High Stakes = No Common Ground

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I grew up in a worldview where the stakes for being wrong could not be higher. If one was in error, you were damned to hell for eternity by a loving God. The flavor of Lutheranism I was raised in wasn’t just about moralistic living, but also about adhering to correct doctrine (doctrine = legalistic understanding of church teachings). One could easily be in violation of doctrine AND moralisms at any given time. For example, if Jesus decided to come back and I had forgotten to ask for forgiveness for thinking about a naked person, tough luck. Or if I disagreed with the doctrine of infant baptism, same result. I was ultimately responsible for how I responded to the “free grace” of Jesus. It was on me.

Not everyone will understand this way of seeing the world. If you haven’t been a Christian you may see the illustration above as yet one more reason not to entertain the idea of entering a church. If you were raised in a more healthy church, you may be boggled by the fear.

The truth is whenever we entertain a worldview where the stakes of being wrong are high we can never find peace. Even those with a worldview of pre-determinism (Calvinism, certain scientific theories, etc…) don’t feel at peace with the uncertainty of maybe being in the wrong. For example, what good Calvinist would truly feel at peace if a loved one rejects Jesus and thinking it’s just God’s pre-determined plan? Or someone falling into a cycle of abuse, or self-harm? Also, if God has already decided who is saved and who isn’t, how can one be absolutely sure one is saved?

Of course there are intellectual answers one can give for these questions and fears. Yet these answers only serve to build up the high stakes worldview one has agreed to or constructed.

Let’s take this in another direction.

If you believe that all we have is this life and that the individual has to be center of society, any step toward mysticism or reevaluation of the rights of the individual is a bridge too far. If you are wrong then it could lead to the end of a balanced environment and to suffering for the individual. If we don’t act now on issues pertaining to the environment, education, sexual freedom, and climate change we are all doomed.

No space can be given to the Other who disagrees with you; and the Other who holds their high stakes views will not give space either.

When I don’t allow myself the grace to be wrong about something, I cannot hope to find a healthy compromise with those I disagree with. The only way I can is to lower the stakes.

The other way I can lower the stakes is to refuse to use words like “enemy” and “them” when referring to whom I am in disagreement. Labels such as these cannot produce anything other than animosity, distrust, and fear (any label has the ability to do this: “social conservatives,” “Trump supporters,” “cucks,” “liberal elites,” etc.). For example, vilifying all white men as “Trump supporters” and “bigots” are dehumanizing oversimplifications which will not lead to any common ground being found. The same is true for those who use terms like “feminazis” and “liberals.” How can one allow for common ground with a “bigot” or a “feminazi?”

The high stakes of my upbringing have been crumbling in my mind for the past twenty years as I have gotten to know people from a wide variety of backgrounds. I know, or have met, people in most political spheres, sexual orientations, religious expressions, and economic classes. Being exposed to so much diversity of thought has made those stakes of my youth fall apart.

It has broken my heart to see my country devolve into “Us vs. Them” brawls where truth is relative to one’s point of view and facts are the same as opinions. In our country there is no common ground for an understanding of marriage, if one agrees with marriage equality those opposed will immediately label them a “destroyer of marriage and American values,” and if one disagrees with homosexual unions they are “a hateful bigot.” How can the stakes be any higher for either side? Those who agree with marriage equality want to see those who disagree punished, and vice versa. How can we reach across the divide?

I don’t think there is a silver bullet. No one statement or law can bring about the return to civility and an understanding of the commonweal. No one politician who can bring about compromise and a return to respect for facts. No one way of seeing the world which is fully “right.”

For me, and I think for others, the answer lies in a two fold response. First, admitting to myself that the stakes are too high and I need to allow for the grace to be wrong. Second, exposing myself to stories, conversations, and experiences with strangers. Learning about the Other can lead me to better understand myself and open my eyes to the humanity I share with them. They have wants and desires, so do I. Can we find a place where we are willing to compromise some of those wants and desires for our mutual benefit? I sincerely hope we can.

Compromise is the work of Democracy. Finding common ground is part of that work. Arguing a point is also part of the work, but it must be done in the Democratic Spirit (always being open to the possibility of being wrong). I look around me and I see a Country unwilling to compromise. Unwilling to see the humanity in the Other.

The high stakes of my Lutheran upbringing still exist. I’ve made peace with the fact that I now hold views that are not in line with the pseudo-orthodoxy of its doctrine. I’ve made peace with the fact that I may be going to hell if indeed I am wrong. Yet, in the name of democracy and the commonweal, I cannot continue to hold high stakes views. I know I am not alone, but most days it sure feels like I am.

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The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

“Donald J. Trump will be president of the United States of America in 2017.”

I wrote this sentence in a notebook in late 2015. I could see the writing on THE WALL. I wanted to be wrong. I didn’t vote for him.

The reality of President-elect Trump has been settling in the minds of Americans in the last few days. Women I know, especially single women, are frightened and grieved. People are scared.

Others are elated. Finally, they say, America will get back on script. Finally, no more Democratic control or heavy influence in federal government. Finally, and ironically, family values will be front and center again.

What about me?

I’m supposedly the kind of guy the demographics say should be dancing in the street. I have a body by Chris Christie. I am a Christian, white male. I am married and have a son. I should be loving this moment.

I am also a very sensitive man. I read and attempt to write poetry. I cry, often. I wear colorful bowties and get emotionally involved with Project Runway. I was raised in the military and exposed to many different cultures and ideas from a young age. I also read. A lot. I’ve read books like All Quiet on the Western Front (a book President-elect Trump often says he is reading). I’ve read it three times. And each time I am MORE convinced that I need to be on the side of peace at all costs. I am an illustrator and writer. I have many LGBTQ+ friends and mentors whom I love dearly. I study the sciences and work on projects with a few climate scientists (who work for the Army Corps of Engineers).

I am not rejoicing.

It isn’t Trump or his presidency that keeps me up worrying at night, although his cabinet appointees are threatening to disrupt REM. Rather, it is the legitimacy certain groups now feel to abuse, hurt, and threaten people they don’t like or see as the enemy. I fear for my LGBTQ+ friends and family. I fear for the legal AND illegal immigrants in this country. I fear for kids in schools who are being bullied by other kids quoting the new president. I fear for my African American friends already encountering attacks both verbal and physical. I fear for Muslims. I fear for anyone on the margins. I fear for the physical world, having spent many years working with scientists who carefully investigate climate change.

I want to be wrong.

I. Want. To. Be. Wrong.

I want to see President Trump make it clear that hateful speech and acts of intimidation aren’t lawful, nor do they reflect the virtues of a civilized people (thus far, he’s only said, “Stop it”). I want to see him holding meetings of truth and reconciliation at the White House between opposing groups in this nation. I want to see a man full of compassion for the less fortunate in the inner city and country. I want good jobs and fair justice to be promoted in his administration.

I don’t think I will be seeing those things happen. Unless President-elect Trump’s campaign was a HUGE bait and switch.

Let me be clear about something unpopular among my liberal friends: I never felt this way with Bush, McCain, or Romney (ok, I kinda did with Cheney). I was thinking of John Kasich seriously as a candidate to vote for in this election. I’m also curious (not scared, as is my privilege) to see if conservatives CAN do a better job at reforming healthcare, reducing the cost and burden of college tuition, negotiating international policies, and fixing infrastructure. I read The American Conservative to get a better understanding of current conservative thought and opinion. I get that liberals have demonized rural, white Americans, or at least that is the message being heard in America’s bread basket.

But I am not a registered Republican. Nor am I a registered Democrat.

I am a watchful citizen. I err toward the political left. I keep a close ear to history, and unhistory when it can be found. History and its lessons are what fill me with hope and fear.

I want to be wrong. However the following are red flags I cannot let fly without a response, let’s see if any actually happen:

If political satire ends or is censored. If the press stops publishing opposing opinions on the majority political party. If writers of dissent disappear. If peaceful protests are stopped. If websites and blogs of those opposed to the new president go dark. If racial and cultural intimidation go unacknowledged and unpunished. If new pledges and oaths become required.

I want to be ready to respond if they come to pass.

The trouble with my fears, however, is how they mimic fears other people have had for decades about different administrations. People on the right and left have been falsely crying wolf for a while. I wonder, could we recognize a wolf when it does show up?


In the weeks leading up to the election, the Huffington Post said President-elect Donald Trump had a 1.5% chance of winning. I remember laughing. Not because I thought he had no chance. I laughed at the Huffington Post for being so blind. I knew in my gut that President-elect Trump had at least a 50/50 chance of winning. I knew numbers can easily reflect bias.

It gave me no pleasure on Tuesday night to be right.


I am hopeful that I am simply letting my emotions get ahead of my prefrontal cortex. I hope it will be politics as usual and we will have regular elections in two and four years. I am hopeful that love and empathy will rule the land. I hope to be bored with politics again.

But.

I don’t have a lot to lose at the moment.

I don’t have family members trying to get citizenship or who haven’t lived in this country for generations.

I’m not married to another man.

I’m white.

I’m not an atheist.

I live in the Midwest in a fairly well-segregated town.

For my own sake, I can afford to hope for the future and a return to the status quo.

Yet, I am not an individual divorced from others. I have atheist friends and family members. I have friends and family who are LGBTQ+. A good friend is in the process of becoming a US citizen and unsure of the future.

For these people in my life (and others I don’t know) I will be watchful and won’t be silent. As atheists have taught me, studies have shown that prayer on its own doesn’t seem to affect the physical world. As the epistle of James tells me, “faith without works is dead.” I can’t sit this one out. I can’t say “be fed and be well” to those suffering and do nothing.

Kristin is looking into ways we can make a difference in the lives of others (more on this in a future post). I am dedicated to keeping my eyes, ears, and heart open.

I know wonderful conservative people in my life will try to get me to calm down and argue that a strict, conservative worldview is the only one that is “true.” Please, don’t try to convince or convert me in one post, comment, or aggressive coffee intervention. Converse with me (yelling at me or saying how I will burn in hell will just engage my amygdala and shut down any reasoning). I often think, “I could be wrong” when I am in conversation with someone I disagree with. Please do the same when speaking to friends and family members who don’t agree that the future president will make American great(er). I know conservatism. I was raised in it. I know the fear and the need to be right all the time (because the stakes are so high). That’s partly why I cannot bring myself to lash out at conservatives. I understand. I just don’t always agree.

Nothing would make me happier than to be another initial wolf-caller. But for the sake of those I love, I need to be sober. I need to be wary of Narcissism in power.

Fingers crossed. Senses engaged. Everything in my context-loving brain is telling me to “beware.” Like the Huffington Post prediction, I could be wrong. I sincerely hope I am.

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November Update 2016

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It’s published! Andi Diehn’s wonderful book with my humble illustrations is available now from bookstores new you!

Hooray for November! October was a very busy month for me finishing the primary art for Human Movement to be published by Nomad Press next year. I was also continuing to recover from my pneumonia, almost gone now, and dealing with the heavy heartedness of the anniversary of a friend’s tragic death.

October is behind me now and I have a lot in the hopper for November.

First off, I am happy to announce that the Shakespeare book by Andi Diehn I illustrated has been published! It is number one in TWO categories on Amazon right now. So happy for Andi and her work with this. She has every right to be proud!

I am also going to be signing contracts this month to create illustrations for two new Nomad books in the Spring, more on these when the signatures dry.


Secondly, this month marks my return to two projects that have been slowly bubbling since this summer. I am working on marketing materials for Cornerstone University’s Humanities department (I will share more on this soon). I am also creating a long-ish comic book for CRREL (The Army Corps of Engineers: Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory) about the science of Snow/Ice Pits in arctic regions. Both of these projects are close to my heart for different reasons, the former because the Humanities Department played an important role in making me the person I am today, the latter because I believe understanding the science of studying our climate to be vitally important.

I will post progress on both of these projects as I work on them this month.


Blogging more regularly is a priority for me. I am going to publish two articles this month in my “To the Side” series about my strange relationship with reality and people. One about Sloth. The other about the Enneagram. My series on Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing should wrap up by early December. I have caught up on reading and have been formulating my thoughts around it. Stay tuned.


Finally, I have been, and will continue to, work on my Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam articles. I don’t want to publish these until I have several ready after being read and edited by people I trust.

Why are these so important and worth me spending a lot of time editing? Because they are about something very foundational to who I am and how I interact with the world. Because it’s scary to expose ideas that will get me flak from strangers, friends, and family. I don’t want to post something half-baked or overly passionate.

It has to do with my faith in God and how that faith has evolved, devolved, and regrouped in the face of science, doubt, new friendships, books, experience, and mystery.

When I was at the Center for Cartoon Studies I said something about my Christian faith while talking about my proposed senior thesis. Some students in the audience later told me how my statement immediately turned them off to wanting to talk to or interact with me. They assumed I was a close-minded idiot. Some told me of their fears of me because they had been abused or hurt by Christians.

I get it. Really I do. Many people, myself included have been damaged by people and institutions with the Christian label.

Hence, I am taking my time with these articles. Whatever you are assuming about me now, please, you are probably in for a bit of a shock (unless you know me really, really well).

I also don’t want these articles to be preachy or combative. Any conflict in them will revolve around my own inner struggles with ideas and criticisms. I just want to come clean and confess where I am with what I believe about things. Maybe that will help others who are feeling the same way to not feel alone.

It’s to the wounded, the listless, and those who have left the faith to be more faithful that I write. I am also writing to myself.

So please bear with me as I take the time to write these articles. My personality is naturally averse to making claims and statements. I also try to avoid confrontation at all costs, even with myself. Talking about faith or non-faith by it’s very nature will make claims and cause confrontation. I better be damn sure of what I have written before I hit, “publish.”

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The Bird of Death on My Shoulders: To the Side – part two –

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This essay is dark, filled with triggers, and hopefully some light and love.

I shudder, hearing every log that falls;
No scaffold could be built with hollower sounds.
My spirit is like a tower whose crumbling walls
The tireless battering-ram brings to the ground.

It seems to me, lulled by monotonous shocks,
As if they were hastily nailing a coffin today.
For whom? – Yesterday was summer. Now autumn knocks.
That mysterious sound is like someone’s going away.

from “Song of Autumn” by Charles Baudelaire
trans. by C. F. MacIntyre

I try to find meaning in all events. It is a foolish thing at times, I know. Our brains were molded to find meaning and, in the absence of clarity, imagine patterns in the chaos. A wonderful man died a year ago. I write in 2016, a year filled with events I wish he was still here to experience. I’ve been picking at the emotional scabs formed over the hole his death left in my psyche. What has come oozing out is a painful mixture of love and loss. Continue reading

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Illustration Work: Human Movement Ch 2 and 3

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Chapter 2 is all about muscles and how they work.

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I am amazed at how complex our muscles are.

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I had some fun with this chapter.

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Chapter Three is an initial walk through the neurological park.

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I tried to find a simple way to illustrate how messages are sent via neurons to the various parts of our bodies. I’m awaiting approval from my publisher, but I can share what I have done with you.

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I am glad I get to work in with comic strips for these book. They are not always meant to be funny.

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Illustration from an activity on testing reflexes.

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