Easter in the Year of COVID-19

True Passover Lamb

Image adapted from Leon Bonnat’s “Christ Crucifixion, 1880.

The global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the human family in strange ways. I believe it to be true that we all live for relationship and connection. Yet, ironically, in calling on our better natures to protect the vulnerable among us, for many the pandemic has resulted in us separating from those we love.

For practical purposes some of the most meaningful social gatherings of our lives are essentially, for now, illegal. Weddings, funerals, travel, and all of the other things we do in community – in schools and restaurants and arenas – are, for now, considered to be dangerous.

For those of us who follow Jesus, we are approaching what is ordinarily our most important communal celebration of the year – the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. I don’t think I’m the only one who has been wrestling with how to observe the holiday this year. But I can’t not celebrate the resurrection of Jesus!

For the past 10 years during the Holy Week season I’ve put on an event called the Journey of Worship at my church. It was designed to be a self-guided, interactive, contemplative event. As such, I thought my little church would be able to offer this event to the community this year and still remain compliant with the current social distancing restrictions. But when the stay-at-home-order came out, we didn’t see a way to put on the event while remaining in compliance.

So instead, we have decided to create a video version.

It’s not the same as being there, but if you are looking for a way to deepen your connection with God this year, and to observe the Easter/Passover season, I hope you will set aside some time, put the video on full screen, pull out your Bible, and prayerfully still your heart in the presence of God.

Though full of art and music, this is not an entertainment video. Rather, it’s a study and a call to worship. It’s nearly 30 minutes long and is truly intended to be a journey of reflection. The video version takes you through seven narrated stations with ample scriptural references for those who may want to hit pause, read, and reflect.

The Journey of Worship will take you through the climactic events in the life of Jesus, and briefly explore how the Torah of Moses foreshadowed each profound act. Because gentile Christianity has historically cut itself off from its Jewish roots, it is perhaps not widely known that each salvific act of Jesus occurred on a different Jewish feast. Among the many things this signifies is that our Creator has been purposefully carrying out a plan that spans thousands of years.

It is a good and loving plan, and He intends to bring it to completion!

It would be presumptuous to believe that God has welcomed us into loving relationship with Himself had He not told us so. It would be arrogant to say that we can now understand mysteries that were hidden from those who lived under the Mosaic covenant. It would be presumptuous to think that we get to experience a spiritual birth, and life, and access to God that the ancients could only dream about. But since Jesus has told us these things are true, it would be faithless not to believe them.

During this strange year that is so full of disappointment and even sadness for so many, I hope you will find hope in connection with the Author of Life this season and throughout the rest of the year.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. — Jesus

Here is the link to the Journey of Worship video version:

 

Building Community Through Art

Klimt, The Kiss, Loveland Colorado

“THE KISS” – Loveland Version, 15 x 15 feet.

2020 is our fourth year to create a giant community art piece in downtown Loveland, Colorado. For the design each year I’ve spoofed a famous fine art painting, giving each one a Valentine’s Day twist and a nod to Loveland.

This year I chose Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt, and his iconic 1908 painting, The Kiss.

If you look closely you can see Dan Cupid aiming his arrow at the couple. Dan Cupid is the character who shows up in the special postmark each year for Loveland’s famous valentine re-mailing program. He’s kind of a Loveland mascot, at least around Valentine’s Day, so he made his way into the design this year.

Dan Cupid, Loveland Community Mural

Detail showing Dan Cupid

The painting of the mural takes place during Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day Street festival. This year there were 400 tiles, each painted by festival-goers; young and old, skilled and unskilled, first-timers and returnees. I received many enthusiastic comments from folks who are thankful for this community project, letting me know that people value the experience. That’s worth a lot to me!

Four years ago, my motive for creating the mural event sprung from a perceived need and a desire to build community. After the 2016 election, so much of the country seemed so divided and angry, even in my hometown of Loveland.

Today, four years later, the climate doesn’t seem much better to me, except that I now hear more voices calling for listening to, and understanding, one another in respectful dialogue. (Click here to see a favorite example of mine). I believe those voices are correct. The unhealthy alternative of perpetual division is too disheartening to live with. What a dysfunctional mess to leave to our children.

I don’t see much hope that presidents and elected politicians are capable of bringing healing to our divided nation. It’s up to us to do that at a grass roots level. It’s up to us to restore the vanishing art of respectful disagreement. Let us connect with our neighbors and get to know them, especially those who may see things differently than we do.

Even though a community mural is not going to transform the social climate, I think it’s one small step in the right direction. Combined with many other small steps, perhaps we can eventually find that we have arrived at a more caring and unified place as a society.

Big thanks again to all of my amazing volunteers at Beggars’ Gate Church!
Thanks also to Loveland Downtown Partnership and the Loveland Chamber of Commerce for their support!

Scott Freeman public art

My valentine to my wife. (I’m too skinny to get a real tattoo).

 

My Top 10 Christmas Movies

American Girl Doll Samantha

I admit…one of my favorite Christmas movies is an American Girl Doll movie. Don’t judge me.

At our house we love a good story. One of our Christmas traditions is watching Christmas movies together, beginning right after Thanksgiving. I’ve noticed that if I do this with too many lame Christmas movies it makes me sad and tempts me to hate Christmas. So here are 10 that I can look forward to seeing during the season.

Here’s my criterion for the Top 10:
My personality requires that a Christmas movie be meaningful to me in some way. If it’s only about Santa Claus, or people singing and dancing, or Christmas for the sake of Christmas, that doesn’t quite do it for me. (Even though I like to watch Elf every year because the idea of a human raised in elf culture is pretty hilarious, Elf didn’t quite make the cut).

Also, since we like to watch movies as a family I wanted to make the list kid friendly. I believe these ten movies are. I hope I’m not forgetting anything. I’ve made note of possible exceptions at the end of some descriptions. (I like the idea of making Green Book a Christmas movie, for example, but it has some thematic elements that don’t fit well with small kids, so it didn’t make the cut ).

10 – Little House on the Prairie – The Christmas They Never Forgot
I haven’t actually seen this movie for a couple of decades because we only have it on VHS, but I think I really like it. The entire Ingalls family and a friend get snowed in by a Christmas Eve blizzard. They decide to pass the time by sitting around the fire and sharing stories of their favorite past Christmases. Almanzo’s story is the only one I remember, but it’s pretty great. Also, Hester Sue tells her story of what Christmas was like for her as a slave child.

9 – Prancer
A beautifully filmed movie about very average people in a small town. Sam Elliott plays a prickly widower struggling to raise his 2 kids. His spunky and mildly annoying daughter has a Christmassy secret that becomes public in hilarious fashion. This leads to the father having an emotional epiphany of his own, leading him to reexamine his priorities and rejoin the land of the living. The characters are wonderfully cast in this film.

8 – Miracle On 34th Street
In contrast to Prancer, this is a beautifully filmed movie about a beautiful couple in NYC. While the movie revolves around a charming Kris Kringle character (Richard Attenborough), the movie is really about the struggle between good and evil, belief and distrust, within each of us. While I might disagree philosophically with a few ideas, the bottom line is that it’s a visually lovely Christmas movie that is enjoyable to watch.

7 – The Bishop’s Wife
I haven’t seen the 1996 remake, so I can’t make a comparison, but I can’t imagine why this movie needed to be remade. In this 1947 Black and white film, Cary Grant plays an angel sent to help a Bishop get his priorities straight, (though that’s not why the Bishop thinks he’s been sent a helper). The emotional affair between the angel and the Bishop’s wife has always made me a little uncomfortable, but the writers manage to erase the discomfort by the end of this amusing story.

6 – Christmas Eve
The newest movie on my list (2015), we watched this for the first time a couple of years ago, mostly because of the cast: Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), James Roday (Shawn from Psych), to name a few. It’s a psychologically fascinating idea. Basically, an entire section of NYC loses power on Christmas Eve, trapping various groups of people in 6 different elevators throughout the city. It’s kind of an exercise in imagining what would happen if you were forced to move beyond the surface with people you would ordinarily pass by. (For instance, a guy who just got fired on Christmas Eve gets stuck on an elevator with the manager who fired him). The entire movie consists of following these wildly diverse groups as they interact throughout the evening, resulting in some alternately amusing and profound moments.

5 – The Nativity Story
After all, the birth of Jesus is the reason we have a holiday called Christmas, so every season I want to see a movie telling that story. This is the best one I’ve seen. I love that the characters look middle-eastern (because they are). And yet, despite their quest for authenticity, the producers fail to comply with the biblical narrative at a couple of points. Nonetheless there are many powerful and beautiful moments. For me it is most moving to watch the awkwardness of Mary and Joseph’s divinely-created predicament being played out in a palpably human manner. Visually this film is exceptional.

Note: there are a couple of violent (but not terribly graphic) scenes having to do with Roman soldiers, which some kids might find disturbing.

4 – A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott version – 2009?)
These last 4 are difficult to rate. Perhaps I only rank this at number 4 because of its familiarity, and I want end with a couple of movies you probably haven’t seen. For me A Christmas Carol may be the quintessential Christmas story. I LOVE the story of Mr. Scrooge’s repentance and joyful embrace of becoming a man who “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” I like this particular version because of its beautiful filming and clarity. (Apparently there are over 8 movie versions of this story). I also have the1951 classic version starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. It has its superior aspects, but overall I find it sometimes difficult to watch and understand.

Note: some children might find Marley and some of the Christmas spirits frightening.

3 – It’s A Wonderful Life
These last 3 are probably a 3 way tie. Love this story. Love the characters. Love the self-sacrifice of George Bailey, reluctant though it may be at times. (Love that too). Love the corniness. Love the dialogue and the quotable lines. Love Clarence, the angel with “the IQ of a rabbit.” Love the valuing of family and community over personal achievement. I suppose this film is similar to A Christmas Carol in that a man is made to assess his life with the help of a supernatural being, and has a change of heart. I guess something about that resonates with our common human experience.

2 – Samantha – An American Girl Holiday
Okay…my guy friends will probably revoke my man-card for listing these last 2 as my favorites, but I don’t care – I love this movie!

Yes, I know this film was probably made as a marketing stratagem to sell more Samantha Parkington dolls and accessories, (hence the stupid title), but it resulted in a great Christmas movie! It actually makes me CRY…there, I said it! But not due to mere sentimentality. The movie is about love, family, friendship, loss, social justice (yes), and how privilege and power could, or should, be used.

I only know about this movie because my wife and I bought it years ago for our daughter who owned a Samantha doll. We have since stolen the DVD back from her. I still can’t believe somebody made a full length movie this good to sell a toy. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve seen it. Don’t even try to tell me you sat through this and didn’t tear up.

I don’t even know how to summarize without spoiling the movie. I’ll just say the movie is set at the end of the Victorian era, in New York, 1904. Samantha befriends a neighboring immigrant servant girl, and…you should just watch this movie.

1 – A Season For Miracles
Number one of the 3-way tie – a movie nobody has heard of. That’s probably because it’s a Hallmark movie. Elitist types have taught us to smirk at and disdain Hallmark movies. Not unlike the Samantha movie, this one is also a marketing tool. In this case, the movie was made in order to create a positive emotional connection in the viewer’s mind toward Hallmark Cards, Inc. (I know this because I worked at Hallmark as an artist and I once heard the guy in charge of Hallmark movies speak). But I don’t care! I LOVE this movie!! Hooray for ethical capitalism!!!

But about the movie. All I’ll say is this. A devoted aunt rescues her sister’s kids from being put into the foster care system, but she does this pretty much illegally. Things get complicated as she tries to make this work by blending into a small town. She meets a guy, whose attraction to her further complicates things. So it’s a love story, but also a story about trust, poverty and privilege, exclusion and community, and love. All kinds of love. Did I say love? Love is awesome. Always. Good movies about love are the awesomest.

Our family lived in the inner city for a long time. The biological mother (Laura Dern) in this film is scarily spot on. Same with her street smart and not-cute daughter. Pretty gritty stuff for a Hallmark movie. My only complaint is that, as in several of my picks, there is an angel in this movie, which I think the movie could have done better without. But in keeping with Hallmark’s tendency to gild the lily, there she is. I still love this movie. I think you will too.

Share you thoughts
If you check out a movie from this list that is new to you, I’d love for you to come back and share your thoughts in the comment section below. What did you think?

Also, if you would like to recommend your favorite Christmas movie below, I’d love to hear it. I’m always on the watch for good ones.

Merry Christmas!
Scott

The Visitation: A Picture of Trust

As we approach the Christmas season, I thought I would share with you a favorite post, The Visitation, from several years ago. I still find it encouraging, and I hope you will too. Also, I made the painting featured below into a Christmas card. Details at the end:

Sometimes I find it enriching to “copy” great paintings. I like doing this for a couple of reasons. First, re-tracing the stages of a great painting is a good way to learn about painting. It’s like thinking the thoughts of the painter after him/her. In the process one can sometimes understand why the original painter made certain decisions about color, composition, and subject matter.

But secondly, I view re-painting a great composition as similar to doing a musical cover of a great song. It’s not about making a literal copy, or even necessarily trying to improve upon the old composition. Sometimes it’s about making the song (or painting) come alive for a new generation, and honoring the greatness of the original. For me it says there is something beautiful or profound there that is worth looking at or listening to again.

Below is an early 16th century painting by Italian artist Mariotto Albertinelli. I think it’s a painting worth writing about during the Advent season. I’ve never seen this painting in person. I only ran across it in an old art book one day, and it stopped me cold. I’ll tell you why I was drawn to this painting…

Image

…I was moved for a number of reasons. The main reason is the tender depiction of the relationship of these two pregnant women, each leaning in toward the other. I love how their hands are clasped near their wombs; how the older begins to embrace the younger. Most striking of all to me is the proximity of their faces to one another – almost touching, as if there really is no adequate physical way to express what they are feeling.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the story that is depicted here, you may get the feeling that something momentous has happened, or is happening. You may feel that these women share some wonderful secret.

In fact, they do share a terrible and fantastic secret.

This is a depiction of what has come to be called The Visitation, recorded in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke. After learning that her elder kinswoman, Elizabeth, is pregnant, Mary goes to visit her in the hill country of Judah. Both women carry children miraculously conceived, and named by God Himself. Both pregnancies were preceded by secretive angelic visits, with messages so extraordinary that they strained belief. Even today, some two thousand years later, most people do not believe their story. Yet, enough of us do believe it that the story remains with us.

Elizabeth’s situation is a bundle of conundrums. She is infertile, past childbearing age, and childless – until now. At the time of Mary’s visit, Elizabeth is six months into her pregnancy. Of her coming child, John, the angel Gabriel had spoken these words:

“…he will be great before the Lord,…And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…” (Luke 1:15-17)

These words were a direct reference to the very last words written by the last Mosaic covenant prophet, Malachi, prophesying what would occur before the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5). Now after 400 years of silence from God, the waiting is over, and Elizabeth’s child will be this Messiah’s forerunner. However, even knowing the prophecies, nothing would unfold as expected:

Elizabeth was the wife of a Jewish temple priest. Their child John would announce the Messiah, who would in turn make that Jewish Aaronic priesthood obsolete (Heb 8:1-13). He would do this, not because that system was wrong, but because the entire Mosaic system pointed to Him, and He would bring about something much better. In fact this Messiah would be the fulfillment of every Mosaic covenant feast and ritual, though no one could see it at the time.

Mary’s situation is even more impossible. In a culture where sexual infidelity is a punishable offense, she chooses to bear the stigma of an untimely pregnancy. But what can she say to people? God made me pregnant? Only an angelic visit to Joseph persuades him to stay with her.

And after that, what can he say to people? An angel told me in a dream that God made her pregnant? Right. Oh…and by the way, our baby is the Messiah that you and all of Israel have been expecting for centuries? There is really nothing to be done except to let the story unfold. Only trusting in the loving God who initiated all of these things makes sense.

So for now these two women have each other, both caught up in events too mysterious and too earthshaking to be understood at this point. They stand at a place of vivid tension between flesh and Spirit, faith and sight, darkness and light, and between this age and the one to come.

“The Visitation” – watercolor by Scott Freeman
based on a 16th c painting by Mariotto Albertinelli

For those interested, the original painting has been sold, but I do have prints available of the original. Prints are 6×8″ on archival watercolor paper, and come with a certificate of authenticity. Cost is $20.00, unframed, and includes shipping within the US. A nice gift for both art lovers and people of faith. To order, email me at scottnmollie@yahoo.com.

Also, I just made this painting into a Christmas card on my Zazzle site. I think there is still a “60% off sale on greeting cards” going on, if you hurry. CLICK HERE to order.

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.)

 

 

 

How Wounded People Have Shaped Culture

fatherless atheists, defective father hypothesis

Have you ever wondered about the personal histories of people who have influenced the world in negative ways – philosophically or politically? I have. I’ve harbored a long-held suspicion that influential people who have shaped the world for the worse have generally done so from a position of personal woundedness.

The point of the question is not to establish a reason to judge people or to create division. But I think it’s an interesting and significant question. If anything, establishing such a connection may help foster understanding.

It may also shed light on issues that we may assume to be intellectual issues but which may in fact originate with psychological issues rooted in personal history.

In my opinion it also underscores the importance of marriage, loving family, and the meeting of the relational needs of our fellow human beings.

I’ve finally gotten around to doing a little research, and what I’ve learned is fascinating. We know the names and contributions of world-shapers, but what is less well known is that the stories of those who’ve made a negative impact are very often deeply tragic.

Who is to Say What is “Negative”?
This is a fair question. Let me hasten to add a caveat here. I am unapologetically biased in my opinion about what constitutes a “negative influence” in the world. Justifying my opinion is probably a topic for a separate post. I recognize that some of you may consider what I see as a negative contribution to be a positive one. I also recognize that the contribution of many the folks mentioned below is mixed.

However, I don’t believe it matters. Regardless of what you think about a person’s contribution to the world, the facts of their personal history remain, and, I believe, shaped the course of their lives.

Following is a list of people who have shaped the world in the modern era; especially in the world of academia. There is overlap in these categories as most of these people are/were atheists.

Atheist thinkers
In a recent movie review I mentioned the connection between well known atheists and the “father wound.” Psychologist Paul Vitz has written a book on this connection entitled, Faith of the Fatherless, which I recommend. Here are arguably the most notable atheist names in history:

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Popularly known for his pronouncement, “God is dead.” Nietzsche’s father, to whom he was very attached, died just before his fifth birthday. After his father’s death he lived in a religious household consisting of his mother, sister, paternal grandmother, and two paternal aunts, until he went away to school at age 14.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Prominent British atheist philosopher and author, notably published a collection of essays entitled, Why I Am Not a Christian. From an aristocratic family, Russell’s mother died when he was two years old. His father died two years later. Russell was then raised by his paternal grandparents, Lord John Russell and Lady Russell. However, his grandfather died when he was six years old, leaving him to be raised by his puritanical grandmother and a succession of nannies.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Influential 20th century French atheist philosopher, playwright, and novelist. Sartre’s father died when he was 15 months old. He grew up very close and emotionally invested with his mother. When his mother remarried in Sartre’s 12th year, she moved into an apartment with her new husband, and Sartre stayed with his grandparents with whom he was not close.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
French atheist philosopher, author, and journalist. His father died in battle during World War 1 when Camus was 1 year old. Camus was raised by his mother, who was illiterate and cleaned houses for a living, and subsequently grew up in an economically depressed environment. In 1937 Camus was denounced as a Trotskyite and expelled from the French Communist Party, at which time he joined the French anarchist movement.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995)
Perhaps America’s best-known atheist before her death, she led the lawsuit to successfully ban prayer in public schools during the 1960s. According to her son, Madalyn hated her father and unsuccessfully attempted to kill him on at least one occasion. The reason for this intense hatred has not been disclosed.

Richard Dawkins (1941- )
British “New Atheist,” evolutionary biologist, and author. A critic of all religion and especially Christianity, Dawkins is on record stating that the teaching of Christian doctrine to children is child abuse. He attended a religious boarding school at age 9 and experienced sexual abuse at the hands of his Latin master while separated from his parents.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
British “New Atheist,” journalist, and author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens grew up in an intact family and also went off the boarding school at age 8. His father was a naval officer and Hitchens claims to have “few clear memories of him,” referring to him as “the Commander.” He was close with his mother, who eventually had an affair with a former Anglican priest. The two lovers subsequently ended their lives together in a suicide pact.

Daniel Dennett (1942- )
American “New Atheist” philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist. Dennett’s father worked as a counter-intelligence agent for the US government. The family moved to Lebanon during World War 2. His father died in an unexplained plane crash while away on a Middle East mission when Dennett was 5 years old.

Political leaders
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
Leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and architect of the Soviet state. Third of six children in a happy family, when Lenin was 16 his father died of a brain hemorrhage. He renounced his belief in God soon thereafter. 5 months later his elder brother was hanged for his part in conspiring against the Tsar.

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
Soviet dictator, orchestrator of the Great Purge against political rivals, and perpetrator of the worst man-made famine in human history. The precise number is unknown, but by some estimates Stalin presided over the deaths of 20 million people. Originally trained for the priesthood, in his 30s Stalin rejected his family name (Djugashvili) and changed it to the Russian word for “man of steel.” Stalin had a very harsh upbringing. His father was an alcoholic and often severely beat him and his mother.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
Communist leader and father of the People’s Republic of China. Mao presided over the Great Leap Forward of 1958 (the ensuing famine of which caused the deaths of some 30 million peasants,) and the Cultural Revolution of 1966 (which resulted in some million and a half deaths and destroyed much of China’s cultural heritage.) Mao reportedly hated his father, who was a tyrant and regularly and severely beat him and his three siblings.

Adolph Hitler (1889-1945)
Leader of the Nazi Party, Chancellor and fuehrer of Germany, and initiator of World War 2. Hitler presided over the Nazi Holocaust during which 6 million Jews were executed – nearly two thirds of Continental Europe’s Jewish citizenry. Additional victims included communists, the mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political opponents. As a boy, Hitler’s father severely and regularly beat him; “every day” according to his sister. He was one of 6 children, 3 of whom died in infancy. As an 11 year old boy Hitler was deeply affected by the death of his younger brother, Edmund. Hitler’s antagonistic relationship with his father ended 3 years later when his father died unexpectedly. There was no father figure in his life after this.

Opinion shapers
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. While his father was not abusive, apparently Freud considered him to be a weak man and a disappointment; lacking in courage and unable to provide for his family. Furthermore, according to Paul Vitz, in two letters as an adult Freud writes that his father, Jacob, was “a sexual pervert and that Jacob’s own children suffered as a result.”

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
British naturalist and author of the vastly influential On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The pure naturalism of microbes-to-man evolutionary theory made materialism (atheism) an intellectually respectable option. Darwin’s mother died when he was 8. He was raised by his sisters until he went off to school at age 9. His relationship with his imposing father was ambivalent. He once wrote, “To my deep mortification my father once said to me, ‘you care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family’.”

Feminist leaders
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)
American birth control activist, sex educator, author, nurse, and racist eugenics proponent. Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the US and founded the American Birth Control League, which became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Sanger grew up in an impoverished home headed by an alcoholic father. She was the 6th of 11 children. Her mother went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, (including 7 miscarriages,) before dying at the age of 40.

Gloria Steinem (1934- )
American feminist, political activist, and journalist. Steinem was a leading figurehead for the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s and co-founder of Ms. Magazine. Perhaps her best known quote is, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” When Steinem was 10 years old her parents divorced and her father left, leaving her to care for her mentally ill mother.

Bella Abzug (1920-1998)
American feminist, lawyer, congressional representative, and social activist. Abzug was also a leading activist during the 60s and 70s. In her later life she became an influential leader at the United nations working to support womens’ equality around the world. Abzug’s father died when she was 13. She went to the synagogue every morning for a year to recite the traditional mourner’s prayer. This was in defiance of the orthodox synagogue’s tradition that only sons recite the prayer.

Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012)
American feminist thinker and author. Firestone is less well known than the others listed here but she was a central figure in the early development of radical feminism. Her book, The Dialectic of Sex, published in 1970, has continued to be influential in feminist thought, and is also considered to be an early “post-genderist” work. In the book she argues that it is the biological role of pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing that keeps women oppressed. She envisioned the abolition of the nuclear family with its oppressive parent-child relationship, and doing away with the maternal instinct. She envisioned artificial wombs, and collective child-rearing. Not surprisingly, Firestone’s relationship with her controlling, orthodox Jewish father was wildly antagonistic.

Summary
One would be justified in asking if fatherlessness was typical in past centuries, or if the family dynamic was dysfunctional for most people. Author Paul Vitz answers this question by providing a contrasting list of theistic thinkers and influencers. In virtually every case these theists were raised in nurturing, loving environments. When a parent was lost at an early age, relatives or friends stepped up as affirming father figures. Examples Vitz gives include Blaise Pascal, Edmund Burke, William Paley, William Wilberforce, Soren Kierkegaard, G. K. Chesterton, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It would be wrong to assume that all atheists today grew up with a dysfunctional parent relationship. Atheism has now become a mainstream and academically respectable option. However, I remain convinced that children have a God-ordained right to be nurtured by their married biological parents whenever possible. If you are a parent I hope these stories will strengthen your resolve to stay a loving course in your marriage and parenting.

Happy Father’s day to all the dads reading this! May you be a blessing to your children!

What Happened at Loveland’s Fire & Ice Festival

Mona Lisa public art Loveland CO

Actually, a lot happened, with lots of local sculptors and musicians, but I’m going to tell you about a community art event that I and my church, Beggars’ Gate, put on there.

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know how troubled I am over how divided and uncivil our nation has become. I got an idea for a project that would bring diverse festival-goers together in a fun, creative process that would end in an exciting collaborative result.

With my peeps at church and the Festival organizers on board, we contacted the owner of a boarded-up building downtown. He gave us permission to beautify his blank wall. Already there was lots of trust going around.

I should mention that Fire & Ice is the city of Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day festival. Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal here in Loveland, Colorado.

Here’s how it worked:
We laid out a giant 13 x 15 foot grid of 12 inch squares on the wall and painted a gold frame around it. We numbered the squares 1 thru 195. On my studio floor I transferred a (secret) design to 195 wooden foot square tiles. So each tile had part of giant drawing on it. I designated how each area of each tile must be painted in order to make this work: “L” for light, “M” for medium, and “D” for dark paint. Plus a few rare tiles with white, black, and red areas.

At the festival, our small army of volunteers instructed festival-goers in the process. Some of the tiles were impossible to mess up, provided the right color values were used, so even very small children and people with disabilities could (and did!) participate.

It was crazy and fun!

Loveland Fire and Ice Festival

Unfortunately, this being our first time, there was a lot of guessing and estimating going on. We ran out of tiles and completed the image before the end of the second festival day. But Fire and Ice is a three day festival. So…one of my peeps ran out and purchased a stack of floor tiles. Another one cut some that needed cutting until we had another 100 blank squares. We contacted the building owner again for permission to attach a second mural to his wall. I worked into the wee hours to put together a (much simpler!) second design, and we were all ready for day 3 on Sunday.

A pastor friend, (who ended up hanging most of the Mona Lisa image on Saturday,) must’ve been struck with some deep thoughts while nailing up the creative expressions of nearly 200 people. What follows is what he wrote when he went home Saturday night. He read it to our little Beggars’ Gate congregation on Sunday morning. His name is John Meyer, and here are his thoughts:

The Mona Loveland

What do you see?

This community art piece is a great picture of one of the good things we believe about life.

Everyone is an individual, with different talents, different experiences, different likes. It is those differences that make this picture fun, interesting, and a bit unexpected.

But there is a bigger picture that comes together in a way that makes a beautiful whole out of all the individuality. It happened because each individual brought his or her own expression within the plan of an artist who had an intention from the beginning. It would have been nearly impossible for hundreds of individuals to make the Mona Loveland by talking among themselves. But by accepting (even without understanding) the greater plan of the artist, the unique expression of each individual created something that included everyone, and has a greater meaning and beauty that only exists because everyone came together.

We think this is a good picture of God’s plan for life. Each of us is made wonderfully unique by Him. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, and no two sets of fingerprints are alike, every person has unique and wonderful traits that are found in no other life.

But none of us are meant to be a complete picture alone. We are made for community. The Designing Artist has had a plan from the beginning to allow us to experience both our individuality and the greater good of a community living together.

It is from both living out who we are, and expressing that uniqueness within the “lines” and plan the Designing Artist has for each life, that allows us to experience the beautiful picture of human community to come together.

Our goal is to help individuals appreciate their own uniqueness, and to understand the plan of God that allows all of us to experience His good and bigger picture together!”

Beggars’ Gate Church
Loveland, Colorado
beggarsgate.com

blg-loveld-monalisa-fnl

The finished mural: “The Sweet Heart City’s” own Mona Lisa, painted by local citizens…

I want to extend a big THANK YOU to the army of volunteers who enabled this event to happen for the community. They gave time, energy, and resources to make this event free for everyone else. ‘God bless em’ all!

If you’re new to this blog, please visit my KIDS’ STORYBOOK WEBSITE and sign up in the blue box to hear about my upcoming new storybooks!

Love peace dove mural scott freeman

This is the completed second mural.