Saturday, September 16, 2017

Finally! American Horror Story Stretches Its Visual Storytelling Wings

Sometimes I wonder if Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, the creators of the FX Network anthology, American Horror Story, had any idea that their creation would garner such an enthusiastic fan base. When taking a holistic look at the series, where characters appear from season to season, and where one story connects to another story in another season, it amazes me that it took the creators and the network so long to finally come to realize they could create an immersive, ultimate fan experience through the use of social media.

I mean, beyond a television show that already takes visual storytelling to the next level through dramatic shots, interesting characters, and amazing sets/locations, this series has always created incredible pieces of visual storytelling through ads in magazines, billboards, across their social media platforms, and websites that are visually stunning pieces of art (albeit very creepy). In the 8 to 10 weeks leading up to the premier of a new season, American Horror Story usually rolls out ads that looks like this:

From Season 4

From Season 7

As you can see, the ads use minimal words, allowing the picture to share some insight into what the upcoming season is about. This is the ultimate rule of visual storytelling: show, don't tell.  Doing this, and doing it well, has always paid off for the network, as these amazing visuals create anticipation and intrigue among fans of the show, and even serve to pull viewers in who may have never seen the show before.

For season 7, the FX Network took their visual storytelling game to the next level, by inviting fans and viewers to become a part of the "cult" of their show by going to the show's official website. For 8 weeks, American Horror Story (AHS), took fans on an interactive journey leading up to the season premier - a journey that was relevant to the content of the season, and that took viewers to a deeper interaction than they had ever experienced with the show. Every week on this journey unlocked clues and bonus content of the show.

This experience was presented at the San Diego Comic-Con, where the show and cast have usually participated in years past. As a part of creating the intrigue around season 7, this video teaser was the only presence the show had in the convention this year, which revealed "Cult" as the title of the season:

When viewers went to the website, they were greeted with this visual, inviting the user to "click here":

After entering the website, users began their journey, where the site then takes the user directly to Facebook Messenger, where it appears that the user is chatting with another member of the cult, promising that they will contact the user again soon (incredibly creepy, but brilliant transmedia concept):

When the user goes back to the AHS homepage (and by also giving AHS permission to link to your Facebook account), they will find that they've been assigned a "Cult ID number," and a widget to the right that indicates completed missions that will be unlocked on a weekly basis leading up to the season 7 premier:

Users were encouraged to come back, week after week, to the AHS website, and to follow AHS (and producer Ryan Murphy) across all social media platforms for the full experience and special clues that would help the user unlock the bonus content - there were mini-games, such as a word scramble that led to information about what cast members were returning to this season, and the connection of the storyline of the upcoming season to past seasons. Incredibly, AHS took this immersive experience into the real world, inviting "cult members" to head to Dilworth Park in Philadelphia on August 11th to unlock more clues (similar events were held in cities all across the U.S.). There, "cult members" were invited into a tent, where they could interact with promotional props and take photos that mimicked original promotional ads, and they also received prizes & had access to limited edition merchandise, such as these glasses featuring the logo for a restaurant featured in the show:

Another feature revealed in the weeks following in the journey, was a Snapchat filter, which transformed the users face into the face of an incredibly creepy clown.

This 8 week, promotional, immersive, transmedia, crowdsourced, visually amazing, storytelling experience was mind-blowing. Hands down, it is probably the most incredible use of social media, real-world experiences, and promotional marketing any business or franchise has ever done. It seems as if the showrunners read Henry Jenkins' work and decided to one-up him on every level. And AHS is a prime example of what Jenkins refers to when he speaks of "complex fictional worlds which can sustain multiple interrelated characters and their stories." That is why I am absolutely amazed that AHS and FX Network had not utilized this approach to marketing before now, because they absolutely knocked this experience out of the park. 

And, as expected, fans of the show are already anticipating what in the world AHS will come up with next season to top this experience. I must admit, I will now be anxiously awaiting what they have in store for the future, as well. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Coca-Cola Replaces Coke Zero with Coca-Cola Zero Sugar: Public Response on Twitter & Instagram

Coca-Cola Company:

On July 26th, 2017, your company announced that Coke Zero, a popular, zero calorie, diet version of Coca-Cola, would be replaced by a new version of the drink, called Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. The announcement came after a successful rollout of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in other countries around the world, across 25 different markets. As a result, there has been a significant response across various social media networks, as the public responds to a new product taking the place of one of Coca-Cola's most popular products that has become "the most successful product launch since Diet Coke in 1982."

I have monitored and compared the public response to hashtag #CokeZeroSugar on two social media networks - Twitter and Instagram. A sample of 50 responses were measured on both social media networks, focusing on the week leading up to Labor Day weekend, a weekend in which beverage companies often see a spike in sales. The exact dates measured were from August 27th to September 1st, 2017, allowing a glimpse into consumer response following the one month mark since Coca-Cola's announcement and introduction of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. On August 20th, 2017, Coca-Cola introduced the hashtag #CokeZeroSugar in the following Tweet:

My analysis measured the percentage of positive and negative feedback on Twitter, and compares those responses to positive, negative, and neutral feedback on Instagram. Along with this analysis, I was also able to identify noticeable themes consumers communicated along with their response to hashtag #CokeZeroSugar across both Twitter and Instagram.

Twitter Analysis:
Below, the findings of the 50 sample Twitter responses conclude that public response to #CokeZeroSugar is overwhelmingly negative. Of the 50 responses, a total of 38 were identified as negative in nature. This data suggests that consumers do not like Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in comparison to 12 of the 50 responses being favorable, or identified as positive. Interestingly, a number of negative responses on Twitter also indicated that the consumer believed that the product was "too sweet." What makes this interesting is that Coca-Cola's mission in re-formulating Coke Zero to become Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, was to create a drink that more closely resembled full-sugar Coca-Cola.

Instagram Analysis: 
In total contrast to the Twitter responses to hashtag #CokeZeroSugar, my analysis found that the sample of 50 Instagram responses were mostly positive in nature. My analysis of Instagram also included a measure of neutral responses, or responses that could not be determined to be clearly positive or negative. The analysis of Instagram responses showed that of the 50 samples, 21 (42%) were clearly positive in nature. There were 17 (34%) negative responses, and 12 (24%) neutral responses.
Pie Chart Credit:

Next, I was able to identify themes that the sample of 50 consumers generated as a part of their responses to hashtag #CokeZeroSugar. These findings will be helpful to Coca-Cola in determining how to steer the conversation surrounding a new product that is replacing an already popular product.
While it might be too early to determine if the rollout of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar has been successful, knowing what consumers are saying from the early implementation may serve to help Coca-Cola correct course or find a new way to market the re-formulated version of this popular alternative to full-sugar Coca-Cola. Right now, it appears as if Coca-Cola is not responding primarily to consumers voicing their opinion on social media. The strategy seems to be an actual "boots on the ground" campaign, where brand representatives of Coca-Cola are embarking on a national sampling tour kicking off in Atlanta on September 2nd, 2017, and making stops all over the country to give people samples of the new product. This "personal touch" approach to marketing could potentially result in growing positive responses across social media.

The lesson to take away from this analysis is that the personal touch factor is the key between positive and negative responses on social media. The noticeable difference between social media users on Twitter and Instagram is that since Instagram is a photo-based social media experience, where the users' primary focus is to share a photo, then provide commentary, is that users may tend to post more positive commentary on a product, because they can be seen using it. It could be deduced that few Instagram users want to be seen using a product that they hate, because it's just not as enjoyable. Twitter's power is held to a limited number of words, and while users can post photos, it counts against their character count. Thus, Twitter users may respond more negatively, just based on the nature and reputation of that particular social media site. If your company wants to harness positive reactions to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, my analysis points to directing promotional campaigns that rely on consumers to post photos of them using the product.  Here are two recommendations I have developed as a result of the analysis I have conducted:

1. Appeal to the consumers' sense of nostalgia: If there is one thing that Coca-Cola has consistently done well, especially in marketing, it is appealing to nostalgia. Instead of highlighting Coca-Cola Zero Sugar as the replacement for Coke Zero, create the sense that Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is a "throwback" to regular Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar has been re-formulated to taste more like original Coca-Cola - the drink we all remember enjoying as a part of our youth, as a part of summer cookouts, and during the Holidays when we enjoy cans decorated with the infamous Coca-Cola Santa and Polar Bears. Coca-Cola could develop a social media campaign using the hashtag #TBT (Throwback Thursday), where people often post photos from their childhood and past. Create the association that the new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is a throwback to regular Coca-Cola by encouraging consumers to post #TBT photos on social media, and create some kind of sticker or "geotag" that would overlay on the photo that promoted Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. Let social media users vote on photos and assign a winner and a prize that includes Coca-Cola Zero Sugar or other merchandise promoting Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.

2. Appeal to the healthy lifestyle & athletic minded consumer: Coca-Cola has an opportunity to capitalize on a group of consumers who are athletic and health conscious, who are looking for a soda that tastes great but doesn't have calories or sugar. Nothing tastes better after a hike in the mountains than a cold soda without the guilt of sugar and high sodium content. Your company has an opportunity to appeal to a growing number of people who participate in events like The Color Run, Mud Runs, yoga events in large parks, and triathlons - people who lead healthy lifestyles and love a refreshing soda as a reward for their hard work. Coca-Cola can create a narrative to promote Coca-Cola Zero Sugar as that refreshing indulgence without the guilt. My analysis above points to more positive feedback when people post a photo of the product, as they do not want to take the time to take a photo of a product they do not enjoy. Instagram users seemed to have more positive feedback to #CokeZeroSugar, because they actually documented themselves consuming it. Encourage followers on social media to show off their athletic accomplishments while enjoying Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.

Thank you, and I look forward to Coca-Cola's review of this study of #CokeZeroSugar.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Learning Social Media: It's Never Too Late To Grow!

As I begin a new chapter in the academic world, I find myself anticipating the possibilities of all that I have to learn as a part of Kennesaw State University's graduate certificate program in digital and social media. As the field of digital and social media opens up a new world to all of us, I am thrilled to be a part of a program that focuses on transforming us into knowledgeable pioneers. Even as many of us are long-time users of social media, we understand that this technology is constantly shifting and transforming our society, which gives us an opportunity to constantly expand our knowledge with the hope of being innovative in our usage for our careers, organizations, and as consumers.

So, what do I hope to learn?

One of my expectations of the current course I am enrolled in (Survey of Digital Social Media), is to learn as much as I can about how to effectively manage my usage of social media in both my personal life and as a part of building the brand for The Calamity Chronicle. Thankfully, KSU's program has partnered with Hootsuite, one of the premier tools for social media management and analytics. I am beyond thrilled to expand my knowledge by learning this important management tool, and see what insights I can gain through the statistical analysis through Hootsuite's social listening capabilities. This article from PCMag nicely breaks down Hootsuite's features and communicates what I can expect to gain from using the program to manage The Calamity Chronicle.


I also hope that I can learn how to stay informed on what social media sites are relevant to use to promote my brand, and how to use the unique capabilities of specific social media platforms to gain followers & readers. While I use tools such as Twitter and Facebook to update you all on new material posted here to the site, I want to know how else I can reach people. Right now, I am starting to realize that I need to add Snapchat to my toolbox, as indicated in an article from Forbes that shows increasing numbers of users in the age demographics that I hope to target as readers/listeners/followers.

How do fellow bloggers, writers, and podcasters use sites such as Snapchat and Instagram to promote readership and keep people interested? Are there any social media sites on the periphery that will be relevant to growing my brand?

Finally, I hope to also learn how to become an influencer in the world of blogging and podcasts, and how to inspire my audience to become influencers on my behalf. This is a lofty goal, certainly one that will take me out of my comfort zone. I have found that I have a difficult time promoting myself, and I tend to cringe at the amount of "selfies" I see people posing for constantly. Honestly, I was just criticizing an Instagram user the other day for having over 20 hashtags on a particular post, though internally, I know it is a necessary part of promotion. It is important that I overcome my cynicism of these integral uses of social media, as I learn how to professionally use these platforms to the advantage of my endeavors.


A final thought...

Social media is not static and our ability to learn and grow through the use of this technology should also be open to changes and evolution. As this new chapter in my academic life begins, the biggest lesson I am already learning is to remain open to all possibilities and platforms that may enable my continued growth as a writer. I am not "too old" to use Snapchat. I do need to explore how to use Instagram to promote my brand. I absolutely need to approach social media from the perspective that it is an invaluable tool that I must continually be open to learning about and use to my advantage. As I continue my academic journey as a part of KSU's program, I am hopeful that I will grow in my ability to be an effective communicator, regardless of platform or trend.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Think Local. (With A Shout Out to Jessica Morse - CA04 Congressional Candidate)

There are many lessons that still need to be learned from the results of the 2016 election, but the lesson every American needs to grasp right this very minute is that local elections matter.

Sure, it is easy and more fun to only think about national politics every four years, but we are all a part of our local communities. And if you found yourself feeling frustrated after the 2016 election, feeling as if your vote didn't matter, listen up - if you want to see real change, there is a very real way to make it happen. But you have to be willing to dig in and do more than just post things on Facebook to rile up your Breitbart-loving, crazy, MAGA hat-wearing uncle.

Let's go back to 2010 - the mid-term election that arguably had the biggest political consequence in modern history. Along with the 2010 census, a massive gerrymandering operation was put into place by the state legislatures of key political states. These state legislatures had the power to re-draw their districting maps; to essentially reset the system and set Republicans up for a wave of success for the next decade. This strategy even had a name: REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project), and was created out of the realization that by flipping the local state legislatures in states that were starting to lean democratic, re-drawing the state and federal lines would help these states eventually lean to the right. And this would have massive national consequences in key states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania - the states we always look at over and over after every election. Republicans spent $30 million on state races in 2010, taking advantage of the fact that Democratic turnout is typically very low in mid-term elections, and when voter turnout is low, it almost always favors Republicans. Thus, with a little bit of money, at the right time, when Democrats weren't looking (although they should have - Karl Rove basically revealed this plan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed), blue states went deep red on the local level, setting up a major shift in the national political landscape. By redrawing the local districts, Republicans essentially shoved all the Democratic leaning areas into the cities and turned all of the surrounding areas into Republican leaning districts. How this plays out is that while more votes for Democratic candidates might be cast in a large population center, such as Philadelphia, those votes are essentially capped, because even though 100,000 people might have voted for a Democrat, that city only represents a small percentage of the legislative seats up for grabs when the lines are re-drawn to isolate the city centers from the rest of the state. Gerrymandering basically negates the idea that the party that gets the most votes wins the election.

*A great resource on the consequences of the 2010 elections and gerrymandering is the book "Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy," by David Daley.*

The big lesson to take away from this? Pay attention to your local elections and participate in them, because they have very big consequences. The best way to change a rigged game is to understand how it operates and work against it on the ground level to disrupt the basic operation - this means getting involved in grass-roots organizations and understanding the issues important to your community. And most of all, it means voting in every single election.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the El Dorado County Democrats, where Congressional candidate Jessica Morse, was going to speak. Morse is looking to challenge Republican Tom McClintock in the 2018 election, and has been campaigning relentlessly across the CA04 district. During the meeting, the members noted that more candidates were needed in positions such as the local school board, as even it had been taken over by Republicans with special interests in potentially changing educational materials, along with shifting federal funds away from public schools. This is why local elections matter.
After addressing the business of the group, Jessica Morse was introduced and spoke for nearly an hour on the issues facing the CA04 district and our country. Morse has literally walked the district from top to bottom, with her family living in the district for multiple generations. In the time that she spoke, Morse exemplified a qualified candidate that knows the challenges and the issues facing this district, but also understands global issues, and can point to how local and global issues connect. I was honestly inspired by her deep understanding of the effects of the logging industry and her knowledge of the agricultural issues facing the district. Jessica pointed to her service in the State Department and her time serving in Iraq at the height of the war, where she saw first hand how political decisions here in the United States impacted people across the globe. She was responsible for handling multi-billion dollar budgets at the State Department, offering solutions to help eliminate debt, while maintaining resources necessary for positive diplomatic operations.

Jessica Morse is the real deal. I can tell you that as I sat and listened to her share her heart for the people of CA04, I also saw her heart to serve the American people, and the people who suffer all over the world. She spoke of the time she recently spent helping folks whose lives had been devastated by the recent Detwiler wildfires, and steps she was able to take with local officials to help these people in time of desperate need. She didn't wait for news cameras to show up...she went and served, and has been back to help that community multiple times, because the people needed action. A servant-leader is the best way to describe Jessica Morse. She is the leader and the voice that CA04 needs, and is a challenger that McClintock should find terrifying, as she is the voice of a generation that is tired of do-nothing politicians.

After hearing Jessica Morse speak, I felt the way that Josh Lyman felt after hearing Jed Bartlett speak in the T.V. show, The West Wing. I felt that I saw someone who can create real change for the people, and I felt actual hope in a candidate.

To learn more about Jessica Morse, please visit

And for the love of everything that is good, dig in to your local elections, volunteer, and VOTE!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.

By now, it should be abundantly clear that the White House has a leaking problem. Last week, Chief of Staff, Reince Prebus, was ousted from his role in the Trump administration, presumably under suspicion that he had been leaking information about the dysfunctional West Wing, or didn't have the clout to stop other staffers that may be leaking information to the press.

So, every administration has faced similar issues with confidential or unfavorable leaks getting to the press. This isn't something new. What separates the Trump administration with previous administrations are the quantity of the leaks and the level of dysfunction these leaks reveal to the world at large.

As a result, the Justice Department is using more law enforcement resources than ever before in pursuit of the sources that are leaking information to the media.

The question that needs to be asked is - what does it say about the Trump administration, when so many people who are currently working in the West Wing are willing to essentially put their careers on the line to share information to the press about the internal workings of our Executive branch? It is supposed to be the honor of a lifetime to serve in the White House, so what does it say about Trump's leadership when the people who serve at the pleasure of the President decide they cannot remain silent when it comes to their working environment? Or, have these folks simply adapted the attitude of Trump - the "me first, no matter what," self-serving approach to the job? To me, this easily indicates a total lack of leadership, not just from the President, but from all senior level advisors and directors. It's clear that this administration lacks the ability to inspire, on top of what appears to be a total lack of trust in anyone outside of Trump's immediate family...and to be honest, I'm not sure that Trump even trusts his own family at this point, and they certainly shouldn't trust him. This is a guy who would throw anyone under the bus to save his own ass.

What I find interesting is that what made Trump so appealing to a number of voters was his acumen as a business tycoon. He promised to stop bureaucracy and introduce an era of governing with a business attitude. Many people were willing to overlook his failures and reputation as a businessman (multiple bankruptcies, not paying contractors, lawsuits, etc.), paying more attention to how Trump marketed himself. For sure, he is a master of marketing, branding, and talking a good game. Where he continually fails is in the grit of business - making tough decisions, being accountable and taking responsibility, and compromise. For the first time, Donald Trump is working for someone else, the American people. The reason he has been able to get away with a less than stellar business record is because he has only had to answer to himself and a nepotistic board of directors. I can guarantee you that if this administration were a business, with Trump being the CEO, he'd be out of a job already and this business would be in emergency mode. No business would put up with their CEO bashing other directors on social media, or appointing inexperienced people to integral roles, just because they are friends or gave him some money, or create new roles out of thin air and appoint family members to lead on issues they have no experience with. Why are we putting up with this? And will we decide to put up with this again, or will we say enough is enough in 2020 (if he makes it that far...I have my doubts)?

Leaks are neither good or totally depends on what information is leaked and how it effects domestic and global policy. In fact, the government has even taken steps to protect leakers and make it harder for Justice Department officials to meddle with a reporter's sources. Even when leakers did damage to Barack Obama's administration, his own Attorney General, Eric Holder, knew the importance of protecting the First Amendment. Where we run into danger is when classified information is leaked to unfriendly sources...something that Donald Trump managed to do all by himself back in May, when he revealed sensitive intelligence to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office. And if there's one thing we know about Trump, it's that he has his own hypocritical definitions of fairness and holding people to the same standards, evidenced by the one case of criminal leaking the administration has pursued - the prosecution of contractor Reality Leigh Winner, for leaking a classified intelligence report on Russia's attempt to hack the 2016 election. We know Trump even encouraged WikiLeaks to find damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the campaign. To sum up, Trump wants leaks when it benefits him, but when it reveals his incompetence and inability to be an effective leader, he wants those people prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

And the most recent leak sheds more light on a truth that most of us were already savvy to. As the transcripts of Trump's phone calls with other leaders of the world were made available, it cannot be disputed that our diplomacy across the globe has taken a major hit, due to the gross incompetence of our President. Jorge Guajardo, a long-time foreign diplomat from Mexico, has said of the transcript of Trump's phone call with Mexico's president, "He's the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt. He speaks loudly and carries a small stick. Everyone I've spoken to around the world is laughing." To make matters worse, Trump's phone call with Australian Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbill, was just as bad, providing us with solid proof that Trump is the kind of guy who tends to ignore facts, and is willing to weasel out of previous diplomatic agreements if he thinks it makes him look bad.

The old saying goes "The fish rots from the head." And it's never been more true than now. If Trump wants to find the problem in the White House, he needs to only look in the mirror.

In the meantime, with an administration who invented the term "Alternative Facts," and a President who lies about the littlest things, these insider leaks are more than welcome, as truth has become a rare find.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Not-So Fine Tuned Machine.

So...did I miss anything in the past couple of weeks while I took a short break?

A lot of stuff is going on, so let's get to it.

As of this morning, President Trump made a major policy announcement - again - via Twitter. He announced that the military can't be burdened with having transgender people serving, essentially reversing action taken by President Obama that allowed openly transgender folk to serve in our military.

The Pentagon isn't even going to try to defend this reverse in policy, and has deferred all questions to the White House. This makes me wonder if there really was a consensus among the top military officials on this decision, or if Trump has been so emboldened by his recent rallies that he felt he needed to appeal to his base, because this definitely has the stench of a purely political move.

Normally, a policy shift such as this one, results in hours of debate and hearings among committees in our Congress, based on years of studies and observations from people serving out in the field. This is how the Obama administration moved forward to reach the decision to allow transgender people to serve, because we once upon a time had a president who actually cared about doing the right thing for the military and for the transgender community. But of course, normal doesn't exist anymore. So, what we're left with is a political decision made by a man who didn't even serve in the military because he received deferments for bone spurs. This so-called Commander in Chief who once said that he would be the best ally for the LGBT community, doesn't actually care about the 11,000 plus service members who have no idea what is going to happen to their lives and careers right now.

One of the first defenses of this horrible policy is that it just costs the military too much. Well...that's bullshit. The Rand Corporation estimated in 2016 that the cost of medical services for transgender service members would be $8.4 million dollars. In 2014, the military spent $84 million on erectile dysfunction medication. Medical services for transgender soldiers makes up less than 1% of the military's budget. So again...BULLSHIT!

And all of this is because Trump's feet are being held to the fire and he's scared. This political move is a result of Trump being afraid that he's not going to get his promised border wall. On the one hand, he doesn't care about his campaign promise to be the best ally to the LGBT community that ever existed, if it means he won't get to build the wall he so desperately wants. He will literally do anything to rally that base of his beloved Deplorables whenever he feels threatened...saving his own skin is actually the most important policy to him, no matter the cost. He spends so much time obsessing about President Obama and Hillary Clinton that he doesn't care at all about how this will effect the lives of the people who have the courage to volunteer to serve in our military...something he never had the guts to do.

In other news, last night the Senate tried to jam through a major health care bill and failed horrendously, just hours after voting to move forward with procedure and debate. The vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act was 43-57, with nine Republicans breaking from their party to vote no on the bill. Even though Mitch McConnell enjoyed a small moment of victory - if you can even call it that, since VP Mike Pence had to be brought in to break the tie - it is unlikely that McConnell will get the big win he is looking for before the next recess.

So, we have the Republicans who have spent the past several years symbolically voting to repeal the ACA, who have campaigned heavily on this action ever since the ACA became law, and now, even though they have majority rule, are unable to actually get anything done. The Republicans are showing that they are unable to govern, even when they are given every single advantage possible. And what this means is what we have known for a long time - that the Republicans do not actually represent the views of their constituents and serve the people. They serve their donors and lobbyists.

And finally, to introduce a new segment I'm going to tentatively call "Oh, that's soooo rich," -

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to take some time off, because he's just absolutely exhausted from doing his job. This month, he's spent time in Germany, Ukraine, Kuwait, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia . He's apparently been incredibly surprised at how hard this job can be and frustrated that he doesn't get to be the ultimate decision maker on foreign policy that effects the whole world. Rumors are also circulating that Tillerson didn't have the warm and fuzzy feelings towards Trump after the President's make-shift political rally at the Boy Scout Jamboree, as Tillerson was an Eagle Scout and was once the national president of the organization.
So, what was all that talk about Hillary Clinton having no stamina? I'd love to hear how Tillerson really feels towards Trump, his boss, who contradicts Tillerson all the time, and then sends him in to clean up the diplomatic messes Trump makes on a daily basis. The common theme here is that Trump is the absolute worst boss, ever.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Theology Thursday: Complicated Complicity.

A few years ago, I sat down with a pastor to have coffee and discuss the current political climate and differing views regarding how the Church views LGBT+ folks. I was relieved that we immediately moved past the surface discussions of what was being deemed as right vs. wrong, and we jumped into discussing this idea of complicity.

Because, when a baker with a business that serves the public decides that he can no longer serve certain members of the public, due to his religious beliefs, we're not really talking about a righteous person of faith standing up for their beliefs. That might be what they tell the public, or the story they tell to the media, or even the lie they tell themselves. But what we're really talking about here is the false notion that by providing a service to someone they disagree with, this business owner is now complicit with whatever activity they hold a religious objection to. By serving the persons they deem as engaging in "sinful" behavior, the business owner feels as if that sin is somehow transferrable to them, thereby they are also engaging in "sinful" behavior.

First of all, this is total bullshit. This is a conservative, evangelical construct to further the bogus idea that American Christians are being persecuted more than ever in our nation. And the irony here is that while conservative Christians have been telling us for years that the LGBT+ community doesn't just want equal rights, they want special rights - it seems that conservative Christian business owners who don't want to serve certain folks are now the ones looking for special rights to discriminate who their businesses serve.

And the crazy thing is that this seems to just be an issue for conservative Christians to dote on. I almost guarantee that if I walked into a Kosher deli tomorrow to order beef for a party that I was throwing, I'm guessing that they probably won't ask me if I also plan on serving shrimp, or perhaps a vegetable tray where two different vegetables might have been grown in the same field, and refuse to serve me because they personally abide by a different set of beliefs than I. Since they serve the public, it is a good business model to not refuse the service of the people who specifically come to you for the particular service you provide. If you want to provide a religious test to determine who you are willing to serve, then having a public business probably isn't the best choice for you.

In the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, where owner Jack Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, one of the points that his lawyer has made to garner public support for Mr. Phillips, is that he has lost business and received negative press for his decision to discriminate in who he provided his services to. To be clear, his personal decision has resulted in business related consequences. This is what drives me absolutely crazy. On the one hand, Phillips is proudly standing up for his beliefs, willing to lose the business of a particular couple because he has a closely held personal religious objection. He's willing to take a stand, but when the consequences result in a business fallout, he suddenly feels compelled to call himself a victim. 

This calls to mind the story of Joseph of Arimathea in John 19. This was a man who was part of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the religious governing body that handled religious and civic matters for the people of Israel. Joseph is said to be the man who was responsible for burying Jesus. This meant that he had to defile himself, because he had to touch the dead body of Jesus, a direct violation of their religious doctrine on the eve of Passover. Joseph was assisted by Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin, because they wanted to give Jesus a proper burial. They tossed aside their deeply held religious beliefs to remain pure for Passover, so they could serve a man who had been tried and ultimately executed at the very hands of the governing body they were a part of. Joseph even gave up his personal tomb to Christ, and insisted that his body be properly wrapped and treated with spices. We don't have much information about what happened to Joseph and Nicodemus, but to be sure, I bet their fellow members of the Sanhedrin wouldn't have been thrilled with their actions. There is a very good chance they would have been thrown out of the group, maybe even shamed and forever ruined their reputations, and likely their entire families would have been cut off from associating with anyone ever again. That's the price they were willing to pay, and they did it. They didn't cry foul or play victim. They sacrificed their religion and their deeply held religious beliefs for Christ.

On top of this particular story, we know that Jesus himself associated with all of the folks that the religious zealots looked down upon. I mean, come is arguably the most revolutionary lesson Christ had to offer - that exclusionary behavior is not representative of holiness. When we invite everyone to the table, serve them, and resist our human instinct to expel those who are different than us - those are the moments when we are the best representations of Christ.

And that's why this idea that we should feel sorry for Mr. Phillips or anyone else who has refused service to someone because of their deeply held religious beliefs is a total load of crap. He decided to take a stand for his beliefs, and there are very real consequences for that. Be willing to pay the price for your beliefs or stop pretending you follow Christ. 

The truth is that I think what Mr. Phillips' case and similar cases represent is the selfish notion that we can't serve those we have disagreements with because it makes us dirty. What a small view of God these folks must have, to think that the God they claim to serve can't differentiate between unselfish service to others and "sin." Why go into business as a means to be a representative of Christ and serve others, when you actually aren't willing to serve and "be Christ" to everyone? If you're not willing to wash the feet of others, to show love and not condemnation to those the zealots deem unclean, you are not following Christ. That's the bottom line.

And yet, in the last 24 hours we have another case of blatant hypocrisy by a religious business. Hobby Lobby, who famously went to the Supreme Court to argue that they shouldn't have to provide their employees with birth control, because it would make them complicit in providing abortifacient drugs or perhaps encourage their female employees to engage in extramarital sexual behavior, is now facing millions of dollars in fines, because their "love of the Bible" has led them buy and smuggle black-market ancient artifacts out of Iraq. It is likely that the money the company used to buy these artifacts, was paid to groups connected to Isis. So, not only did Hobby Lobby engage in purposefully lying to Customs officials by labeling the artifacts as ceramic samples while they were being shipped to the United States, but the money they used could have potentially been used to fund a terrorist group that regularly murders Christians around the world (though they mostly murder Muslims). On the one hand, Hobby Lobby insisted that they would not be complicit in what is actually a woman's personal & medical choice, but they are totally ok with being complicit in funding terrorism and murderers, as long as it saves inanimate objects.