Friday, November 21, 2014

Interview on Obama's Immigration Action

Last night, President Barack Obama delivered a speech explaining the executive actions he is taking regarding immigration. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives refused to even vote on a bipartisan Senate bill passed early last summer, which stalled immigration reform efforts. Obama's new effort involves a more limited approach since he cannot take the more comprehensive or more permanent actions without congressional approval. Obama's action still leaves the possibility of congressional action to create a more comprehensive and more permanent reform effort.

A lot of false claims have been made by critics of Obama, with some politicians and pundits making outrageously inaccurate and uncivil statements. I attempted to shed more light than heat in an interview today with the Ottumwa Post (in Iowa). The article includes several quotations from me. Even if people do not agree with Obama's efforts to prevent deportations, he had the legal authority to do so. It remains important to debate the issue factually and I think the article helps inform readers.

Missourians Attend Cuban Baptist Gathering

My latest article ran this week in the Word&Way newspaper. The piece is titled "Missourians Attend Cuban Baptist Gathering." It reports on the Churchnet delegation to Cuba last month that I previously wrote about for Ethics Daily (here, here, and here). The online version of the article includes two photos I took (one of some colorful buildings in Havana and one of Churchnet Vice President Forestal Lawton), and the print version includes two more photos (one of Uxmal Livio Diaz Rodriguez and one of Raúl Suárez).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

From the Sky

"Revenge will only perpetuate the trauma..."

When Barack Obama campaigned on "hope" and "change" in 2008, foreign policy emerged as an area where his message especially resonated with many voters. The previous administration mislead the country into a misguided war and violated international laws by authorizing torture. However, rather than helping the U.S. take a more moral path, Obama often continued the George W. Bush approach. The Guantanamo Bay military prison remains open (in Cuba) despite his promises to shut it down. The U.S. has apparently stopped torturing people, but Obama has not opened up the full records on that shameful chapter nor prosecuted those responsible. He launched numerous military efforts, showing himself committed to Bush's vision of violent regime change. But perhaps his most shameful foreign policy legacy will be his drone policy.

"The dilemma for the warrior is that he mourns when civilians die here and ends up killing civilians there."

Obama created a "kill list" to make himself judge, jury, and executioner. He even authorized the killing of U.S. citizens despite the constitutional rights of the citizens. As his drone policy kills many innocent civilians (that his administration tries to cover up), Obama is joining Bush in making the region less stable and more open for terrorists. So much for hope and change. Surely there must be another way.

"If you choose to answer in a peaceful manner, doesn't mean you ignore the truth."

Several journalists and activists have helped expose the immoral and counterproductive nature of Obama's drone policies. However, sometimes artists are needed to help people really see something. Fortunately, Ian Ebright took up that mission with his short film From the Sky. His 18-minute film explores the impact of drones on the people who live beneath them and offers competing perspectives on how to respond. The film beautifully captures the tragic immorality of the U.S.'s drone efforts. The quotations in italics in this post are from the film's dialogue, which covers a lot of important religious and political ground in a short time.

After a successful run on the film festival circuit - with 11 official selections and 3 awards - the film can now be seen for free on Vimeo or YouTube. Watch it! It only takes 18 minutes and is entertaining, and thought-provoking. I am proud to be listed as an Associate Producer for this fine film. We need to find a way for real hope and change.

"I've seen resistance consume a man."

FROM THE SKY - short film from Ian Ebright on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Cover Story

"Don't judge a book by its cover."

I actually hope people will judge my forthcoming book by its cover because I really like it. Perhaps the saying taught to children about not judging books by their covers grew out of the reality that people do actually judge books by their covers. Thus, publishers see the title and cover design as among the important factors in selling books. Each time I received a contract from a book publisher so far, I signed away the final decision on title and cover design. Other authors and publishers confirm such contractual lines remain standard practice. Although I signed away control and final authority, I got some input each time.

For my first book, the publisher kept my suggested title, which excited me since I thought it captured attention and interest. They did the cover design on their own, but I thought they put together a nice look that fits the book well. And for the record (since I have often been asked), that is not me on the cover!

For my second book, the publisher changed my title by making my suggested subtitle the title. Unfortunately, this hurt the book since while it worked as a subtitle it made for too long of a book title that no one can remember (so I just call the book by a nickname instead: "confessional politics"). They gave me the chance to suggest cover design features, which they then created. It includes three photos I took that nicely fit the book, and I remain pleased with the look. Although we put the book together in 2010 and it came out in early 2011, it features the two 2012 presidential nominees (of course, one of them was easy to get correct).

For my third book (which will be out next month), the publisher kept my suggested title. I learned a little about framing the title based on the experience of my second book. They also asked me for suggestions about the cover. I gave them a photo I took, which they incorporated nicely into the design.

The image - a selfie as I took it of my own chest - features two stickers that together form an interesting take on politics and religion. While one sticker is a traditional "I voted" sticker, the other is an "I communed" sticker that I made for the Election Day Communion service at my church. Christian Century previously used the photo with their coverage of the nationwide communion effort in 2012. The image nicely captures the arguments of the book, so I am glad my publisher used it. Not only do I feature Election Day Communion in a chapter, but communion emerges as a strong theme throughout my look at religion and politics. These two stickers raise important questions about what is politics and how religion and politics should interact. The book focuses on those issues.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Looking for Signs

During my recent trip to Cuba, I found myself fascinated by the political signs. Since this was my first trip to a communist-socialist nation, the slogans, paintings, and other forms of propaganda interested me. I have studied and taught political communication, but had not yet experienced this kind. This likely made me a bit of an unusual tourist, as I looked down the road hoping to see the next political message. Many of the signs can be found in my online album Cuba, part 5 (Political/Partisan). I never had to wait too long to see another sign.

Throughout the island similar sights greeted us. All of the billboards appeared to be government signs. By the week's end, I could sometimes make out what the billboards said as I noticed common words and themes (Gary Snowden, my friend and colleague at Churchnet, usually helped me know what the rest said since he is fluent in Spanish while I know un poco). References abounded to the Revolution, the people, socialism, history, order, discipline, and work, Pictures of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Raul Castro dominated the scenery, with other Cuban heroes sprinkled in. All together, the signs built a strong message through repetition, buzzwords, and imagery.

The landscape changed quickly upon my arrival back in the United States. As I drove away from the airport, I happened to realize I was glancing at each of the billboards. After a week of looking at the political signs in Cuba, the billboards in the U.S. seemed quite different. Cheap deals replaced revolutionary slogans. Photos of business owners and corporate mascots replaced the Castros and Che. Messages of capitalism replaced references to socialism. The patriotic symbols changed, but still featured red, white, and blue. Despite the differences in our signs, we are also taught through repetition, buzzwords, and imagery about how we are supposed to work, think, live, and prioritize. Apparently the "rulers" of both nations recognize the need to get their messages out. Perhaps our propaganda is not that different after all.