Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Be present with who you are with and where you are. There's a biblical story about Jesus visiting the home of 2 sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha was busy and distracted but Mary sat and was present with Jesus. When you are with somebody and tune them out to text or answer calls you are telling that person they are not as important as someone else. Bring present is key in successful relationships. I went to hear my son Josh perform at a bar in Santa Monica a while back. During a break in the music, the place was deathly quiet. Every single person at the bar was looking down texting. Not one person was talking to those around them. I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone and was on a strange planet of a rude and socially retarded species. I've performed in bars as a musician since I was a kid and they used to be a hub of talking and flirting and raucous socialization, like Cheers, a place where people knew each other's names. Even the bartender had his back turned and was texting so it took me ten minutes to get his attention so I could get my wife a Coke. I can't verify the exact Einstein quote but he allegedly once predicted when technology surpasses face to face human interaction humans will have become a generation of idiots. Has that day arrived?

Thursday, July 18, 2013


The Trayvon Martin case got me thinking about racism, and also prejudice towards certain types of people. I wondered why some of my friends seem more prone to judge someone by their skin or by their lifestyle.

We've been talking a lot about it as a family. My son Josh had some very passionate opinions and emotions he expressed online. Why did he have such a strong feeling about Trayvon? Josh is an artist, and artists tend to be more sensitive and open to new people and different cultures. Our kids went to elementary schools in Long Beach at which they were the minority as white kids. Josh remembered his black playmates and said he never had a negative experience and how accepting the black kids were to him at school. Growing up, my kids were often around some of my African American friends from our church that we spent a lot of time with, Rosalee and Jerome Watkins, and Rev. James Lattaker. James and I started a ministry called the Multi-Cultural Community Coalition to combat racism and work to implement Rodney King's sentiment that we can all get along together.

The reason I go into that, is because I noticed some of my friends growing up who spoke about other races in Archie Bunker terms tend to be isolated and surrounded by people who are like them. Two of the root causes of prejudice, which literally means to 'prejudge' are unfamiliarity and a stereotype. By unfamiliarity, I don't mean the person hasn't seen or been around different people, but that the person doesn't have close, loving relationships with the person or persons they profile.

When I brought African American friends into fellowship with some of my white friends, and people within my immediate circle saw how great my friends were, it brought a reduction in prejudice or stereotypes. I would be idealistic to think it eliminated all racism, but it's progress to get people to like each other who have fears toward each other. Stereotypes rest on propaganda and unfamiliarity. Stereotypes feed our primitive fears of those different from us and our desire to dominate them so they don't dominate us. People I know who are negative towards a certain type of person, tend to revel in jokes, cartoons, and public commentary that perpetuates the stereotypes. Hitler's propagandists used these same methods to perpetuate negative stereotypes against Jews, so their lives would be devalued.

My wife and I met at a school that was very 'Religious Right.' There was an obsession among some people there about opposing homosexuals. The leader of the school put out a propaganda film showing the most extreme gay stereotypes you can imagine, images from Gay Pride marches with guys in leather and nuns costumes threatening people. Talk about reinforcing the most extreme stereotype.

When we moved to California, and I started getting work as an actor, I made many friends who were gay and told me their stories. This reduced the stereotypes I had been indoctrinated with at Liberty University. There's just something about becoming friends with people that changes you. The real people aren't like the stereotypes. We got involved ministering to AIDS patients and I was protested by Religious Right hate-monger Fred Phelps who called me a "fag lover."

As humans we form groups and our primal nature looks down on people not in our group. We all probably have some of this prejudice inside us. Learning to befriend, like, and ultimately love those different from us is the answer. The Beatles had it right when they said "All You Need Is Love." And the New Testament had it right when it said, "Love never fails."

Those are my thoughts. But I don't think I have it all figured out and I am interested in any thoughts you have. Friends, what are your thoughts on these questions:

What are the causes and cures for prejudice?

Are some people more predisposed to be open towards those different from them?

Are some people more predisposed to be fearful of those who are different?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


If someone believes negative things about you, or doesn't understand what you're doing, don't waste too much energy explaining or defending yourself. Your true friends believe in you and need no explanation, and for those who aren't really your friends, no explanation will ever suffice or be believed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Many people running around asking "what would Jesus do?" really don't want the answer because they have no interest in what He really did. They don't drink wine, hang out with hookers, befriend notorious sinners, heal people in defiance of scriptural rules, & tell people their attitudes towards the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, and the people in prison determine if their heart understands grace.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


I hesitate to wade into polarizing waters online because although most of my friends are civil, there are a few on the extreme fringes that love to argue. But it's Sunday and I'm sitting here feeling like sharing some of my feelings about the verdict. Trayvon Martin was a teenage African American shot by a vigilante neighborhood watchman who alleged "self defense." If Trayvon Martin was white, and the neighborhood watch shooter was black, there probably would have been an arrest much sooner. And the trial would've had a higher probability of conviction, at least on manslaughter.
"Richard aren't you playing the race card without knowing the facts?" some might ask. That's a valid question and I can only tell you my personal experience.
I've played gospel rock with close friends and collaborators in black churches and know firsthand many black gospel singers and preachers who have been pulled over repeatedly and harassed with no probable cause, simply because they were black and driving a decent car. I'm talking about friends who are the most godly people I know.
At nineteen, I left my hometown of Pittsburgh and went to a Christian college in the South led by a leading televangelist. To my shock, I heard prominent people there, good old white boys, using the "N" word and laughing about it. I'm not saying all in the south are racist, there were certainly many good people in the school and south who didn't do that, but I think in the whole Paula Deen culture the N word is more acceptable and a certain apathy about confronting racism is pervasive. Don't you find it curious that there is a strange silence from the white church community about Trayvon Martin? All these white evangelicals who claim to love Jesus are silent. They worship the white Republican good old boy Jesus, not the Jesus who healed the sick, fed the five thousand hungry people, healed the brokenhearted, and had good news for the poor. I wrote a song that afternoon in which the lyrics state "I've heard in the South talk of love and kin/but seen some folks hate for a color of skin."
"But Richard, you don't know the facts of what happened," some might say. And they are right. I don't know. I am limited by the information I receive through the media, and the media is prone to mistakes. I didn't weigh the evidence and I've seen first-hand that media coverage is not always accurate. The jurors have to go only by what is presented to them and I did not sit in that courtroom. But I think it's unfair that all the jurors except one were white women. I do know that a young black man is often viewed with suspicion in our society because of his race. And white women walking down a street are usually more afraid of a young black man than someone else.
When Susan Smith, a white Southern woman had a mental breakdown and murdered her children, the first thing out of her mouth was a young black man did it. The media and the vigilantes were out for a lynching. My gut instinct tells me if Trayvon Martin wasn't black he would not have been shot.
The film I'm making currently "Baseball's Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories" is going to rip the lid off the racist reporters in my hometown of Pittsburgh and show how they conspired to abuse Roberto and at times rob him of his rightful rewards.
I am not Mr. Zimmerman's judge, and I don't have access to all the facts. I believe what Jesus said about "judge not, lest ye be judged," and I believe in a God of unconditional love, eternal grace, and forgiveness for all of our sins, including Mr. Zimerman. But the blood of Trayvon Martin calls out from the streets. The good old boy cops and "stand your ground" mindset in large pockets of Florida has got to go. And the people praising God in their lily white churches today might remember the Old Testament prophets description of a people who "honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him." And take pause to ask themselves how they would feel if their own teenage child was unarmed and gunned down in the streets by a man who was told by the professional police and 911 operator to not get out of his car and follow him?

Saturday, July 06, 2013


I believe in grace. I learned about grace through the School of Hard Knocks. Religious fundamentalists have misused the term "grace," and "salvation by grace." In the wrong hands of the modern-day Pharisees, even the term grace is distorted into an emphasis on human worthlessness and shame. Hyper-Calvinistic hellfire preachers teach that grace is only given to an elect few. Grace truly is amazing, and it's more than a word in a famous hymn, or a religious catch-phrase. It transforms how we view God, salvation, ourselves, each other, and the world at large. Grace is the only answer that works and offers a healing remedy to the wounds inflicted on us by rigid religion. Grace, ("Karis" in the original New Testament Greek), means "unmerited favor." We named our daughter Karis. It is the idea that we all receive salvation freely. When Jesus died on the cross, He prayed even for the people killing Him, "Father forgive them." Jesus forgives all of them. Without their asking for it. Before they knew it. It is finished. Done. Paid for. Salvation is a gift. Not because we earn it. Not because of what we do or don't do. Not because we pass a religious test or say the right words. It's a gift of eternal grace because God loves us. This is the good news.