Two More Paintings and Thoughts Behind Them

Gods army, christian soldiers

Army of God, by Scott Freeman, 20×30

Today I want to show you a couple of recent paintings, for a couple of reasons:
1) They’re not the sort of thing I usually do, or am known for doing, so I’m kind of curious as to what people will think of them.
2) It would be helpful to me if I could sell them as I’m waiting for responses on some large potential commissions.

From the National Day of Prayer, 2018
The first one was painted during a local National Day of Prayer event in Loveland, on May 3, 2018. I was invited by the organizers to paint during the entirety of the event, and the subject matter was left open to me.

I’ve (reluctantly) called the painting, The Army of God. I say “reluctantly” because for years I’ve been a bit uncomfortable with using war metaphor to describe the church of Jesus. I’m not uncomfortable with it because I disagree with the truth of the metaphor, I’m uncomfortable with it because of how I know it sounds to the ears of skeptics and critics of the church. Therefore, I never use war terminology with reference to the church unless I can explain that I am referring to spiritual warfare.

As followers of Jesus, our weapons, our armor, and our enemies are explicitly described as not physical in nature (Eph 6:10-18; 2 Cor 10:3-5). All of the physical terms and conditions of the former Mosaic Covenant have been fulfilled and translated into spiritual terms in the new covenant of Jesus. So there can be no justification for a Christian religious war. There can be no justification for human governments physically slaughtering their enemies in the name of Jesus. There can be no justification for human beings setting up a theocratic Christian state. Yet this all seems to be a continuing concern for secularists.

Many biblical metaphors are used to describe the church: a body, a family, an army, a bride. Those of us in the church understand them and are accustomed to using them. But I think we have an obligation to be clear to those outside of the church, especially when using the army metaphor, especially in the divisive, hysterical, irrational cultural climate in which we now find ourselves.

As a worship leader I wouldn’t even sing Onward Christian Soldiers without a disclaimer. To a Jewish or Muslim listener, for example, the first line of that song would sound like a perfect description of the Crusades, (which were biblically unjustified.)

So…having said all of that, calling this painting The Army of God underscores the point. It’s a picture of biblical, multi-ethnic community, planting and watering and praying. Jesus said that His kingdom is different from the kingdoms of the world in that His message comes, and His kingdom is spread, not by means of the sword but through the proclamation of His good news of restoration. Jesus said that gospel is like seed planted in the world.

This is a first stab at a painting I’ve been wanting to do or years. Years ago I was inspired by the story of several young Christian boys who were kidnapped by radical Islamists, and who refused to recant their faith in Jesus, even under torture. Eventually one of them escaped, minus a limb. I thought of the irony that this is the army of God; not composed of ruthless warriors but rather, courageous young boys in this case, willing to suffer harm and refusing to hate their captors, even praying for them, just as Jesus instructed.

 

parable of Jesus as sower

Sower, by Scott Freeman, 20×24″

Northern Colorado Worship and Prayer Event
The second painting has some similarities to the first and was painted at the last NOCO Worship & Prayer Night in May of 2018. These monthly events were envisioned to bring diverse church congregations together in worship. Everyone is welcome, and if you haven’t been to one, they’ll be starting up again in August. There is always live worship painting going on at these events, (usually including my lovely wife). You can stay posted at http://www.loveonfireworship.com.

This painting is a variation of an earlier oil painting of Jesus as a sower. In this smaller version His arms are outstretched in a sort of crucifix gesture. The seed is red, representing His blood, but particularly the blood of the martyrs, which has so often resulted in many coming to faith. (Since the news media so often fails to draw a distinction between murderers and martyrs, here I must clarify that a martyr is not someone who kills others for God and dies in the process. A martyr is someone who willingly suffers for God, even unto the point of death.)

A couple of weeks ago a friend asked me about the birds. In one sower parable, Jesus explains the birds this way: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil (one) comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart…” (Matt 13:19). This is the world we live in for now – goodness, redemption, and life always face spiritual opposition, even in addition to our own apathy and distractedness.

Prices
Both of these paintings are painted on canvas that I pre-textured, and both are painted with up-cycled latex paint. This not the type of painting that I have shown in galleries over the years, or, I assume, that my current gallery would be interested in. So here’s what I’d like for these unframed paintings if anyone is interested:

God’s Army, 20×30” – $300
Sower, 20×24” – $250

Since these paintings are medium size, I would like to charge shipping to the buyer as well. (I think shipping will come to around $30 in the US.) If you live in northern Colorado, (Loveland, FC, Windsor, Johnstown, -ish,) I would be happy to deliver these to you free of charge.

If you’d like to purchase one of these, contact me at scottnmollie@yahoo.com .
Thanks again for your support! I’d love to hear your feedback on these – positive or negative.

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A Remarkable Memorial Mural and Its Story

MLK mural Indianapolis

Photo copyright 2018 Sierra Gillard, used with permission from photographer and subject.

Here’s a story worth telling, about art and hopefulness.

Although I’m a fine art painter in my own right, I’ve increasingly found satisfaction in facilitating “non-artists” in the enterprise of art making. I’ve developed an inclusive process by which virtually anyone, including small children and people with physical or intellectual disabilities, can be a participant in creating a compelling, monumental artwork. (Of course, skilled artists are welcome as well!) This process necessarily involves large numbers of people.

My most recent story began with a discussion I had with one of my daughters last Christmas. She and her husband were visiting for the holiday, and I wanted to hear about her new job in Indianapolis. She was teaching at an inner city school there in a pretty rough environment. She recounted that one of the students had been shot over Thanksgiving break, and that when school resumed, fights had been breaking out over the incident.

The high school where she was teaching had combined two different high schools for the current school year. Then at the close of the school year, these high school students were going to be moved again, and the school was to become a middle school for the next school year.

My daughter recounted conversations she had with students during a time of sharing thoughts. She told me that pretty much across the board the students feel like nothing they do matters to other individuals. Certainly not nationally, but not even locally. Their voices don’t matter. What they do doesn’t matter.

Pointlessness and hopelessness are not good ingredients for creating a culture of life. Especially for a demographic that has a lot stacked against it.

I wondered out loud about how something like the Fire & Ice Festival murals would go over at her school. For the past 2 years, the small church I attend had been helping me put on these big art-making events, each culminating in a giant public mural. The point of the process is that each individual paints a small square of the larger picture. Each tile bears the personal expression of the individual, while contributing to a larger mural that the entire city can enjoy – a colorful metaphor for community.

We envisioned the possibility that the Arlington High School (AHS) students could see such a mural as both a legacy that they could leave to the incoming middle school students, but also be a way that they could leave their individual mark in a creative, positive, and lasting way. It seemed like these students could use something that would feed their souls; to be part of something big and meaningful. I understood that the staff and teachers at AHS already work hard to deliver this, and this seemed like something that I could contribute, even if from a distance.

I cautioned my daughter that it would be a ton of work for her, but she took it on. She ran it past her principal and then the staff. Even without being able to fully know what was coming they said “yes.” I ran the idea past my pastor to see if our church, Beggars’ Gate, would be willing to cover the cost of my time. The high school would cover materials, installation, and its own time. It was now officially a collaboration between a little church in Loveland, Colorado, and a large high school in urban Indianapolis, Indiana.

The school principal approved a design bearing a likeness of Martin Luther King Jr., which was fitting for this year because 2018 is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s tragic assassination.

I completed my part and shipped off over 750, six inch square, prepped and coded tiles to Indianapolis. As the painting began at AHS, the students got into it and so did the staff. My daughter had a friend come in and DJ the painting area to create a good atmosphere. Good things happened. Creativity flowed. Dancing ensued.

community art project

Some kids, “hall-walkers” who have not been able to find their place in an academic setting, found their place in this setting.

At least one kid who is artistically gifted spent over 2 hours on his 6 inch square tile. He said it was the first time he had used paint.

A Behavior Specialist on staff said, “You know what? If we would’ve done this earlier in the year, I think our kids would’ve done better. It’s inspiring. I’m inspired!”

As the individual painting was going on, no one really knew what was coming. A few kids snuck their tiles out, presumably because they didn’t want to give them up. But when the seemingly random pieces all came together and went up on the wall, the result was spectacular. A lot of hugs were exchanged.

Congrats to Principal Law and the staff and students at Arlington High School – you did a great job!  Thank you Beggers’ Gate Church, for your support!

Martin Luther King Jr memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mural, painted by the students and staff of Arlington High School. Formatted by Scott Freeman, 2018. (12.5 x 25.5 ft)

Obviously, a mural is not going to solve anyone’s problems. But if, at least for some students, it provided even some sense of being part of something transcendent; of having a unique place in community; of seeing themselves as being mentors to younger kids; of creative potential breaking out; then I think that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s about the most we can expect from art.

inner city high school project

Find your place in the bigger picture

Getting a vision? Contact me about bringing an experience like this to where you are.
My email is scottnmollie@yahoo.com.

Christian Sex, Sects, & Secular Sex

sex, incel, marriage

Well, sex is in the news again. (Surprise!) I thought I would use the occasion to articulate the purpose of sex from a biblical worldview, at least from my perspective.

It’s not as obvious as one might think. Based on comments from my atheist acquaintances I get the impression that there is probably some misunderstanding around the topic. I would assert that God’s view of sexual intercourse as defined in the Bible is unique, foreign, and “unnatural” in comparison to that of secular culture.

I should add that it’s also profound, life-enhancing, and sustainable, according to my personal research.

Promiscuous Sects
The recent news event that set me to thinking about all this was a misogynistic terrorist act in Toronto which led to the deaths of 10 victims, mostly women. This particular vehicular act of violence was perpetrated by a man who identified with something called the “incel rebellion movement.” Incel is short for “involuntary celibate.” Apparently many men in this category see themselves as low-status men who, through no fault of their own, are not stereotypically “hot.” Some are angry at the “shallowness” of women who won’t have sex with them.

These men seem to share an underlying assumption that everyone is entitled to sex.
I wonder where they got that idea?

The thing about sexual intercourse is that it involves another person’s body. It’s not something a single individual can claim a right to. The answer to involuntary celibacy cannot involve the imposing of involuntary sex on another person, at least in civilized society. That’s called rape. The incel mentality reeks of pornified thinking, though I can’t verify the connection.

Here’s a quote from Elliot Rodger, who wrote an incel manifesto shortly before going off and shooting 6 people and wounding 14 in Santa Barbara in 2014:

“…I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been to college. For 2 and a half years…and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun, and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair…I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice – a crime. Because, I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy. And yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me, the supreme gentlemen. I will punish all of you for it. On the day of retribution I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck up, blond slut I see inside there…” (Elliot Rodger’s Retribution Video.)

There’s a lot wrong with this picture. All I’ll say is that, in addition to whatever else is going on here, from my perspective these guys have been jerked around by the assumptions and lies of secular culture and its shallow and self-contradictory view of sex: on one hand sex is merely recreation. Sex is not a big deal. But at the same time a life without it is practically a fate worse than death, and secular culture compels us to think about sex 24/7, literally invading our private spaces with sexual imagery.

The world would have us not take sex so personally. It’s just sex. So we should protect our emotional selves by being chill about sex. It’s just hormones and evolutionary impulses after all, so let’s take it for what it is and just enjoy it. Existentially. Hook up. What’s love got to do with it? Or marriage? “Life is short; have an affair.” We may as well use sex to sell product.

I would respectfully like to call bullshit on all of that. There is a more wholistic view.

Hey Look At Those Sexually Repressed Christians Over There
C S Lewis once pointed out a common misconception that secularists may tend to have about “Christian” sexual mores: that we think sex is innately “sinful,” or somehow unspiritual. Forgive me for not having time to look up Lewis’s actual quote, but the idea is that if something is forbidden, or has “rules” around it, this may not mean that thing is considered to be bad or evil. It may be the precise opposite.

We have laws against stealing, not because property is bad, but because property is valuable. Likewise, God prohibits sex outside of marriage, not because sex is evil but because it is a valuable and powerful gift in its intended context.

Many have pointed out that it’s unbiblical to think that the God of the Bible considers sex to be dirty, evil, or otherwise unspiritual in and of itself. The goodness of sex is explicitly stated in the Torah: in the creation story God began with an unashamed, naked man and woman in a paradise, instructed them to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth,” and pronounced the whole thing “good.”

It’s human rebellion and meddling that perverts the goodness of sex in both secular and religious cultures. We have a massive porn industry. Secularists insist on deconstructing sex, gender, marriage, and parenthood in the name of humanistic enlightenment. On the religious side we see inventions such as a celibate priesthood, which is a human innovation of religious sects, not a biblical directive.

God’s Idea of Sex
Belief in a Creator who designed human sexuality yields a very different worldview perspective from a belief that we are here by accident with no transcendent purpose, value, or authority. Following is an understanding of sex with which I believe most self-proclaimed followers of Jesus would agree:

The Bible depicts God as an eternally, innately, relational (triune) being who has always existed in love and relational unity. So loving relationship is both the starting place and the goal of our existence. As beings created in God’s image, we are wired to find fulfillment in relationship as well. We all long for connection with others. The overarching story of the Bible is the story of God restoring humanity to the possibility of loving relationship, both with Himself and with others.

Marriage was intended to be an expression of relational unity in creation; what the Bible refers to as “oneness” (Gen 1:24; Matt 19:4-6; Eph 5:28-31.) Sex within marriage is meant to be an expression of that oneness between a husband and a wife; mind, soul, spirit, and body. The unity in diversity in marriage is a profound reflection of the image of God in human experience. The apostle Paul says it is also picture of the love and unity between Christ and His church (Eph 5:31-33 .)

One can see Paul underlining these ideas in this passage:

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…” (1 Cor 6:15-19.)

Practically, God intended sex to be a bonding expression of love within the context of an adult, lifelong, faithful, monogamous, biologically unrelated, marital relationship. This also happens to be the best context for raising children, which works out great since hetero sex is procreative.

This does not necessarily mean that Christians must be consciously meditating on being in the image of the triune God, or cranking up Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor every time they make love. This is simply the shape of reality in which followers of Jesus live and move and have their being.

The point is that sex is not a happy accident of evolution that we can make into whatever we want. We may try, but the shape of reality that God has created has a stubborn way of reasserting itself. We may find that butting heads with that reality leads to despondency . We may find sex apart from love and commitment to be ultimately lonely and unfulfilling, despite having lowered our expectations.

The Bible explicitly states that God’s desire and plan for us, His creation, is unity and loving relationship (Eph 1:9-10; Jn 17:3.) But truth is an essential part of that unity. Lies separate people. Lies about love and sex are no exception.

No, I’m Not Judging You
Someone may now be thinking, “If you think you’re going to get unmarried people to stop sleeping with each other, you are delusional.” I would agree. I wouldn’t dream of even trying. Many secularists seem to assume that people like me would like to force everyone to stop having promiscuous sex, stop being gay, stop getting divorced, stop using birth control, stop smiling, stop eating ice cream, and so on. Nope. I’m all about free will and diversity.

Hopefully my critics would be happy to know that my wife and I always taught our kids that they shouldn’t expect people who don’t claim to be followers of Jesus to behave like followers of Jesus. Instead we can confidently be who we are, and love other people where they are. There is no hatred of people implied in anything I’ve said here.

I’m simply putting an alternate view out there as something that doesn’t get said in a public forum very often. I think it might be a welcome perspective for some people.

I set out this alternative view of sex for those interested in a healthy, life-enhancing, loving alternative. My guess is that there are some reading this who feel out of step; you feel that sex means something more to you than what the world tells you it should mean. You may feel quietly defensive that you don’t want to be viewed, and don’t want to view other people, as evolved pieces of meat. If this is you, I want to affirm that you’re not alone and that you are not crazy. I think you are right. I think our Creator who loves us has wired us to know better.

I welcome your comments below. Feel free to message me privately also.

In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr quote

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. For many, King’s assassination marked the end of the civil rights movement’s strategy of non-violence.

Some believe his assassination was the result of a conspiracy involving the United States government. King’s family eventually even filed a wrongful death suit against the government, which it (sort of) “won.”

As news of his assassination became known, riots broke out in over 100 cities across America. For many fighting for the cause of civil rights and racial equality, King’s death must’ve signaled a loss of hope that the entrenched white power structures could be reformed through peaceful means.

So…fight fire with fire. Fear with fear. It seems that violence is what works. Force gets things done.

But does it?

The human problem is the human heart. King was a remarkable leader because he understood the problem. As a follower of Jesus, King rightly saw that the solution to the human problem was the strategy of changing hearts for good. Violence never does that. Unfortunately, violence has its place in our broken world, but only when there is no hope for understanding and empathy.

I don’t believe we are at that place yet. I think understanding and empathy have barely been tried. But violence and intolerance can seem easier, faster, and more satisfying to hearts that are hurting.

Following is one of my (reluctantly) favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I believe these words are true, but they are extremely difficult to carry out. This is a hard saying. It is even difficult to read. But I think he is right. His strategy transcends conspiracies, governmental power, intolerance, and hatred:

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.    — A Christmas Sermon for Peace on Dec 24, 1967

These words, spoken 4 months before his murder, echo the words of Jesus and the apostle Paul: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21.)

It’s a messy business living in a broken world with broken people, and we are still far from the destination that King envisioned. I believe our hope must ultimately come from outside of ourselves; from the Savior who made inward transformation possible through spiritual rebirth. Regardless of how much progress we make in this corrupt age, He promises unity and justice in the age to come. Jesus invites us to experience the realities of that future age right now, in this present age. I think Dr. King, the Baptist minister and activist, would be pleased if the occasion of his death would spur some to accept the invitation of Jesus to step into His kingdom of light.

Why a Giant Community Mural in Downtown Loveland?

Loveland sweetheart city arts

Loveland’s “Creation,” by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, with help from local residents.

Loveland, Colorado, nicknamed The Sweetheart City, has developed a reputation as a city supportive of the arts. In recent years, citizens here have braved the cold to participate in an outdoor Valentine’s Day festival called Fire & Ice. The festival includes an ice sculpting competition and also metal sculpture involving lots of fire.

Despite brutally cold weather this year, people still bundled up and showed up. Lots of great musicians still managed to play and sing. And people still showed up to express themselves in paint even though the paint was freezing on the panels. ‘Word is that there were about 40,000 participants this year.

As an arts town, Loveland is best known for its sculpture and bronze foundries, so sculpture is a big part of the festival. But I’m mostly a painter, so this year the folks at the church I attend agreed to once again step up and help me facilitate a huge public art project for festival-goers. Beggars’ Gate pastor, Pat Sokoll, has insisted on the church footing the bill so that this event can be free for everyone.

This year we doubled the size of the final image to 15 x 27 feet. The image consists of 405, 12 inch square tiles. The way it works is that an artist (yours truly) translates the image beforehand into light, medium, and dark values. Each square tile contains a piece of the larger image with the correct value marked accordingly. Participants can express themselves as they wish so long as they use the correct value of paint in each designated area.

Last year we spoofed perhaps the best-known painting in the world – The Mona Lisa. We gave her a Loveland twist. She held a Valentine that says, “With love, from Leonardo,” and I put Long’s Peak in the background. (Click here to see her.) This year we spoofed another iconic image from art history – Michelangelo’s Creation from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Since participants don’t know in advance what image they are helping to create, it seems reasonably safe to me to spoof a well-known and loved image from art history.

Why we do this
Several people have asked me about the inspiration for putting on such a large, free event. I think this is worth doing for a couple of reasons:

Community-building
I think our country has experienced a serious loss of civility and unity. I like this project because participants can express themselves individually while being an integral part of a larger picture together. It’s a great metaphor for community. An art project will certainly not solve our problems, but it can be a nice reminder that we all have a place here, making the community of Loveland what it is.

It’s just fun to look at the diversity expressed on the wall; to appreciate the creativity and to see the differing personalities of each individual coming through. I know the stories of many of the participants. I see tiles painted by a husband and wife who are physical therapists, a dad and his small kids, a retired school teacher who loves the arts, a child with Down Syndrome, a college student home for the weekend, a friend struggling with an unsettling medical diagnosis, and a competitive distance runner.

Every tile on the wall represents a person with a story. Maybe we can all get better at getting to know each other despite our differences this year. Maybe we can learn to be slower to shut each other down when we disagree.

public art community

Detail of local color…

Radical Inclusivity
Some tiles are quite complicated and require a bit of time and careful attention to complete. Others are completely blank and are impossible to mess up, so long as the correct value of paints are used. This means that even a child barely old enough to hold a brush, a person with a physical or mental disability, or even a blind person can participate. This is personally meaningful to me as a father of a child with a disability and also as a father of a very gifted child, both in the same family. I know how rare it is to find something everyone can engage with as equals

We made it free because we didn’t want anyone to be excluded for financial reasons. As an artist couple raising 5 kids, often below the poverty line, my wife and I often avoided events like this festival. Or if we attended such an event, we had to tell our kids in advance that we weren’t going to buy anything there. It was gratifying to see parents of large families smile to see that our event was free.

art and math

One of my favorite tiles, just because it is so different from anything i would ever do. The mathematical equation creates the heart shape shown on the tile. This tile appears near the head of God in the mural.

What do you think of having a permanent art wall in Loveland?
It looks as thought this may be our last year, as things now stand. The boarded up building on 4th Street where the mural is situated is scheduled for renovation in late spring. I think it would be a unique addition to downtown Loveland to have a permanent, rotating art wall for projects like this. Maybe at the Feed & Grain, or on the side of some other well-exposed building, visible from 4th Street. Or possibly a large billboard type structure reserved for 2D art display.

It could be another way for the city to support the arts.

Thanks again to the small army of volunteers at Beggars’ Gate for your service and ingenuity, and for sticking it out in the cold weather. Thanks to everyone who came by and painted a tile. I love being part of this community.

— Scott Freeman

Please join my email list to be notified when my newest kids’ storybooks are released!

art for kids

A small artist with his tile.

Do Loving Families Create Inequality in Society?

social justice-parenting

Sometimes it’s astounding to hear the ideas that smart people will entertain.

I thought it would be fun to start off the year by joyfully ignoring some smart people’s wisdom. My hope is that you too will be encouraged and confident in your parenting by taking care to do the precise opposite of what certain smart people recommend.

In 2015, a couple of philosophers, Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse, released some of their thoughts on social justice. To be fair to them, their hearts are in the right place. Unfortunately, they seem to have the hearts of robots. I believe they are still at large.

Swift turned his blinking antennae toward the disturbing fact that certain parental practices can create an “unfair advantage” for kids who come from loving homes. He sees this as a problem.

‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.

Well…I’m interested in equality of opportunity too. But somehow it never occurred to me to discourage good parenting as a way to level the playing field.

Swift muses, ‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’   

Why even entertain this idea? The family is not “the source of unfairness in society.” That’s like wondering if food is the source of eating disorders. Or if cars are the source of auto collisions. Or if water is the cause of drowning.

Shouldn’t the possibility of user-error be considered here?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to wonder if it’s bad parenting and dysfunctional family dynamics that disadvantages kids? So much societal good comes from good parenting that it would necessarily harm society to “create a level playing field” by abolishing the family. Maybe Swift could direct his time and energy toward supporting and equipping disadvantaged families.

I can’t find the source of the following quote, but I think it explains a lot:

“Progressives seek to create a system that is so good that individual goodness and responsibility are no longer necessary.”

Swift’s comment goes to show how decisively one’s worldview will guide one to a particular destination, for better or for worse. Fortunately, he and Brighouse do reject the notion of abolishing the family. But unfortunately, they instead favor the “mere” redefining of marriage, family, and parenting.

Swift continues,

‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.

Here he has in view economic advantages such as private schooling for kids. He’s against that. However, he is willing to allow parents to read bedtime stories to their kids at night, so long as they feel at least a little guilty about it sometimes:

‘I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,’

I wish I were making this up.

Since this is my blog, I get to state the obvious: Benefiting your children through loving and attentive parenting does not “disadvantage other people’s children”! Please DO benefit your children to the very best of your ability! Daily! Use wisdom! Pray for them! Work at having a great marriage for the sake of your kids! These things will also not disadvantage or hurt anyone!

Yes, it’s true… Reading to young children does indeed benefit them in many ways. Notably, it helps to build empathy in them, and can transmit good values to them. The compassionate course for compassionate parents is to raise “advantaged”, well-adjusted kids who will become compassionate adults. Somebody is going to have to care for the disadvantaged in society, after all.

Not surprisingly, in his quest for equality Swift ultimately lands in the same place where our culture increasingly finds itself bobbing like a cork in the ocean with no anchor – the redefining of marriage and parenting:

‘Nothing in our theory assumes two parents: there might be two, there might be three, and there might be four,’ says Swift…Politicians love to talk about family values, but meanwhile the family is in flux and so we wanted to go back to philosophical basics to work out what are families for and what’s so great about them and then we can start to figure out whether it matters whether you have two parents or three or one, or whether they’re heterosexual etcetera.’

While I’m thrilled that these guys are working on figuring out all this stuff for us, I’m not super confident that they will arrive at the truth.

In fact, regarding his basic questions, natural law, empirical research, and the teaching of Jesus all coincide nicely:

“What are families for?”
Even from a non-religious standpoint, lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage benefits society in a way that no other type of social arrangement does, (to borrow a thought from Ryan T. Anderson.) If a man and a woman make a baby together, and they fail to raise that baby, then the costs to that child and to society can be great. If this happens on a large scale, pathologies will increase to the point where a free society will begin to disintegrate.

On the other hand, there is a mountain of research showing that children raised in a low conflict home with a married mom and dad statistically reap benefits, across the board. If society has an interest in seeing children grow up to be contributing citizens, then the traditional family is crucial for healthy society.

“What’s so great about families?”
Love. Love is great. Security. Acceptance and belonging. Identity. An environment where vulnerable children are cared for by adults who are utterly invested in their lives. The village and the state may or may not help, but they are a pale substitute for a married mom and dad.

Are the roles of “mom” and “dad” dispensable?
If one wants to think about what will disadvantage children, this is the place to look.

It is now fashionable among smart people to believe that family structure is not important; that what matters is loving adults, regardless of gender. This is an ideological fabrication that ignores science and research.

I don’t intend to be unkind here. I’m simply saying that biological connection matters, and that kids tend to yearn for relational connection with their biological parents. Adoption is wonderful. We all know many single parents who work heroically to raise their kids well. Gay couples can be just as capable as hetero couples when it comes to parenting. But this issue is not ultimately about love or competency; it’s about what kids are wired to need. Specifically, what a single parent or a gay couple cannot be to a child is a mom and a dad. These roles matter:

A boy simply cannot have his masculine identity imparted and affirmed by his mom. Not because she is incompetent but because she is female. At the same time he cannot experience and appreciate the unity-in-diversity of the deep emotional connection of maternal love with his dad. Not because he is unloving, but because he is male.

A girl cannot receive non-sexual masculine attention, affirmation, and acceptance from her mom. Because mom is female. She cannot receive intimate knowledge and shared, comfortable connection around her innate femininity from her dad. Because he is a dude.

This is simply the shape of reality. I might even agree that it’s not fair.

No one is advocating chasing down gay parents and taking away their children, or shaming single parents, or stoning step-parents. We should all support each other in our parenting and create community to whatever extent possible. But parenting should ultimately be for the sake of children, and it is right to advocate for what is best for them when it comes to public policy. Redefining marriage necessarily redefines parenting, and intentionally denying the unique and complimentary roles of mothers and fathers will inevitably disadvantage kids.

 

Are you on Pinterest? I would be grateful if you would follow me as I try build momentum for marketing my KIDS’ BOOKS on Pinterest. (I’m using the name Scott Freeman) Thanks!

Jesus vs Santa Claus

the reason for the season

I’ve hesitated to write about the Jesus vs Santa topic because it can be a surprisingly divisive topic in church and family cultures. However, the holiday season is upon us and I think it’s interesting and even helpful to hear differing perspectives on how parents handle the issue. I would love to hear your perspective as well.

Here’s mine.

The church cultures in which Mollie and I raised our kids have been theologically conservative, highly biblically literate, and conducive to sincere devotion in following Jesus. I got the impression over the years that our family held the minority position in those churches in that we openly practiced the Santa tradition.

For some no-Santa Christians, the idea of Christians practicing the Santa tradition can seem incomprehensible. I don’t care to sway anyone to my position, but for what it’s worth I thought I would share my reasons why my wife and I chose to follow this secular holiday tradition. Our reasons may surprise you, because they ultimately have to do with Jesus.

Following are my responses to the most common reasons I’ve heard for not observing the Santa tradition:

1) We want Jesus to be the focus of Christmas in our family
Indeed. Of course we wanted this for our family as well. However, it’s not an either/or issue. I know this because I was raised in a Christian home that kept the Santa tradition, yet I and all of my sibs love Jesus today, and none of us believes in Santa Claus anymore. I can remember as a kid that, even though my imagination excited me about Saint Nick, my parents also taught us that the real reason for Christmas was the birth of Jesus. I believed them, and it made perfect sense to me.

I definitely got the idea that Jesus and Santa Claus were somehow on the same team.

Later, as a parent, I had what I saw as a strategic reason for keeping the Santa tradition. From the time my children were small, of course they learned about the story of Jesus and His birth. However, I knew they could only understand so much, and I certainly couldn’t expect them to sit around and stare at their navels pondering Jesus all Christmas season. So we enlisted Santa Claus to help make the season of Jesus’s birth more exciting for them. We knew they would eventually drop the Santa belief as they left childhood, but we believed there would remain with them very positive feelings and fun memories that they would carry with them into adulthood. The reason behind it all would always be Jesus.

I believe this has proved to be true.

2) I’m not comfortable lying to my kids
I completely agree with this one. Our kids assumed Santa was real mostly because of songs and stories and the input of extended family members. Christmas mornings pretty much convinced them. However, as they got older and directly questioned us, we made it a point to never to lie to them.

However, I used it as a way to encourage critical thinking. I told them that I wanted them to figure it out on their own. I told them that all of their lives people would tell them things that were not true and that they needed to learn how to discover what is true. This wasn’t a very satisfying answer to them, but then it became sort of a game. They would begin to give me arguments and I would try to argue the other side. If their argument was a good one, I would say “that’s a good argument!”

More importantly, for each child I also used this moment to underscore the truth, saying something like: “I will tell you this – the story of Jesus and everything in the Bible is definitely true, and Mom and I believe it.” I wanted them to be rock solid about that.

I think there is something very healthy about a child learning to critically engage in figuring out the truth, even when it is against his or her interest to do so.

3) Christmas is a pagan holiday. Christmas trees and Santa Claus have pagan origins.
I have always thought this was a lame argument for several reasons. Primarily, regardless of what December 25 meant many hundreds of years ago, today, in America, it is not a pagan holiday. For followers of Jesus it is a remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus.

True, no one knows the date of Jesus’s birth. This is also irrelevant. So the church randomly picked a day to celebrate the birth of God’s Messiah. Or maybe the date is not so random, and the church picked a popular pagan holiday and redeemed it to become a holiday celebrating the true Creator. I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Even today many Christians attempt to do the same thing with Halloween.

Christmas is arguably not a biblically condoned holiday, but that does not make it a harmful practice. Behind this objection there seems to be a concern that all of Christendom is somehow accidentally participating is false worship because of the holiday’s origins. But worship is intentional and conscious. I have yet to see biblical support for the idea of someone accidentally worshiping Satan. I’m willing to be proven wrong on this.

4) I don’t want to encourage materialism and selfishness in my kids.
Another great reason. We didn’t want to encourage those things either. I probably don’t need to say much here though. I think we all recognize that Christmas has become very commercialized and money driven. Many people go deeper into credit card debt during the Christmas season. Not good.

I’ve heard a lot of great strategies that families use to get around this. Some don’t do gift giving at all. Some do, but make a point to give to a needy family each year as well. Some work at a shelter as a family as part of their Christmas season, serving those less fortunate than they are. Some do gift giving but limit the dollar amount that can be spent. Please feel free to share your ideas or traditions in the comment section!

But as for the topic at hand, it certainly hasn’t been my experience that observing the Santa tradition will necessarily encourage materialism and selfishness. My opinion is that the example of the parents over the long haul is foremost in encouraging or discouraging a materialistic lifestyle. In fact, ironically, Santa only exists because of the generosity of parents toward their children. When children figure out that it was mom and dad all along, this arguably encourages gratitude and models selfless giving to them.

On the positive side, there are a couple of other reasons that proved to be quite important to Mollie and me when we were determining what our family culture would be around Christmastime:

Extended family
I was raised by devoted Christian parents. Had Mollie and I refused to practice the Santa tradition on “spiritual grounds” I think it would have created an unnecessary offense against my parents and siblings. There were other things more important to us that my parents didn’t understand, like breastfeeding, homeschooling, and eating a whole food/organic diet. Creating a rift over something as fun and harmless as Santa Claus would have been just been super-annoying to my family.

To see it from my mom’s perspective: she and her 6 siblings grew up in St. Louis with an alcoholic father. As a result she grew up impoverished, and quit school after the 8th grade to start working. She told us that when they were young, she and her siblings would sometimes each receive an orange for Christmas.

So when she married my dad, I think she tried to make holidays with her own children everything she missed as a child. I have wonderful holiday memories from childhood, and I still love the Christmas season. I think my mom would’ve been hurt had I implied that I saw her efforts as harmful.

Jesus versus Santa

Christmas morning with my siblings, 1962

Joyful, Joyful
In our family, Mollie and I wanted to tip the scales in favor of making the Christian holidays transcendent and irresistible; something that our kids would look forward to all year long. Santa Claus is unnecessary. If you’re a parent and you don’t include Santa in your repertoire of holiday traditions, I fully respect your decision. However, I would encourage you to figure out ways to make the holiday season an exciting and transcendent time for your kids, so that they will grow up loving the season of Jesus’s birth. Ultimately, we all hope to see our kids continue to love the person of Jesus Himself.

For me the bottom line on Santa is: he’s a harmless, if shallow, part of American culture.
If we can figure out ways to use harmless cultural traditions to our advantage,  I think that’s a good thing.

My illustrated kids’ storybook, The True Story of Christmas, tells the story of Jesus in fidelity to the Bible, beginning with creation and the fall. Orders should be received by Dec 5 to ensure delivery by Christmas.
(Or, please email me directly me with late orders at scottnmollie@yahoo.com.)