What do you see?

What do you see in this photo?

At the literal level, here’s what I see: a White presidential candidate kneeling in front of half a dozen Black men, at least one Black woman, and another White man. I see pews and a crucifix, so I assume that this is in a church, probably a Black church. It looks like a standard presidential campaign photo opportunity. I do wish they had practiced adequate social distancing, to set a good example.

As it turns out, according to Religion News Service (RNS), this is a video still from a video taken when Joe Biden visited Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Del., not long after the death of George Floyd. According to RNS, Biden was at the church to talk about “racial injustice and police brutality before praying with those assembled.” So my literal reading of the photo wasn’t far wrong.

Campaign staffers for the Donald Trump presidential campaign would like to have you see this image in a different light. RNS reports that this video clip has been used to conclude a Trump campaign video which equates Joe Biden with civil unrest. I didn’t have the stomach to watch the video myself, so I will trust RNS when they tell me that immediately following the video clip showing Biden in a Black church, “words appear on the screen reading ‘stop Joe Biden and his rioters’ as Mike Pence declares ‘you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America’.”

Thus it appears that what the Trump campaign staffers who created this ad would have you see is something rather different from what I saw. It appears that what they want you to see is that Joe Biden and Black church leaders are dangerous. However, when the RNS asked this question of Donald Trump’s press secretary, this interpretation was categorically denied:

“Asked whether the ad meant to suggest there was something unsafe about Black churches or meeting with Black leaders in a church, Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager replied, ‘That’s absurd and it’s shameful to even make the allegation.’ When Religion News Service followed up to ask what, exactly, footage of the church visit was meant to imply, Zager did not respond.”

In spite of Zager’s denial, it’s clear to me that the intent of this advertisement is to allow people to complete an equation in their mind: dangerous rioters equals the Black church equals Joe Biden. There is also a clear effort to equate Joe Biden with rioters, and with those athletes who kneel during the national anthem. It also seems likely that this advertisement wants to imply that this White man, Joe Biden, will kneel down before Black men and women.

I had quite a few years of training in the visual arts, and I’m always impressed at the multi-layered messages that visuals in political campaign ads can evoke. And I’m cynical enough that it doesn’t surprise me that the Tump campaign is using racial fears to motivate voters; American politicians have been doing that for centuries now, often with great effect; why would a politician who’s hungry to be re-elected give up a tried-and-true campaign strategy?

But I am troubled that a good portion of the American electorate is still so susceptible to political manipulation through their racial fears that it makes it worth the while of unscrupulous politicians to manipulate the emotions of susceptible voters in this way. Someone thinks this may be a winning strategy for the Trump campaign, and they may well be right. All the elegant theories of White privilege and White fragility and White supremacy — these theories haven’t change the emotional make-up of a great many White Americans. Anyone with training in the visual arts knows that a few well-crafted images can easily bypass the most elegant of theories….

I suspect there’s a role here for artists, illustrators, film makers, video game designers, and other visually skilled people. The visual impact of a movie like “Black Panther” may make more of a difference than your average street protest. There may be a role for amateur artists, too, in flooding the interwebs with imagery that equates Black Americans with patriotism, honor, intelligence, serving the public good, and other politically positive messages.

Adding links to video series

Over the past few months, I’ve been writing and producing videos nearly every week for the online worship services at the UU Church of Palo Alto. For my own reference, I just created blog posts for each of the videos I’ve done so far, including a still from the video, a link to the video on Youtube, and a full script. The posts are backdated to the Sunday on which the video appeared in the worship service.

You can see all these blog posts here.

Clicking on the image above will take you to my Youtube channel where the videos are posted

“I Don’t Want To Wear a Mask”

Just in time for Independence Day, here’s a song about how nobody tells me what to do:

Click the image above for a PDF of the sheet music.

1. I went out to buy some food,
They wouldn’t let me in the store,
Said I had to wear a mask,
I shook my fist, I cursed and swore:
I don’t want to wear a mask,
I don’t want to look a fool,
Makes me feel uncomfortable,
No one tells me what to do.

2. I went to the park today
And started hanging out with friends,
They all stayed six feet away,
I said our friendship’s at an end:
Don’t you social distance me,
COVID’s no worse than the flu,
Six feet is too far away,
No one tells me what to do.

3. I’m a free American,
Don’t trample on my civil rights,
If you make me wear a mask,
I’ll get a gun, I’ll start a fight:
Masks are unamerican,
They are not red, white, and blue,
I am like my President,
No one tells me what to do.

4. I began to cough a bit,
My temperature hit 102,
Had a tracheotomy,
And now I’m in the I. C. U.:
Now I never wear a mask,
I don’t have to look a fool,
They say I may not make it, but
No one tells me what to do.

Update July 8: Revised music and lyrics.

How to repair a Kindle

Shaun Bythell, a used bookseller in Scotland, has made a video showing how to repair a Kindle:

Here’s my favorite still from the video:

We already know that friends don’t let friends buy books from Amazon, because Amazon has reduced author income enormously and reduced the profitability of bookstores to a razor-thin margin. Friends certainly don’t let friends buy Kindles, because they don’t want their friends being tracked by Amazon; no one needs a faceless multinational corporation learning exactly how much of every book you read, and what you underline in your book, and what color your underwear is. A good friend will tell their friends to buy their new books from a place like the Seminary Coop Bookstore, or used books from a place like Powell’s (but not from ABE, it’s owned by Amazon), or if you’re in the U.K. from Shaun Bythell’s The Bookshop — or better yet, buy your books from your local bookseller, so they don’t go out of business.

Stuffed Animal Sleepover in the worship service

The stuffies who were staying on the Stuffed Animal Sleepover appeared in the worship service today, and participated in the Flower Communion. Here’s a photo of the senior minister, Amy Morgenstern, welcoming the stuffies to the service:

Clicking the image above will take you to the video of the worship service on the UUCPA Youtube channel

“The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump”

A group of Christian evangelicals have published a book titled “The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump.” In an interview with Religion News Service, the editor, Ronald J. Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, answers the question, “So what is the spiritual danger of Donald Trump?”

“I would summarize it this way [Sider says]: Trump lies constantly. He has repeatedly demonstrated adulterous sexual behavior. He fails to make justice for the poor a concern in his policies. He constantly stokes white racism. His response to COVID-19 was dreadfully weak in the first couple of months. His position on climate change is simply disastrous. And his constant attacks on the fake media undermine democracy.”

Most Unitarian Universalists don’t like Donald Trump, but rarely do we speak about why he is a spiritual danger; mostly we focus on why he’s a political danger. I’m obviously not an evangelical Christian, and therefore not the target audience for Sider’s book or his remarks, but I think this summary of Trump as a spiritual danger is spot-on.

Another interesting point Sider makes in this interview is in response to the question of why white evangelicals supported Trump so strongly in 2016. A part of Sider’s response is particularly relevant to Unitarian Universalism:

“It’s partly because, let’s be honest, there’s a left wing fundamentalism as well as the right wing fundamentalism. And there’s a part of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which is really, I think, hostile to Christianity and certainly to evangelicalism. White evangelicals feel that, and don’t like it.”

This describes too many Unitarian Universalists: we can indeed come across as left wing fundamentalists who refuse to acknowledge that intelligent people can disagree with us on religious issues. For example, there are Unitarian Universalists who are convinced that global climate change is one of the top two or three most pressing issues facing humanity, who claim they’ll do everything they can to arrest global climate change, yet who are condescending and dismissive when they hear the term “creation care.”

There is no doubt that Donald Trump represents a pressing spiritual danger: he’s a liar, a racist, a misogynist, and he’s going to let the world go up in flames. It would be wise for us Unitarian Universalists to figure out how we can work effectively with all those who want to stop this clear and present spiritual danger.

Law and order

It has been very interesting to listen to Donald Trump respond to the protests following the lynching of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers: Trump has made calls for “law and order.” For anyone who remembers Barry Goldwater or Richard Nixon, in the not-so-distant past a call for “law and order” was code for using police to keep African Americans in their place. But that history goes back before Goldwater and Nixon, as is made clear in this excerpt from “O Say Can You See,” the blog of the National Museum of American History:

“William J. Simmons, a former minister and promoter of fraternal societies, founded the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia in 1915. His organization grew slowly, but by the 1920s, Simmons began coordinating with a public relations firm, in part to chip away at the (accurate) perception that the Klan was an outlaw group involved in extralegal violence. Membership in the Klan exploded over the next few years. As part of this PR campaign, Simmons gave an interview to the Atlanta Journal newspaper in January 1921. While explicitly advocating white supremacy, Simmons played up his group’s commitment to law and order … and even boasted of his own police credentials. He claimed members at every level of law enforcement belonged to his organization, and that the local sheriff was often one of the first to join when the Klan came to a town. Ominously, Simmons declared that ‘[t]he sheriff of Fulton County knows where he can get 200 members of the Klan at a moment’s call to suppress anything in the way of lawlessness.'”

This blog post ends with a pertinent question in Latin, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Here’s my free translation of this phrase: “Who will police the police?”