Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

Christian Piatt Blog has MOVED

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Hi all:

I have moved my blog to my new website at You can link to the blog directly from the home page, and there is an RSS feed you can pick up if you would like to subscribe.

Thanks for following, and hope to greet you at the new site!

Christian Piatt

Un-American in the name of Jesus?

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Un-American in the name of Jesus?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally printed in PULP)

I used to go to a lot of basketball games with my dad in Dallas. We have both been enthusiastic Mavericks fans for almost three decades, so you can imagine how excited I was when they won their first NBA championship this year.


Anyhow, before each game they go through the typical ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner, and I would always stand up, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. But then a new announcer one year asked people to “please rise to honor God and America with the singing of our National Anthem.”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“What?” said my dad, “They do the same thing every game.”

“Yeah but this new guy says that the Star Spangled Banner honors God,” I said, “but there’s nothing in the verse they sing at the games about God anywhere. It has nothing to do with God.”

My dad grumbled something about my lack of patriotism and turned back toward the flag. But ever since, that moment has stood out in my mind as a perfect example of one of my biggest annoyances with American culture: our tendency to comingle a Christian identity with national patriotism.

So I was particularly interested to hear that Goshen College, a relatively small Mennonite school in Indiana, had decided to no longer play the National Anthem before any sporting events sponsored by the college. The reasoning, offered in a public statement issued by the college, was as follows:

“Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”

Unsurprisingly, the decision caused a ruckus, especially once news outlets such as Fox Radio got hold of it. But even local city councilmen decried the move, suggesting that those in charge were violating “the American way,” and should relocate to somewhere like Cuba or Iran for a while until they learned to appreciate what they have here at home.

I posted a link to this news story on my Facebook page and asked people to respond. Following are a handful of comments from the many I received:

“It’s such a hard issue because the song is both a symbol and a song … I agree with the college that it isn’t a very Christian tune. It is about war. However, to ban it is, I fear, short-sighted. The song is a symbol of American unity. To ban it risks saying ‘we don’t want to be a part of the nation.’ I’m not sure that’s what they want to say.” (From a lawyer)

“I support the ban, the choice and the school’s right to make their own decision independent of the city council or any other political body.” (From a minister)

Ashley Quinn: “I wonder where the whole tradition of the anthem at sporting events started anyways. Probably something to do with the whole combative, competitive nature of many sports. I don’t think it makes any sense for a group of people devoted to peacemaking to sing it before they do anything.” (From a bartender)

Carl Gregg: “For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, there is a breathtaking mix of sports, nationalism, and military imagery. Ultimately, Christianity is trans-national, seeking to build the Beloved Community irrespective of national borders. The school is making one small step against the massive idolatry that is ubiquitous in our society of putting biological family and nation before God.” (From another minister)

“In the article I noticed people calling this anti-American. I don’t see it that way at all. Americans are at our very best when we are tolerant of others. You know, that whole ‘land of the free’ verse.” (From a retired Marine)

I’ll gladly concede that my circle for friends doesn’t represent the full socio-political spectrum, but I found the comments generally encouraging. For most of my life, it’s been sold to me that being a good Christian also meant supporting our country, wars, death penalty and all. But I think we’d be doing both our faith and our patriotism a favor if we made clear in our own minds that not everyone who is a Christian, as grateful as we may be for the freedom we’re afforded here, agrees morally with how we got here.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Energy Independence: From Crop to Tank

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Energy Independence: From Crop to Tank
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

Energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric have a long way to go before they can begin to replace our energy consumption derived from oil. So aside from locking up our cars in the garage, what options are we left with?

One local group believes that biofuels may be at least part of that answer. Hal Holder, Joel Lundquist, and Rick young are all Rocky Ford farmers and co-owners of Big Squeeze, LLC a biofuel production facility here in our own back yard. And although most such projects are either concept projects only or tied to some nameless government or corporate entity, Big Squeeze is actually accessible by anyone with a diesel engine.

The concept is pretty simple. The Big Squeeze facility has presses and centrifuges that yield oil from plant seeds than then can be combined in a four-to-one ratio with diesel and used in everything from cars to tractors and industrial generators. This reduces the use of fossil fuels by eighty percent and attacks some other issues along the way, such as global warming, water shortages and in-state economic development.

I talked with Dr. Perry Cabot, a Water Resources Specialist in the Colorado State University system, about why this seems like a good idea. Biofuels, he explained, include anything that is considered a renewable resource that can yield usable energy.

“Biofuels are considered ‘carbon neutral’ with respect to CO2 emissions (i.e., CO2 produced during combustion is offset by CO2 used during photosynthesis to grow biofuel crops),” says Dr. Cabot. So although CO2 is released in the process, the idea is that the same amount will be re-absorbed by the plants grown for your next use.

But what about water? In a state where we’re already fallowing land so water can be used in growing urban settings, how can we think about expanding our farming?

“In desert climates, we’re always shooting for ‘more crop per drop,’” says Cabot, “Ethanol from corn takes a fair amount of water (24 inches or more) and the energy balance is tough to pin down. Some reports have documented substantial net-positive direct energy balances, while others contend that ethanol production is an ‘energy negative’ situation (takes more energy to produce than is contained in the final product).”

It should also be noted that the byproduct left after the oil is squeezed out is perfect for livestock food at feedlots. Ever seen a cow munching on a petroleum byproduct? Didn’t think so.

But crops like winter canola, which is ideal for diesel-based biofuels, use much less water than corn or other common crops. In fact, using limited irrigation techniques, Cabot suggests that farmers can even use land temporarily fallowed due to the sale of water rights to grow winter canola. This is where water wonks like Dr. Cabot come in, working with the farmers on irrigation plans, and striving for the ideal seeds that yield more canola with less water.

Cabot believes that such ideas can allow farmers in other arid climates grow valuable crops on land they have not been able to farm before due to lack of water storage or transfer. This could include economically struggling economies such as those in sub-Saharan Africa or other arid parts of the United States.

One argument against biofuels is that they impinge on land already being used for edible food, and when the product they yield is more valuable as a fuel, those depending on the crops for sustenance are out of luck (i.e., the poor and those living in developing countries). This is where using a low-water crop is particularly value, says Cabot. Ideally, the process adds arable land available to farmers, increasing their overall production rather than trading one for another.

Dr. Cabot acknowledges that the system isn’t perfect, but that it’s a critical step toward our collective goal of energy independence. “I like quote General George Patton,” he says “who used to say that ‘a good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.’ So, until electric cars really come on line, or algae biodiesel bears out, we need something that will keep the trains moving, keep interstate commerce going, and keep tractors running so farmers can farm.

“I think oilseeds are the ‘good plan today’ that will bridge us to the newer generation of fuel that we’ll see in the next 20 or 30 years. So, my end goal is to increase the demand and production of oilseeds in Colorado, in tandem as an energy solution coupled with a water solution.”

So do we just drive up to the Big Squeeze facility with our diesel car and fill ‘er up? Not just yet, says Cabot. “Oilseed cropping, particularly canola and sunflower, is practiced in numerous regions of the Arkansas Valley,” he says. “There are ongoing variety trials in Rocky Ford (Otero County) and Walsh (down in Baca County). There is also a growing interest and some cropping of canola and sunflowers down in Lamar (Prowers County).”

The reason, Cabot says, that growth of such crops is increasing is specifically because farmers know they have a facility like Big Squeeze where they can have their oilseed processed. “Historically, the lack of crushing facilities in the area has stifled interest in using these crops for fuel, he says. “But now, with (Big Squeeze) in Rocky Ford and the expansion of the Colorado Mills facility in Lamar, the seed can be crushed locally.”

Basically, those interested in using such fuels contract with farmers to lease a certain acreage it is estimated will be needed to fulfill their energy needs for the coming year. This lease converts to credits at a biofuel co-op that can be cashed in at the time of fill-up. Currently, there are no local stations that the average Joe or Jane can access, but Cabot hopes this will change in the near future.

For more information, read a recent article on the Big Squeeze and CSU’s collaborative efforts:

Freedom not to be free?

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Freedom not to be free?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

We’ve all watched history revealing itself in real time with the remarkable events in the Middle East. From Egypt and Libya to Yemen and Bahrain, individuals and small groups of protesters are challenging the iron grasps of decades-long dictatorships. It’s enough to give even the most cynical observer a moment of awe-filled pause.

For the most part, the protesters focus on wanting to bring democracy to their respective countries, a situation that would seem to be a natural for American support. The trouble is, we’ve had economically and strategically beneficial relationships with many of these dictators for a long time. By placing our allegiance with the people in the streets, we run the risk that the revolutions may fail, and that we may be left with a tarnished, if not irreparable, relationship with a former partner.

Does the United States support democracy? Sort of. When it’s in our best interests, to be sure. Yes, we’ve stuck our necks out in some cases where we seemed to have little vested interest, but suffice it to say we drag our feet when there an oil pipeline or American military base involved.

But there are other issues at play here, and I’m not sure any of them are discussed at the level where real decisions are made. One came to light for me when co-editing a recent book for Chalice Press called “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics.” In it, a pair of self-proclaimed Christian anarchists made the compelling claim that voting, in itself, is an act of violence.

What? The system we’ve come to hold near and practically worship is inherently violent? It took me a while to come around, and though I don’t entirely see eye to eye with them, they make a good point.

The essence of the argument is that, in a democracy, 50 percent of the people plus one more can subjugate the will and rights of the rest. By not making room for the minority’s interests to be heard and acted on in these instances, the minority is marginalized. This, the authors claim, falls within the definition of inflicting violence from the majority onto the minority.

Kinda like Churchill said, it’s a tragically flawed system, but it’s the best we have. But what about in a context where religious ideology is poised to use majority rule to impose potentially severe limits on many of its people? And what if these leaders, though democratically elected, might set out to impose a legal system that is inherently un-democratic?

Some protest groups seek to impose Sharia, an Islamic system of law based upon truths revealed in the Quran by Allah, and through practices embodied by the prophet Muhammad. Sharia, like many ideological systems, has been interpreted in a number of ways by different people, but in some cases it can seriously limit the rights of women. For example, under some understandings of Sharia, men can have up to four wives, women are told what they can and can’t wear in public, and in some cases, they may not be allowed to vote.

So, do we put our material and human resources at risk to support those seeking democracy in their country, all the while knowing that they fully intend to implement a legal system that many believe violates human and civil rights? Or do we keep propping up the dictators who, by fear and threat of violence, may keep a relative peace in the land where the oil runs freely?

Talk about a moral dilemma. Some might even say it’s a lose-lose scenario. Theologian Walter Wink suggests that any violent or oppressive system that is replaced by violent means run a great risk of becoming that which it despised, changing the rulers but not the rules.

Provided the dictators are overthrown, we can always offer to serve in an advisory role on how to effect safeguards that prevent laws that violate individual or collective rights. But if democracy is really just a means to another ideological end, the new powers that be may have no interest in what we have to say.

If we try to implement certain strictures by force, we run the risk of further solidifying our reputation as an imperial power, intent on taking over the region one country at a time. So do we support the uprisings, knowing that what may emerge is another system of governance with which we have fundamental differences? Or do we stand on the sidelines, convincing ourselves that tyrants like Gaddafi aren’t really so bad?

Call me a starry-eyed idealist, but I still believe that the greatest change for the better comes from leading by example. For us, this begins with advocating for truly equal rights across the board in our own back yard, including those who love differently or look differently than we. Until that time, our calls for freedom and equality ring hollow in a world that sees the truth beneath the thin veneer.

Pueblo Going Nuclear? (NewSpin)

Monday, April 11th, 2011


Pueblo Going Nuclear?

(Originally printed in PULP)
Everyone’s aglow about the prospect of nuclear power coming to southern Colorado. Given the ongoing plant disaster in Japan, it seems the timing for such a proposal could not be worse, though the plans for the 24,000-acre Clean Energy Park southeast of town were moving ahead well before then.

Lawyer and local resident Don Banner is at the helm of the proposal, which would develop in three phases. At present, he’s seeking rezoning for the giant swath of land in eastern Pueblo County for a PUD, or Planned Unit Development.

As Banner himself noted, there are scores of factors that would have to fall into place for his plan to work, only one of which is local support. But he claims, too, that the only way to bring together other green energy components of the park. such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal, is to go nuclear, to the tune of a 1,000 megawatt plant, give or take a few watts.

There’s plenty of hyperbole around such an explosive issue, so let’s set aside the Simpsons-like images of fish with three eyes long enough to get a little bit more perspective on what’s at stake.


It’s easy to hedge at plans for a nuclear power plant, reacting with a knee-jerk sense of fear. From Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, the fallout from a nuclear plant failure ain’t pretty. But Banner argues that the fears are generally overblown. Chernobyl’s substandard engineering doomed it from the start, and Three Mile Island – the only nuclear plant to fail on US soil to date – cannot be connected to any actual deaths, according to Banner.

The new plant would be far superior to either of the aforementioned plants, he says, and it would be located in a relatively remote area, buffered on all sides by thousands of acres of the Clean Energy Park. As for security, the storage facilities where the spent fuel rods are kept after use have been tested against the heartiest potential air attacks, standing firm in the face of fire.

On the upside, we would enjoy hundreds of Davis Bacon-wage jobs over the several years it would take to build the plant, followed by up to a hundred permanent jobs that pay well above average for power plant work. In addition, more than a dozen interest groups organized by Banner, from local schools to nonprofits, would share in hundreds of thousands of dollars donated back to the community.

The average Joe Consumer would stand to benefit from Banner’s proposal to contractually require the utility company that builds the plant to sell power generated to Pueblo residents, the price of which would be equal to the cheapest rate offered to any other community. Pueblo would benefit from the taxes the plant would push back into the local economy, and Banner suggests that the number of secondary jobs due to the new plant could grow into the hundreds.

Another big question is water.  We’re more or less in the middle of the desert here, and nuclear plants require water to keep the fission process under control. Though Mr. Banner points out that the volume of water needed will depend largely on what kind of plant a developer can place on the land, he projects that consumptive water use (the amount that can’t be returned directly to the water system) could be as low as 125 acre-feet per year.


It’s well and good to claim no lives lost during the Three Mile Island catastrophe, but some studies have projected that upwards of 5,000 will eventually die because of complications related to radiation exposure from the site. This is not to mention the risks to the livestock, land and other natural resources which could be affected for hundreds of years or more, should an accident happen.

So the silos where the radioactive spent fuel rods are stored (on-site, by law, for at least sixty years) may be sturdy, but are we inviting terrorist attacks by having such materials lying around? And, current US law requires that the uranium be removed from reactors and stored before it reaches weapons-grade level. This means it still has the potential to be converted to weapons-grade uranium, which seems to invite trouble.

Most of the construction work would be temporary, and yet we’d be left to contend with nuclear waste for generations. And who is responsible for decommissioning the plant after its projected 60- to 80-year life? If history is an indicator, the plant operators will walk away and leave local taxpayers with the bill.

Pueblo is developing a reputation for being the dumping ground for power plants other folks need but don’t want in their own back yards. How much of the power created will actually stay in Pueblo? And doesn’t having the plant in our county warrant a little bit more of a homeboy discount?

Jobs are fine, but if folks don’t have water to drink, what good is economic development? How many hundreds or thousands of acres of farmland will dry up as a result of water purchased for the power plant, and how many agricultural jobs will dry up as a result? Will the water that passes through the plant damage the streams into which it is released? Is nuclear power our last, best hope to stem the effects of global warming, or are we just passing on the problem in another, possibly more dangerous, form to future generations? Can we afford the water? Are we even sure the net to Pueblo is positive when all is told?

And the debate rages on.

My Take

Comparing the proposed plant to the one in Japan impacted by a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami really isn’t fair. Neither is in the cards for Pueblo. And yes, modern plants have many more safeguards than those from decades past. But aside from moral, safety and security arguments, there’s the question of what we want Pueblo to be.

Will we continue to produce for wealthier communities what they need, yet refuse to provide for themselves? And will we use our limited water resources to do so, for the promise of a fleeting handful of jobs and some negligibly cheaper power? Or are we something more?

Our bountiful sun and wind position us to be industry leaders in renewable energy, setting a standard that others around the world will long to follow.  Do we want to invest in decades-old technology that may be at its apex, or should we focus on developing energy technologies that have more potential without the negative environmental impact?

We’ve gotten a start with the likes of Vestas and the proposed solar arrays here and in the San Luis Valley. But we have to believe that we’re more than a repository for the rest of the state’s undesirable industries.

Finally, we’ve created this beat of need for power with our own unbridled consumption habits. If we’re really worried about what the risks of such power sources will be for any community – not just ours, the only real solution is to reduce consumption.

It’s been said that the two-fold path to happiness includes both making more and needing less. Only one is a path that leads anywhere. We have to choose our own path.

The Flaws of biblically-based sex education

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

The flaws of biblically-based sex education

(Originally published in PULP)

It’s no shock that teen pregnancy and other related issues are a big problem in this community. It’s been that way for a long time. Various people have offered ideas about why this is and what to do about it, but little ever changes. Children keep having babies, generation after generation raise little ones in poverty, grandparents step in as parents to grandkids and the nuclear family suffers because of it all.

Everyone seems to be on the same page about one thing: Our kids need some kind of education about anatomy, sex and sexuality. But as for when that should happen, how it should be accomplished and what should be included or kept out is incredibly divisive.

One of the biggest problems is the pressure to teach abstinence-only sex education. First off, that’s not sex education. It’s propaganda for a narrow social agenda that is in denial about reality. Generally, this approach goes hand-in-hand with conveying an aura of shame about one’s body and sexual urges, and suggesting that if you act contrary to the “just say no” ethos, you are a failure, and maybe a sinful one to boot.

I agree that it would be just swell if all of our young people waited for that one lifetime monogamous relationship to come along to have sex, but this ignores some basic truths about how our culture treats sex. While a health teacher or pastor is telling you not to do it, the rest of the culture obsesses about how awesome sex is. Somebody’s not being honest here.

Oh, and did I mention that comprehensive scientific studies have shown, with little room for ambiguity, that abstinence-only sex education hasn’t worked and continues not to work?

Many people claim the moral authority of the Bible for the basis of their argument for abstinence-only sex education. But let’s consider this in a little bit of a broader context.

For one, although women of the biblical eras were not allowed to have sex outside of marriage, there were lots of cases in which men had extramarital relations. So is it just girls we’re telling to say no? Do the boys get a free pass?

Also, the whole idea of no sex until marriage presumed a different way of life back when the Scriptures were written. Most young people were married off soon after they reached the age when they could reproduce. So the time between when most folks got the urge to procreate and when they had a chance to within the bond of marriage was not that long.

Nowadays, kids are not only are entering puberty at increasingly younger ages, but we’re also waiting longer and longer to get married, if at all. So whereas a young girl might have been matched up with a suitor within a year or so of being fertile in days of yore, now we often wait 10, 20 or more years to settle down.

So maybe the solution, if we’re so hung up on literal adherence to biblical rule, is to marry all of our kids off at age 13. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

It seems to me that if leaders in faith communities focused much more on the “Greatest Commandment,” not just rhetorically, but also in modeling how to conduct our lives as individuals and as community, we’d be much better off. For those who are unfamiliar, Jesus is asked (in an effort to frame him for blasphemy, mind you) which of the Judaic laws is the most important. His response: love God with all you have and all you are, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

What Jesus lays out in this relatively simple statement is a blueprint for an entire way of living. If we remain focused on love for ourselves and for others, as fellow creatures of God, this daily practice of doing so will inform all of our moral decisions. We don’t have to worry so much about checking off an exhaustive list of rules if we simply treat everyone else as if they were a precious gift from God.

Unfortunately this is not something we can simply drop on kids in a few hours when they hit seventh grade and hope it changes their worldview. They must be taught what it means to love their own bodies, and to love others’ bodies, hearts, minds and spirits, from the time they can speak, let alone have sex. We have to get over the shame and self-loathing for our bodies that many mistakenly seem to think equals piety.

The arguments about how to conduct sex education points to a deeper neurosis we have as a society about our lack of control over our children. Nothing – no matter what the message – can make kids not have sex. Ultimately it’s their bodies and their choices. Focusing on love, and on the responsibility that loving self and others carries with it, puts us at least in a healthier frame of mind for those heavy and important discussions.

Finally, if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that people err. From Genesis on, we’re told one thing and then do another. But God’s response inevitably is to lean in favor of grace over condemnation. We’d be well served to follow such an example.The

House of the Rising Stench

Monday, December 6th, 2010

NewSpin: House of the Rising Stench
Written by Christian Piatt (originally published in PULP)

December 2010

There’s a home down the street from us that’s affectionately known by neighbors – particularly those within smelling distance – as “The Toilet.” On warm days, the distinct smells of decaying garbage and slow-rotting feces waft through the air.

Gross, right? Try living by it.

The Toilet, which some might call a rental property, sits at 1724 N. Grand and is the bane of the block. In a neighborhood that has been designated “historic,” The Toilet stands alone as a monument to squalor. From the couch on the front porch to waist-high weeds and crumbling façade, the place looks like it should be condemned.

How can anyone live in such conditions? For most of the past decade no one has lived there, which is part of the problem.

The house, title to which is under the name of Robert P. Mourning, was consistently rented until mid-2003. After the last tenants moved out, the utilities were disconnected and the house sat vacant for the next six years. In the meantime, homeless people regularly broke in and made camp – bathroom included – inside the house, alongside wild animals that found shelter within the decaying walls.

For years, neighbors would occasionally mow the lawn and pick up trash left by homeless visitors in an effort to keep the place from looking even worse. The owner was nowhere to be found, and would not return messages.

When some renters finally moved in, the carpet, which by now was drenched in sewage from a backup in the lines, was tossed into the backyard along with animal excrement, garbage and other goodies. What wasn’t thrown into the yard or the garage was burned in the fireplace, creating a noxious stench that caused several neighbors to call everyone from the sheriff to the health department in an effort to get the place cleaned up.

Oh, and although the new family moved into the place, they did so without reconnecting any utilities, including water. So they used candles to light the space despite the many clear code violations. When regional building staff finally deemed the home uninhabitable until utilities were turned back on, the family simply tore down all warnings and camped inside until the sheriff’s department threatened them with serious consequences if they were found on the grounds except to clean it during the day.

More than a month later, the utilities were reinstated and the young family moved back in, along with at least eight cats and a dog. There seemed to be a revolving door on the house, with various newcomers crashing there from one night to the next. Meanwhile, the animal excrement was tossed into the backyard to mingle with the carpet and other garbage.

You get the picture.

A number of complaints were filed with the health department, and a few times Mr. Mourning was ticketed. But there were a couple of problems with the system. First, the fines cost significantly less than any of the repairs would have been to remedy the issue. Second, no one with any authority followed up to enforce the violations.

Instead, Mourning’s paid a few hundred dollars to satisfy citations over the past decade, and the festering heap of a house continues to decay before the community’s eyes and noses.

When challenged by neighbors of such properties about the relatively impotent code enforcement power the city and county seem to have in such cases, officials balked, saying that their hands are tied by state regulations. This, however, is false, since local communities can establish their own codes and consequences, so long as they are at least as strict as the state’s.

It would be bad enough if this was an isolated incident, but Mourning himself owns more than a dozen properties around town, many of which are in similar shape – or worse. If he were the only culprit, a handful of run-down homes wouldn’t be enough to create a larger negative perception of our city. But he’s not.

So, if slumlords have little incentive to change their ways, and our local officials hedge at giving more teeth or funding to the anemic code enforcement we currently have, what’s a resident to do? For one local citizen, the answer is to take the cause online.

Lori Winner started a Facebook page called Pueblo Houseofshame, inviting people to post photos of decrepit properties with the hope that community pressure would push owners and residents to clean up their act. One can also email photos taken from the street (please, no trespassing) to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , along with the address and details about the condition of the site, and Lori will post it for all to see. [See sidebar.]

We all know that Pueblo struggles with an image problem with many tourists and residents from the north. But until we become more proactive about making the change ourselves, and unless regional building officials and other code-enforcement bodies get serious about making it painful for owners to let blight continue, whom can we really blame for the bad rap we have, other than ourselves?

An Update

Over the weekend prior to publication, Lori Winner, moderator of the Pueblo Houseofshame page on Facebook, posted that she had received a “proverbial shot over the bough” and was considering shutting the page down.

In response to P.U.L.P.’s inquiry, Ms. Winner said she had received word from her husband – Jay Winner, Executive Director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District – that Pueblo police captain Troy Davenport wanted to speak to her. Though her husband gave Davenport her number, Ms. Winner claims he didn’t call her.

The week of November 20th, Ms. Winner wrote to me, stating, “[My husband] Jay’s board member told Jay on Tuesday that Davenport said that ‘police were laughing because they are going to drive by her houses.’ On Friday I [received] 3 citations on 3 different rental properties,” though she claims her properties all are “nice” and that, “The violations are ridiculous, and easily fixed at no cost.” She added, “however I am seeing this as a warning shot.”

Following her husband’s call to one of the board members who had heard the conversation noted above, Ms. Winner received a call from Capt. Davenport, who denied that her properties were being targeted in retaliation for her publicity against run-down properties and the lack of enforcement by local officials.

Davenport told P.U.L.P. that the reason he originally intended to call Ms. Winner was to invite her and her husband to observe how the code-enforcement process works in person. However, when seeking permission for this, other officials from the city told him the Winners already had been offered such an opportunity, so Davenport saw no point in calling her.

Davenport also said that he has no recollection of any such comments being made at any meeting where he was present. He also clarified that the three items issued to Ms Winner’s properties were notices of violation, and not citations, which means the property owner has ten days to remedy the violation without further action.

Davenport said that it is the policy of the code enforcement department to respond to any citizen complaint, including the cases involving Ms. Winner. He also noted that, since all complaints are allowed to remain anonymous, he had no way of knowing who had lodged the complains against Ms. Winner’s properties.

Why Colbert and Stewart Matter to Politics

Saturday, November 20th, 2010


By Christian Piatt

(Originally published in PULP)


By the time this goes to press, political satirists John Stewart and Stephen Colbert will have conducted their “March to Restore Sanity” and the “Rally to Keep Fear Alive,” respectively, in Washington, D.C. Seen by many as a direct response to Glenn Beck’s rally in the same city on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Stewart explained in a recent interview on National Public Radio, such a mindset gives Beck too much credit.


Sure, he’s great fodder for comedy, says Stewart, but Beck’s rhetoric really lacks any more substance than the comedy shows that parody him, though it’s arguable that Beck isn’t in on the joke.


For those who see the emergence of more vocal conservative pundits and politicians as distressing, figures like Beck, Sarah Palin and the like as fodder for derision and even fear, it seems that the tea ,party movement is giving such people a platform that is bending the public’s ear, and for some, the prospect of someone who listens to Fox News as a legitimate source of “fair and balanced” information is nothing short of terrifying.


Not so, argues Stewart. He suggests that the worry about a Palin presidency or the like actually is overblown. If we can survive a civil war among other things, he says, we can live through a less-than-capable conservative presidency.


Sounds strangely familiar, in a way, actually.


In fact, there’s a case to be made that electing someone like Palin or Delaware’s GOP senate candidate Christine O’Donnell might actually be good medicine. If moderates and progressives already are asleep at the wheel after only two years to the point that they’ll let more extreme leaders win political office, perhaps the wakeup call of the 2000-08 Bush presidency wasn’t harsh enough.


All of this begs the question: Why do the media and those who consume their product seem content to reduce political figures to little more than caricatures, and to establish fear and contempt as the baseline emotions upon which our political system operates?


Because it’s easier than taking the time and effort to learn about issues of any real importance and substance.


Who wants to read about the latest arbitration over water rights when we can follow the developing story about O’Donnell’s dalliances with witchcraft or her positions, so to speak, on masturbation? Why debate the appropriateness of NAFTA or how to tackle immigration reform when it’s so much more fun to speculate about Barack Obama’s birth certificate or read an e-il about how he’s a closet Muslim?


This dumbing down of the American voter would be easy to blame either on politics or the media, but I’d argue it’s only a viable market because we, the end-user, have created such a demand.


In a culture where People Magazine outsells The New Yorker four-to-one and there are two Maxim subscribers for every U.S. News & World Report reader, it’s easier to put analysis and critical thought into its proper perspective. And while the emotional tide of good feeling that helped usher Obama into the White House was heartening in many ways, it’s also discouraging to see how quickly such fickle emotion can fade.


And, yes, this is an entirely appropriate time to point out the irony of my observations in the pages of an alt-monthly that also contains columns on sex, nightlife and the related fluff that accompanies them. No more ironic, I suppose, than the fact that some of our most poignant contemporary political commentary comes from 30-minute shows on Comedy Central that sandwich their wry observations between fart jokes and hyperbole.


John Adams, James Madison and other of our political progenitors are no doubt turning in their graves over the dim-witted offspring their revolutionary system of governance, based upon the nobility of human integrity and the value of rigorous intellectual debate, have now produced.     


In a culture where substance takes at least second chair to sensational rhetoric and character assassination, those who shout loudest garner the brightest spotlight. Politics has entered the compressed news cycle as one more distraction to be picked from an ever-running stream of detritus when we have a moment. The winners in such a context are those shiny morsels that grab our attention, which helps explain why every political speech now sounds like a string of unrelated sound bytes.


Sometimes, we have to laugh to keep from crying, which is why I’m grateful for people like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Love or hate their take on issues, it’s hopeful to have a pair of comedians who have the nerve to point out that the political emperor has no clothes, or, in this case, no substance.

Do we even need religion any more?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Do we even need religion any more?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

It’s no secret that organized religion in America has slipped dramatically in the public eye during the past several decades. Though just as many people claim to have some sort of faith in a higher power, since the 1970s we’ve witnessed a steady decline in church attendance.

This isn’t exactly the case across the board. Large churches, with membership over 500 people, are still pretty strong overall, and the more conservative evangelical churches tend to maintain their bases of folks more than the moderate, so-called
“mainline” churches.

There are a handful of reasons why this downward trend has continued for nearly two generations. First, an increasingly mobile population, held together more by technology than by geography, has dissolved many of the physical, social centers that helped make up communities in the past. After all, why go through the painstaking effort of getting the whole family out of bed and dressed when you can just hit folks up on Facebook, or Skype grandma, who now lives more than a thousand miles away?

Second, there’s been a pervasive suspicion of all things institutional that took hold particularly around the Watergate/Vietnam era. Prior to this, most people held something of an inherent trust of the systems of governance and authority, assuming they had the best interests of the general public at heart. But with the scandals, protests and violence of the ’60s and early ’70 came a cynicism about powerful institutions that we’ve never shaken since, and, perhaps, with good reason.

Add to this the breakneck speed of the distribution of information and the lack of filters to contain and/or verify what’s true and what’s garbage before it reaches consumers. On one hand, this explosion of the information age has democratized the information-sharing process; on the other, it’s created more opportunities for gossip, scandal exposes and even outright slander.

The all-seeing eye of the interconnected world misses little these days, and there few things that it loves than watching the mighty fall, especially when there’s also sex involved. So when ministers are caught getting a massage with benefits or predatory priests are found to be molesting boys, it’s sure to make headlines.

Some folks assume that early Christianity was all about establishing churches, but the institution we now see as organized religion didn’t come along until much later. Jesus himself didn’t spend much time in the synagogues, opting instead for small gatherings in homes and traveling the countryside to talk with whomever he came across.
It wasn’t until three centuries later when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of the empire that the community of believers began to seriously get both organized and powerful. Though Constantine’s motives for converting to Christianity are arguable, most historians believe the move was more about consolidating power than it was about his faith.

Over the following centuries, the powerful combination of church and state helped spread Christianity to all corners of the world – often at the point of a sword – while the church willingly sanctioned the conquest of nations by rulers who claimed fidelity to the church. It was a convenient, if unsavory, marriage.

So, given the fact that the earliest church was more of a movement than an institution, and considering that, later, the real strength of the institutional church was built upon the backs of millions it forced into claiming loyalty, perhaps the institutional church as it stands actually is a bastardized version of what an otherwise peaceful and life-giving community of faith had to offer.

What if, after all the time, money and effort that’s gone into propping up our religious institutions, it’s actually those very institutions that are keeping communities of faith from doing the real work of positive social change to which they’re called?

In the end, every faith community has to continually take its own pulse, asking if the effort and resources being expended are primarily intent on keeping a building or power structure in place, or if those institutions and systems are, as they ideally should be, simply a means to a greater end.

Meanwhile, house churches and loosely networked faith groups continue to spring up, much like the seeds of early Christianity before religious barons ever thought about buildings, polity, conquest or empire. Many would see the collapse of the institutional church as we now know it as a failure of faith and humanity. But what if, after all the dust settled, we were left with something more genuinely focused on mission rather than on institutionality?

It’s hard to comprehend now, but perhaps we’re witnessing an evolution of human faith, shedding one older, rigid skin for a more pliable, adaptable one. Regardless, humanity’s resolve to maintain belief in something greater than itself has endured far worse than a weakened system of authority and some crumbling buildings. We’ll continue to seek an understanding of the divine, with or without the church.

Questioning the sanity of a two-party system

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Privacy, partisanship and political punditry
(Originally published in PULP)

I love my privacy.

In an era with more information coming at each of us in a month than previous generations experienced in a lifetime, we have to be vigilant about our mental and physical personal space. Whereas we began as hunters and foragers, now we expend a similar amount of energy holding things at arms’ length.

I have three different spam filters on my e-mail accounts, siphoning out nearly all of the junk from my e-mail box before it lands on my laptop. I’m on every do-not-call and do-not-mail list I can find, and the absence of clutter that results is nothing short of blissful.

Then comes election season.

For years I identified myself as a progressive independent, reserving my fidelity to a case-by-case assessment of the candidates available. This varied widely, by the way, as I lived everywhere from Chicago to Seattle and several points in between; it seemed to make more sense to stay neutral until someone provided me with enough motivation to pick a side.

It wasn’t until I ran for Pueblo school board several years ago that I saw the inherent advantage of being a part of a political party. Registering as a Democrat for me was almost like finally taking the plunge with a longtime girlfriend and popping the question. Our values had largely aligned for long enough; now we were official.

My fellow Democrat activists did their part to support my candidacy, for which I remain grateful, despite my loss. But since then I continue to question my affiliation with a major party once again, given the blizzard of mailings, robo-calls and TV advertising that we get buried under for months around every election.

There’s a fine line between being informed and being overwhelmed or even coerced. Though I believe the major parties act more or less above board and in accordance with election laws, I can’t help but feel that I’m just barely surviving every election cycle. What’s more, having been a candidate, I know that many political rainmakers actually can ascertain whether you voted or not. I can’t help but feel like someone — Big Brother? The godfather? — is watching me.

Finally, My biggest concern remains the continuation of a broken, two-party system. It seems we’re caught in a loop where the Republicans take the majority, then suffer ignominious loss under the white-hot microscope of modern media, being exposed and then leaving the door open for the Democrats to claim the next cycle. The Dems, in turn, get beaten up for similar allegations of fiscal impropriety, scandal or, more likely, just routine ineffectiveness. And on and on it goes.

So the balance shifts back and forth every two, four, six or eight years, rendering the whole system somewhat impotent as more and more time, money and energy go into which party has 50 percent plus one, and thus is able to subjugate the other almost-half to its will.

I’m starting to believe that the only solution is for a third party (or maybe more) to gain enough of a foothold that neither major party can expect to hold the majority. I’m no friend of the teabaggers — excuse me, tea partiers — but I certainly understand their discontent. As a Democrat, I’m actually encouraged by the potential effect they’ll have on the Republican base, but it’s only a matter of time before the greens or some other progressive group kicks the donkeys in the proverbial rump.

So what’s the solution? Do I break away and support a third party, hoping it will someday lead to consensus-building, but also knowing it may hurt the cause of those candidates with similar ideals to mine? Or do I toe the party line, helping continue to feed a political beast I am afraid is actually doing more harm than good to representative democracy?

With November looming, it’s only a matter of months — maybe days — after that until we start talking presidential politics and the 2012 showdown. It seems there’s so much at stake, both in the short and long terms, that neither solution presents a satisfying outcome.

On the upside, these political pamphlets and flyers are going to make one hell of a bonfire, come winter.