July 22, 2016

Trump Ain’t No Ronald Reagan

Gritting my teeth for over an hour, I listened to Donald J. Trump’s acceptance speech last night. It was notable for what Trump pledged to do, without hinting at how it might be accomplished or how the candidate might be qualified to effect it.

Oddly, the Donald’s speech followed an introduction by Ivanka Trump, which could have more easily introduced Hillary Clinton. After her speaking of helping new mothers, Donald Trump said nothing about what was in her remarks. Instead, he painted a dystonian picture of America and how he is the only person who can fix everything wrong in our country. Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America was but a distant memory as America entered the dark night of our discontent.

It’s midnight in America: Vote Trump/Pence


Postscript: Andrew McLaughlin provided a moment of dark humor for the night. In a tweet, he wrote “Trump’s speech sounds better in the original German.

Update, 3:10 PM: William F. Hammond suggested a variation on the above graphic using the first logo that the Trump/Pence campaign quickly abandoned. This is shown below. Larger views of each of these graphics may be had by clicking on them.

It’s midnight in America: Trump/Pence

July 21, 2016

Never, Never, Never Ever Trump

Three days ago, I wrote the post “Never Trump” after reading Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece about Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote the bestselling The Art of the Deal. Based on his extensive observation of Donald J. Trump in the course of his daily business, Schwartz has attempted to warn America that, irrespective of any policy the Republican candidate for president might or might not articulate, his personality is totally unsuitable to leading the United States of America.

As if to prove Trump’s meanspiritedness and lack of ordinary perspective—he is about to become the presidential candidate of a major political party after all—Jane Mayer reported yesterday that, through his lawyer, Trump sent Schwartz a cease & desist letter that, among other outrageous demands, requests the return of all royalties earned by Schwartz on the book that helped make Trump famous. Mayer’s story is “Donald Trump Threatens the Ghostwriter of ‘The Art of the Deal’.” Mayer includes the letter from Trump’s lawyer and the dismissive reply from Schwartz’s lawyer. Trump is clearly trying to suppress all the negative things Schwartz has been saying about him, both in The New Yorker and on television.

One characteristic trait of Donald J. Trump that is indisputable, given to the overwhelming evidence of the public record, is that he brings lawsuits against people at the drop of a hat. This is clearly not because Trump is the target of the world population out to persecute him. It is instead evidence of a deep insecurity that someone, somehow, in even the most minor fashion, might gain something—anything—at his expense.

Trump has a serious anger-management problem. It is one thing to sue a writer for having a well-supported, if unfavorable, opinion of the New York tycoon. It would be quite another if Trump had control of the nuclear button. If Vladimir Putin slighted a President Trump, would the Donald start a nuclear war to protect his delicate ego? The answer is not clearly “no.”

As for the present situation, the threat to Schwartz is negligible. As a public figure, Schwartz can say outrageous and demonstrably false things about Trump and not liable the Donald. Trump has done nothing more than publicize his petulance.

That said, there is another concern here. There seems to be a trend of billionaires suiting anyone who has displeased them and, if not winning in court, at least ruining the object of their ire. This is yet another way our legal system is unfair, and it is something we should be doing something about.

July 20, 2016

Tooting The Episcopal Church’s Horn

When I matriculated at the University of Chicago as a physics major, I had no thought of joining a fraternity. Had I considered it, I would have thought doing so frivolous. When rush began, I found it easy to resist the promotions of most of the fraternities on campus. The advertising of one fraternity, though, was different. It was quirky and intriguing. A couple of my close friends and I had to check out the source. I am now a brother of Alpha Delta Phi.

It seems that my church, The Episcopal Church, is in a position similar to that of the Chicago fraternities. There are many denominations vying for attention. Many people have a hard time distinguishing one from another, and others are indifferent to the whole lot. I don’t think that we have been successful, either locally or nationally, at promoting our church.

And yet, I believe The Episcopal Church has much to offer. I admit that it is not for everyone, but I think it is the perfect Christian church for some folks, including some who aren’t looking for a church at all. On the other hand, if someone finds a comfortable spiritual home in, say, a Southern Baptist church, both God and I can rejoice.

Maybe The Episcopal Church could learn from the recruiting strategies of the Chicago Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi in the mid-60s. The chapter had not been too successful at attracting new brothers, and it was thought that only by trying something completely different could a seemingly inevitable decline be averted. Hence, the campaign that lured me in.

Does that situation sound familiar? Perhaps we can raise the profile of The Episcopal Church and draw in new people for whom our church is an attractive spiritual home, even if they are not actively looking for such a home.

With this thought in mind, I constructed some proposed Episcopal Church advertisements that highlight what I believe are some of our church’s special strengths. I worded these with the intention of contrasting with the “Christian” positions often seen in the mainstream media. I tried to be intriguing in the same way that Alpha Delta Phi advertising was intriguing when I was a Chicago undergraduate.

What you find below is my third set of advertisements. Episcopal friends on Facebook have my sincere thanks for helping me eliminate ill-conceived items and improve those that survived the bad-idea filter. I had intended to include additional advertisements involving liturgy and music, but my attempts resulted in arcane text or text of questionable generality. Readers are invited to help me out, on these or existing topics.

Until now, my advertising project has essentially been academic. However, I would be delighted if churches actually used what I have produced. I am even willing to customize advertisements for individual churches, substituting, for example, “St. Swithin’s in the Swamp Episcopal Church” for “The Episcopal Church.” If you’re interested in using these advertisements, please contact me (see contact link in the sidebar at the right).

Sixteen proposed advertisements follow. Click on any one for a larger version.

  1. This is one of my favorites. The Episcopal Church has avoided developing confessions of faith, remaining content with the most ancient ones.

    The Episcopal Church: Where it’s more important to demonstrate Christianity than to profess it

  2. This combines a notion popularized by former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning and the familiar “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” sign. One hopes that it is true of most congregations.

    The Episcopal Church: Where there are no outcasts, and all are welcome

  3. This is meant to contrast The Episcopal Church with those churches that read the Bible literally or believe it to be itinerant.

    The Episcopal Church: We take the Bible too seriously to take it literally.

  4. Some seem to think Episcopalians don’t really pay attention to the Bible. I originally asserted that we read four Bible passages at each service, but this is not technically true. Hence, what follows.

    The Episcopal Church: We hear the Bible read in church every Sunday.

  5. This idea is taken from Robin Williams, though I don’t know that he was the first to articulate it.

    The Episcopal Church: We don’t check our brains at the church door.

  6. Too many Christians, of course, show up in church only on Christmas (or Christmas Eve) and Easter.

    The Episcopal Church: It’s not just for Christmas and Easter.

  7. It is easy to get the impression that the “Christian” doctrine on homosexuality is that it is a sin and that homosexuals and should not be ordained by the church. This is not the position of The Episcopal Church, which welcomes LGBT people, ordains, and marries them. (See also #16.)

    The Episcopal Church: Where guys and women can be found both in front of and behind the altar

  8. Many Christians are obsessed with getting to heaven once they’re dead. Most Episcopalians aren’t too sure about what happens when we die, but they know that we have a mission to pursue before we die. This is another of my favorites.

    The Episcopal Church: Building the Kingdom of God, not waiting for it

  9. Unlike some Christian churches, The Episcopal Church has no problem with science. You can accept evolution with a clear conscience.

    The Episcopal Church: We celebrate what science can teach us about God’s creation.

  10. Episcopalians don’t claim to have all the answers. Maybe some us do, but, on the whole, we are modest about what we know. The suffering caused over the years by differences of opinion on religious issues that cannot be definitively resolved or that ultimately don’t matter is appalling.

    The Episcopal Church: We don¹t pretend to have everything figured out.

  11. Not every Christian needs to be an Episcopalian, which is something of an acquired taste. We can even respect non-Christian religions. (See #10.)

    The Episcopal Church: Loving our religion without hating yours

  12. I was very impressed with James Adams’ book So You Think You’re Not Religious. Adams argued that church rituals such as baptism and marriage can celebrate life’s milestones even in the absence of real faith. In any case, The Episcopal Church does a good job with these rituals.

    The Episcopal Church: Marking life’s milestones with dignity and grace.

  13. The most important ritual of the church is probably the Eucharist. The idea for this advertisement came from Eucharistic Prayer C. See my hymn, “Holy Eucharist,” and related commentary.

    The Episcopal Church: Where bread and wine provide solace and strength

  14. This was inspired by the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the fact that we are admonished to love our neighbors as ourselves.

    The Episcopal Church: Where you are our neighbor even if you are not one of us

  15. How can we require uniformity of belief if we acknowledge that we don’t know everything? (See #10.) We can still work on building the Kingdom of God. (See #8.)

    The Episcopal Church: Where unity of purpose doesn’t require uniformity of belief

  16. The Episcopal Church had gay and lesbian clergy before we began performing same-sex marriages. It took us a long time to get where we are, but we’re glad we made it.

    The Episcopal Church: If you’re gay or lesbian, you can get married in one of our churches.

Never Trump

The Republican Party officially nominated Donald J. Trump as its presidential candidate last night. Reasonable, well-educated people thought this would never happen, but it has. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be elected to lead the Free World (as we used to say) this November by the people of the United States.

In The Episcopal Church, we also hold elections. Bishops are elected by the people of our dioceses. Before candidates are put forth, however, nominating committees investigate possible candidates for their suitability for the job. One mandatory element of this vetting is a psychological evaluation. A potential candidate who shows little concern for others, for example, would normally be eliminated from consideration.

Donald Trump
Illustration for The New Yorker
by Javier Jaén
Regrettably, we have no such test for presidential candidates. In the case of Donald Trump, however, I think we have the information we would want from a formal psychological evaluation. The July 25, 2016, issue of The New Yorker, contains a revealing article by Jane Mayer titled “Trump’s Boswell Speaks.” The tagline at the head of the piece is “The ghostwriter of ‘The Art of the Deal’ says that Trump is unfit to lead.” (Note: The story is available on the Web here, where it is titled “Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All.” The tagline is “‘The Art of the Deal’ made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth—and regrets it.” I can’t say why the article has a different title on the Web from what appears in the magazine. I suspect that the Web title makes better click bait.)

Mayer’s piece explains how ghostwriter Tony Schwartz had to manipulate Trump in order to extract enough information to write the book that became a bestseller. Because Trump seems incapable of self-reflection, Schwartz was forced to shadow the mogul throughout his day, even listening in on all his phone calls. For the sake of a good read, Schwartz made Trump seem engaging and clever. In fact, he saw Trump as a narcissistic sociopath with the attention span of a gnat. Schwartz is remorseful for the part he played in advancing Trump’s career and presumably consented to be interviewed as a means of atoning for his sin.

Anyone with even the slightest thought that voting for Trump might be a sane thing to do needs to read and reflect on Mayer’s article.

July 16, 2016

Black Lives Matter, Too

Black Lives Matter is a fine slogan, born of a spate of murders of young black men, largely at the hands of white police. The slogan was never intended to mean that non-black lives do not matter, but it invariably led to the currency of the counter-slogan All Lives Matter. Some offered this alternative innocently enough, seeing it as a logical corrective to the original slogan. Others, however, used it as a racist put-down of blacks.

Slogan-making is a tricky enterprise, and there are many opportunities for it to go awry. African-American Lives Matter, for example, is clumsy for shouting, and its adoption would have been a big mistake. The conciseness of Black Lives Matter is a real plus. Better, not much longer, and without any words longer than two syllables, is Black Lives Matter, Too. This delivers exactly the right message, especially to the white population: not only do white lives matter, but black lives also matter.

Alas, an opportunity was missed.


Black Lives Matter, Too.


July 13, 2016

The Wisdom of George W. Bush

No, the title of this post isn’t a mistake, though it is true that I am not a big fan of the last Republican president. Both President Obama and President Bush spoke at yesterday’s memorial service for the five police officers killed by a sniper last week. Mr. Obama’s thoughtful and moving speech rightly got more publicity, but Mr. Bush, too, had some helpful words for Dallas and for the nation. This inspired me to design the graphic below. The message is one we all should hear. It is one that Donald Trump, especially, needs to hear and digest.

Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.
Click on image for a larger view.
Please share freely.

Note: An earlier observation from yesterday’s event is here.

July 12, 2016

Rethinking the National Anthem

I’m listening to (and sometimes watching) the interfaith memorial service being held in Dallas, Texas, for those police officers who died last week at the hands of a gunman.

The service began with the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner by the Dallas Police Choir.

I have always found our national anthem stirring, but I have felt a bit queasy about its association with warfare. I have even written my own candidate for a national anthem, “Out of Many, One,” which I thought better characterizes our nation. My text ends with
To our Republic, this we pledge:
For every challenge that awaits,
Free men and women will come forth
Whose work a better world creates.
With banner raised, with grateful hearts,
We honor these United States!
Today, however, I can see The Star-Spangled Banner in a new light. I can excuse the line of the third stanza,
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
because it does not capture the overall spirit of the text. The second verse offers a positive assertion to the question ending the first:
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The theme of the anthem, then, is not conquest, but victory over adversity. It is about carrying on against overwhelming odds.

That is an appropriate theme for this afternoon in Dallas and, perhaps, an appropriate theme for the Republic as it enters its 241st year.


Stars

July 8, 2016

Time to Study Gun Violence

Gun violence in America has reached epidemic proportions. All Congress has been able to do is to offer prayers and moments of silence. Not only that, but Congress has prevented the CDC from collecting gun-related statistics and doing research into ways of decreasing the toll that guns have taken on Americans and the American psyche. It is time for Congress to say “no” to the NRA and do what is logical and right. After all, good public policy is impossible to craft when we insist on not knowing the relevant facts. If acting responsibly costs a few Republican seats, it will be a small price to pay (not to mention poetic justice).

Feel free to copy the image below or the larger version of it available by clicking on it.

Demand that Congress fund research by the CDC into gun violence in America.