Getting To Know Your Worst Nightmare

I was recently invited to share my thoughts at a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) church service in California, via Zoom. According to my host, it is a very liberal congregation in a liberal geographical bubble. Apparently members of the congregation run the spectrum of social liberalism including LGBTQ folks, and some who were formerly evangelicals. Bruce, my host, considers himself to be an atheist.

Bruce and I connected through a Braver Angels event and have since talked weekly over Zoom for some six months. It has been quite an adventure for both of us, and not always a comfortable one. I would say our aim has been to understand each other, with permission to each respectfully challenge the other’s opinions.

At some point Bruce got the idea to share what he was doing with his UU church. Then it occurred to him to have me share as well, I guess just to keep it real. His minister was open to having me as a guest, and so we planned a service, which occurred in April, 2021. Below I’ve linked an edited video of the pertinent parts in case you would like to hear what was said.

To their credit, Bruce and his pastor took a risk in inviting me in. They told me about how they’d wrestled with why it was so difficult to invite me in. They knew they could invite a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or a Rabbi, or an atheist to speak, and everyone would pretty much be fine with it. But for some reason it was daunting to consider inviting a conservative evangelical Christian who voted for Trump twice.

I’m happy to report that the church was very welcoming toward me, and there was a lot of positive feedback afterwards. I did not go into many specifics on triggering issues, even in the Q and A time that followed. My intent was not to trigger people. The point was to inspire people to seek understanding with neighbors or family members who think differently than they do.

I’ll let the video speak for itself. It’s a half hour long but I think you’ll find it interesting. Plus the pastor has a cool Scottish accent. I’d love to hear your feedback.

The Cause of the Divide
If you’ve followed this blog for long you know that I consider American society to be toxically divided. I’m concerned about this and I’m not alone. It is now common to hear people bemoan the loss of civility and respectful disagreement in human discourse, especially in political discourse.

How did we get here? Is there something different going on now than in previous generations?

I think there is. At the risk of sounding partisan, I believe that the divide has been created and nurtured by the far Left, and foisted onto the mainstream. It’s a simple worldview issue. Allow me to make my case.

To be specific, in referring to the Left I am not referring to some fuzzy notion of liberal-ish stuff that I happen to dislike. I’m referring specifically to a neo-Marxist worldview – a view that sees the cause of the world’s inequities and injustices through a lens of oppressor vs oppressed. Whether between economic classes, races, genders, or ideological parties, the Left by definition promotes division and, ultimately, a re-structuring of a supposedly oppressive system via revolution.

So for example, if there is a minority group that is suffering oppression, such as a higher rate of poverty, abuse, COVID deaths, unemployment, addiction, imprisonment, or anything else negative, then there must be an oppressor according to a neo-Marxist worldview.

It would be worth discussing with a neo-Marxist whether or not life is quite this simple.

But Marxism is not what’s new. The America Left and Right have always fought and disagreed. There is something new (and worse) going on here. In previous decades I watched the two sides battle it out in the field of ideas. At their best, opponents would cite facts, history, research, and employ rational discourse. But in the past decade the extreme Left has decided to go around the field of intellectual arguments and go straight to the field of subjective feelings. By assigning conservatives the worst of motives and then leveraging peer/mob pressure and emotional manipulation, the Left has enshrined itself as morally superior.

What’s new is that the Left finally has the power to do so.

Having gained control of mainstream media, the entertainment industry, academia, big tech, and mainline church denominations, the Left now has the means to dominate the societal narrative, propagating the message that to dissent from the “progressive” narrative is to take the hurtful, hateful, oppressor position. We are all now familiar with the charge that to dissent from the “progressive” narrative is to be anti-woman, anti-gay, transphobic, racist, white supremacist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, bigoted, hateful, and so on.

Here’s the thing. All of those things truly are immoral and indefensible. If that list of adjectives accurately defined conservatives, then the Left should be exposing and shaming conservatives for the evil oppressors that they are. The problem (for the Left) is that the only way to get those labels to stick to mainstream conservatives is to torture the English language, re-write history, redefine objective reality, and shut down dissent. In my opinion that is what is happening. Plenteous examples provided upon request.

Republicans, for their part have generally not responded to this like adults. Brasher elements have gone into fight mode, which doesn’t win the middle, and allows the “hater” label to stick. They’ve tried to trump the Left with Trump, placing their faith in a man who couldn’t compete in the field of factual ideas. Instead, he responded in kind, specializing in division and bombastic rhetoric, making an already terrible situation worse. I think the saber-rattling, conspiracy crap, and patriot pumping on the part of Republicans is a reaction to the Left’s strategy of unjustly framing them as the great white cause of all the world’s suffering.

Is anyone ready for something better and more honest? Is anyone tired of watching the pendulum-wrecking ball swing back and forth?

The Solution
We have to talk to each other. Neither side is going to go away. Neither side is going to allow the other to force its will onto the other. Ask yourself what the outcome will be if both sides continue the strategy of “hitting back harder.”

So what is the answer? Whoever you are, right or left, if you believe you have the facts, evidence, and the truth on your side, then you have nothing to lose by seeking mutual understanding with “the other side.” In all likelihood, you will find facts, evidence, and truth on both sides. If that weren’t the case America wouldn’t be split down the middle. There are legitimate concerns on both sides of every issue.

People of radically differing worldviews will not agree on specific solutions. So then what is the point of talking? The answer is that we can at least get back to respectful disagreement as fellow human beings. Liberals need to get to know conservatives. If that sounds one-sided, that’s because it is. In my experience, conservatives generally understand liberals; we just disagree with them. We recognize that liberals believe they are acting out of a sense of compassion and social justice. But the reverse is not true. A great many liberals really do believe that conservatives are racist, anti-gay, anti-woman, xenophobic, etc.

It may be up to conservatives to take initiative in seeking mutual understanding. The end result will probably not be a changed worldview for anyone. But it is a very realistic goal that we can return to a place of respectful disagreement in political discourse if liberals can recognize that mainstream conservatives are not motivated by hate. That would be a win for everyone. We can communicate without the divisive labeling. The video will give you some ideas on how to get there.



Looking for a gift? My new kids’ storybook, The Friendly City, helps kids navigate a culture that is in decline. Visit my BOOKSTORE for more info.

Building Community During a Pandemic

Loveland, Colorado’s newest community mural, located on 4th Street at Lincoln. Made up of 336 individual tiles.
One of my favorite hand-print tiles.

When Donald Trump was elected to the presidency in 2016 I heard numerous accounts of people weeping, going into depression, and cutting ties with friends and family who had voted for Trump. It was during this climate that I conceived of the idea of putting on a giant community art event that would involve hundreds of people coming together to create a unified statement.

Five monumental murals later we have a new president and the nation appears to me to be more divided than ever. Furthermore, any attempts at building community are made more challenging as we can’t see each other’s faces or be in close physical proximity to one another. Both people and events are now frequently cancelled.

In past years all the mural painting has been done over a 3 day period in the midst of Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day street festival. It’s been fun, but often chaotic and cold!

This depiction of hops was painted by the Brew master at Grimm Brothers Brewhouse.

This year, though the street festival was cancelled, the city still wanted to celebrate the Valentine season by going forward with a new community mural. For subject matter in past years I had parodied a famous painting. This year the city requested that I base the mural on the US Postal Service’s new Forever Stamp.

This year the painting took place over a 3 week period inside the warmer and quieter Beet Center, the Loveland Museum-Gallery’s expanded space. In order to comply with state restrictions around COVID, we had people sign up for 20-minute increments and limit the number of people per room. While I missed the energy of the street festival, I have to admit I enjoyed the slower pace and I was actually able to enjoy extended conversations with several people.

But about this business of unifying the nation…

I’m happy to announce that everyone who participated in painting this year’s mural is now at peace with their neighbor, and has become committed to treating their political opponents with love and respect.

One of my favorites by a local artist friend…

Just kidding!

If only it were that easy. During an interview this year I was asked, “How have you seen art bring people together since the start of the pandemic? I replied:

Honestly, it’s been difficult bringing people together for any reason since the pandemic season started. I initially wondered if the pandemic might unite the country, but unfortunately it became politicized and has divided our nation even further. I think it’s important for human beings to continue to create, but the arts can only do so much. I think the only thing that will truly bring people together is if we as individuals do the hard work of getting to know our neighbor again, and seeking to understand those who view things differently than we do. I regularly engage in respectful dialogue with people “on the other side,” and it has been very healing. Politicians can’t fix this.

If that sounds like a buzzkill of an answer to you, I would plead to differ. I think it empowers the individual to care constructively, as opposed to hoping and waiting for politicians to get it right. We may not be like-minded in our opinions, but we can choose to be like-minded in approaching each other with understanding and respect as fellow human beings who bear the image of God.

In future posts I’ll share some of my adventures in reaching out to “the other side.” Until then, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts as to what you believe has caused the polarization in our culture. Please share in the comments below.

I made this one!



Do you need a gift idea for a child in your life? My newest book, The Friendly City, is designed to be a fun tool to help kids navigate a culture that has slipped its moorings. Order your copy HERE.

New Book Release: The Friendly City

Illustration spread from pp24-25 of The Friendly City
“In time, the factory stopped making the funny, creative New Burbian cars because they were too easy to break and too expensive to fix…”

If you’re wondering if anything good came out of the year 2020, here’s something, (though admittedly it’s not a global event) :

I FINALLY finished my next kids’ book!

Back when I was parenting, my favorite storybooks were engaging for my kids, but also enjoyable for me to read as well (because I had to read them repeatedly!) Hopefully, The Friendly City will be that kind of storybook book for you and your little people. It’s a fun story and also visually captivating.

Steampunk, dinosaur, and Mona Lisa cars from The Friendly City

The Friendly City tells the story of New Burbia, a town that is home to the best and most polite drivers in the world. The New Burbians drive imaginative and fanciful cars that make everyone smile. One day a new mayor who has some well-meaning ideas is elected. Chaos ensues when he implements his new plan to remove all the road signs and traffic lights. (He reasons that the restrictive road signs are unnecessary since New Burbia is home to the best drivers in the world.) Subsequently the city becomes not-so-friendly as the formerly agreed upon rules of the road are disregarded.

Mayor Piffle is elected to New Burbia in The Friendly City

In time a small community forms whose members commit to remembering and observing the old rules of the road, and to bringing kindness back to the city. Together they find joy in welcoming others, and helping to make the city a friendlier place again.

The Caring Drivers Group is representative of the Church in the Friendly City

I think this is a great story for our current troubled and divided cultural climate.

The story stands alone as an engaging story for kids, even with no explanation. But since you’re all adults, I thought it might be fun to share from the Note to Parents from the Author, at the back of the book:

…The Friendly City illustrates the workings of two spheres of life: that of civics and the Church.

CIVICS
America’s founders envisioned a “self-governing” society. In order for such a society to work, we citizens must be people of character and, at least to some extent, be united by a common morality that transcends our subjective feelings. John Adams, America’s second president, famously stated,


The Friendly City, p 21 - the removal of the road signs

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Benjamin Franklin described the path that government will inevitably take when social and sexual mores break down,

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

The removal of the street signs is a metaphor for the rejection of previously agreed upon societal mores. Adams and Franklin make a brief appearance in The Friendly City as this is happening.

THE CHURCH
The Caring Drivers Group represents the Church in this story. As such, it does not seek to create a utopia in a broken society, as so many secular “isms” attempt to do. Rather, it seeks to create a life-enhancing, restorative sub-culture that is focused on loving relationship. The focus on love over rule-keeping is meant to be reminiscent of Paul’s pronouncement, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).

The Friendly City - cover

So there you have a preview of The Friendly City. You can order your copy, along with my other books, from my online bookstore HERE at BigPicturePublishing.

I frantically tried to get this all put together in time for folks to receive orders by Christmas, and I’m pretty sure I succeeded. I’ve got a crate of hardcover copies due to arrive in a few days. If you place your order now, there’s a high likelihood you’ll have it before Christmas. (Until I run out!)

One more thing: I started an Instagram account so that you can preview all my storybooks, page by page.
So far I’ve got my Christmas book, The True Story of Christmas, ready to view. Others will follow in the new year. You can follow me on Instagram and preview The True Story of Christmas HERE.

THANK YOU for your support, and may you have a joyous Christmas season!

Thoughts for White Conservatives Who Never Owned Slaves

I’m seeing a lot of defensiveness from conservatives regarding racism. This is understandable, as the Left continues pushing to redefine racism to include things such as breathing and having a job.

But being defensive isn’t helping anyone. Is it really too much to ask that we try to see the world from our Black neighbors’ perspective? To empathize with them? To face America’s racist past?

Here’s a clear example of what I’m seeing. Last week I read an article about Max Lucado publicly repenting at length for his ancestors’ sins of racism. The majority of comments following said things like this:

> My dad said his father was a horse thief…do I need to beg for forgiveness for his sin? If I do, do I get to hear honking cars afterwards?

> Lucado is trying to sell more books. No where in scripture does it suggest you repent of the sins of your ancestors… Slavery and racism has (sic) been present since the beginning of time.

> This is ridiculous. Licado (sic) needed attention and sell books (sic)…..that was 150 years ago…get over it.

Stuff I Didn’t Learn in School
I’ve spent the last few weeks re-learning the history of Black America. I was born in 1960 – ninety-nine years after the start of the Civil War. I thought I knew this stuff. What I’ve realized is that I mostly learned about the good parts – the civil rights victories, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and how America finally got it right. I never really learned about just how bad things were for Black Americans during the 100 years after the Civil War, before the “civil rights era.”

I recently listened to a talk by Bryan Stevenson, attorney and author of Just Mercy. Stevenson carries a lot of moral authority with me because of his tireless work on behalf of people on death row who have been wrongly convicted. He contends that America has never truly come to grips with its racist past, and that this is a necessary step in order for healing to actually occur as a nation. I agree with him.

I suppose most white folks, myself included, have assumed that because equal rights have been established on a policy level, then we’ve basically solved the problem. We live and work next to our Black fellow Americans and we all get along just fine now.

May I ask something of you? I am not suggesting that you need to repent of your ancestors’ sins. Repentance is not the point for you today if you do not hold racist beliefs or attitudes, imo. What I think is in order is that we grieve with, feel with, and empathize with, our Black brothers and sisters. I’ve compiled a brief timeline of post–slavery American history. I think you will find some surprises, as I did.

TIMELINE:
1863 – THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION is issued by Republican President Lincoln during America’s Civil War over slavery. The Proclamation declares that slaves residing in the warring Confederate states are “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Southern whites insist that Lincoln’s executive order is illegal and refuse to comply.

1865 – THE 13TH AMENDMENT is ratified, formally codifying the Emancipation Proclamation, prohibiting slavery throughout the United States, “except as punishment for crime.”

1865 – THE CIVIL WAR ENDS. LINCOLN IS ASSASSINATED 6 DAYS LATER. Democrat Vice President Andrew Johnson assumes the presidency but proves to be soft in his commitment to implement Reconstruction efforts and to protect newly recognized Black citizens. Among other things, Johnson opposes Black voting rights.

1866 – WHITE MOB VIOLENCE in Memphis and New Orleans leaves nearly 100 Blacks citizens dead, and some 200 wounded, including at least 5 women raped. White police officers contribute to the violence and killing until federal troops arrive.  

1866 – REPUBLICANS WIN A VETO-PROOF SUPER-MAJORITY IN CONGRESS as a result of public outrage over the Memphis and New Orleans attacks. Progressive Republicans embark on an aggressive civil rights program the likes of which wouldn’t happen again for 100 years.

1866 – THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT is passed, over President Johnson’s veto, declaring Black Americans full citizens entitled to equal rights.  

1866 – THE 14TH AMENDMENT IS PASSED by the super-majority, but will require ratification by 28 of the 37 states in order to become constitutional law. The proposed amendment establishes that all persons born in the US, regardless of race, are full citizens of the US and of the states in which they reside and are entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship, due process, and the equal protection under the law.  10 of 11 former Confederate states reject the proposed amendment overwhelmingly.

1867 – THE RECONSTRUCTION ACTS OF 1867 are passed by the super-majority, over President Johnson’s veto, in response to the former Confederate states’ rejection of the 14th amendment. The Acts require former Confederate states seeking readmission to the Union to fulfill the Acts’ conditions. Former states would be required to ratify the 14th amendment, grant voting rights to Black men, accept federal military rule in the southern region, and draft new constitutions to be approved by congress.

1868 – THE 14TH AMENDMENT IS OFFICIALLY ADOPTED. White backlash, violence, and efforts to maintain white supremacy continue in earnest.

1870 – THE 15TH AMENDMENT IS PASSED – the third and last of the Reconstruction amendments. It states, “The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Subsequently, Black voters turn out in droves and more than 600 African Americans are elected as state legislators. The US Congress adds 16 Black representatives, and Mississippi elects the nations first two Black senators. The new racially integrated Reconstruction governments set about repealing racially discriminatory laws. Instability grows as whites in the South refuse to accept what is happening.

1870-71 CONGRESS PASSES A SERIES OF ENFORCEMENT ACTS, including the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, authorizing, among other things, the federal government to prosecute civil rights violations as crimes. Republican President Grant supports progressive Reconstruction and provides federal troops to enforce it, as state governments are powerless to stop widespread violence and upheaval.

1872 – THE SUPREME COURT BEGINS ISSUING RULINGS THAT NEUTRALIZE RECONSTRUCTION.
One of the worst is the 1876 United States vs Cruikshank decision. Incredibly, the Cruikshank ruling interprets 14th amendment protections as only applying to state offenses, not against violence perpetrated by individuals, rendering the Enforcement Act useless. Cruikshank leaves Blacks in the South defenseless against white perpetrators so long as they act privately. As a result, anti-Black violence in the South openly increases as white perpetrators act with impunity, knowing that racist state judicial systems and law enforcement will not punish them. This marks the beginning of the end of a mere 10-year period of hope and positive development for Blacks in America, until the civil rights era of the 1960s.

1876 – THE END OF RECONSTRUCTION. The 1876 presidential election ends in a stalemate between Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The Supreme Court and Congress develop a compromise whereby Hayes would become president if he would agree to end Reconstruction. The “unwritten” Compromise of 1877 resulted in all remaining federal troops being pulled out of southern states, and the agreement that the South would have the right to deal with Blacks without northern interference. This leaves southern Blacks with no legal recourse and virtually no protection, relegating them to an inferior status in a hostile society.

Here I will end the timeline, and summarize for purposes of brevity.

In the ensuing decades, especially in the South, a white supremacist society intentionally and often violently terrorized Blacks in order to “keep them in their place.” Despite the fact that equality between the races was encoded into federal law, the notion of white supremacy remained entrenched at every level of white society in the former slave states – in the general population, in the education establishment, in churches, in civil law, in law enforcement, in the legal system, and in state government.

Racial separation and inequality were enforced by many means including:

> rewriting state constitutions and laws, including Jim Crow laws requiring racial segregation

> creating all-white juries to guarantee immunity for perpetrators of racial violence

> physical violence and legal barriers against would be Black voters

> evicting and/or firing would be Black voters and Blacks working for racial equality

> police brutality from officers who were often Klansmen/members of white supremacist groups

> judges who held white supremacist and/or segregationist views

> shutting down public schools to prevent integration, and the widespread creation of all-white schools

> criminalizing peaceful civil rights protests

> sexual violence against Black girls and women

> rioting

> bombings

> lynching

If I may elaborate just a bit on lynching: I had been under the impression, I suppose mostly from movies, that lynching was a somewhat risky and rare phenomenon perpetrated mostly by the KKK under cover of darkness. However, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented 4084 lynchings between the years 1877 – 1950. These have been verified from news and other sources from the era. There were unquestionably an untold number of undocumented lynchings and assaults as well.

It seems clear that “terror lynchings” were perpetrated to send a message to Black citizens who had hopes of claiming their newly won rights as full citizens and equals. The message was that if you are Black, this can be done to you or your loved ones if you step out of “your place” as an inferior. The message was that a black person accused by a white person is not worth the time and expense of due process in a courtroom setting.

Many lynchings were public spectacles, with hundreds of white citizens and families in attendance. These were not viewed as fringe acts of extremism, but were mainstream events condoned by white society. Sometimes there would be food and drink, and the victim’s body parts would be handed out to the crowd as souvenirs. This was all openly documented by an often sympathetic press.

What is the point of saying these things now?
This is not the America we live in today. It is true that no one alive today owned slaves or perpetrated a racial terror lynching. No Black person living today was ever a slave. But the appropriate response to Black Americans is not, therefore, “so get over it.” For decades during the post-slavery era, Blacks were left utterly unprotected and what was done to them was horrific, to say nothing of the slavery itself that came before. White America must sorrowfully acknowledge this.

Millions of white supremacist Americans worked tirelessly, voted, and rioted to keep Blacks subjugated. The experience of Black Americans today has been shaped by this history. It should also be said that racial terror and discrimination was not just a “southern problem.” After Reconstruction ended, some 6 million Black Americans fled the South to the North, Midwest, and West, where violence and discrimination often followed – in cities such as East St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Tulsa, and Omaha.

Admitting the horror of America’s violent, racist past is a necessary part of national healing and understanding. Doing so is not an admission that America is innately horrible, or that rioting, or the solutions proposed by left wing groups like BLM or M4BL are correct.

But it might help us to understand the anger and frustration. It might help us to understand the eerie familiarity Blacks may feel when a white policeman unjustly kills a Black man and goes unpunished. It might help us to understand how confederate monuments may be seen as celebrations of white supremacy. It might help us to understand why America remains largely segregated, even though overt white supremacy has virtually disappeared from society and its institutions.

It is a basic act of respect toward Black Americans to not sweep their history under the rug. May God give us all grace and understanding to clean house without tearing the house down.

For further reading I recommend one or all of EJI’s 4 thin books: Slavery in America; Reconstruction; Segregation in America; & Lynching in America.

Thoughts On Racism. (For White People Only). Part 2

Serving up racist stereotypes

Why for white people only? Because we’re told it’s time for white people to listen to black voices.

Plus I don’t want to be guilty of “white-splaining,” or “man-splaining,” or worst of all, “white-man-splaining.”

So maybe if I talk to white people, I’m not splaining. I’m just sharing my thoughts and concerns about things that matter to me. Racial justice and reconciliation happen to matter to me very much.

In my opinion, in the torrent of words on the topic of racism since George Floyd’s death, a lot of ideas are being wrongly strung together on the same string.

Let’s see if we can get some clarity on the issue in one brief blog post. Once again I assert that liberals and conservatives have legitimate points and concerns. Again, I challenge you to see if you can agree with both sides as I present them below. If you can’t agree, I’d love to hear why in the combox.

What Is Racism?
As a white person, you may be questioning your own standing as a non-racist or anti-racist. You’ve been told you may not be able to see your own racist attitudes. I have white friends who are now calling themselves racists because they have uncovered “racist” attitudes within themselves. Could you be unconsciously participating in, and even benefiting from, white supremacy?

In processing the allegedly mysterious issue of racism, I think a look at the dictionary definition of racism is as helpful as anything I’ve heard. Imagine that. Take a look and see if you can agree:


RACISM: 1) a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others. (Dictionary. com)

Think about that definition. Notice it has 3 components. It’s pretty specific, and ultimately has to do with a belief in racial superiority.

Take My Racism Test. It’s 2 Questions Long:

TEST QUESTION 1: Do you believe that your race is inherently superior to other races? Yes  –  No

If you answered “yes,” then you are a racist. If you answered “yes” and you’re white, you’re a white supremacist, because that’s what white supremacists believe. Holding a positive belief about racial superiority is a conscious decision. If you think one can unconsciously believe that whites are inherently superior to blacks, I would be interested in hearing your explanation as to how that is possible.

But wait…if you answered “no,” you’re not off the hook. There are two more dictionary definitions for racism:

RACISM: 3) hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

It’s possible to hate “people of color” (POC) without holding to a belief in racial superiority. Maybe you hate black people for some other reason. So…

TEST QUESTION 2: Do you hate black people, or others of differing races?” Yes  –  No

If you answered “yes”,  then you are a racist.

To summarize these two definitions: White supremacy is a belief. Racial hatred is an attitude.

To clarify, if you don’t hold a positive belief in white superiority, or harbor racially hateful attitudes, then, strictly speaking, you are not a racist. It doesn’t help POC to call yourself one.

To clarify further: Can one commit acts of racial bias, prejudice, “microaggression”, or even hold beliefs harmful to other races and not be a racist? Yes, it’s possible (but not ideal, of course). You could be insensitive. You could be ignorant. You could be apathetic. You could be a generally reckless, uncaring asshole. You could be well meaning but mistaken. You could be misunderstood. These things should not be strung on the same string as racism, as defined above.

How is this helpful? Am I simply trying to help white people feel better about themselves?
Not exclusively. I’m trying to help people of all skin tones see their way out of a false narrative. I would hope it would be encouraging, for black people especially, to know that the vast majority of whites are not white supremacists after all. My lifelong experience as a white guy has been that most white people want to see black people succeed. Even if they don’t personally know any black people, I think most whites at least like the idea of liking black people.

The notion that white America somehow wants and needs a black underclass in order to advance is a Marxist idea. It’s not true. White people do not benefit from “keeping black people down.” If you disagree, then please explain how a black underclass benefits whites in today’s supposedly white supremacist economy. It’s obvious how white supremacist slaveholders benefited from a black underclass 170 years ago. But I need someone to explain how this is true today.

But…Systemic Racism
Okay, so if overt racism isn’t nearly as common as liberals want us to believe, then why do such huge racial disparities still exist today?

I believe the answer is frustratingly complex. For starters, there is yet a third dictionary definition of racism; that of systemic, or structural, racism. It has to do with neither beliefs nor attitudes, but with entrenched practices, and participation can indeed be unconscious. Systemic racism does belong on the racist string:

RACISM: 2) a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine [referring the first definition of racism above]; discrimination.

Despite what I hear many conservative commentators saying, I don’t think there is any denying the reality of systemic racism. I don’t think there’s any denying that it stems (or stemmed) from white supremacy in America in that systemic racist practices were originally established with the specific aim of disadvantaging black people.

It’s true that most, if not all, systemic racism has been corrected on paper, and I believe that is the point that conservatives are making. The US has enacted many legal policy changes to correct systemic racism, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act (1968), and the Equal Opportunity Act (1972). Yet huge racial disparities continue to exist, and that is what the current upheaval is about.

I’m contending here that the troubling disparities we see today are the result of past systemic policies and practices, more so than current racial hatred. Institutional racism has done its nasty work, and despite policy corrections having been made at the governmental level, America is living with the aftermath.

It is worth watching this brief summary by Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales. Among other points, he argues that home ownership is a critical measurement of individual wealth where an enormous racial disparity remains.

So-called “systemic racism” is a tangled hairball. Establishing racial parity and justice cannot be a simple matter of passing laws. Because no matter how good the system, we will continue to contend with fallen human nature.

Let us consider 3 significant examples that illustrate what we’re up against.

Example #1 – Paved with Good Intentions
Since the civil rights era, in many cases, policies were established with the intent of helping the black community, and these policies ended up hurting the black community. The now infamous Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is one such example. For sentencing purposes this law made 1 gram of crack cocaine equivalent to100 grams of powder cocaine, which ended up disproportionately punishing blacks. At the time of its passage, black leaders and most of the Congressional Black Caucus supported the act, as a crack epidemic was ravaging black America.

Were these black leaders white supremacists? Of course not. But unfortunately this policy contributed to a dramatic increase in the US incarceration rate, from 319,598 in 1980 to 1,505,400 in 2016. The “tough on crime” United States now has the largest incarceration rate in the world. Today, “woke” people cite the 1986 drug law as a horrific example of systemic racism. But the law was intended to protect black communities.

Example #2 – If You Don’t Have Your Health…
Perhaps more maddening than good intentions gone wrong, the word “systemic” does not refer only to government. It may even be inaccurate to think in terms of “racism.” It could be that any systemic practice that disadvantages the poor will disproportionately affect POC, due to racial disparities in income and wealth accumulation. It’s more complicated than “white supremacy,” despite continual assertions from the Left that racism is the problem.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic the nation was dismayed to learn that infected blacks were dying at a rate 2 or 3 times that of infected whites. Every news report I read blamed this on lack of access to insurance and quality health care, and perhaps the types of occupations in which POC tend to work. Most also mentioned the higher incidence of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and lung disease among blacks, putting them at greater risk.

As tragic as that is, if you’re a conservative, you may be thinking: What about personal responsibility? What about lifestyle choices? To a large extent, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes are preventable through a healthy diet, exercise, keeping weight under control, and not smoking.

But again, it’s just not that simple.

While it may be true that whites are not holding down black people and making them drink Sprite, it is also true that soft drink, sugary drink, and snack and candy companies market disproportionately to POC. Do a Google search. In the soft drink industry alone, Blacks and Hispanics together make up about 21% of the US population, but account for 50% of the fruit flavored soft drink market. White greed may or may not be behind that, but POC are also making consumer choices based on what they like. Is this systemic racism?

Good food benefits black and brown bodies as much as it benefits white bodies, but how do you turn that ship around? Due to residential segregation, many black communities exist in “food deserts,” where, in the absence of good grocery stores, people resort to buying junk food at convenience stores or gas stations. Low incomes and unsafe neighborhoods figure in as well. But even if given the option of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, most Americans will bypass those and go for soda and processed food.

So both systemic and personal responsibility issues are at play.

Example #3 – The Humongous, Defecating Elephant in the Room, That Nobody Wants to Talk About
Finally, in my experience the most counterproductive dynamic in any discussion on racism is an unwillingness to face the most crucial factor affecting racial inequality: family breakdown.

I assume the topic is off the table for “woke” people for political reasons, since the abundant research on outcomes for kids living with their married parents is now generally accepted. But it doesn’t fit the left wing narrative very well. It feels like victim blaming. It feels anti-feminist, anti-gay, and it flagrantly contradicts the tenets of their ongoing sexual revolution. Therefore it is more intuitive for the Left to focus on fixing the system.

Put simply, the conservative argument is that the breakdown of the family is at the root of virtually every racial disparity in America; in regard to crime, poverty, low education, illegal drug use, incarceration, and out of wedlock pregnancy. Kids who grow up with their married, biological parents are at significantly lower risk of experiencing these outcomes. The data is in, and it holds true across racial lines.

The out of wedlock birthrate for black American babies is now around 70%, even with a black abortion rate 5 times that of white women. No subculture of any race can successfully withstand that kind of marriage and family breakdown. But how do you turn that ship around?

Is the breakdown of the Black family due to systemic racism? This also, is not an either/or question. The factors are many. Conservatives are correct to emphasize character and personal responsibility, and liberals are correct in blaming the effects of systemic racism. Some research (Belinda Tucker) indicates that the problem is not an aversion to marriage on the part of women of color, but a lack of marriageable Black men. If that shortage is due to higher mortality rates, incarceration rates, and unemployment rates for Black men, then yes, it is in part a systemic problem.

Love Your Neighbor
White people do need to listen to the Black experience. There are now many Black voices insisting that it is not primarily racism that is holding Black America down, but that it is 1) family breakdown, and 2) blacks believing the left wing victim narrative. I agree with them. Let us not forget to listen to those black voices as well. But please, let no one conclude that if contemporary racism is not the real problem, then disadvantaged blacks are to blame for their own plight. Black America is still suffering the consequences of systemic racism, particularly in the criminal justice system.

Surely the will now exists on all sides to root out systemic racism wherever it remains. Doing so can only help Black Americans. And yet, if all systemic racism were to disappear overnight, kids growing up without both married biological parents will remain statistically disadvantaged.

Clearly, change will have to come from within the black community as well, but now would be a good time for white conservatives to commit to living less segregated lives for the sake of building community. Ask yourself if you’ve ever been inside of a black person’s home. Has a “person of color” ever shared a meal around your table? Maybe being a friend and ally to our black and brown neighbors and co-workers would be a good place to begin the healing process in your corner of America.

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).

 

A Painting: Bringing the Hidden Stuff to Light

worship painting, Scott Freeman

“Transformation” by Scott Freeman, 22×28, latex paint on canvas

I haven’t done a great deal of worship painting, (defined as live painting during a worship service,) and when I have done so, I’m not sure that what I’ve painted has spoken to many people. But recently I did a worship painting that seemed to connect with several bros. After the service I had some great conversations, and several people wanted to purchase the painting.

I was a little embarrassed about the subject matter, due, I suppose, to my fine art schooling and the fact that Christian subculture can get pretty cheesy at times. But I do consciously aim to make work that exists in a place of tension between populism and elitism. This is possibly due to the fact that I had a thoroughly blue-collar upbringing, but then attended a private, elitist art college. I found that both had valuable things to offer.

On this night, I figured that making a painting featuring both a sword and a mask would render it hopelessly clichéd in the eyes any art snobs in the room, but I couldn’t think of a better way to communicate what I wanted to say. So I ignored all that and made the painting.

The Painting
I had some friends in mind as I made the painting – guys that are struggling to overcome various addictions, and for whom this struggle has been a protracted battle. As I’ve watched my friends I’ve been impressed by their humility; by their willingness to make themselves vulnerable and accountable to our church congregation of fellow travelers.

This has required them to remove their masks; to allow us into their lives to see them as they are in their failures, and allow us to accept them and care for them. But it’s difficult removing masks. It’s counter-intuitive. It requires a death to self, and that’s what the sword represents. It really is a battle. My friends are warriors.

As I was painting I noticed that the mask has the shape of a shield. It struck me that we may try to use masks as a shield; as a way to protect ourselves, and as something to hide behind. But a mask fails as a shield. A mask is too small, and we all know what’s behind the mask anyway – a broken person who needs connection with God and with other people. We intuitively know this because it’s true for us all.

So the figure in the painting is instead looking to the light of God; exposing himself to God; surrendering himself to God; receiving new life from God, resting in God’s grace. The mask is down. The armor we actually need is the spiritual armor described by the apostle Paul, including the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:10-18).

Why do we pretend to have our poop in a group?
Church culture can tend to perpetuate mask-wearing as a way to hide our secret sins and imperfections. Maybe it’s because we celebrate the destination, and it’s easier to present the impression we have already arrived than it is to do the uncomfortable work of making the inward journey. Or maybe we feel we don’t have fellow travelers that we can trust. Maybe for a wounded person it feels safer to forego taking a relational risk. Maybe we just don’t know a better way.

But hiding our sins and imperfections is to misunderstand what Jesus envisioned a community of His followers to be. The church was intended to be a subculture of life, called out from a culture of death. Life as God defines it means walking in communion and love, and walking in freedom that comes from addressing our brokenness.

The process of coming to the Light so that the darkness in our hearts is exposed is a process we must all undertake if we are to live in the community of God’s Life. Entrenched lies and destructive patterns must be identified, named, confessed and brought to light, put to death, and then replaced with Truth. Otherwise, they will continue to inhibit the Spiritual healing and wholeness that God has in mind for us.

The hidden stuff has a way of not staying hidden anyway. If it remains present it will shape our identity and our behavior, even affecting those relationships around us as it tends to come out in hurtful or inappropriate ways.

Restoration and Transformation
We were made for wholeness, for freedom, and for loving communion with God and one another. He has created us to need Him, and to need community with one another; to know and to be known; to experience relational unity as human beings helping each other along in the process of being restored to wholeness. The shameful stuff, whatever it may be, has power over us as long as it remains hidden.

“…If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”
(1 John 1:7-9).

May we walk in the Light together.

removing the mask

Prints are available of this painting. Email me if you’re interested at scottnmollie@yahoo.com.

“Loveland Gothic” – A New Mural

Scott Freeman Public Art

The completed mural, 12×15 ft, painted by 320 local citizens, young and old.

For the past 3 years, I and a small army of volunteers have facilitated the creation of a community mural, painted by local festival-goers, during downtown Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day festival.

Each year we’ve spoofed an iconic fine art painting, giving each painting a Valentiney twist. This year I chose an American artist, Grant Wood, using the occasion to celebrate sibling love. Many people assume that Wood’s original painting depicts a husband and wife, though this is probably not the case. Wood never clearly defined the relationship of the characters.

The point of the mural project is to bring the community together in creating something fun, creative, and monumental. Individuals are encouraged to express their individuality on their tiles, and those tiles then each become a part of the bigger picture – a metaphor for community.

Festival-goers do not know in advance what the bigger picture will be. This is the reason I have chosen fine art imagery – these images are already well loved by the public and are hopefully something of which no one would object to being a part.

Going forward, if we are able to continue this annual project, we may have to do a better job of communicating. This year a couple of people apparently took their tiles home with them! Also there was more confusion than usual as to what paint colors to use in a given area. My apologies to those of you whose tiles I had to alter in order to make the big picture work.

All in all, I think the mural came together nicely! Thanks to the Loveland Downtown Partnership and Chamber of Commerce for their support this year. Also thanks to all the volunteers at Beggars’ Gate church for braving the cold and making this happen again.

Scott Freeman - public art

Detail showing the bear chainsaw sculpture and the Abraham Lincoln brooch.

Loveland Gothic-God is Love

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.

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

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art for kids

A small artist with his tile.