy to misunderstand the purpose of forgiveness. It’s not for the benefit of the perpetrator. It’s for your own benefit.

We are all products of our past, the good and the bad. However, we do not have to be prisoners of our past. We get to decide. Corn or nightshade? This is what Christianity is all about. Through Jesus Christ, you can be born again and start a new life. Jesus makes it possible to plant corn. However, you have to learn how to forgive and move forward. He doesn’t want you constantly dwelling in the past.

With the Holy Spirit as our Helper, He will show us how to move forward. This is also why we need patience. He’ll show us, but on His time, not ours. He will move slower than we want to move. This is a daily tension with which we need to learn to be at peace. He will forgive you of your thoughts of taking revenge and getting even. He will show you how to channel that energy into work that will please Him. This is what it means to “die daily” to self. This is also what empowers us to forgive others. Also, there’s no quota for forgiving others. When Jesus was asked how many times must we forgive our brother and sister, He answered “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In other words, He was saying there is no limit on forgiveness.

We don’t want our old thoughts, the poison that controlled our old behavior. We want to die daily to the old us who harbored anger and hatred; the old us who coveted what our neighbor has. We need to move 1% forward every day to be more patient, more forgiving, and more loving people.

The rest of your life is in the future, not in the past. Your past is past. It’s over. You can’t change it, so let it go. Instead, start asking God to do something new in you by helping you master forgiveness. Then you’ll be planting corn the rest of your time on earth.

Let’s Have Coffee

It seems like we’ve lost the ability to listen without judgment in America. Rather than create safe spaces for conversation, we’re creating caged octagons that are rude, cruel, hurtful, disrespectful, and undignified. If you’re reading this, I’d like to challenge you to do something. If you’re game, then try it and share it with others.

Invite someone to have coffee with you every week. Implicit to that invitation is also conversation. Coffee and conversation. Weekly, create a diverse mix of counterparts from those that share your worldview and those that do not. Imagine if everyone in America did this with the goals of listening without judgment and creating a safe space for conversation. I suspect if we did that, we would carve out a civil path forward for dignified discourse and behavior.

Everything breaks down without trust. Conversations, relationships, families, teams, businesses, and communities. What I’m talking about here is vulnerability-based trust, which means you’re comfortable being open, comfortable being transparent, comfortable asking any question, comfortable stating what you believe without being attacked, and comfortable being uncomfortable. Vulnerability-trust enables healthy conflict, i.e. healthy, civil, dignified conversations where parties don’t agree, but can talk through their differences. They can ultimately agree to disagree wherever they cannot gain alignment. In these situations, the trust-gap is bridged and only the opinion-gap remains. It’s ok to have opinion-gaps, but trust-gaps devolve into anarchy.

The skill of listening without judgement is not easy. It requires intention and training. A good place to start is to study tactical empathy. Tactical empathy is the act of understanding another persons’ mindset and feelings and making them feel understood. A good place to start is to visit The Black Swan Group’s website and become a student of their approach to “negotiating.” Don’t misunderstand the true meaning of that word. Everything in life is a negotiation. Here’s a good piece written by founder, Chris Voss: How to Use FBI Empathy. If you’re intrigued, then you can also read his book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.

For those of us who are Christians, nothing is more important than to become skilled at listening without judgement. It’s an uphill battle because there is a perception that we are very judgmental. The perception is warranted. However, have hope. A January 2023 study by Barna shows there is a rising spiritual openness in America. Therefore, the issue is not the tenets of our faith, but rather our approach. Non-believers don’t want talking points to be more open to our faith. Rather, they simply want us to listen to what they have to say without judgement. Let’s commit to creating safe spaces for conversation for everyone by leading by example.

If we bridge the trust-gap with the Fruit of the Spirit character qualities that Jesus modeled, then we will create more openness for people to hear the message of Christ. Let’s move 1% forward each week by having coffee with our brothers and sisters to listen to what they have to say.

In closing, as I wrote this piece, I was reminded of a cartoon I loved as a child. It’s from the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour from Looney Tunes. Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, while battling in the arena at their day job, always found a way to be friends at the end of the day. If you’ve never seen this, then I hope you enjoy it. If you have, but it’s been a while, then may it be a nostalgic moment.

Friction. Choices, Choices?


Friction is everywhere. If it wasn’t, life would be easy. There’d be no resistance to anything you try to do. Choices would be a breeze.

One type of friction is good. It’s feedback telling you you’re on the wrong path and should adjust course.

Another type of friction is bad. It’s a test trying to derail you from the proper path you’re on.

How do you discern the good from the bad? How do you make the right choice? You need to do the following:

  1. Slow life down. Your busyness is creating noise, which is distorting the signal. Slowing down is like watching a video in slow motion. You see things you don’t notice in real-time.
  2. Calm your mind. Your mind is like a computer that never shuts down. Multitasking is overrated. It prevents us from seeing the big picture. Use breathing exercises like the one described here to calm your mind.
  3. Make quiet time a habit. Every morning and evening, set aside 5-10 minutes to reflect on your day. Ask yourself key questions and write down the answers. Be honest and open with yourself. Here’s what I ask:
    • Morning ritual:
      • For what and whom am I grateful today?
      • What am I excited about and look forward to doing today?
      • What is my purpose? Do my plans today connect me to it?
      • How can I move the dial toward my goals today? Are my goals aligned with my purpose?
      • To whom can I reach out to serve or thank today?
    • Evening ritual:
      • Was I “on” and in the zone today or “off” and unbalanced? What contributed to this feeling?
      • What were the top three positive things today? What did I learn from them?
      • What went wrong today? What is the silver lining?
      • Are there unsolved challenges I would like my subconscious mind to help me solve tonight?

If you commit to mastering the art of discerning good friction from bad friction, then you’re on your way to a more levelheaded life.

And a happier, more confident, calm, assertive you making better choices.

Note: This post was originally published on September 24, 2017 and republished on March 12, 2023.

Overcome the Fear of Death to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

I am not afraid to die. Are you? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to die. I believe I’m here for a reason, and that purpose has not yet been fulfilled. However, I’m not afraid to die, and I live my life daily as a free person under God’s sovereign will. Living well means repeatedly dying to my will each day and making it subordinate to His. Rejecting the fear of death inevitably leads to my neighbor.

As my eyes open each morning, I see the dawn of a new day of opportunity and possibility. As I sit down with my first cup of coffee, I go through my morning ritual, a series of five questions and statements.

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What do I look forward to today? What am I excited about?
  • What is my purpose? (I have a specific statement I repeat and refine every day – Bridging brothers & sisters to what’s important.)
  • How do I Move 1% closer to that end?
  • Who will I thank and serve today? (with intention)

This morning ritual prepares me to live well. It also prepares me to die well. When I’m prepared to die, then I am free to live, not for myself, but for others’ joy in God. I want this for you too. In fact, I want it for everyone I encounter. I am prepared to spend my life preparing people to die well. Dying well on my last day means dying well every day.

No matter what I do, my service is always done “in Jesus’ name.” This means it is motivated by love, done in harmony with God’s revealed will, and in submission to His authority. As I live out my faith in this way, it requires my dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s power. Death is only better than life if death means living closer to Jesus, which means I must repent my sins, believe His Gospel, and follow Him. The Holy Spirit is my advocate in that journey.

The Advocate ensures I do not fear death as I live for His purpose. He slowly changes me so I can live according to the truth. The choices I make contribute to the process of transformation because they are aligned with the Holy Spirit’s work in my mind, heart, and action. They plant a good seed that perpetuates even more new growth, which is the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Living well and dying well means shedding the fear of death by “feeding your Good Wolf” repeatedly each day. Rejecting the fear of death and embracing the Advocate’s assurance leads inevitably to our neighbor. As yourself these three questions:

  • What kind of life do I want to live?
  • What kind of character do I want to have?
  • What type of person do I want to become?

The heart of the principle of “feeding your Good Wolf” is that how we think and act matters. Therefore, we must slowly transform how we think and act to reflect God’s character qualities, i.e. The Fruit of the Spirit. We’ve all made choices we’ve regretted, which can hold us back like an anchor to a ship. Yet, God will forgive everything you genuinely repent of and He will work with you to redeem your past. The road to redemption will have obstacles in your way, but the Holy Spirit, your advocate, will enable and empower you to overcome them. Then, and only then, can you truly know what it means to live well, die well, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Neighborly Love Podcast, Episode 30 – Matt Muchnok

Ordinary People. Extraordinary Conversations.

If “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” collided at an intersection, then the Neighborly Love podcast would be the result. It features casual conversations over coffee in a “virtual coffee shop” that lean into the power of empathy. It’s about feeling heard, valued, and understood. It’s about serving others. It’s about depositing money in our relational banks.

Neighborly Love is an original podcast by MindWolves. Host Marc Casciani, author of Craft Your Calling, interviews ordinary people about their heart for God and serving other people for the greater good.

Matt Muchnok

Marc interviews Matt Muchnok, Software Engineer and System Architect at Edge Case Research. Matt answers three thought-provoking questions: (1) Tell me about a time when you did something nice for someone?, (2) What would you do for a living if money weren’t an issue?, and (3) Do you have a dream that involves serving others? Matt tells a story about his practical application of “iron sharpens iron” in the marshall art of Jiu-Jitsu, shares how he would pursue his passion for creating software if he didn’t have to worry about making money, and articulates a beautiful dream to influence the future direction of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Matt wisely asks, “In whose image is AI being created?” Matt’s story about ChatGPT is one that everyone must hear.

Neighborly Love, Episode 30 – Matt Muchnok (2-27-23)

Everybody Has a Religion

Everybody has a religion. It all depends on what it is and how broadly you define it. It begs the question, does the modern-day woke DEI (diversity, equity & inclusion) agenda in America pass the test for what constitutes a religion? Let’s take a look.

Religion is a fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a group of people. These set of beliefs concern the cause, nature, and purpose of human existence and behavior, and involve devotional and ritual observances. They also often contain a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. In America, this is true of the woke DEI agenda, and more broadly, identity politics.

America was founded with the understanding that the purpose of government is to secure the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Civil rights, in turn, are derived from and serve to protect the natural rights of all American citizens.

Identity politics holds that America is fundamentally and irredeemably racist. This ideology, which has become dominant in American life in government, education, and corporate America, requires discrimination in order to elevate and privilege the identities of the oppressed. Two key features of this “religion” are:

  1. It focuses on identity groups like race and sex.
  2. It privileges and elevates the identities of the oppressed.

The identity politics worldview believes in the moral superiority of the oppressed and everything else flows from there. It is a religion premised on the following:

  • The greater the victimization, the stronger the moral case.
  • Evil exists in the world because of straight, white men.

The tenets of this religion are:

  • The original sin in America is slavery. It takes and modifies the Judeo-Christian teaching of original sin, and it no longer applies to everyone. Evil only exists in the oppressor group.
  • It offers no hope of salvation or redemption from sin. White males, the oppressors, need to atone for the sins of their ancestors in perpetuity.

Therefore, the modern-day woke DEI agenda is a religion, and it should be treated as such. It has already resulted in rampant breaches of existing civil rights laws in America. The protections against religious discrimination do not only mean that you can’t discriminate against someone on account of their religion but also mean that you can’t force them to bow down to your religion. However, this is occurring across America in government, education, and corporate America.

It seems like this matter will eventually be in front of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). If they simply apply the current civil rights laws to test this religion, then the restoration of civil rights to protect the natural rights of all American citizens can begin, along with the depoliticization of Americans’ everyday lives.

Identity politics is divisive. It should be rejected not because it demands justice for those who have been unjustly treated, but because it poses a threat to republican self-government by corroding patriotic ties and demanding special treatment rather than equality under the law.

There is discrimination in America, and we have to deal with the legacy of past discrimination. However, the current approach is not reasonable because it pits Americans against each other.

Love’s Hidden Enemy … Envy

Childish thinking hinders our ability to love and be loved. It is a hidden enemy of loving relationships. Faulty, childish, self-seeking thoughts about love need to be replaced with truths about mature, others-serving love. In other words, our understanding of love must mature as we get older, yet there is an enemy that actively works against it. That enemy is envy.

For example, let’s take a look at babies. Unless everything is going their way, they are not content. In fact, their natural state is to be discontent. No one by nature is contented. Contentment needs to be learned as we mature, and our mental framework properly matures when it is incrementally shaped by God’s Word.

Maturity is learning to be content when you don’t have what you want because it is better to be satisfied with what you have than to be always wanting something else. Envy is based on the myth that you must have more in order to be happier. Envy is resenting other people who have something you desire and believing you can’t be happy until you have it too. That lie distorts the true meaning of what it means to love and be loved. It produces relational discord in life.

God’s Word teaches us to be grateful for who we are and what we have because it’s all a gift from Him. He created us with unique gifts and talents that He didn’t give to someone else. When we learn to be content with our talents and focus on using them to their fullest potential to serve others with excellence, then we can understand the mature meaning of love. As long as we’re discontented, we will perpetually envy and miss the mark.

To be clear, envy is not desire. Desire is good. Envy is not ambition. Ambition is good. Envy is not a dream. We should have a “stretch” dream so big that we have no clue how to accomplish it without God’s help. Envy is not setting goals. Goals are needed to accomplish your “stretch” dream. Desires, ambitions, dreams, and goals are all healthy when motivated by mature love.

Mature love is being grateful for who we are and what we have while desiring to live up to the life which God has called us to live. As we seek to understand our calling, let’s commit to serving others with excellence, as though we are working for God. When we do, we defeat the enemy who wants us to fall into the selfish trap of envy.

Premeditated Mercy

Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. Mercy is when someone doesn’t get what they deserve. When we’ve sinned, screwed up, or made a mistake, we deserve punishment, yet when we are pardoned and forgiven, that’s mercy. Learning how to be an agent of mercy will transform your relationships.

One of the best ways to learn how to be an agent of mercy is to practice being intentional with it. That’s what I call premeditated mercy. Here are some things to practice:

  • Build bridges with someone who doesn’t have friends or is unpopular.
  • Put someone’s needs before rules, policies, or procedures.
  • Be patient with someone who is annoying.
  • Help someone in your circles (family, friend, colleague) who is hurting.
  • Stop being bitter and angry with someone, and relinquish the desire to get even.
  • Do something good to someone who hurt you.
  • Do something kind to someone who offended you.

Now take a piece of 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle of it. In the left column, write these seven things to practice. In the right column, write who you’re going to practice them on. When you wake up tomorrow, do them and repeat the exercise the next day. And the next day. And the next day.

By doing this, it will become a habit. And you will become an agent of premeditated mercy.

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

F. B. Meyer

The Fruit of Perseverance

Life is hard. Some have it harder than others, but nobody’s life is easy. Everyone goes through difficulties. We don’t lack reasons to be disheartened. It’s easy to be deceived by the lie that your suffering will amount to nothing. It’s hard to see the light and calm at the end of the storm. Your Evil Wolf wants you to lose heart and give up. Your Good Wolf wants you to see the light and persevere.

My son, Dallas, is applying for scholarships to help pay for college. He will be a Freshman at Grove City College in Pennsylvania in the fall of 2023. The below essay was written this week for one of them. He was asked to write about how growing up with a pet in his life impacted the person he is today. Our family has always had dogs. As I read his story, I was touched by the impact Bolt had on Dallas. Bolt was his Good Wolf.

My family is so proud of Dallas’ character and how he’s benefited from the fruit of perseverance. It seems like yesterday we were worried about what was wrong with him. It was hard to see how good could result from bad. We had to keep our focus on eternal things, not the hardships Dallas was going through. We are grateful, however, because Dallas would not be the young man he is today without them.

A Dog Named Bolt by Dallas Casciani

It was around the time I turned two years old my parents began to worry something was wrong. I had yet to utter my first word. They had me evaluated by multiple specialists over six months, and I eventually was diagnosed with severe speech apraxia. Speech apraxia is deemed a learning disability but it is actually a physical disability. The connections between my brain and the muscles in and around my mouth were not yet developed. From age two to age seven, I had speech therapy three times a week. Despite all the therapy, almost no one could understand me. I was teased and even the simplest interaction with any person was frustrating and exhausting.

On my seventh birthday, my parents gave me a Boston Terrier puppy. I named him Bolt. He was my constant companion, and I needed no words to communicate with him. He seemed to intuitively realize I needed him in stressful moments and never left my side. He would sit by me as I did homework and his presence kept me from getting frustrated.

As years went by, the connections between my brain and mouth finally developed and I could communicate and be understood. Bolt remained my constant companion. With him at my side, I worked very hard to get good grades, yet it was sometimes still a struggle because I had also been diagnosed with dyslexia. Bolt’s soothing energy kept me calm and composed. He never left me until my homework and studies were done. His patience eventually rubbed off on me too. Bolt’s presence and unconditional love were without question the reason I was able to push through difficult times and overcome so many challenges in my life.

One evening, I fell asleep on the couch watching television and eating popcorn. Bolt was right there with me. All of a sudden, my mom heard Bolt barking and ran to him. When she entered the room, she saw Bolt standing on my chest barking at my mouth. She put her hand near my mouth and noticed I wasn’t breathing. She then looked in my mouth and noticed popcorn stuck in my windpipe. She immediately cleared it, sat me up, and I started to breathe again.

Bolt passed away in his sleep ten years after he came into my life. A piece of my heart went with him. I realized this little ball of fur and love had dramatically shaped who I was. I will be forever grateful to have had him in my life. Thanks to Bolt, I am more patient and compassionate. Thanks to Bolt, I am empathetic to people who are frustrated. Thanks to Bolt, I am alive.

I believe the qualities learned from Bolt are the reason I enjoy serving others. He taught me love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. I especially enjoy working with children and sharing with them the story of how a dog named Bolt changed and saved my life.

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