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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black

My good friend and colleague David Bocock at Cresskill Congregational United Church of Christ in NJ, posted an interesting link on his Facebook feed this morning. It was a blog post by Tim Wise entitled "Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black." I heartily recommend it to you. In fact, go ahead and read it now, then come back. I'll wait for you.

Have you read it, yet? Good. Now, let's go on.

Wise makes some interesting observations about the "Tea Party Movement" and the nature of race in the United States, particularly the phenomenon of white privilege in the way we perceive "threats" to our security. He leads me to wonder how our society become so,.. well... stupid that we can look at a bunch of lunatics carrying guns to town hall meetings and hold them up as examples of patriotism and support forthe second amendment? Have we become so accustomed to far-right-wing radio and television that we can't see spitting on legislators and hurling racial epithets at them as anything more than a legitimate use of the first amendment? Are we really so delusional as to believe that these extremists who carry posters of political rivals in the crosshairs of a rifle scope only mean it metaphorically?

That racism figures into all of this should be readily apparent, but Wise spells it out with such clarity that only those who have a vested interest in not understanding could fail to understand. Despite the fact that the President is black -- or, most likely, BECAUSE the President is black -- the radical right has become even more radicalized. We see this not only in the way that the far-right has branded Obama as a "socialist" but also in the way that xenophobia has resurfaced as a key plank in right-wing politics. One major case in point being the legislation that Arizona Gov. Janice Brewer signed into law yesterday, which subjects Hispanics to random stops by law enforcement officals and essentially makes it a crime for Hispanics in her state to fail to carry identification at all times.

It is time for us to say "Enough!" It is time for liberals and moderates and sane conservatives to stand together and call a spade a spade, to say plainly that the "Tea Party" has more in common with Germany's brown-shirts than it does with the Boston Tea Party, to denounce racial profiling and the creation of a police-state in Arizona, and to realize that White America's accusation that people of color are "playing the race card" is, itself, a form of racializing problems that we should all be working on, together.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Language of God

Six years ago, the United Church of Christ unveiled the "God is Still Speaking" ad campaign, which has featured the "Bouncer," "Steeples," and "Ejector Pew" ads. This morning, the United Church of Christ rolled out a new advertising/identity video, "The Language of God" as the next piece in this series.

Unlike the previous ads which were designed as 30-second television commercials, "The Language of God" is a YouTube style video, 90 seconds long, featuring a photo and video montage with snappy guitar music. The video is clearly aimed at Generation X and younger, but that comes as no surprise, as the 40-and-younger demographic is largely missing from most churches these days and is the population segment most likely to see church as irrelevant to modern life.

Content-wise, "The Language of God" is something of a hybrid of the previous entries in this campaign. Like the "Steeples" ad and unlike "Bouncer" and "Ejector Pew," the ad is not at all confrontational. It also opts against the sticky sentimentality of the "Steeples" ad, presenting, instead, the church in action. The photos and videos provide images of the church being relevant, with people protesting against discrimination, working for immigrant rights, and providing disaster relief. Ecology, worship, baptism, communion, prayer, and Bible study figure prominently into the mix, as well.

The faces are, of course, a cross-section of humanity with children and the elderly; black, white, and many shades of brown; able-bodied and handicapped. There's about a three second clip of a lesbian wedding and a picture of what one presumes to be an interracial gay couple and their son. Images of marriage equality are interspersed with images of racial equality. These images are sequenced and presented in such a way that they lead the viewer toward acceptance and celebration of the diversity of people and life experience shown.

As the photos and videos cycle, the "language" of God appears on the screen:







Finally, the video ends with the tag-line, "Find your church, Find yourself." Inviting people to view the church as part of their journey of self-discovery may seem self-evident to people who are already part of a vibrant congregation, but it is a new idea for many who have never seen the church as anything other than a bastion of nostalgia and social conservatism. This is an important invitation and I wish that someone had come up with it for the earlier entries in the God is Still Speaking campaign.

I like this video. I like the way it highlights who we are as the United Church of Christ, how it interprets our understanding of God in a way that makes sense in today's world, and how it shows that our belief leads us to actually make a difference in the world. While I could wish that the pictures popped up more slowly so I could take it all in, I've satisfied my curiosity by watching the video several times and making liberal use of the pause button.

Kudos to the folks in Cleveland who put this together. It makes me proud to be part of a church that is so inclusive, active, diverse, and relevant.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A little more CNN coverage from Cuba

Here's a bit more of CNN's coverage of Amistad's arrival in Havana, along with some video about the "Ladies in White," who were protesting their husbands' incarceration as political prisoners. We passed this protest in our bus as we were arriving in Havana and making our way to our hotels, prior to Amistad's arrival in the harbor, though we didn't see the pro-government counterprotestors who appear from this video to have been further west along the Malecon.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Remembering the Maine

While I was in Havana, I went searching for the memorial to the sailors aboard the USS Maine, the battleship that blew up in Havana Harbor in 1898, prompting the US to declare war with Spain. Nobody seemed to know much about where the memorial was located, but I finally found it at the extreme western end of the Malecón, near the iconic Hotel Nacionál, in the left of the photo.

It is interesting how the explosion aboard the USS Maine has been used for propaganda purposes by both the US and the Cuban governments. Though there was no clear evidence that the Maine had been blown up by the Spanish, the US declared war, with the slogan "Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!" Now, the Cuban government, freed from both Spanish colonialism and US paternalism, tells the story of how the US government intentionally blew up its own ship and killed its own sailors to create a pretext for invading Cuba. It is likely, however, that the the USS Maine blew and sank because of a fire in her coal bunker, which was adjacent to her forward magazine.

These days, the monument is largely forgotten, with the fountain full of garbage and the original plaque, which named the 266 sailors killed, replaced with a plaque remembering "victims sacrificed to the imperialist greed in its fervor to seize control of Cuba." The gold eagle that was once at the top of the columns was removed in 1961 and is now housed in the American Interests Section building in Havana.

So, here's the raw video of a recording of the song "Battleship of Maine" that I made while we were in Havana Harbor. I'll let you draw your own message from it.

[N.B. This recording is entirely my own work and does not reflect the opinions of Amistad America, Inc., or the officers and crew of the Freedom Schooner Amistad.]

Friday, April 2, 2010

CNN Coverage of Amistad in Havana

Here's some good coverage of Amistad's visit to Havana, provided by CNN. Of course, they call Amistad a "slave ship" and refer to the Africans as "slaves," but the media almost always uses these shorthands instead of bothering to explain that the Africans aboard Amistad in 1839 were NEVER slaves -- they were illegal captives, kidnap victims -- and the schooner was not a slave ship, she was a coastal cargo schooner that happened to be carrying a human cargo in addition to the supplies for plantations in Puerto Principe.