Putting It All Together: Evangelicals, Gays, Blacks, & GMOs

Boromir meme-one does not simply We need each other in order to reach an understanding of viewpoints that differ from our own. Why should we bother to do this? Because no one person or group is right all of the time, and it is a natural human tendency to tend toward arrogance, self-righteousness, prejudice, and the demonizing of those with whom we disagree.

As a guy who traverses the (mostly) conservative world of Evangelical subculture, and the (mostly) liberal world of the secular arts culture, I often feel like a fish out of water.

I’m pretty sure everyone gets the case for “marriage equality”: fairness, equal treatment, non-discrimination. But based on news and commentary that I see, it strikes me that supporters of “marriage equality” almost universally misunderstand the motives of Evangelicals in the debate. The word schadenfreude has entered the mainstream, as the Left gloats over how fun it is to watch “anti-gay” people “lose” the battle. (Schadenfreude means to feel pleasure at another’s misfortune.) I’m curious as to what “marriage equality” supporters think that Evangelicals have to lose in this debate.

There seems to be an assumption that Evangelicals somehow need to hate, in order for their “religion” to work. Or that Evangelicals hope to forcibly impose their “religious beliefs” on everyone else (as if that has ever worked for anyone.) Or that Evangelicals don’t know any gay people that they personally love.

I certainly can’t speak for all Evangelicals, but I’ve had one foot in theologically conservative Evangelical subculture all of my life, and none of the above points are true for most of us. Of course you can find jerks and buttheads on the Left, Right, and Middle of every group. Finding one, giving him press, and making him the poster boy doesn’t promote understanding.

So what do Evangelicals stand to lose in the gay marriage debate?

Nothing. We’re not in this for ourselves.

We believe we’re standing for a public policy that will be the most beneficial for future generations; one that will guarantee the most freedom for the most people, and that will be safest and healthiest for the most vulnerable members of society, namely dependent children, who have zero political power.

There is nothing in our worldview that somehow needs to keep gays, (or anyone else,) down in order to thrive.

It is mainstream Evangelical belief that, in the new covenant of Jesus, we do not have human enemies. The apostle Paul clearly states that our enemies, our weapons, and the battle itself are spiritual in nature (Eph 6:11-17.)

There are many gay Evangelicals who struggle with same sex attraction, but choose to live according to their biblical beliefs. This is their choice. They are not second-class citizens.

Evangelical marriages will be just fine if gay marriage is recognized by the state. This is true because we have an ethic that doesn’t depend upon public policy. But public policy does affect the culture in general. As the institution of marriage is redefined into oblivion, as the incest taboo falls, as monogamy in marriage ceases to be the ideal, as gender in marriage and parenting comes to be seen as irrelevant, the consequences for society at large will be grim. If traditional marriage goes down, it’s going to cost everybody. Government will increasingly need to step in to preserve order and safety, and there will necessarily be a loss of freedom for everyone.

You may be thinking, “Slow down there, cowboy – we don’t really know what will happen if the government redefines marriage to include gay couples.”

Well, technically you would be correct, since, until recently, this has never been done before in the history of the world. But that’s kind of like saying we don’t really know what will happen if we redefine food. We do know. ‘Take GMOs. Genetically modified organisms look like food. They smell like food. But they don’t do what food was designed to do.

SImilarly, we do know what will happen if marriage is arbitrarily redefined.

Changing marriage isn’t like adding another color of socks to the sock drawer. Marriage and the nuclear family is the universal and fundamental organizing societal unit in virtually every culture in the world. The reason it is universal and fundamental is that heterosexual sex universally results in offspring. Gay sex fundamentally doesn’t. When offspring results, it is in every society’s and every government’s interest that the two parents who produced that offspring take care of it. If they don’t, it often costs everybody else in some way.

We happen to have an example of what happens when heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong marriage ceases to be the ideal standard in contemporary culture. We need only look at black subculture in America. I have some personal familiarity with this example as I raised my family in the racially mixed inner city of Kansas City for a couple of decades. I chose to send my two oldest boys to a charter junior high school that was 3% white. The family problem in black America is a widespread failure to form marriages in the first place, and a high divorce rate when marriages do form. The out-of-wedlock birth rate for blacks is now over 70%. Think about that. And that’s with black babies being aborted at five times the rate of white babies.

I was struck by the irony that, while the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments about “marriage equality” in DC, blacks were rioting in Baltimore. What’s the connection? I wonder how many of the young men rioting and looting grew up with a loving father raising them and teaching them how to actually be men? I wonder how many of the looters were married men with children at home? I don’t know the answer, but we do know that generally speaking, it’s not gangs of happily married family-men hanging out on the streets at night and raising hell. It’s generally not women committing most crimes and engaging in destructive behavior. It’s mostly single men.

Single men are every society’s concern because of the way men are wired. Marriage is one, pitifully insufficient tool in society’s toolbox to induce single men to commit to one woman, and to any children they may produce together. This is why the government has an interest in monogamous, lifelong, heterosexual marriage. It makes perfect sense for the state to create strong incentives to increase the likelihood that kids will grow up with their biological mother and father if at all possible. Yet “marriage equality” says biology is irrelevant and biological parents are dispensable.

The problem of racism pales in importance compared to the problem of the disintegration of marriage and the nuclear family within black culture. You can’t have a 70% out-of-wedlock birthrate without deep consequences. Through no fault of their own, these kids will grow up disadvantaged compared to kids raised by a mom and dad who love them and who love each other. Thus the cycle will tend to repeat. Single moms, extended families, and black churches are struggling heroically to hold it together, but it’s an overwhelming problem now. Some have argued that black culture is where it is largely because of well-meaning (usually white) people trying to help. Consequently the state has replaced fathers in many black single-parent families. This is the reason journalist Jason Riley has written a book called, “Please Stop Helping Us – How Liberal Policies Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed.”

So what does the plight of black America have to do with gay marriage?

It highlights the importance of heterosexual, lifelong, monogamous marriage for society. It shows that good intentions don’t necessarily produce good results. Crime and poverty are not racial problems, they’re fatherlessness problems.

Critics counter that “marriage equality” will result in more marriage, not less. Isn’t that what we want? How will allowing other groups to join the legal institution of marriage hurt anyone?

During recent oral arguments, Chief Justice Roberts nailed it with his statement, “You are not seeking to join the institution. You are seeking to change what the institution is…”

The disintegration of marriage has been devastating for black America, and thus for the rest of the nation. Similarly, the redefining of marriage at the federal level will change marriage not just for gays, but for the general population as well. If one aspect of traditional marriage can be changed, then so can the other aspects. For example, gay spokesdude, Dan Savage openly argues that gay marriage will help hetero marriage by normalizing the idea of consensual sexual infidelity. He calls this “monogamish” marriage. He feels this will help heterosexual marriage because “monogamy is impossible.” Savage wants to change what marriage is.

There are prominent leftist authors, such as Masha Gessen and Shulamith Firestone, who have openly advocated for the elimination of marriage and the nuclear family for the sake of equality. Whether or not this is the intention of the “marriage equality” movement doesn’t matter. It will certainly be the result. The term “marriage” will eventually be rendered meaningless for society in general, as there is no logic that will limit “equal treatment” to gay couples only.

If this were a religious issue only, I would keep my opinion inside the walls of the church. But the dynamics of marriage and family touch every person on the planet. It’s not the fault of Evangelicals that the welfare of children is inseparably linked to hetero sex and marriage. It remains compassionate, just, and rational to support sexual complementarity in monogamous, lifelong marriage. The legitimate concerns of the “marriage equality” movement can be addressed without redefining an already weak, but indispensable, institution.

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…

Stories From the Old ‘Hood: Go Chicken Go

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Okay…This post is really going to make me sound like an art snob. And a food snob. But I FREAKIN’ CAN’T HELP IT! You can ask my wife. When we lived in Kansas City, every time we would drive by this place I would go nuts and start raising my voice, “Why? WHY?!!”

Go Chicken Go is a local, family owned fast food restaurant on Troost Avenue, near the UMKC and Rockhurst college campuses in midtown Kansas City, Missouri. First, allow me to say as many nice things about Go Chicken Go as I can think of: Ummm…I’ve never actually eaten there.

Okay, let me start over. I heard that one of their distinctives is that they serve chicken livers and gizzards. (For people to eat.) Okay…let me try again.

I’m extremely supportive of entrepreneurship and small business, and I think it’s great that some guys apparently turned a gas station into a restaurant. And right on Troost Avenue, which once was the unspoken boundary between the black part of town and the white part of town. And it’s a family business. More power to them! God bless ‘em!

Really, my only complaint is with their sign. Apparently it’s still there, though I haven’t personally seen it for over a decade. I know it’s probably unfair to judge a business by its sign, but really… this sign is a shining example of why people should hire graphic designers. I can’t believe these guys haven’t been sued yet.

Here’s a picture of the sign…

OHS-Go Ch Go sgn

Am I the only one who thinks this? Is this not a clear depiction of the (copywrited) Warner Brothers Roadrunner cartoon character? There are so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to start…

1)   First, the roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico – a type of very athletic, very fast, predatory bird that chases down snakes and scorpions in the desert and eats them. If you live in the Midwest, and you open a restaurant that serves chicken and call it “Go Chicken Go”, putting a roadrunner on your sign is just bizarre. It’s like a neon sign flashing, “We are stupid and we don’t care!” Could they really not find a picture of a chicken? Or do they not know what a chicken looks like? Or maybe they actually do serve roadrunner meat and gizzards, and simply got their own name wrong.

2)    Calling a fast food restaurant that serves chicken, “Go Chicken Go,” is sadistic. It sounds like a taunt. Especially assuming these people are almost certainly not serving organically fed, cage free, hormone-free chickens. So the growth-hormone-injected, deformed, CAFO meat-chickens that they serve were never capable of “going” anywhere, even if given a head start. “Go, chicken, Go!…Bwah-hahahaha!” said the butcher, raising his meat cleaver…

3)   No, it is not OK to use a famous Warner Brothers cartoon character as your business logo unless you pay out the wazoo for it, which I’m pretty sure these guys didn’t. I’m guessing the only reason the Warner Brothers legal team hasn’t served them up a legal notice is that 51rst and Troost isn’t the kind of neighborhood where WB people go to dine, so they aren’t aware that someone is ripping their property.

4)   Even if they innocently stole a WB cartoon character for their sign, they should have at least illegally appropriated Foghorn Leghorn, because he is at least a chicken, and has some meat on him. Or even Daffy Duck, since he is at least a type of bird that people actually eat. Or even the Coyote or Elmer Fudd, since they might presumably chase a chicken. Even little Porky Pig. But the Roadrunner?… WHY?!!!.

5)   The Roadrunner is badly drawn.

I’ve tried to think of excuses for these guys. I’ve pictured them sitting around during the early days, brainstorming:

“Ok man…now we need a logo.”
“Right… Dude!…I know! Let’s use the Roadrunner!”
“AW DUDE! That is an awesome idea! That would be perfect, because…”
(…and here I must interrupt myself.)

Because why? I come up empty. Somehow this little exercise didn’t help me at all. I will even admit that the WB roadrunner looks nothing like a real roadrunner; but neither does it look anything like a chicken. And, besides, lest anyone be confused, the WB roadrunner’s name is “Roadrunner.” 

Thank you for indulging me. I’ve been holding this in for probably 20 years, and I feel much better now. Now I can get back to focusing on things that matter. This brief, introductory graphic design lesson was presented free of charge from me to you.

To the restaurant owners: 
I love you and I don’t think you’re stupid – I just had to get this off my chest. You know what they say: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Maybe you can turn this all to your advantage somehow. Take heart – even the big guys occasionally make terrible marketing decisions. For instance, McDonald’s recently introduced a new product called the “McWrap.” (‘Sounds exactly like “McCrap.”) Anyway, to make up for my rant, I’ve unsnobbishly submitted a rough concept for a new Go Chicken Go logo, in case you want to avoid a potential lawsuit with Warner Brothers. I unsnobbishly offer this to you free of charge:

In his calmer moments, Scott Freeman is a children’s book author and illustrator. You can see his books HERE.

Art, Transcendence, and Community

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Why are we drawn to the arts? I believe a primary reason is that the arts speak the language of transcendence. The experiences we most look forward to in life are moments of transcendence. Here I define transcendence broadly to simply mean: that which is beyond our ordinary or everyday experience.

In other words, we all look forward to moments and experiences that are set apart from the “everydayness” and necessary routines of life. These transcendent experiences may be moments of intimacy, beauty, celebration, romance, peace, spiritual connection, culinary satisfaction, physical exertion, or aesthetic pleasure. But whatever we enjoy most in life, chances are it can be described as a crystallization of our heart’s desires; an uninterrupted experience set apart and concentrated around what we enjoy most.

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This kind of transcendence defines the arts.

Music is transcendent sound. Our everyday experience bombards us with sound. But a skillful musician can take a lifeless instrument and produce an intentional arrangement and flow of sound that excites our emotions and lifts our spirits.

Using only the human voice, a skillful vocalist can carry the listener to a place of reflection, joy, or tears, powerfully touching the heart.

Poetry is transcendent language; the careful orchestration of words that evokes imagery, thoughts, and feelings in a way that everyday speech does not.

Dance is transcendent, trained movement. A well-trained dancer can hold an audience captive through the movement of his/her body, creating an aesthetic experience that takes us to a completely different place than does watching a street full of commuters on their way to work.

Painting is the transcendent arrangement of color and material. A gifted painter begins with a blank canvas and composes the elements of raw color into a nuanced visual statement that may touch our emotions.

Installation Art is the transcendent arrangement of material –  this material may even be the “everyday stuff” around us. But by human creativity and ingenuity it is arranged in such a way that it transforms the material and space, often creating a spectacular experience for the viewer.

And so it goes with all art forms. By definition the arts operate in the realm of transcendent experience.

I once had the pleasure of being part of a large ballet production. Having previously only watched ballet from the seats, watching from the wings as dancers came on and off stage only a few feet away from me was a completely new perspective. It was intensely human and earthy. I knew what the audience was seeing – beautifully choreographed stage-lit dancers, “effortlessly” leaping and spinning through space. But I was close enough to them to feel the rush of air as they blew past me, and I could see the glint of sweat on their muscles. I could hear their breath and the thud of pointe shoes on the floor as they entered the wings, and I could see them focus and gather themselves back up as they prepared to enter the line of sight of the audience again.

For me it was like looking at the backside of a tapestry, or seeing a magician’s secrets. There really was no magic at all. Just human creativity, talent, and hard work, yet the end result was magical.

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This is how art is produced – by a combination of creative inspiration, talent, and hard work.  When we see artistic genius expressed, it may seem magical and astounding, perhaps because what we are seeing is something beyond our own known abilities. Because on some level we are all familiar with the ingredients of art – we’ve all plucked a string on an instrument, or attempted to paint a picture – when we experience deeply moving artistic expression, we innately know we’re sharing in the best of what human beings can bring. Our appreciation completes the process. We can embrace and enjoy the experience, and be enriched by another person’s transcendent expression.

So in speaking the language of transcendence, the arts are also communal and relational. Most art forms are experienced in a group setting. Even a solitary individual viewing an art museum exhibit is part of a larger group of patrons. Artistic expressions are experiences that we give to each other and receive from each other as part of the human community. Being on either the giving end, the receiving end, or both, is something that we can all have the joy of being a part of.

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“Calm Before the Storm”
oil painting by Scott Freeman, 24×30″

All photos under copyright by Scott Freeman, 2013