Thoughts on “Religion,” and How Not to Fix the World

Maxfield Parrish Humpty Dumpty, fall of man

Before the Great Fall

Does anyone like getting asked the question, “Are you religious?”

When asked this, does anyone ever enthusiastically answer, “YES!”

I only like getting asked that question because it gives me a chance to explain my faith.

One of my earliest insights as a young follower of Jesus was that Christianity is not about a religion; it’s about a relationship. In college I pretty much abandoned the use of the word “Christianity” altogether because it is so broad as to be practically meaningless and confusing.

This is not an uncommon way of thinking in evangelicalism. It is widely understood that our faith has primarily to do with the person of Jesus, not about some system of belief or ritualistic practice. At a minimum most would agree that a religion is not “the answer” to the world’s problems. Most would recognize that one can be scrupulously religiously observant and yet completely miss God. There is good and bad religious practice. I think most people would agree that there are bad religions in the world.

So it’s kinda weird to speak of “religion” in general as either good or bad.

You’ve probably heard evangelicals say,

“Religion is mans’ attempt to reach God, Christianity is God reaching down to man.”

Or “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

I’ve tended to argue that religion can serve as a positive cultural force, but I’ve tended to personally reject the observance of religious rituals, traditions, and practices as baggage. Yes, I pray regularly, but as a part of relationship with God – not as religious ritual. In the same way, I don’t consider talking with my wife to be a marriage ritual.

All in all, the word “religion” has been a pretty distasteful word to me for all of my life, even though, ironically, people who don’t know me well may tend to think of me as religious.

But…Hmmm…Maybe I don’t despise the word “religion” after all

I recently read some thoughts on the origin of the word “religion” that ring true to me.

…Etymologically, [religion] means something like tying back together – re-ligion:
re-ligamenting, re-ligaturing, finding the unifying reality behind disparate appearances, seeking oneness, integration, wholeness…

(Michael Ward, Professor of Apologetics, Houston Baptist University)

This sounds right to me because, for better or for worse, all the religions of the world seem to be concerned with restoring unity to our broken world in some way. There seems to be a universal recognition that things are not as they should be in the human situation, and that the problem is separateness – division between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature.

However, conflict arises between religions and ideologies because there are vastly differing opinions as to how to accomplish the restoration of unity in the world. Unfortunately, history shows us that human beings are vulnerable to the temptation to externally impose unity onto each other. Of course this doesn’t work, but apparently many ideologues feel there is no other option. Current examples include ISIS and the American left-wing Antifa.

The brilliance of spiritual rebirth

Among authority figures, Jesus is unique in His approach to unity and restoration in that He offers voluntary, internal change for the individual. He offers this to all people in the form of spiritual rebirth:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:3)

Here’s an apostle of Jesus pithily describing God’s plan for unity and restoration:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
(Eph 1:7-10)

This describes the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures taking merciful initiative on our behalf, and providing a means for us to be reconnected to Him first, and ultimately to each other and to all of heaven and nature. In the very next chapter Paul refers to this salvation as a gift from God – not something that can be earned. (Eph 2:8,9)

Isn’t this what we all want? We really should tell people about this.

(Original image by Maxfield Parrish, circa 1921. Modified by the author.)

 

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Announcing My New Youtube Channel & Intro Video

 

Scott Freeman artist author illustrator

My profile pic for my Youtube channel: Dad the Storyteller…

Instilling, reinforcing, and normalizing a biblical worldview in the children you love has never been more important. Stories are still one of the very best ways to do this as they engage the intellect, the emotions, and the will of a child. As a father, artist, and author my hope is to provide parents, grandparents, and other caretakers of small children with beautifully illustrated, engaging storybooks that will express a view of reality that is true:

…A worldview that won’t need to be traded in later for something truer, better, and more compatible with the real world…

Rather than rant on about this I want to present a few quotes that I find to be fascinating. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. First, a couple of quotes with which I largely agree, from Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong, by William Kilpatrick (1992) :

…for some reason we have come to believe that one can be a good person without any training in goodness. We have succumbed to a myth that claims that morality comes naturally, or at most, with the help of a little reasoning…

But reasoning must begin with premises that come from a worldview. As we will see shortly, different premises will lead to different conclusions.

...But the worst utopian temptation is the desire to shift the focus of responsibility from the individual to the institution. Like the idyllic imagination, the utopian imagination denies that tragedy and suffering are inherent in the human condition, and like the former, it hopes to relieve individuals of the burden of personal morality. It is the habit described by T. S. Eliot of “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” An individual governed by the utopian imagination doesn’t see moral problems, he sees technical problems, and as a result, his solutions are technical: clean needles, safe-sex kits, and improved communication skills…

‘Sound familiar?

…When a society fails to develop character in its young people, it is forced to adopt all sorts of poor substitutes for it when they grow up. In colleges and workplaces across the country, we are now seeing the creation of draconian harassment codes which spell out in minute detail exactly how men and women are to behave toward one another (codes that are in many cases unconstitutional)…without such self-discipline, learned at an early age, we are only inviting more control of our adult lives by governments, courts, and bureaucracies (p 238)…

I could go on. But now compare some quotes from a different (atheistic, materialist/evolutionary) worldview. These disturbing quotes are from Shulamith Firestone, author of the 1970 feminist classic and seminal postgenderist work, The Dialectic of Sex :

…By now people have forgotten what history has proven: that ‘raising’ a child is tantamount to retarding his development. The best way to raise a child is to LAY OFF…[from the chapter, Down with Childhood, (p 82)]…

Some thoughts on the sexual repression of children:

…Sexually, too, ghetto kids are freer. One fellow told me that he can’t remember an age when he didn’t have sexual intercourse with other kids as a natural thing; everyone was doing it. Those who teach in ghetto schools have remarked on the impossibility of restraining child sexuality: it’s a groovy thing, the kids love it, and it far surpasses a lesson about the Great American Democracy (p 91)…Children are repressed at every waking minute. Childhood is hell (p 93)…

Her thoughts on marriage and the evils of the nuclear family:

…For unless revolution uproots the basic social organization, the biological family – the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggled – the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated. We shall need a sexual revolution much larger than – inclusive of – a socialist one to truly eradicate all class systems (p 12)…

And this:

…And yet marriage in its very definition will never be able to fulfill the needs of its participants, for it was organized around, and reinforces, a fundamentally oppressive biological condition that we only now have the skill to correct [referring to female childbirth and nurturing.] As long as we have the institution we shall have the oppressive conditions built into it (p 202)…

One’s worldview matters. In September of 2014 I launched an online children’s storybook company because so much is at stake for the next generation. Yet, in many ways, as Eric Teetsel once said, the culture wars is a beauty contest and evangelicals have been thinking of it as a boxing match. Let’s work on that.

Here is my first video for my new Youtube channel. If you support what I do, please give me some Google luv and view my video and like it on the Youtube page. Also, if you haven’t already done so, visit my WEBSITE and sign up in the blue box to be notified of new storybook releases:

Thanks for viewing!

 

 

 

 

Planned Parenthood, Robert Dear, & Officer Garrett Swasey

Fetus-blg

On the occasion of this 43rd anniversary of the Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion-on-demand, I want to look a bit deeper into a local shooting rampage. It’s a story worth clarifying.

On Jan 16, 2016 the Reporter-Herald in my hometown published an opinion piece entitled, The Sacramento Bee on the surge in the abortion wars.

The first sentence stated: “…anti-abortion activists unleashed a barrage of deceptive videos falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of trafficking in fetal tissue for profit.” Planned Parenthood’s defense from day one has been that the sting videos were “deceptively edited.” By now we’ve all heard this accusation.

Planned Parenthood even hired a research firm, Fusion GPS, to examine the videos. Not surprisingly, Fusion GPS found that the videos were indeed “manipulated.” Mainstream news media announced this finding without disclosing that Fusion GPS has ties to the Democratic party.

Subsequently, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) commissioned a third party digital security and forensics firm, Coalfire, to analyze the videos. Unlike Fusion GPS, Coalfire had access to the entire body of investigative footage. Coalfire’s findings were that the videos are “authentic and show no evidence of manipulation.” However, this finding has somehow not been reported in the mainstream media, even though the findings were sent to reporters at every major media organization in America.

The Colorado Springs tragedy
Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2015 lone gunman Robert Dear opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, killing 3 people, including a police officer, and injuring 9 others. Planned Parenthood and sympathetic news media were quick to blame the “deceptively edited videos” for the attack, and to associate the shooter with the pro-life movement, based on comments he made at the scene. (Police reported that Dear’s rantings included the words, “No more baby parts” – an allusion to the videos.)

Here is where decency and justice demand that a correction be made.

There was indeed at least one pro-lifer present at the shooting, but it wasn’t shooter Robert Dear. Dear doesn’t appear in Colorado Right to Life’s (CRTL) database of over 500,000 names. More to the point, by definition pro-lifers are morally opposed to the killing of innocent people. This is the reason there is an abortion debate. All right-to-life organizations strongly repudiate abortion clinic violence, (regardless of whether it is perpetrated inside or outside of the womb.)

Slain officer, Garrett Swasey, held this view. He arrived on the scene in response to calls from other officers. Since his death, many news reports have mentioned that he was a husband and father of 2 young children. Some have mentioned that Swasey was once a nationally ranked figure skater and ice dancer. Some have mentioned that he was a co-pastor at his church. But I’ve yet to see a report from a secular news source acknowledge that Swasey was a signer of the 2014 Personhood Amendment petition.

The Personhood Movement seeks to recognize unborn human beings as persons deserving of legal protection.

Officer Garrett Swasey was a committed pro-life Evangelical Christian of the sort that Planned Parenthood and the Left routinely demonize as being “anti-woman.” Swasey was not obligated to respond to the other officers’ call for help on Thanksgiving weekend. Nonetheless, he chose to serve and protect Planned Parenthood, an organization whose ideology he sharply disagreed with. As a “right wing pro-life extremist,” he gave his own life with the aim of stopping a shooter from harming other people.

His example should be held up, honored, and remembered. Let us refuse to allow the beliefs and motives of officer Garrett Swasey to be conflated with those of gunman Robert Dear.

Isn’t the Solution for Planned Parenthood Very Simple?

The Sexual Revolution & AbortionThey could stop doing abortions.

Since the most recent video scandal, defenders of Planned Parenthood have been retorting that abortion only accounts for a very small percentage of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. As if abortion is an insignificant part of what Planned Parenthood does.
Okay, then. If abortions are such a small part of what Planned Parenthood does, then why not stop doing them altogether? Why not just stick with actual women’s reproductive health services?

But this will never happen. Why? Why is providing abortions a deal-breaker for Planned Parenthood? Why will Planned Parenthood risk losing over $500 million in taxpayer funding rather than stop doing abortions?

They will not stop because their reasons are ideological.

Gender feminism and the Postgender movement will not accept an ethic that compels a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. The key word is unwanted. Apparently, “Progressive” ethics is ultimately about autonomy, self-determination, and “equality,” even if this means demanding a woman’s right to kill her offspring in utero; and it does. These people believe that women cannot be on equal footing with men so long as women are bound by a biologically assigned role that men are not bound by.

The connection between sexual intercourse and pregnancy must be severed, or else women can’t possibly share an “equal status” with men. This is essential to the sexual revolution. It doesn’t matter if a woman freely chooses to have sex resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. Her male partner doesn’t have to worry about living with an unwanted pregnancy, so neither should she. It wouldn’t be fair. For radical feminism, legal abortion is basic to ensuring equality with men.

Therefore, those of us who oppose abortion on demand are said to be waging a “war on women.” But we’re not. We’re waging a war on an inhumane utopian fantasy. We accept the natural order of creation and recognize the value, equality, and sanctity of every human life regardless of differing gender roles.

Going backwards?
But maybe gender feminists have a point. Why not use abortion to level the gender playing field?

Because by definition, abortion undermines any meaningful notion of equality. It abuses power, destroying vulnerable individuals in order to advance the status of more powerful individuals. It saws off the limb on which it is sitting.

The only way that abortion can work as an equalizing force is to pretend that a human fetus is not a human being. But it is simply a biological fact that a new human life begins at conception. If we’re going to hold that human life has innate value, then there is no rational way to argue that a human fetus has no value.

If we do not value innocent human life from its beginning point, then we are left with arbitrarily qualifying some other point at which a life is human and has value. Any such arbitrary point opens the door to creepy ethical scenarios. For instance, if we pick viability, does that mean that the dependent elderly and disabled are not fully human? Is it then ethical to terminate them at will and sell their organs for research?

But what about cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother?

These objections cannot be brushed off lightly. In cases involving rape and incest, the girl/woman has had a pregnancy forced on her. It is wildly unjust that anyone should ever be forced into such a situation. At the same time it is unjust that an innocent human life should be ended because it originated through the selfish actions of a male perpetrator. There is no perfect answer. Such is the world in which we live.

A Pro-life position does not advocate no abortion whatsoever. Pro-lifers who say so are misinformed, in my opinion. The life-of-the-mother argument is held up by the Left as an example of so-called Pro-life extremism – an example of why Roe v Wade is necessary. But the truth is that abortion was allowed in cases where the life of the mother was endangered before Roe v Wade. Such decisions have always been made by the mother and her family.

How can the decision to terminate such a pregnancy be considered a Pro-life decision? It is Pro-life because the life of the mother is at stake. What is being weighed in such a case is the fundamental right to life of two separate individuals; the life of the mother vs. the life of the child. But in the vast majority of abortion scenarios, what is being weighed is a woman’s “right to choose” vs. the right to life of a child. The right to life is simply more fundamental – the right upon which all other rights rest. If we fail to uphold innocent human life, certainly secondary rights are expendable as well.

As a compromise, even as an ardent Pro-life person I would support a law or amendment making an exception for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, even though I would not necessarily agree that abortion is justifiable in those situations. Factual numbers around these scenarios are elusive, but in combination these constitute probably well under 5% of abortions, so such a law would still do away with so-called abortions of convenience. Abortion for non-medical reasons is not health care.

Planned Parenthood’s better world

Damning investigative videos about Planned Parenthood are not new. They’ve been trickling out for years now. Several years ago, when Planned Parenthood workers from several different states were secretly recorded, assuring white donors that their donations could indeed be designated to specifically abort black babies, what I heard angered me.

Later, a Live Action hidden camera filmed a 13-year old girl seeking an abortion at an Indiana Planned Parenthood facility. Rather than report the situation to Child Protection Services, as the law requires, the nurse instructed the girl to lie about the age of her 31-year old partner in order to circumvent the law, and then directed the girl to a neighboring state for a secret abortion. Very disturbing.

Then, when a Planned Parenthood worker was caught on hidden camera coaching a sex-trafficking pimp on how to circumvent the law in order to obtain abortions for his underage, non-English-speaking “workers,” I was angry. However, Planned Parenthood could throw these employees under the bus because they weren’t in high-level positions.

But the latest string of videos, released by the Center for Medical Progress, implicates several Planned Parenthood representatives at the highest levels of the organization.

Since the Roe v Wade decision in 1973, the abortion issue has divided the American public. We didn’t need videos to know that taking an innocent human life for money is a bad thing. But even now, even in light of the latest revelations, I haven’t heard the Right demanding that Planned Parenthood and their radical sexual politics be driven out of existence. But is it so unreasonable to ask that taxpayer dollars not be used to subsidize them?

If “Progressives” must have abortion-on-demand in order for their vision of equality to work, let them do it without the forcing the humane sector to fund it. If there is going to be an abortion industry, let it stand on its own, like other service industries. Let the industry find it’s own sympathetic benefactors. Let us see if a business that terminates infant human lives for money will somehow have the effect of fostering human flourishing, equality, and a culture of enlightenment.

It fascinates me that while we continue to advance scientifically and technologically as a society, we remain morally and ethically lost. The same science and technology that is used by some to ease human suffering and make the world a better place is used by others for oppression and for harm. Human action continues to be darkened by greed, willful ignorance, and arrogance on a worldwide scale. The research lab cannot tell us right from wrong, or even if such a thing as right and wrong exists.

Planned Parenthood is one modern example of misapplied science and technology in the service of a well-meaning, but tragically mistaken, ideology. However, there is plenty of misapplied science to go around on both sides of the political spectrum. When all is said and done, how we perceive our problems and solutions still comes down to our beliefs. Our beliefs dictate our behavior.

Here’s hoping we can still respectfully talk to those whose beliefs differ from our own about things that matter to us all. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Baby doctor

Found on the sidewalk outside the micro brew pub near my house…

Are you looking for great storybooks designed to instill a biblical worldview in the kids you love? Visit my online store HERE!

A New Option for Low Income Families Who Want My Storybooks

Would you like to receive my storybooks for free?

Okay then! I’m going to give this a try and see how it goes.

During most of the time that Mollie and I were raising our family, we struggled financially on our artist income. Over the years I have appreciated ministries that made their resources available to us free of charge. Now I’d like to do the same for other low income families who can’t justify spending the money for a book, but who understand the importance of instilling a biblical worldview in their kids.

The plan:

  • Sign up 3 people to my subscriber list, and I’ll send you one paperback version of your choice for free.
  • Sign up 5 people to my subscriber list, and I’ll send you one hardcover version of your choice for free. (The hardcover version works best if you are building a set.)

Guidelines:
Your participation will help to make more people aware of what I’m doing, and that’s a big help to me! If you approach your friends or family members, and ask them to help you acquire a great storybook for your kids, for free, I think they’ll be happy to help you. Especially if they’re on board with my vision, and knowing it won’t cost them anything to sign up. I’m especially looking for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, and any others who are in a position to influence children to love God and the things that God loves. (So don’t sign up your grumpy, cigar chomping neighbor who hates little kids.)

Procedure:
My email list is permission based, which means, once people sign up, they must click on my confirmation email in order to be fully subscribed. I need you to take them through this process. This can be done very simply on their phone, pad, or computer in most cases:

How to Get MY Books for Free

That’s it!

When you have done this with your 3 or 5 people, simply email me and give me a list of their email addresses. In your message, include the title of the book you want, and your mailing address. When I see your people show up on my list, I will place your order for your book!

You may do this as many times as you want!
This could also be a great way for you to give a meaningful gift to a loved one at no financial cost.

Thanks again for your support!

Scott

My newest book, BEAR ISLAND, is now ready to order! It’s themed around the idea that we were created for loving relationship with God and with each other, and features a special emphasis on the nuclear family.
Click on the BOOK STORE tab for easy ordering!

Christian worldview for kids-Bear Island

A favorite watercolor illustration from Bear Island – written & illustrated by Scott Freeman

My Brother’s Heart: A Tribute

Hanging with my big brother on my first Christmas.

Hanging with my big brother on my first Christmas.

The world just lost another good man. He died peacefully in his sleep at age 57. No one knows why.

I was lucky to be his little brother. Growing up with Craig was a blast. He was hilarious. When we were kids his mind was always cooking up something interesting or mischievous. He could easily have led me into bad things, but that just wasn’t my brother’s heart. His moral compass was always oriented to creative and reasonably harmless pursuits.

Craig was passionate about everything he got into. He got me interested in drawing when I was just a little kid. I feel a little pensive about this now. He really liked drawing, and I wonder if he would’ve pursued a career in art if it hadn’t been for me. He was well above average in his ability, but I happened to be innocently but extraordinarily gifted. Everyone soon made a big deal about my art and assumed out loud that I would grow up to be an artist. This became part of my identity. I thought he simply lost interest in art. He ended up following my dad into construction work, which didn’t really work out well. I wanted to ask him about all of this someday.

Craig was a collector of things. When we were kids it was Mad magazines and Marvel comics. Beginning in his teen years, it was music. I grew up listening to the music of my older siblings – mostly my brother’s. For better or for worse, I still know all of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics to Elton John’s early recordings. As an adult, Craig amassed a huge, diverse music collection and became an avid concertgoer and music festival attendee. If you ever attended the Cornerstone festival in Illinois, put on by Jesus People USA, my brother was there.

Somewhere along the line, my brother devoted his life to following Jesus, passionately, of course. He was blessed with a great crap detector, but he didn’t use it to be harsh with people. He might privately call out a friend, but he used it as much on himself as on anyone else. Despite being outspoken for the truth, when he recognized that he’d been hurtful or wrongheaded, he was humble enough to ask forgiveness. I loved his heart.

As an adult I got to see his heart up close, when he endured a very painful divorce. I don’t know that I could have, or would have, been able to love and forgive as he did had I been in his situation. The depth of his forgiveness was astounding to me. During this time, after hearing his heart, it struck me that he had the mind of Christ. His example was inspired and inspiring.

Craig’s honest walk with Jesus enabled him to cut through and navigate the Southern Baptist, Evangelical subculture in which we grew up. He understood that the point was not to follow a religion, but to follow a person: Jesus. He understood that following Jesus is not about religious legalism and rule-keeping, but about relationship, while still holding to the fidelity of the Bible.

This could be seen in the testimony of two men who stood to speak during a public sharing time at Craig’s funeral – two different men, from two different backgrounds. You could guess their background by their appearance. One guy came from a Christian fundamentalist background. He described how my brother had helped him break free from religious legalism, and helped him to come into the freedom that the Spirit of Jesus brings, (…“where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” – 2 Cor 3:17.) Apparently their conversations often revolved around some of my brother’s “objectionable” Christian music.

The second guy came from an opposite place. He explained that when he came to Jesus, he didn’t so much mind letting go of the drugs and the drinking. But he was a metal head, and it was disheartening for him to entertain the idea of joining a legalistic Christian subculture with lame music. Somebody sent him to my brother, who introduced him to some legit musicians whose music didn’t fit this guy’s stereotype of Christian Music. They became buds. When I shook this guy’s hand afterward, he reminded me that I had met him once, camping with my brother at a Cornerstone festival – home of alternative Christian music.

In our immediate family, my wife and I have a saying: “Life is about relationships.” This idea often helps us choose where we spend our time and energy. This saying derives from the greatest commandment as stated by Jesus: Love God, and love people; all of God’s instruction depends upon these two things (Mat 22:36-40.) I never heard Craig say the words, “life is about relationships,” but at his funeral it was clear that he lived them as well as anyone I know. His life was all about pursuing God and investing in people.

Craig was a great dad, and he poured his life into his two lovely daughters, Jenna and Dana. Here are a couple of comments from their Facebook friends:

He valued the opinion of every person he spoke with, no matter what age you were. He taught me the value of presence. The art of conversation. Looking back, I can’t remember a time that I saw him ever leave first! Whoever he was with or wherever he was, he was fully there. Serving as our Sunday School teacher & one of our college group leaders, he taught so many of us young adults how to appreciate art & seek the truth & beauty of God in things like film, music or just being outdoors…He made all of us feel important; believed in. Like our voices mattered… – EC

Craig sought out God in everything and was excited to talk about it. To my group of friends, he was not just someone’s dad or the Sunday school teacher or the adult supervisor. He was our friend. We invited him to all of our parties, we went to the movies with him, we camped together, we ate meals together, we talked about life, we talked about God and His creation… – MT

There are many ways that people look at death. Some see it as a natural, even a beautiful, thing – a mysterious portal into the next stage of existence. Jesus didn’t see it that way. Jesus wept at death. He spoke of Himself as the resurrection and the life. Paul spoke of death as an enemy that Jesus came to destroy. He described the resurrection of Jesus as the first fruits of a great harvest that would follow. The Bible describes a salvation that encompasses our entire beings – body, soul, and spirit. Death is a separation. God promises to restore total unity. I suppose we should expect nothing less from an all loving, all powerful, and all good God.

I loved my big brother’s heart. I admit that I’m frustrated and sad that he is gone. I expected to have a lot more time with him. We had a lot of catching up to do.

Here’s looking forward even more to “the restoration of all things.”

The last picture of my brother and me. Craig Lee Freeman -  January 5, 1958 to July 27, 2015

The last picture of my brother (on right) and me – Dec 2014.
Craig Lee Freeman – January 5, 1958 – July 27, 2015

A Tale of Two Neighbors. (And Many Dandelions.)

garden gnome-scott freemanThis morning as I was out digging dandelions in the sun, I noticed myself unconsciously making choices. It set me to thinking about human action and freedom.

I’m quite fond of the quirky little piece of downtown property where my wife and I live and raised our family. I love my wife’s garden. I love our art studio. I like our fruit trees. I like that our yard is not fenced in. And I really like that there is no Homeowners Association (HOA.) This allows me to do things like dig a pit and cook a turkey in the ground at Thanksgiving. Or to add outdoor art to my property. Our “inner city” neighborhood has a lot of cool, creatively embellished properties, and a lot of urban farming going on. Several neighbors keep chickens and bees in their backyards. These are usually among the best kept properties. I love this.

Of course there is the occasional trashy property as well, and the occasional display of poor taste. This is part of the cost of freedom. I think it is a small price to pay.

This post is a brief tale of two neighbors. It’s a story about the dynamics of living in community. (I’m pretty sure neither of my neighbors reads my blog.)

I will call my neighbor on one side, Harvey. Harvey is a middle-aged, single guy. We’re buds. We’ve talked a lot about life, God, politics, and stuff, in a dude sort of way. I like a lot of Harvey’s views, though he can be a little pugnacious. But underneath his crusty, cigar-smoking exterior, as human beings go, he’s a good man. He volunteers his time and resources to help under-privileged kids. For years he has worked with the deaf community in one capacity or another. He has purchased my art and books on several occasions. He has given us pecans from his farm in another state. I like Harvey.

A few years ago, Harvey adopted an enormous dog. A black lab, or something. I’ll call him Dogzilla. Dogzilla is clueless and friendly. I’d say he’s a little too friendly. He often escapes his pen and comes immediately into our yard, snuffling around and peeing in our garden, where we grow food that we intend to eat. Dogzilla produces enormous poop that doesn’t decompose because Harvey feeds him cheap dog food. Sometimes at night, I’ve noticed Harvey letting Dogzilla out for a potty break, while he enjoys a cigar in our shared alley. Recently, I shoveled all of Dogzilla’s petrified poop back into Harvey’s yard. I haven’t told Harvey about this yet, but if he doesn’t like it, I’m looking forward to the conversation where he explains why he has a problem with me putting his dog’s poop back into his yard.

Harvey pieced together a make-shift pen for Dogzilla. The makeshift pen is quite large and consists of five-foot sections of chain-link fencing, held up with bungee cords and stacks of cinder blocks, with a tarp thrown over part of the fence for shade. With dandelions and goat heads growing all around. It looks like crap. It’s very reminiscent of a third world slum, or a refugee camp. Of course, I have nothing against third world slum dwellers or refugees, but I don’t believe that Harvey and Dogzilla are in a crisis situation. Unless you count the dandelion crisis. But even so, that’s really a first world problem.

So that’s on one side of my house.

Then there is my neighbor on the other side. I’ll call her Betsy. She is an interior designer. Her house and yard look like a greeting card scene. She’s like Martha Stewart without the prison record. Her property has been on the annual Loveland Garden Tour. It’s like a Disney movie over there, with rabbits and birds and butterflies hopping and flitting about. When I step out of my house to go to work in my studio, if I happen to glance over to the right at Betsy’s property, I often break into song.

Betsy is also a great neighbor and a giving person. She is from an old Loveland family, and it’s fun to talk local history with her. My wife and Betsy exchange gardening plants. I have painted several paintings in her sanctuary-like backyard during plein air art competitions. (I have never asked Harvey’s permission to paint in his “yard.”) During winter, she always has her snow removal guys do part of my sidewalk. At Christmastime we exchange Christmas cookies, and hers are amazing, and ridiculously Martha Stewart-like. (Harvey does not give us cookies, but that is probably a good thing.)

That’s the other side of my house.

So, when I went out for my first springtime dandelion digging, guess where I started digging first? I headed directly to Betsy’s side of my yard. I wanted to be sure she didn’t have to wonder if I was going to get rid of the dandelions next to her property. (Her yard is dandelions-free.) She has never complained to me about my sometimes lax grounds keeping. She doesn’t have to. Because she treats her property with care, it makes me want to do the same. Not out of guilt, or shame, or keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, but out of respect and appreciation for the effort and creative care she puts in. I’ve noticed that she likes to entertain guests in her garden, and I would like to not be the jerk who ruins the sanctuary vibe that that she has going on over there. All of this is unspoken. I could completely neglect my property, and the world would keep turning, but the fact that she cares helps me to care.

Isn’t so much of life like this?

All of us struggle every day against entropy and degeneration, in every aspect of life. The physical universe is winding down. Left to itself, our environment gravitates toward disorder and decay. Civil society naturally tends toward confusion and degeneration. Even the genes in our cells are continually mutating, causing our bodies to degenerate and eventually lose function. But we fight against this. By intelligence, creativity, and work, we rebuild, restore, support, and hope. Ultimately, our only hope for salvation is an intelligent, loving, regenerative Life-Source existing outside of creation, commonly referred to as “God.” But whether or not we believe in such a God, most of us still hold onto hope. I find this bittersweet.

For me, every creative act is worth something. While even our hoping and dreaming is imperfect, every hope and dream in the face of futility testifies that we were created for life, love, and goodness. Creative acts affirm life. Caring acts make the universe make sense to our neighbor. Loving acts transcend the futility of our hopeless trajectory, in some small way. To me these things signal that there is something better to come.

I’ll close with some gardening tips from the apostle Paul:
“…whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:7-10.)

dandelion

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