What Happened at Loveland’s Fire & Ice Festival

Mona Lisa public art Loveland CO

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was crazy and fun!

Loveland Fire and Ice Festival

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

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

The Mona Loveland

What do you see?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beggars’ Gate Church
Loveland, Colorado
beggarsgate.com

blg-loveld-monalisa-fnl

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

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

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

Love peace dove mural scott freeman

This is the completed second mural.

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President Trump & the Worst Thing That Could Happen Now

divided-america-blg

I stand amazed at the American political system.

In the bizarre, 2016 Trump/Clinton election it would appear that the people have spoken in ways that few predicted. Even though, as always, the voters are split nearly 50/50. If you are a liberal reading this, please bear with me as I hope to find common ground with you.

I hopefully believe that what we saw is not “whitelash.” Nor is it a “pro-Trump” movement. Nor is it “a resurgence of bigotry and hatred,” as so many fear.

Rather, I think we have reason to hope that what we saw is the people voting for freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and constitutional government in general. Despite serious questions around Trump’s temperament, voters nonetheless voted down the epitome of a connected, politically entrenched ideologue in favor of a political outsider.

It is also probable that people who are not ideological racists are tired of being called racists. People who are opposed to illegal immigration are tired of being called xenophobes. People who don’t hate gay people are tired of being called anti-gay. People who think the jury is still out on transgender issues are tired of being called bigots. People who are concerned about radical Islamic terror are tired of being called anti-Islamic. People who uphold the sanctity of innocent human life are tired of being called anti-woman. Caring people who hold a biblical worldview are tired of being called hateful.

Each of these issues deeply affect what American culture will be. There needs to be free discussion around these issues. There needs to be deep thought and the airing of opposing viewpoints. Remember how everyone was amazed at how quickly public opinion changed on gay marriage? Well, just maybe a lot of people simply shut down in the toxic environment because they didn’t want to be viewed as hateful and anti-gay. Maybe they felt it wasn’t worth getting on somebody’s poop list, or risking a lawsuit, or losing their job over. But that’s not change of heart.

Maybe they voted for freedom of religion and expression for everyone rather than for a creeping, Orwellian totalitarianism, complete with thought police.

Coming on the heels of eight years of an administration and its supporters attempting to impose political ideology onto the country from the top down, half the voters chose a political outsider over another 4 years of continued labeling, shaming, psychological manipulation, indoctrination, and forced participation.

Remember these labels?
Holier-than-thou
judgmental
self-righteous
imposers one’s morality on others
censor

Within my own lifetime in the not so distant past, these labels were always associated with “religious people.” Remember how the mention of one of these labels would call to mind “religious fundamentalists”? Remember how everyone hated these attitudes when religious people practiced them? Remember how the left framed these labels to be synonymous with Christianity? I do.

Well, it turns out that these labels are not exclusive to religious people. It turns out these things are simply attitudes that all human beings are prone to adopt whenever they feel strongly that they are right, religious or non-religious, right or left. It’s always arrogant, no matter which side does it. Today, the shoe is on the other foot. I have become fond of pointing out in online discussion that, just because it’s liberal bigotry does not make it good bigotry.

I remember reading a comment years ago from a conservative writer. I no longer remember who said it, but I remember hoping it wasn’t true. It was something like this:

“Pluralism is never an end in itself. Pluralism is a transitional strategy employed by the less powerful faction until power shifts from one orthodoxy to another.”

I’ve always remembered that, and wondered if I would live to see if it were true. The past eight years have suggested that it is. As a young conservative adult attending a very “progressive” art college, I was frequently reminded that liberals were the champions of open-mindedness, free speech, tolerance, and anti-censorship. But now, having believed they have the truth, majority support, and power on their side, the progressive movement has become every bit as censorious, judgmental, self-righteous, and holier-than-thou as any fire and brimstone TV evangelist. The difference is that, unlike TV evangelists, progressives attempt to promote their agenda using the power of the state.

That is an enormous difference. After all, one can ignore a TV evangelist.

What we’ve seen for the past eight years is the smug arrogance of liberal politics in action. Over the past eight years the Obama administration has gone around the U.S. Constitution and around the will of the people in order to enact public policy. It did this because voters would not have willingly approved Obamacare and gay marriage. But even worse, not only did the administration go around the people, it stubbornly refused to allow conscientious objection to these liberal policies.

The actions of Obama and his supporters essentially said, “This is way it’s going to be. You don’t get a say, and you must participate. Anything less than participation is hateful, racist, or bigoted and is a punishable offense now.”

As “victory” after liberal victory was won over the last 8 years, I saw a lot of gloating and mocking as dissenting conservative views were shut down. Businesses fell in line for fear of left wing retribution. There was no point in allowing conservative viewpoints to be aired, since those viewpoints were “bigoted” and “hateful.”

Then the election happened.

The worst thing that could happen for America now
The worst thing that could happen now would be for the Trump administration to do the same thing that the Obama administration just did: force its political ideology down everybody’s throats from the top down.

There is a remarkable opportunity now in America that I didn’t think could’ve existed before the election. I do not believe that Donald Trump was a sound presidential candidate. Nonetheless, this administration actually has an opportunity to restore constitutional government. If only it has the will to do so.

At some point all sides are going to have to recognize that both sides have legitimate concerns, and we’re going to have to negotiate how to live together in such a way that both sides feel their concerns are being addressed. For America, the U S Constitution is the answer.

If the American people cannot unite around the American constitution, then the American experiment is over. Christians do not need a Christian president, because constitutional government will protect their rights. Secularists do not need a secularist president, because constitutional government will protect their rights.

How to respond when things get ugly
Restoring constitutional government will mean that some unconstitutional “accomplishments” will have to be undone, and then redone constitutionally. To the left this will seem like an attack, of course. “Progressives” have sworn they are “not going back” because they feel they have gotten some of what they want, never mind that they got it unconstitutionally. But ultimately, restoring constitutional government will be as good for liberals as it will be for conservatives.

In the meantime, our way of relating to each other has to change. America is now horribly divided. We have to stop digging in and, instead, reach out to those who hold differing views. We must listen to each other. Both sides have to stop trying to hit “the enemy” back harder. There are compassionate people on both sides of the issues that divide us.

The election results were so surprising and disturbing that some liberals are trying to understand why things turned out as they did. This is a great opportunity for conservatives interested in building community, (which should be all conservatives.) It’s not that liberals are questioning liberalism. But some realize that they need to understand how their seemingly-nice neighbors could have voted for someone like Donald Trump. It’s a good question.

To help at least a few understand, after the election I joined a “Safe Persons” discussion group composed almost entirely of liberals. It was good for me. I learned that a lot of liberals really are afraid. A couple of members expressed feeling unsafe that I was even part of the group. Of course, they were not actually unsafe, but the point is that they truly felt that way. Some of the other members wanted to interact, and, though it took some time and effort and some overlooking of insults, I feel it was worth it. In my next post I will print some excerpts from our dialogue that I feel are worth posting.

Post election, I’ve seen other encouraging events in my small corner of the world. One friend of mine, along with several of his liberal friends, is starting a book club. Elsewhere, a conservative evangelical friend in a neighboring town has been invited to be on the editorial board of the local newspaper. Apparently the board has decided it needs to broaden its perspective. These things speak well of all parties involved. For some of us, bridge-building could be as simple as going out of our way to initiate a relationship with a neighbor who had a Hillary sign in his or her yard last autumn.

I’d love to hear about how you have reached out in your community to build bridges. Please do share your thoughts and ideas below.

Recent Video Project

Uganda-gathering firewoodMy postings have been few lately as I’ve been busy trying to finish my new kids’ book, The True Story of Christmas, on top of working full time. So, just to stay in touch, I thought I’d share a video that I had the privilege of contributing to recently.

I created the black and white drawings for the flashbacks in the narrator’s story. It’s a great story of a guy in Uganda who was paying for his little sister to go to school, only to come home to find her hauling firewood rather than getting her education.

The 5 and a half minute video tells of his response and of the help he received to fulfill his vision. There are a lot of aspects to this story that I love. And of course, the Ugandan accent is a bonus: “Pope-see-coh“!

http://unreasonable.is/four-years-and-3-million-later-this-company-is-fueling-uganda/

I should say that I know very little about The Unreasonable Instititue, and that the views expressed on this blog do not reflect on that organization in any way, and vice versa.

Book Update: The True Story of Christmas isn’t ready yet, but if you would like to order my other books for a child you love, I would suggest doing so right away, in order to receive your order before Christmas!

Here is the link to my ONLINE BOOK STORE. Click on a title to see a summary and illustrations for each story. I so appreciate your support!

New Storybook Release: Bear Island

Christian books for kids-Bear IslandI’m excited about this one!

Over the past few years, thanks to some great teaching by a couple of pastor friends, I’ve come to appreciate that one of God’s primary attributes is that He is relational in nature. As human beings created in His image, we are relational as well; created to live in loving relationship with Him, and with each other. Since our triune God exists in relationship within Himself, we can say that our need for loving relationship is not a shortcoming or flaw, but is rather an essential part of our Creator’s design for us.

The idea of a personal God who is loving and relational is not as inevitable as it might seem. This is unique to a biblical worldview. For example, the Allah of the Quran has always existed as a solitary being, and there is no indication that he desires relationship with man. Furthermore, Allah’s eternal aloneness suggests that love could have only existed in theory until man was created. In contrast, Jesus describes being in perfect loving relationship with the Father from before creation. Thus the scriptures can truthfully say that God is love, and always has been.

Marriage is one picture of the relational unity-in-diversity that God designed us for. The creation story explicitly states that “oneness” is God’s intent for marriage. Family is another picture. The church is meant to be yet another manifestation of loving, relational unity. The greatest commandments of Jesus reflect all of this. Even on a worldly level, everyone on the planet seeks community and unity in some form. This is all from God, and Jesus claims that His salvation is what makes relational unity – first with God, and then with our neighbor – truly possible. In this way we can say that our deepest desires are met in Jesus.

Bear Island is a simple story that was designed to capture these truths at the simplest level. It’s a story about love, friendship, and family.

Bear Island tells the story of an island that should be a wonderful place for bears to live. Unfortunately, all of the bears are lonely because they mistakenly believe that the way to be happy is to be selfish. The strongest bears push the smaller bears around, and there’s generally lots of fighting and grumpiness. Bear Island is not a very nice place to live.

Books for kids-Bear Island

One day an enormous, new bear visits the island and the other bears are immediately afraid of him. However, rather than behaving selfishly, as they expect him to, he brings love and friendship to the island, eventually transforming the whole island.

Christian storybooks-Bear Island

Christian picturebooks for kids“…Every day Burly Brown Bear made a new friend by being kind to another bear. Soon there was a whole party of brown furry bears sharing their berries and sharing their days together. Bear Island was becoming a more heavenly place!…”

Biblical worldview for kids-Bear Island

As a side note, the idea for this story came to me after my wife and I had completed a marriage class through my church that deeply affected us. This was also during the Ferguson riots, (near where I grew up.) At the time, I was struck with how seldom fatherlessness and the decline of marriage were a part of the ensuing discussions on race relations in America. I think the story of Bear Island came out a little differently because of all of this than it otherwise would have. I mentioned in a previous post that the characters in the story were designed so that children of any ethnic makeup would be able to identify with them. My hope is that this book can make inroads into the Black and Hispanic communities. Eventually I hope to offer a Spanish version as well.
Bear Island-Big Picture Publishing

Those are my thoughts and hopes for this little book!

Reinforcing a biblical worldview in the kids you love has never been more important. Storytelling is still one of the very best ways to do that. Thank you for letting me play a part!

To order Bear Island right now, CLICK HERE!

Shipping is FREE inside the U.S.

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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Keep Watching – The New is Coming: One New Man.

One New Man

Ends at 2pm on Saturday…

The Hebrew author of the old testament book of Ecclesiastes stated that there is nothing new under the sun. At the time he was writing, I suppose this was true. However, the Torah and the prophets gave clear proclamation that something new and better would one day come with Israel’s Messiah.

The Judeo-Christian scriptures present a linear, unfolding revelation of our Creator’s spectacularly generous plan for humanity. When Jesus began to publicly speak, He spoke in terms of fulfillment: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of god is at hand…“ (Mk 1:15; Lk 4:17-21.) He spoke of new things – a new commandment, a new covenant, spiritual rebirth, a new life in His Spirit, the arrival of the long-awaited kingdom of God, resurrection and a new age to come.

Someone might object, “This is all old new stuff. Jesus said all of this 2000 years ago.”

Well, yes and no.

Our natural human condition hasn’t changed. All human beings continue to be born into a broken state, relationally separated from our Creator who is the source of life. It’s true that Jesus claimed to be the means to restore us to relational unity 2000 years ago, but the spiritual rebirth that He spoke of is new today for every modern person who chooses to believe and embrace Jesus and His gift of new life.

But there is another sense in which the works of Jesus are not ancient history, and this is what I want to focus on as we approach the Easter/Passover season.

Something new is happening, as we speak
Jesus and His apostles taught about something called “one new man;” something that could not have existed before the incarnation of Jesus (Eph 2:11-16; Jn 10:14-16.) One new man does not refer to individual regeneration and salvation. The one new man refers to both Jews and “the nations” (non-Jews) being fully united as equals, fully sharing in all of the blessings of the Jewish Messiah. Available recorded history indicates that this new and remarkable unity occurred only during a very brief time on a relatively small scale during the first century, during the time of the apostles. We can see the initial breakthrough described in Acts chapter 15, and elaborated in the writings of the apostles.

This is one of the great ironies of history: Contrary to first century Jewish tradition and expectation, the early Jewish followers of Jesus welcomed in non-Jewish believers as full brothers and sisters, without requiring them to become Jewish. They believed God had instructed them to do so. The Jewish apostolic leadership reached an agreement that “spiritually reborn” gentiles need not become circumcised and Torah-observant in order to be in right relationship to God, as this was now accomplished by faith in the salvific work of Jesus (Acts 15:7-11.) This full inclusion of non-Jews into the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12, Ro 11:13-36) changed the world, though not in ways anyone could have predicted. Certainly no one would have guessed that this would bring misfortune upon the Jewish people for centuries to come.

This is not to say that the inclusiveness of the early church leadership was wrong. Rather, it was the generations that followed who failed to abide by the teaching of the Rabbi Jesus and His Jewish apostles.

Many authors have documented the rift that grew between traditional Jews and the new church of Jesus, as it became increasingly gentile in composition. Eventually, as Roman rulers began to adopt “Christian” belief and identity, the situation became worse for Jews. Both civil law and church doctrine became increasingly hostile to Judaism, so that unity between Jews and gentiles was openly discouraged. In many times and places throughout Europe it became a punishable offense for a Christian to fellowship with or marry a professing Jew, or to participate in Jewish rituals. Both state and church leadership, (often one and the same,) sought to reinforce the establishment of two, separate religions – a triumphant Christianity and a subjugated Judaism. Religious times and seasons were changed accordingly as “Christian holidays” were established. For their part, traditional Jewish people were happy to comply with having nothing to do with the Jesus of the gentiles.

Today, the world accepts this status quo. Books and media dogmatically assume “three great Abrahamic religions” – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Christians have their holidays, and Jews have theirs. As far as Jewish people are concerned, if a Jewish person comes to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, that person ceases to become Jewish. Generations of intentional, religiously motivated segregation have reinforced this. The situation is now precisely upside-down: At the time of the Apostles, the question was, “Can a gentile become a follower of Jesus without becoming Jewish?” Today the question is, “Can a Jew become a follower of Jesus without becoming a gentile?!”

The answer to both questions is a joyful “YES!” The proof is that all of the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and they rooted their recognition and belief in Jesus as God’s Messiah inseparably to the Hebrew Torah and prophets. The answer has always been yes, but anti-Jewish “Christian” theology made it almost impossible to see for the past 1900 years.

Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus came to establish a new religion called “Christianity,” distinct from “Judaism.” Jesus clearly stated that He came to fulfill the Torah and the Prophets (Matt 5:17.) What is described in the New Testament is Jesus establishing a new covenant, and the kingdom of God – both Jewish concepts! In fact, the Jewish apostle Paul states that the gospel of Jesus is “to the Jew first, and also to the gentile.”

What has changed?
We live in a unique time in history. The Bible is now widely available to a widely literate international population. New generations of Jews, who have been taught that the New Testament is a Christian book having nothing to do with Judaism, can now open it up and see for themselves if this is true. New generations of gentile followers of Jesus have generally not grown up with anti-Semitic ideas such as Replacement Theology. More so than ever before, Jews and Christians can now openly dialogue with each other about these things without fear of persecution. Most importantly, more and more Jewish people are embracing Jesus as their Messiah, and as part of their heritage. And more and more gentile Christians are becoming aware of the essential historic Hebrew roots of their faith.

Is this the same as saying “more and more Jews are becoming Christians”? No.
Is this the same as saying “more and more gentile Christians are becoming Jewish? No.

The whole point of the one new man idea is Jews and gentiles being united in the Jewish Messiah. It’s true unity in diversity. It transcends religion and religious tradition in favor of relationship. It’s restored relational unity with our Creator, resulting in restored community within the creation. It must include truth, forgiveness, grace, and love. It’s already beginning to happen. I am so in.

Imagine the impact on our jaded and fractured world when this begins to happen on an undeniable, global scale. After nearly 2000 years of sometimes-violent, religious persecution, the walls are coming down. And this is not due to a more liberal reading of the Bible, but a more careful one.

What you can do
I’m not Jewish, and I don’t attend a Messianic congregation. I don’t own a shofar, or a kippah, or a tallit. However, I think it is clear that the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures has chosen Israel to bring salvation to the world through Jesus. It grieves me that most Jews have been hindered from recognizing their own Messiah because of centuries of unbiblical religious practice on the part of the gentile church. It is time for the gentile church to educate itself as to the Hebrew foundation of our theology. It is time for the gentile church to put down any barriers that may hinder Jewish seekers from feeling welcome in our midst. It is time for us to go out of our way to love Jewish people.

If you’re not sure where to start, you can begin by clicking on the links in this post. If you live in Northern Colorado, I’d like to invite you to an event that my church puts on every Holy Week. It’s called the Holy Week Journey of Worship. The Journey of Worship is a self-guided, meditative event that takes place from 8am to 8pm (depending) in our darkened sanctuary from Wednesday through Saturday. Nine stations will walk you through the climactic events in the life of Jesus, explaining how the Hebrew feasts in the Torah of Moses foreshadowed each remarkable event. There is no speaker or program, but there is a fair amount of reading. I would suggest getting off the treadmill of normal life for an hour to go through it.

Following are comments:

“This was very beautiful. We were looking for a new way, a special way to celebrate this day. We were all moved, my husband, my teenage son, and myself. Thank you for opening this up to the public.”

“This was my first time coming to Journey of Worship and I LOVED IT. So great, cried my eyes out with the Lord. I love being that close to Him.”

“I just wanted to say that this has become such an important part of the Easter season in my life…It is a reminder of the intricate history tied to the awesome and supernatural events…Thanks.”

“This was a profoundly meaningful opportunity to worship and reflect. Thank you so much.”

 Watch this VIDEO to learn specific times for the Journey of Worship.

Dinner Table Tales

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner with our exchange student – 2012

Sharing a meal with others is a one of life’s great, relational, creative expressions. It goes without saying that mealtimes serve an essential practical purpose – that of nourishing our bodies – but at the same time, sharing a meal is (or can be) a spiritually meaningful and life-enhancing act.

Of course, growing up, I didn’t appreciate this. Our family ate dinner together every evening. This seemed to me to be a routine, mundane part of suburban life. I was more interested in finding a way around eating my helping of canned peas than in relating to my family in a positive way. But I believe the habit of eating together had a lasting and positive effect on me.

There is a proverb of Solomon that says, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov 17:1.) We now know scientifically that stress and strife is bad for the digestion. By contrast, relaxing around a table as a nourishing act of mutual enjoyment, and as an expression of unity, is a God-ordained pleasure. It’s interesting that with the establishment of the New Covenant 2000 years ago, Jesus used a meal as a sign by which to remember the covenant; a covenant that was intended to be characterized by love and unity. This meal is often referred to as communion meal.

On an everyday level, one of the best practices we can share as families is to practice the habit of sharing a meal together around the table, looking into each other’s faces, and seeking to enjoy each other’s company.

Meal sharing is an act of communion.

I read an interview in the late 80’s that for some reason stuck with me. Dweezil Zappa was talking about his then-upcoming TV show, “Normal Life,” co-starring his sister, Moon Unit. He said something like, “Our show is going to be about real families, where everyone eats their food in separate rooms in front of a TV.” As though families eating meals together is a cheesy Ozzie and Harriet thing that cool people don’t do.

Whatever. Being cool is overrated.

Eating with actual human beings
Sure, it takes more effort, but relationship is what life is all about, after all. Even as an unmarried college student in midtown Kansas City, when I lived in a 3-story house sharing rent with 6 other art students, this ethic came through. Enough of us had been raised this way that we determined that we wanted to create a community rather than simply serve as a cheap boarding house. One of the first things we decided toward this end was to share a meal together at least once a week.

When Mollie and I got married, we decided early on as our young family began to grow, that we would try to make it a practice to always eat meals together around the table as a family, with TVs and electronic devices turned off, and earphones pulled out.

A Story About Dinner and Art
Many years later, Mollie and I moved our family to Colorado so that we could pursue careers as fine artists. Some of our old college friends from the 3-story house, now a married couple and living in Loveland, had offered to let us stay with them for a few months until we could get ourselves established. They had 3 kids, and we had 5, and their house was probably too small for this endeavor. But they welcomed us in nonetheless.

One of the first things we did was to fix the situation with the dining room table. We knew we wanted to share meals together, and our host’s dining room table was too small for all 12 of us. So my friend Mike got a nice 4×8 ft board, and, since we were all artists, we decided to turn the table into a community art project involving all the kids.

We thought it would be fun to get everybody’s hand prints on the table, as a small monument to our love and friendship. We had all the kids and adults interlace hands and arms around the table, something like this:

family handprintsThen we spray-painted over everyone’s hands to create a hand print border around the edge of the table. (We first applied lotion to everyone’s hands so that the paint would come off easily.) On the underside of the table, each kid wrote their name under their hand prints to identify them. Then, back on top, we helped the kids stencil some primitive animal shapes running through the center of the table to complete the design. I designed the stencils to be suggestive of Native American art imagery.

Below is a shot of the finished tabletop.

Tabletop stencil - Loveland, ColoradoI will always fondly remember that crazy season of starting over in Colorado, made possible because of the friendship of this family.

Some sad observations from across the pond
I recently read an article by British doctor and psychiatrist, Anthony Daniels, who has worked extensively in some of Britain’s deeply impoverished areas. His duties required him to visit the homes of his patients, and to personally interview them. Daniels recounts some universal patterns he saw in Britain’s underclass:

“Everyone lived in households with a shifting cast of members, rather than in families. If there was an adult male resident, he was generally a bird of passage with a residence of his own somewhere else. He came and went as his fancy took him…

I should mention a rather startling fact: By the time they are 15 or 16, twice as many children in Britain have a television as have a biological father living at home…Few homes were without televisions with screens as large as a cinema – sometimes more than one – and they were never turned off, so that I often felt I was examining someone in a cinema rather than in a house. But what was curious was that these homes often had no means of cooking a meal, or any evidence of a meal ever having been cooked beyond the use of a microwave, and no place at which a meal could be eaten in a family fashion. The pattern of eating in such households was a kind of foraging in the refrigerator, as and when the mood took, with the food to be consumed sitting in front of one of the giant television screens.

Surveys have shown that a fifth of British children do not eat a meal more than once a week with another member of their household, and many homes do not have a dining room table. Needless to say, this pattern is concentrated in the lower reaches of society, where so elementary but fundamental a means of socialization is now unknown. Here I should mention in passing that in my hospital, the illegitimacy rate of the children born in it, except for those of Indian-subcontinental descent, was approaching 100 percent.”  (Imprimis: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass)

What a sobering glimpse of a government welfare state. The government has essentially become the household provider, the nuclear family has disintegrated, and there consequently isn’t even a table around which to share a meal.

Rise up and share a meal!
My purpose here is not to criticize Dweezil Zappa, or the underclass of Britain, or TV watching. My point is simply to encourage connection and communion within households. Whether you are living with family or friends, if you are currently not connecting with those around you, why not start the adventure now? If you are already committed to meal sharing with those you love, then may these thoughts serve as affirmation that you are doing a good thing. Keep it up, you crazy radicals!

Sometimes we do good things almost by accident, or by inertia, or habit. This is certainly better than not doing those things at all. However, at times I have found that doing those same things with intentionality and purpose reminds me to make the most of the moment. Meal sharing is one of those things. Reinforcing your values by reading stories regularly with your kids or grandkids is another. May God strengthen you to create a culture of life and love within your own family!

A Happy Thanksgiving to you,

Scott

tabletop stencil-detail

Feel free to share a dinner table story below…