Should you bring your gun to church?

Most states permit worshippers to bring guns into churches and others houses of worship. Some require permits for conceal and carry; others do not. Some permit open carry; others do not. Some require pastoral permission; others do not. But the majority of Americans go to church in places where guns are allowed to come to communion.

The State of Concealed and Open Carry in ChurchesThis is as offensive to the sanctuary of the church as was Sarah Palin’s comparison of water boarding torture to baptism.

But, for today, I want to share some good reasons why it’s a bad idea, practically, to bring a gun to church.

  1. Unintentional discharges are far more common than the use of lethal force to repel an attacker.
  2. Police miss their targets nearly 90% of the time in high-stress situations. The likelihood that a “good guy with a gun” will hit his target is unlikely.
  3. Bullets pass through bodies easily. Even if you hit your target, you may likely hit another person.

All of this means that you are far more likely to kill someone you know and love–a member of your Sunday school class, the teenager being baptized today, the baby girl sitting in the row in front of you–than to kill someone who is a danger to you or others.

Every speck of data scholars have ever collected on this issue makes it very clear: you are in greater danger with a gun on your person than you are without it.

When you choose to bring a gun into a church, you are telling your co-religionists that you are willing to take risks with their lives because you believe that you are superior to the statistics. That’s not a decision you should get to make on their behalf.


Black History Month Celebration of Art and Poetry: Jacob Lawrence as Restored Beautiful Soul

This month, 606 is honoring Black History by sharing art and poetry by black artists and poets. We’ve invited artists, art historians, curators, archivists, literary scholars, poets, and others with expertise in art and poetry to share their favorite pieces of art and poems by black artists around the globe. If you find your life enriched by this blog series, say “thank you” by buying art from a black artist and poetry by black artists, visiting a museum, asking your local art museum to include more black artists, donating to an art scholarship for students of color, asking your library to stock more books on black art and by black poets, dropping off some art supplies at your local community center or daycare or senior center, or donating art by artists of color to your local school, community center, or house of worship. 

Today, we thank Dr. Robin Masi, MFA, Ed.D., for teaching us about Jacob Lawrence.


The human subject is the most important thing. My work is abstract in the sense of having been designed and composed,but it is not abstract in the sense of having no human content…[I] want to communicate. I want the idea to strike right away.(Jacob Lawrence, as quoted in Wheat, p. 4.)

The Studio

The Studio, lithograph, 30 x 22.1” 1977
Seattle Art Museum

Why is there no Nobel Prize for art? Is the lingering Romantic perception of the visual artist—as crazy, self-involved, and sometimes even cruel, all in service to the authenticity of the artwork—a fair depiction of this type of professional? Or is it time to hear from artists themselves about the ethical and moral considerations, and level of integrity to their art, required to create meaningful artwork?

In her recent dissertation research (2018), I explore the visual artist as an alternative type of moral exemplar known as the “restored beautiful soul.”

Three ethical constructs make up the “individual factors” of the conceptual framework of the Masi Model of the Artist as Restored Beautiful Soul (MMARBS):

  1. the Beautiful, which encompasses various psychological and inherent traits of the individual and is about
  2. the Good, “moral exemplar,” which encompasses ethical principles, reflections about creative process, religiosity, influences, and philosophical writings and beliefs and is about doing.
  3. and the Communal, which encompasses aspects of moral action and solidarity and is about

One of the six artists from the study, Jacob Lawrence, is explored in this post.

The Artist

Jacob Lawrence was born on September 7, 1917 and spent most of his years in Harlem, New York. His father was a chef for the railroads, and his mother had to place him and his siblings in foster care so she could work. Lawrence demonstrated a keen early interest and aptitude for the arts that were shaped by the Depression and the urban and artistic community of Harlem. He was particularly encouraged by the sculptor Augusta Savage, who introduced him to the hiring board of the Federal Works Project (WPA).

Lawrence exhibited a driving and ambitious work ethic that defined his entire career. Although he never completed high school, he spent hours in the Schomburg library studying African-American history, which contributed to the evolving theme of early  heroes such as Harriet Tubman and John Brown.

The Library

 The Library, (1960)
Tempera on fiberboard, 24 x 29 7/8 in. (60.9 x 75.8 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Lawrence was greatly influenced by his friendships with Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright. Hughes commissioned Lawrence to illustrate his book One Way Ticket. It was during this period that he developed his unique style, which he described as “dynamic cubism of jagged compositions in bold flat colors” (Schjeldahl, 2015).

One-Way Ticket

The Great Migration One-Way Ticket, Museum of Modern Art, 2000 x 1336


In 1941, he reached near overnight success at the age of twenty-four with his exhibition of The Migration Series with themes of homelessness, poverty, joblessness and the challenges faced by the traveling African American migrant from the south to the north. The sixty panels are split between the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA).

In 1946, he was invited to teach at Black Mountain College in North Carolina by the director of the College, artist Josef Albers. Through Albers, Lawrence studied the meaning of color, movement, and organic shapes and refined his approach to creating a three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface. In a letter he wrote to Albers in 1946, he states,

My belief is that it is most important for an artist to develop an approach and philosophy about life. If he has developed this philosophy he does not put paint on canvas, he puts himself on canvas. (Lawrence, 1946)

Faculty Black Mountain College

Summer Arts Institute Faculty, Black Mountain College, (1946)
Left to right: Leo Amino, Jacob Lawrence, Leo Lionni, Ted Dreier, Nora Lionni, Beaumont Newhall, Gwendolyn Lawrence, Ise Gropius, Jean Varda (in tree), Nancy Newhall (sitting), Walter Gropius, Mary “Molly” Gregory, Josef Albers, Anni Albers.
Courtesy of Western Regional Archives

Lawrence was sometimes criticized by fellow African Americans for not expressing enough outrage and anger at the plight of his people. Having had the mixed blessing of being the “first” to exhibit, become part of, or interviewed by white artists, educators, and writers, he expressed a more positive and nuanced view of his work and personal experience being an African American artist:

I think any experience that evolves because of your ethnic background, and especially pertaining to the Negro, it’s been such a special kind of experience.

And since we as a people have not been integrated (we may never be), I don’t know, because of the physical difference…doesn’t mean that it’ll always be a negative thing but it cannot help but influence …my thinking and then my work and my whole being. (Lawrence 1968, p.19)

Jacob Lawrence’s prominence as one of the greatest American artists is further demonstrated by his election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters; his winning the National Medal of the Arts, as well as the NAACP Spingarn Medal; and his being inducted into the National Academy of Design. His work appears in over two hundred international museums. In 1974, the Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his work, which later toured throughout the country. He was inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1983 and was Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington, Seattle until his death in 2000. His work appears in many collections in the United States and throughout the world.

The Artist as Restored Beautiful Soul

The following figure identifies the categories from the MMARBS conceptual framework most applicable to Lawrence.  A summary of each of the categories follows.


Figure 1: Lawrence Top Five Super-categories from the MMARBS



  1. The Good: Ethics

One of the most compelling and challenging ethical characteristics of the moral exemplar is the ability to make the particular universal (Swearer, 2006). This means that through their action (writings, imagery, speeches, or other forms of communication), they are able to communicate their message to a very broad audience who can relate to the message. This occurs even if the work depicts a singular struggle. Many artists and writers can communicate in an autobiographical manner, voicing views and opinions based on their personal experiences. However, it is a rare individual who can take personal experiences and make them relevant in a universal message. This ability to universalize largely explains why Lawrence is such an acclaimed artist. He was able to take the “Negro struggle” and, through his choice of media, message, and experiences, transcend race and thereby open his viewers’ hearts and minds to a universal human struggle in us all.

1. The Good: Reflection on Creative Process

Lawrence speaks of his belief that simpler the form, the more powerful the message. Due to his semi-abstracted compositions and color palette, his challenging subject matter was more widely accepted, admired, and viewed. Style and color have much to do with his popularity and ability to transcend difficult subject matter.


Lawrence, Jacob, The Great Migration, There were Lynchings (1941)
[Casein tempera on hardboard, 2000 x 1336”]
Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

It was found that where there had been a lynching, the people were reluctant to leave (Lawrence, in Wheat, p. 287).

2. The Good: Influences

Lawrence had a very early dedication to becoming an artist during a time when there no African Americans prominent in the art world. He speaks of being greatly influenced by his upbringing as well as the artists, writers, and musicians in the Harlem arts community.

 3. The Communal: Moral Action Imagery and Individual

Lawrence always portrayed ethical themes in his art work, which is considered a form of moral action and can best be described as social realist or social commentary. His work was rarely decorative or simply created for pleasure. He believed in art always having a message, and his message was the human struggle.

Lawrence was a committed activist. He devoted his entire life to rendering the African-American struggle in art, and through his decisions about how to present his work, widened not only his audience but also the dialogue between white and black communities.

Lawrence’s use of storytelling and captions offers viewers accessible as well as multi-modal ways (i.e., writing and imagery) to experience very difficult subject matter. Although he worked abstractly, his choice of colors, flattened features, and forms helped to de-personalize the subject, creating some distance from the more horrific nature of the events, so that his message could be understood and experienced by the widest possible range of viewers.

Given his level of success, Lawrence also took the unusual step of dedicating himself to teaching young artists, another characteristic of the ethical exemplar. Many successful artists may do an occasional stint as a visiting artist or conduct workshops; however, Lawrence taught consistently in institutions of higher education, which meant his teaching responsibilities and workload were those of a full-time professor.

Jacob Lawrence was considered the first African American visual artist. He came into prominence at an important point for the black American when various forms of incredible injustice were finally becoming into fuller public awareness. The courage he exhibited was formidable in his efforts to chronicle the “Negro struggle” at an early age  and provided an essential way to bring these injustices to light. Over the decades in which he worked, his commitment to the theme of struggle never wavered.  He began his career interested in conveying the struggle of one group; however, his ability to take this struggle and make it universal defined him as a restored beautiful soul.


Harkin, Ellen Wheat. (1987). Jacob Lawrence. dissertation for the University of Washington, Seattle.

Lawrence, J. (1968). Oral history interview with Jacob Lawrence. Smithsonian, Archives of American Art. (1968).

Nicholas, Xavier. (2013). Interview with Jacob Lawrence. Callaloo, 36  (2) Spring 2013, 260-267. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Schjeldahl, Peter. Telling the Whole Story: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series. New Yorker. 4/20/2015

Swearer, D. (2006). Religious belief into moral action. Coursework from Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA. Unpublished manuscript.

About the author:

MasiI am a practicing visual artist and Professor of Art Foundations with the Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division where I teach studio and digital art, ethics, and aesthetics courses. This post reflects part of my dissertation research: The Restoration of the Beautiful Soul Ideal in the Lives and Works of Six Visual Artists (Käthe Kollwitz, Wassily Kandinsky, Jacob Lawrence, Mark Rothko, Vincent van Gogh, Remedios Varo), (Masi, 2018: Boston University). Feel free to email me.








BHM Celebration of Art & Poetry: Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues”

This month, 606 is honoring Black History by sharing art and poetry by black artists and poets. We’ve invited artists, art historians, curators, archivists, literary scholars, poets, and others with expertise in art and poetry to share their favorite pieces of art and poems by black artists around the globe. If you find your life enriched by this blog series, say “thank you” by buying art from a black artist and poetry by black artists, visiting a museum, asking your local art museum to include more black artists, donating to an art scholarship for students of color, asking your library to stock more books on black art and by black poets, dropping off some art supplies at your local community center or daycare or senior center, or donating art by artists of color to your local school, community center, or house of worship. 

Today, we thank Dr. Adriano Elia for insights into the poetry of Langston Hughes. 



The Weary Blues

Above, Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues, 1926. Illustrations by Miguel Covarrubias. From the Collection of Alden and Mary Kimbrough. Image courtesy of the Museum of the African Diaspora.

In the autobiography The Big Sea, Langston Hughes recalled his childhood days in Lawrence, Kansas. His grandmother, a proud woman who looked like an Indian with long black hair, would tell him stories about “people who wanted to make the Negroes free.” In these stories, nobody ever cried, and the young Langston seemed to absorb this message fully – he didn’t shed a tear even when she died because she had involuntarily taught him the pointlessness of crying about anything. Such imperturbability proved essential for Hughes as a means to keep safe his true self.

This is apparent in a historical video broadcast on the Canadian program “The 7 O’Clock Show” in 1958, where Hughes recites his poem “The Weary Blues” accompanied by the jazz of the Doug Parker Band. Although the poem ‒ and the gloomy blues song it evokes ‒ is about the emotional condition of sadness and loneliness, Hughes’s detached delivery somehow disrupts its content. His gravitas was probably intended as a reaction to decades of minstrel shows, where African Americans were always portrayed as stereotypical caricatures.


Above, Hughes recites “The Weary Blues” with accompaniment by the Doug Parker Band.

Over fifty years since his death, Hughes’s contribution still resonates in different ways: in 2015, for example, the prestigious Barbican theatre in London commissioned from rapper Ice-T and jazz trumpeter Ron McCurdy a performance based on Hughes’s collection of poems Ask Your Mama. Ice-T was thus both a credible contemporary interpreter of Hughes’s person behind the persona as well as a living embodiment of his enduring influence on 21st-century arts and letters. Just consider the often-quoted definition of poetry Hughes offered not long before his death: “It is the human soul entire, squeezed like a lemon or a lime, drop by drop, into atomic words.” In today’s chaotic socio-political scenario, more than ever it is crucial for a poet to condense in few, effective words feelings and thoughts having an impact on the behavior of contemporary readers: “Hang yourself, poet, in your own words. Otherwise, you are dead.”

Adriano Elia, PhD., is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Rome “Roma Tre”. His publications include books and essays on word-image interrelationships, contemporary British fiction, Afrofuturism, Hanif Kureishi, W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes.



Updates in Hate Scholarship: Does the Internet Make Us More Hateful?

The internet allows us to communicate in more negative ways–and the fact that we’re online so much means that verbal abuse is a constant threat, according to the British report Abusive and Offensive Online Communication: Summary of Scoping Report. 

You might think that when folks aren’t anonymous on the internet, they’d keep quieter about their racism. That’s not quite the case–but the good news is that others use social media to speak up against hate. That is the argument that Irfan Chaudhry and Anatoliy Gruzd make in “Expressing and Challenging Racist Discourse on Facebook: How Social Media Weaken the ‘Spiral of Silence’ Theory,” published in Policy & Internet. 

But the relationship between social media and racist behavior may not be clear, according to Abdallah Alsaad, Abdallah Taamneh, and Mohamad Noor Al-Jedaiah in “Does Social Media Increase Racist Behavior? An Examination of Confirmation Bias Theory,” Technology in Society(2018).

Make Hate Unsustainable: Tour Dates Announced

“There is no power out of the church,” 19th century theologian and minister Albert Barnes wrote to white ante-bellum America, “that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.” Though Christian abolitionists were instrumental in fighting slavery, it was ended through warfare, and the American church missed its calling to enact Jesus’s radical call to peace, justice, and love. Likewise, today, privileged Christians deny their mandate and their power to address hate and oppression.

Want to talk more about how Christians, and especially white Christians, can make hate unsustainable? Consider coming out to talk with me in person this April.

hate map PAPennsylvania has more hate group activity than almost any another state. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map, 36 hate groups are currently operating in the state.

I’m heading out on a short tour from central to western PA to talk to congregations, individuals, and community groups about the current state of hate in the US today and, specifically, what people of faith can do about it. Over the next week or so, I’ll be sharing the dates and details of each event. Currently, they include:

Sunday, April 7: preaching at Stahl Mennonite Church in Johnstown, PA

Monday, April 8-Thursday, April 11: leading a pastoral retreat for pastors in the Allegheny Conference of Mennonite Church USA at Camp Laurelville in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Check out the plan of events here.

Saturday, April 13, 7-8:30: A community conversation about hate, Penn State University, State College

Sunday, April 14, 3-5 pm, Peace Walk, State College

Dates for additional events in Pittsburgh and State College are forthcoming.



Please stop dragging abortion into this.

The older woman I was speaking to and I had had a mostly good conversation about politics. I think we both felt heard. We had found some common ground. We agreed that, on the local level, especially, politicians should mostly be evaluated by their responsiveness to the needs of their constituents. Then, as we concluded the conversation, she told me, “But I’m not going to vote for an abortionist.”

Of course you’re not, I thought with irritation, because no one who is an “abortionist” is running. The choices in her local election were between two people from the world of business. No matter who she voted for, they weren’t likely to be people who performed abortions. Sheesh.

But I understood her point: abortion is the only issue that will determine how she votes.

I don’t entirely disagree with it. In fact, I use a similar measure: whichever politicians is likely to do the most to reduce women’s need for legal abortions is likely to get my vote. I think that there is no more important measure of a society than how it treats its most vulnerable people. I vote based upon how I anticipate the least powerful–children, women, people of color, the poor, those with disabilities–will be treated by the people I vote for. I figure that if a politician is doing what we know works to reduce abortion (supporting universal healthcare, robust public education, and fair wages), then that person is working for the world I want.

For me, that almost always means voting for pro-choice candidates, because they are the ones who do the most to care for children. And they are the ones who do the most to reduce the abortion rate. If you think that abortion is the worst thing in the world, then you should vote for the things–universal healthcare, comprehensive sex ed, better wages–that reduce it, even if, in a different world, you think those things are bad. Even if you think that the Affordable Care Act is wrong, it has to be a distant wrong compared to abortion, right? And the ACA has been shown to reduce abortion.

“But abortion!” is the distraction that Republican leaders to remind their voters (the majority of whom, by the way, support the right to an abortion under at least some circumstances) that they have promised their vote to the Republican party, no matter how unreasonable that promise is. I’d bet dollars to donuts that Donald Trump has paid for more abortions than Hillary Clinton has, but hypocrisy on the issue doesn’t much  matter when the goal is to control what other people do, not to elect leaders who reflect pro-life values in their personal lives.

See the source imageAbove, unintended pregnancy rates are significantly higher among poor women, as is abortion. About 1 in 2 pregnancies in the US is unintended, and about 1 in 2 of those ends in abortion. Reducing poverty is one way to reduce abortion without ever having to mount a court challenge or secure a pro-life majority on the Supreme Court. And we’d be improving the lives of women and children to boot. 

Abortion is an important and serious issue. It brings together concerns about children, economics, families, health care, privacy rights, race and ethnicity, religion, and women’s rights. One out of four viable pregnancies end in abortion, with higher rates in some communities. By age 45, about 35% of American women will have terminated a pregnancy. (About 13% of these will be born-again or evangelical women and 22% will be Catholics.) Whether you think abortion is violence against the most innocent of people or a safe and relatively simple medical procedure, those numbers are large. Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures done in the US. About twice as many women get an abortion each year as men who get a vasectomy. In fact, in some reporting years, they have been more common than the top 10 most common operating room procedures. For each person you know who had a hip replacement last year, you probably know two who had abortions. The sheer ubiquity of the procedure means that we need to take it seriously.

But throwing up “But what about abortion?” when the topic is systemic racism or climate change or immigrant children being used as political pawns isn’t taking it seriously. It’s letting it serve as a an excuse for inaction for other, also important concerns, and, worse, as an excuse for not doing the work we know would support women in avoiding unwanted pregnancy and keeping their families out of poverty.





BHM Celebration of Art: Fred Eversley’s _Pale Lens_

This month, 606 is honoring Black History by sharing art by black artists. We’ve invited artists, art historians, curators, archivists, and others with expertise in art to share their favorite pieces of art by black artists around the globe. If you find your life enriched by this blog series, say “thank you” by buying art from a black artist, visiting a museum, asking your local art museum to include more black artists, donating to an art scholarship for students of color, asking your library to stock more books on black art, dropping off some art supplies at your local community center or daycare or senior center, or donating art by artists of color to your local school, community center, or house of worship. 

Today, we thank Tyler Allen, graduate intern with the Spencer Museum of Art, located at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, for sharing one of her favorite pieces from the Spencer. If you like it, stop by the Spencer for more. Admission is free, though donations are appreciated. 



Pale lens 2
Photo Courtesy: Andy White/KU Marketing Communications

Fred Eversley, a Black intellectual, sculptor, and trained engineer, is one of the few Black artists whose work is highlighted and displayed at the University of Kansas’ Spencer Museum of Art. His work Pale Lens (1970) is one of many pieces where Eversley experiments with optical polyester sculpture forms. In Pale Lens, Eversley investigates the optical principles of physics and properties of lenses and mirrors. Being drawn to the geometric structure of the work itself, Eversley tantalizes his viewers through optical illusion, as he challenges viewers’ perception in this three dimensional work of art.


Pale lens 1
Photo Courtesy: Andy White/KU Marketing Communications

Fred Eversley, a Brooklyn, New York native, received his degree in Electrical Engineering from what is now known as Carnegie Mellon University. He began his work and experimentation as a sculptor in 1970 after moving to Los Angeles. His strong interest in “art informed by science and technology” would lead him to become a prominent international artist. Just a few of his many accomplishments include being featured in over 200 exhibitions at various museums, galleries, and art festivals; being awarded 1st prize sculpture at the Biennale Internazionale Dell’ Arte Contemporanea di Firenze in Florence, Italy; and lastly, being represented in the permanent collection of 35 museums. Today, Eversley resides in California, and he maintains studios in both California and New York.

Pale Lens can be viewed at the Spencer Museum of Art in the Forms of Thought Gallery.

Although the month of February solidifies a time for Black history to be celebrated, recognized, and remembered, I would encourage everyone to spend more time beyond that, to further what they know or what they think they know about Black History. Living in a world where there is a constant misconception about identities of color, we must take it upon ourselves to expand our knowledge in order to appreciate one another in this space.

Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history. -Carter G. Woodson


About the Author:

Tyler AllenTyler Allen is a first-year master student at the University of Kansas, and a graduate intern at the Spencer Museum of Art. She is working to obtain a dual master degree from the departments of African and African American Studies and Museum Studies. Her research interests include Hip-Hop, Black communities and culture, and social justice.




You can find our first post in this series, art historian Stefanie Snider’s commentary on Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s America is Black here.