Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, March 31, 2008

"If there when Grace dances, I should dance."


Starting with Auden to explain my purpose in quoting Derrida earlier. My interest was in the word "performative" that he used. Derrida marks this off, making it clear his reference is to Speech Act Theory and its emphasis on the performative nature of some kinds of speech, But my interest was in the connection to the greatest speech act of history, according to Genesis: the Creation.

"Performative" is the voice of command in grammar. It is the second person, the implied "you" that directs another to act, to respond, to do something. The performative is in the speech itself: the command itself is meant to be the act, although of course the command requires a respondent. And this is where the speech/act of Genesis becomes absolutely incomprehensible.

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

2 Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

6 And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

9 And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [b] and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Very simple, very straightforward, very incomprehensible. God speaks, creation happens. There is a presumed response to the command, but by what? God says "Let there be light," and light there is. Language has a problem here, and it isn't the problem of mythological concepts being taken literally. It is the problem of trying to describe the ineffable, of trying to explain what is without parallel in human experience. This is creation ex nihilo, but not really ex nihilo, either. This is creation out of, but whereas our language insists creation be out of "something," this creation story simply says Creation is out of. And it is out of the speech/act, the "word" of God.

Which brings us back around to Derrida:

It is announced wherever, reflecting without flinching, a purely rational system of analysis brings the following paradox to light: that the foundation of law--law of the law, institution of the institution, orign of the constitution--is a 'performative' event that cannot belong to the set that it founds, inaugurates, or justifies.
A rational system of analysis brings the paradox to light: the performative event of the Creation cannot belong to the Creation that is founds, inaugurates, or justifies. The first chapter of Genesis, of course, does all three. It founds, inaugurates, and justifies the Creation: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." God is wholly other to Creation, but it cannot be otherwise. God cannot be the foundation of Creation (the "Ground of Being," in Tillich's formulation) if God is creator of Creation. And just so, no creation by humans, be it the blogosphere or a political party or a religion, can be anything but "other" to its creator(s). So we are back to the issue of this post: if we critique a system and by our critique seek either to reform it, or to create an alternative (two conditions that often appear alike: ask Martin Luther), we cannot avoid being other to what we have created. But if we engage in this act of creation in order to exert power, or to establish a structure over which we can exert power, do we not always create yet another structure which walks away from us, and pursues its own ends?

"D'you know," he said, "how God made man? D'you know the first words this animal, man, addressed to God?"
"No, how should I know. I wasn't there."
"I was!," cried Zorba, his eyes sparkling.
"Well, tell me."
Half in escstasy, half in mockery, he began inventing the fabulous story of the creation of man.
"Well, listen boss! One morning God woke up feeling down in the dumps. 'What a devil of a God I am! I haven't even any men to burn incense to me and swear by my name to pass the time away! I've had enough of living like an old screech-owl! Ftt!' He spat on his hands, pulled up his sleeves, put on his glasses, took a piece of earth, spat on it, made mud of it, kneaded it well and made it into a little man which he stuck in the sun.
"Seven days later he pulled it out of the sun. It was baked. God looked at it and began to split his sides with laughter.
"'Devil take me,' he said. 'It's a pig standing on its hind legs! That's not what I wanted at all! There's no mistake I've made a mess of things!'"
"So he picks him up by the scruff of his neck and kicks his backside.
"'Go on, clear off! All you've got to do now is to make other little pig's; the earth's yours! Now, jump to it. Left, right, left, right...Quick march!...'
"But, you see, it wasn't a pig at all! It was wearing a felt hat,a jacket thrown carelessly over its shoulders, well-creased trousers, and Turkish slippers with red tassels. And in its belt--it must have been the devil who'd given it that--was a pointed dagger with the words 'I'll get you!' engraved on it.
"It was man! God held out his hand for the other to kiss, but man twirled up his moustache and said:
"'Come on, old 'un, out of the way! Let me pass!'"
You'll notice Kazantzakis goes for the second creation story, in Genesis 2. Much easier to grasp creation through manipulation of objects, than creation as speech/act theory. But I like the way God continues to speak in declaratives and commands. And the lesson is plain: what you create remains other to you, otherwise it is not a creation. So the gathering of those with power (to travel, to access the internet, to contemplate other subjects than their own immediate daily survival, to consider other than the quotidian necessities) is a gathering of those with a creative ability, but what they create, in an effort to attain control, is not theirs to control. A gathering of the ptochoi, the destitute, the powerless, the despised, the broken, the forgotten, the invisible: what would that look like?

And what would they create? Jesus called it the basiliea tou theou. It's what got him in so much trouble with Rome. It's what gets him in so much trouble today. Because there must always be a desert within the desert, otherwise: "there would be neither act of faith, nor promise, nor future, nor expectancy without expectation of death and of the other, nor relation to the singularity of the other."

The Story of Isaac


The door it opened slowly,
My father he came in,was nine years old.
And he stood so tall above me,
His blue eyes they were shining
And his voice was very cold.
He said, Ive had a vision
And you know Im strong and holy,
I must do what Ive been told.
So he started up the mountain,
I was running, he was walking,
And his axe was made of gold.

Well, the trees they got much smaller,
The lake a ladys mirror,
We stopped to drink some wine.
Then he threw the bottle over.
Broke a minute later
And he put his hand on mine.
Thought I saw an eagle
But it might have been a vulture,
I never could decide.
Then my father built an altar,
He looked once behind his shoulder,
He knew I would not hide.

You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.
You who stand above them now,
Your hatchets blunt and bloody,
You were not there before,
When I lay upon a mountain
And my fathers hand was trembling
With the beauty of the word.

And if you call me brother now,
Forgive me if I inquire,
Just according to whose plan?
When it all comes down to dust
I will kill you if I must,
I will help you if I can.
When it all comes down to dust
I will help you if I must,
I will kill you if I can.
And mercy on our uniform,
Man of peace or man of war,
The peacock spreads his fan.--Leonard Cohen

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Oh, the prickilie bush!


It is announced wherever, reflecting without flinching, a purely rational system of analysis brings the following paradox to light: that the foundation of law--law of the law, institution of the institution, orign of the constitution--is a 'performative' event that cannot belong to the set that it founds, inaugurates, or justifies.
Jacques Derrida

By all accounts, a splendid time was had by all. And mucho muscles were apparently flexed (well, by some accounts). Which left me wondering: if these gatherings, other than for the fun of meeting people "live," are about gatherings of the powerful and would-be powerful, what would a gathering of the powerless be like? And what would they extol?

Congratulations, you poor!
God's domain belongs to you!

Congratulations, you hungry!
You will have a feast.

Congratulations, you who weep now!
You will laugh.

Damn you rich!
You already have your consolation!

Damn you who are well-fed now!
You will know hunger.

Damn you who laugh now!
You will learn to weep and grieve.
What would a gathering of the ptochoi look like?

Wherever this foundation founds in foundering, wherever it steals away under the ground of what it founds, the very trace of itself and the memory of a secret, 'religion' can only begin and begin again: quasi-automatically, mechanically, machine-like, spontanously. Spontaneously, which is to say, as the word indicates, both as the origin of what flows from the source, sponte sua, and with the automaticity of the machine. For the best and the worst, without the slightest assurance of anthropo-theological horizon. Without this desert in the desert, there would be neither act of faith, nor promise, nor future, nor expectancy without expectation of death and of the other, nor relation to the singularity of the other. The chance of this desert in the desert (as of that which resembles to a fault, but from a Graeco-Judaeo-Christian traditions) is that in uprooting the tradition that bears it, in atheologizing it, this abstraction, without denying faith, librates a universal rationality and the political democracy that cannot be dissociated from it.
Call it Derrida's version of Godel's theorem of incompleteness.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Shaker Song


For no reason, other than that it came to mind this morning:

I Will Bow and Be Simple

I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free,
I will bow and be humble,
Yea, bow like the willow tree.

I will bow, this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and will be broken,
Yea, I'll fall upon the rock.

Speaking of "Absence of Malice"


Truth is stranger than fiction; harsher, too:

Out of a two-hour conversation with you about Barack's spiritual journey and my protesting to you that I had not shaped him nor formed him, that I had not mentored him or made him the man he was, even though I would love to take that credit, you did not print any of that. When I told you, using one of your own Jewish stories from the Hebrew Bible as to how God asked Moses, "What is that in your hand?," that Barack was like that when I met him. Barack had it "in his hand." Barack had in his grasp a uniqueness in terms of his spiritual development that one is hard put to find in the 21st century, and you did not print that.

As I was just starting to say a moment ago, Jodi, out of two hours of conversation I spent approximately five to seven minutes on Barack's taking advice from one of his trusted campaign people and deeming it unwise to make me the media spotlight on the day of his announcing his candidacy for the Presidency and what do you print? You and your editor proceeded to present to the general public a snippet, a printed "sound byte" and a titillating and tantalizing article about his disinviting me to the Invocation on the day of his announcing his candidacy.

I have never been exposed to that kind of duplicitous behavior before, and I want to write you publicly to let you know that I do not approve of it and will not be party to any further smearing of the name, the reputation, the integrity or the character of perhaps this nation's first (and maybe even only) honest candidate offering himself for public service as the person to occupy the Oval Office.

Your editor is a sensationalist. For you to even mention that makes me doubt your credibility, and I am looking forward to see how you are going to butcher what else I had to say concerning Senator Obama's "Spiritual Biography." Our Conference Minister, the Reverend Jane Fisler Hoffman, a white woman who belongs to a Black church that Hannity of "Hannity and Colmes" is trying to trash, set the record straight for you in terms of who I am and in terms of who we are as the church to which Barack has belonged for over twenty years.

The president of our denomination, the Reverend John Thomas, has offered to try to help you clarify in your confused head what Trinity Church is even though you spent the entire weekend with us setting me up to interview me for what turned out to be a smear of the Senator; and yet The New York Times continues to roll on making the truth what it wants to be the truth. I do not remember reading in your article that Barack had apologized for listening to that bad information and bad advice. Did I miss it? Or did your editor cut it out? Either way, you do not have to worry about hearing anything else from me for you to edit or "spin" because you are more interested in journalism than in truth.

Forgive me for having a momentary lapse. I forgot that The New York Times was leading the bandwagon in trumpeting why it is we should have gone into an illegal war. The New York Times became George Bush and the Republican Party's national "blog." The New York Times played a role in the outing of Valerie Plame. I do not know why I thought The New York Times had actually repented and was going to exhibit a different kind of behavior.

Maybe it was my faith in the Jewish Holy Day of Roshashana. Maybe it was my being caught up in the euphoria of the Season of Lent; but whatever it is or was, I was sadly mistaken. There is no repentance on the part of The New York Times. There is no integrity when it comes to The Times. You should do well with that paper, Jodi. You looked me straight in my face and told me a lie!

Sincerely and respectfully yours,

Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Senior Pastor
Trinity United Church of Christ

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Absence of Malice


So now its come to this, here in Houston. On Sunday March 30, Pastor Jeremiah was to guest preach at Wheeler Ave Baptist Church as he has done for the past 20 years. Because of death threats and fears for the church and its congregation, he has had to cancel. I was looking forward to hearing him myself in person. Certainly the sermons I have read were excellent and I hear that type of prophetic teaching in a more toned down "frozen-chosen" version here at my Lutheran Church. Because of the fears of a few and their threats, the rest of the people of God loose out. Damn shame that.
bluemeadow
I didn't realize it had been 20 years that Houston had been subjected to this "hate speech." Odd we haven't erupted in violence yet, huh? But it has:

Wright, who until February was minister of Sen. Barack Obama's church, Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, was scheduled to preach three guest sermons in Houston on Sunday.

The theologian who Obama has said strengthened his Christian faith has been a regular revival preacher at Wheeler for about 20 years.

Wheeler's pastor, the Rev. Marcus Cosby, said Wright cited three reasons for his cancellation — "the safety of the institution to which he has been invited; ... the safety of his family, which has been placed in harm's way; and for his own safety.".

Cosby said he would reverse that order and put the safety of Wright and his family above any thoughts of protecting Wheeler Avenue.

The church had arranged for increased security for Wright's visit, he said, including contacting the Houston Police Department and coordinating a security detail in conjunction with Wright's Chicago church.

The Rev. Myron Cloyd of the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Houston has known Wright for more than 20 years.

"As much as I hate for him not to come I think it's probably prudent," said Cloyd, noting that Wright does not normally travel with bodyguards or assistants.

"There have been threats against his life and the last thing he would ever want is the potential for someone to be hurt," said Cloyd.

Cloyd, who has had Wright speak at his church in the past, said he wished that Wright could have the opportunity to "set the record straight" to Houstonians.

Widely publicized recorded excerpts from Wright's past sermons, in which he quoted a former Iraq ambassador as saying that U.S. actions prompted the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and that the government created HIV to target people of color and harassed blacks through "three strike" laws, prompted Obama to address race issues in a speech last week.
The threats of violence are bad enough, but here's a funny thing: the Rev. was quoting an Iraqi ambassador about 9/11? Did anybody else get that from the earlier news coverage? Huh....

As for that long tradition:

The long-standing relationship between the Chicago and Houston congregations and their pastors stretches back to Wheeler's first pastor, the Rev. William Lawson, pastor emeritus at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.

A confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lawson started the tradition of bringing Wright to Wheeler to reinvigorate the congregation during winter revivals with topical sermons that espoused black liberation theology.

"Part of what we do traditionally as African-American preachers is combine current affairs with religious affairs," Cosby said."We put the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other."

Cloyd said Wright's comments come from that tradition and have been taken out of that context.

"As pastors our goal is to teach and inspire and (Wright) uses a variety of strategies— he's certainly very passionate," Cloyd said. "We energize and mobilize not to hate but to recognize injustice, encourage change, to go out and vote, for example."
The Rev. Cosby's comment is straight from Karl Barth, the great neo-orthodox German theologian of the 20th century who set out to re-write Christian dogmatics. Interesting to hear that in connection with "black liberation theology," especially since there's such a misunderstanding abroad as what that is. In America, of course, there's no point in asking a theologian, when a celebrity or politician will do:

BECK: Ken, I wanted to have you on because you are a former U.N. ambassador -- U.S. ambassador at the U.N. And you have seen this black liberation philosophy or theology before. Explain. I think this is even more frightening than the stuff that I've already read on television. Explain what you've seen.

BLACKWELL: Well, essentially, liberation theology took root in Africa and Central America. It was often offered up by Marxist regimes that knew that they couldn't uproot the church, so they tried to weaken the doctrine of the church. So it is an alternative doctrine of the church that embraces big government. It advances a collectivist ideal and idea, and it says the state, not the individual, is central to society.

And that is very disquieting. But it also gives you a better understanding of the undergirding of Senator Obama's big-government liberal philosophy that would increase spending, increase taxes, weaken our military and our position in the world.

BECK: I tell you, it explains the comments of his wife. It explains -- you're exactly right, his big-government ideas. If you understand what this theology is, you do begin to understand Barack Obama, but it is in a -- I believe, in a frightening way. However, I'm being labeled the one that's the hate-monger for asking these questions. How is this theology out there and it not be labeled racist and hate-mongering?

BLACKWELL: Well, it's part of a -- it's part of a series of parts. You know, here's a guy who says that he studied the doctrine of Saul Alinsky, who was an anarchist, a radical. Here is a guy who basically said that, while he was in Reverend Wright's church, he embraces Louis Farrakhan.
More foolishness there than you can shake a stick at. Which has it's affect, because the Rev. Wright didn't cancel just in Houston:

The Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth will go ahead with its plans to honor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright this weekend, even though Barack Obama's controversial former pastor decided to skip the ceremony.

The divinity school announced on its Web site Wednesday that it had "received notice" that Wright will not attend its 4th annual State of the Black Church Summit and awards banquet. Wright had been scheduled to appear there Saturday evening, following a luncheon panel at Paul Quinn College, a historically black school in South Dallas.

Wright has also canceled plans to speak at three services Sunday at Houston's Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. Wright cited security concerns, the church's pastor told Houston television station KTRK and the Houston Chronicle.

Wright also canceled his appearance Tuesday at a Tampa-area church at the request of church officials, who had security concerns about the pastor's three-day appearance there.
Brite is not exactly a hot-bed of liberalism, nor a school that teaches "hate" And they know more about the good Reverend than what's been played on FixNews.

The Brite Divinity School had decided months ago to recognize Wright for his "forty-year ministry linking divine justice and social justice," according to a statement on the school's Web site. Wright was the lead speaker at a 2001 continuing education event at Brite and no such speaker "in recent years has been better received than Dr. Wright," the statement said.

"Contrary to media claims that Wright preaches racial hatred, church leaders who have observed his ministry describe him as a faithful preacher of the gospel who has ministered in a context radically different from that of many middle class Americans," the school's statement continued.
The target of this malice was Barack Obama. Funny thing: nobody's buying. So all the efforts of the "liberal" media to render Rev. Wright "radioactive" and so damage Mr. Obama's candidacy, failed. However, the history of violence against blacks, the history of intimidation through violence, goes on.

Maureen Dowd thinks Rev. Wright is "wackadoodle." Clearly judgments like hers are entitled to more weight in this matter than whose who know the Rev. and his words and work. Geraldine Ferarro is displeased that, because of the Rev. Wright, she gets mentioned in Obama's speech on race and racism. But who cares about Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, or Brite Divinity School, or a church in Florida? It's celebrities who matter; not real people. And it's journalism that counts, not reality.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"What we have here...is a failure...to communicate!"



Geor3ge points us to this post from his brother's blog:

A little over four years ago, while serving as a chaplain intern in a south suburban Chicago hospital, I had the opportunity to attend a Clinical Pastoral Education conference, and worship with a few hundred other chaplains on a Thursday evening. The preacher on that evening was Jeremiah Wright.
I leave it to you to go there and read what the Rev. Wright said; it's well worth your time.

It's an interesting question, what a pastor should say from the pulpit. Partly what is allowable is driven by the audience one is speaking to, and the relationship one has with them. Partly it's a matter of who the pastor is. But certainly what is said must be taken in context, not out of it.

We could have a lively debate over whether or not Pastor Wright was justified in saying "motherf*cker" from the pulpit, in worship. One homiletic school would emphasize that, once you drop a bomb like that, you lose your audience as they stop at the crater and examine the damage, rather than follow you on down the exegetical road. On the other hand, the best you can ever hope to do, as an earthly vessel, is to reach one other person and say something they are forced to remember, and to think about; and the Rev. Wright certainly did that in this case.

But is it reasonable to judge the quality of Jeremiah Wright's character, either moral, personal, or theological, from this one incident, this one quote? In context it may tell you something about the Rev. Wright, but in context it says even more about us, and what we are willing to listen to, and why.

Of course, there's always the issue of "who's pulpit is it, anyway?" I've run into that issue once or twice myself. But the real issue here is: what kind of preacher is Jeremiah Wright? And the answer: one not afraid to be provocative. Might not be your cup of tea; but is it up to you to decide if he's fit for Obama? Hillary Clinton thinks so:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a wide-ranging interview today with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporters and editors, said she would have left her church if her pastor made the sort of inflammatory remarks Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor made.

"He would not have been my pastor," Clinton said. "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend."
And I don't think it's because she or the MSM imagine that religion is a monolith in which everyone thinks in lockstep. That stereotype might have applied to JFK (as I've said before), but I don't think anyone really imagines it applies now, to almost any member of any church. Besides, there's always Paul's issue:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
Or, to pick up on that earlier post, and take this whole discussion in Ricouer's direction:

Nothing is said about God or about humankind or about their relations that does not first of all reassemble legends and isolated sagas and rearrange them in meaningful sequences so as to constitute a unique story, centered upon a kernel-event, that has both a historical import and a kerygmatic dimension.
The language of that kerygmatic dimension is the issue. When Jeremiah Wright changed "God bless America" to "God damn America," he did no more than Jesus did in the beatitudes. But he did it to America's secular religion, which is, of course: America the Beautiful. At least, he did that when he was quoted out of his context, when the words of his sermon were cut away and that phrase was left standing, looking more like a raised middle finger than the flowering tree it had been. What does this have to do with Ricouer? America's secular religion is, in Ricouer's words, "centered upon a kernel-event," largely these days the aftermath of World War II, but including selected portions of American history since at least 1776. That kernel-event has "both a historical import and a kerygmatic dimension," the kerygma here being how "beautiful, for spacious skies" America is. The legends and isolated sagas of American history, isolated to make them more easily fit into the desired kerygma, are rearranged in a meaningful sequence so as to constitute a unique story: white America's story. White, middle-class America's story. Josh Marshall points out that Wright is on the way to becoming radioactive, so that "it makes no sense to point out when others are treating as granted claims that appear demonstrably false." He's speaking of the context of Wright's remarks, and it's a very good point. But what about the context of Wright's concerns?

The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.
That's from Obama's "race" speech. If it sounds familiar, it may be because it comes almost directly from here:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached the Christian tenet, "love thy neighbor as thyself." Before Dr. King was murdered on April 4, 1968, he preached, "The 11 o'clock hour is the most segregated hour in America." Forty years later, the African American Church community continues to face bomb threats, death threats, and their ministers' characters are assassinated because they teach and preach prophetic social concerns for social justice. Sunday is still the most segregated hour in America.
Those are the last lines of the press release issued by Trinity United Church of Christ-Chicago. Of course, we don't like being reminded of that history, since it points to so much complicity by white, middle class Americans. If we didn't participate in it, we benefited from it. And we don't like being reminded of that. We don't like being reminded that postcards of lychings are a part of early 20th century American memoribilia. Those postcards depict lynchings from California to Montana, across Texas (from Dallas to Waco to Robinson, at least) and into Oklahoma, through most of the Southern states, but also into Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio, and Indiana. Is it right, as the Rev. Wright did, to call the United States of America "The US KKK of A"? Is it right to call our attention to such things? Is that like saying "motherf*cker" in the pulpit, during worship? Is that a truth about society we just don't want to hear about? We also overlook the story of Emmet Till, which is only as old as 1955 (well within the Rev. Wright's lifetime). Or the deaths of Hattie Carroll, or Medgar Evers, only 8 years after Mr. Till's. Or the lynchings that continued across the South, to terrorize civil rights workers.

Is it right to ignore a history like this? Is it right to forget African-Americans were brought here by force, kept by force, and once "freed" by the Emancipation Proclamation, kept down by force? Force both legal (most of which was not erased until done so by legislative and court efforts in the late 1960's and 1970's) and private. Those photographs of lynchings are postcards, not secret photos. They weren't passed around clandestinely on the internet, the bearers subject to arrest as we do child pornographers today. Those were postcards, and the crowds at some of these lynching are huge. It was a public spectacle, no more illegal than a football game. When Geraldine Ferarros is displeased to find herself referenced in a speech about race, and Ann Althouse wonders how Obama's white grandmother feels now, do they take these stories into consideration?

1 in 9 African American males is imprisoned in this country, but it isn't racism, it's jurisprudence. Blacks simply commit more crimes. Which isn't racism, it's empirical fact. If you believe there is no bias in the system, and that white men are as likely as black men to be arrested, charged, tried, and convicted. And if you do, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. I lived for four years in the St. Louis area, going to seminary. There was one African-American male professor on the campuse, and he taught us about black liberation theology, showed us the videotapes of the documentaries where a black person went to rent an apartment, but was told it wasn't available, and the same apartment was shown to a white person 15 minutes later. He showed us the video of blacks and whites in department stores, and how the whites were left alone but the clerks eyed the blacks supiciously the whole time they were in the store. I thought it sad and unfortunate, until I noticed that in the city of Clayton, where traffic was heavy and much of the country passed through, I noticed that I never saw the police stop a car with a white driver. Every time I saw a car stopped by a police car, the driver was black. That's when I decided the evidence of discrimination was hardly anecdotal. Maybe Jeremigh Wright needs to stretch the boundaries of homiletics, just to get our attention. It doesn't seem anything else will.

So pace Geraldine Ferraro and Ann Althouse. Pace even Mike Huckabee, because it's not about growing up being called names; what I saw in St. Louis County was in the 1990's, not the 1950's. And pace Daniel Schorr, but the elevation of black athletes and celebrities, or even of Barack Obama, doesn't mean we became a "post-racial society" just this year. And isn't it funny that when a white man speaks of "black genocide" it's sad, but when a black man speaks of it, it's frightening and outrageous, even to "liberal" Nicolas Kristoff.

We have created a unique story, and we really don't want to have it messed with. And we powerfully resent it when other people have an equally unique story, one that challenges ours, one that looks at ours from a completely different perspective, with some villains where we have heroes, some heroes where we have placed villains. And the cure isn't going to be forcing ourselves to get our minds right. This is going to be much harder than that. We are going to have to meet people right where they are, and take them for where they are. And that will be a lot more painful, and difficult, to deal with, than considering whether or not the pastor or priest or anyone in the pulpit, can dare to use the term "motherfucker," just to get us to pay attention to the beam in our own eye.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Monday 2008


John Donne, courtesy of Grandmere Mimi:

RESURRECTION, IMPERFECT.
SLEEP, sleep, old sun, thou canst not have repass'd,
As yet, the wound thou took'st on Friday last ;
Sleep then, and rest ; the world may bear thy stay ;
A better sun rose before thee to-day ;
Who — not content to enlighten all that dwell
On the earth's face, as thou — enlighten'd hell,
And made the dark fires languish in that vale,
As at thy presence here our fires grow pale ;
Whose body, having walk'd on earth, and now
Hasting to heaven, would — that He might allow
Himself unto all stations, and fill all —
For these three days become a mineral.
He was all gold when He lay down, but rose
All tincture, and doth not alone dispose
Leaden and iron wills to good, but is
Of power to make e'en sinful flesh like his.
Had one of those, whose credulous piety
Thought that a soul one might discern and see
Go from a body, at this sepulchre been,
And, issuing from the sheet, this body seen,
He would have justly thought this body a soul,
If not of any man, yet of the whole.


And for the rest of you:

Even when Fox Noise ties a pork chop around its neck

America still won't play with it:

The poll found that among registered voters, 25 percent said they had heard "a lot" about Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments, while 33 percent said they had heard some. Forty-two percent said they hadn't heard about the comments.
Fox News has made a cottage industry of Rev. Wright's comments, and that didn't start when it first broadcast the videotapes:

"Hannity selectively excerpted interview with Obama's pastor in order to paint him as 'separatist,'" Media Matters, March 22, 2007

"Hannity again selectively excerpted interview with Obama's pastor to claim church has 'black-separatist agenda,'" Media Matters, June 26, 2007

"Fox's Hannity again smeared pastor of Barack Obama's church as 'black separatist,'" Media Matters, June 28, 2007

"Hannity on Obama's pastor: 'It seems like he's supporting a segregated church,'" Media Matters, December 20, 2007
This has been Hannity's "War on Christmas," and Fox News finally got this ball rolling with very selective excerpts from the Rev. Wright's sermons. Funny thing is, it didn't work.

HEARD ABOUT REV. WRIGHT'S COMMENTS?
(Among registered voters)
A lot 25%
Some 33
Not much/none 42

For all their effort, FoxNews and the other cable channels and the blogosphere, only a few people were really interested in this kerfulffle. Overall, 65% of the respondents said Wright's comments made no difference to their opinion of Obama (read the PDF file in the article). Compare that to the poll results after Obama's speech on race. Again paraphrasing the PDF file: 63% agree with Obama's views on race relations in the US (that no. is 73% among Dems, 43% among Republicans). 71% thought he did a good job explaining Wright (which puts a pin in the balloon of every pundit who thinks Obama blew it, somehow or another). Only 24% think he did a poor job (mostly pundits, I guess). And 14% say it has made them more likely to vote for Obama (22% among Dems, 5% among Republicans, 11% among independents).

Meanwhile, William Kristol argues that so long as we don't talk about race in America, the racial situation in America will continue to improve. What white people don't know, can't hurt 'em. Not surprisingly, he's wrong again. Kristol still sees scary black people. America, on the other hand, doesn't.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Evening 2008


Isaiah 25:6-9

25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

25:7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

25:8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

25:9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Psalm 114

114:1 When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,

114:2 Judah became God's sanctuary, Israel his dominion.

114:3 The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.

114:4 The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.

114:5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?

114:6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?

114:7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob,

114:8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

1 Corinthians 5:6b-8

5:6b Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?

5:7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.

5:8 Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Luke 24:13-49
24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"

24:19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."

24:25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"

24:35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

24:36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

24:37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

24:38He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?

24:39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

24:40 and when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

24:41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?"

24:42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,

24:43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."

24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

24:46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48You are witnesses of these things.

24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
The following was scribbled in the margins of my bulletin during Easter worship this morning. Reformed worship at least frees the mind for contemplations.

Easter mystery—what was the resurrection? We are so sure we know, long, long after the fact and based solely on accounts written when the event was already 100 years old (although oral memory is probably more reliable than we credit, we who have transferred the communal memory almost entirely to the much more corruptible written word). We are so sure we know what the Easter story is, what the Easter story means, when even the Gospel writers weren’t so sure in each of their own accounts.

Mark ends in silence: an empty tomb, the women told the story but running away afraid, terrified by the mystery they have encountered. Matthew’s Jesus tells the disciples he will see them in the city; Luke’s Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus, a transformed person unrecognizable until a gesture (a familiar gesture? A gesture of revelation? Even Luke isn’t sure) reveals him. The resurrection is revealed, then, not discovered; it comes from God and not from humankind; but still we are convinced we have had a better revelation, made a surer discovery. Even Peter, who saw the clothes in the tomb, went away amazed, not knowing. We, who face no more than a tomb in the telling, we are still sure we know.

Jesus, not an angel, speaks to Mary in the Garden of John’s version. Then he appears to the 12 when they are locked in a room, afraid (fear is a constant theme of these stories! Does Easter’s mystery ever make us feel afraid?). But Thomas touches his wounds, feels the hole in his side; this resurrected Jesus is no ghost, still he appears in ways no mortal could. Finally he is on the lakeshore and proves to Peter, again, he is not a ghost; he is cooking the fish, and he eats, one last time, with them. Each of the gospel writers struggles to explain the Resurrection, struggles just to present the reality of something far beyond even their experience. Mark avoids it; Matthew barely mentions it; Like takes Jesus from Emmaus to the Ascension to prove the resurrection real, but also to prove Jesus has indeed “gone away”; and John works overtime to show the resurrection is physical, not just spiritual. None of them can explain it fully, truly, satisfactorily. Yet we are sure we can. We are sure, every Easter Sunday morning, that we know what resurrection is.

“Death is transformed to life, despair to hope!” we proclaim in our churches; or some variation of that theme. Is that what resurrection is: death transformed? No. The mystery is greater than that, profounder than that, darker and more perplexing than that. Death shall be no more, John Donne writes, echoing Holy Scripture. But then Donne goes one step further, and announces the paradox, the holy mystery: “Death, thou shalt die.” What paradox is this? What mystery? This is the Resurrection. Who can fathom it?

Resurrection as we end up trying to understand it, fills our popular culture: it is zombies; or vampires. It is a corpse reanimated, life continued, death conquered simply by not yet having the last word. But vampires die; zombies fall; corpses return to the state of the corpse. Death is not conquered; simply postponed. Resurrection, next, is life after crisis. But life continuing after crisis is not resurrection: it is merely life doing what life always does. Life continuing in the face of darkness, sorrow, horror, despair, depression, is not resurrection. Like plants returning after winter, life continued is merely: life. Without death as the final and only possible answer, without death as an ending from which there is no continuing, there is no resurrection.

Resurrection is new beginning, but it is not reincarnation. Mark doesn’t even show us a body; in Luke he is unrecognizable and then, when they do know him, he vanishes. In John Jesus appears behind closed doors, but he has wounds, he can be felt, although he has just warned Mary in the Garden not to touch him. The body is gone; but the body returns; and yet it doesn’t return. The person is gone, but the person returns; and yet doesn’t return. The scars may even still be there, but the scars no longer matter.

Resurrection is not about my recovery, my gain, my renewal; but about the world’s recovery, the world’s gain, the world’s renewal. It is not about my blessing, but about the world’s blessing. From the resurrection the word explodes outward: first from the frightened women; then from the men. It is made known to people otherwise unknown in the gospels, on the Emmaus road; it is made known to multitudes, according to the letters of Paul. Resurrection is not about my being in God’s hands, safe and sound after all, assured of my life even in the face of the overwhelming odds of death: it is about the world being in God’s hands, safe and sound, assured finally of life, even in the face of the overwhelming odds of death.

Resurrection is not personal, it is universal. It is not about our wounds, but about our world. Resurrection is not about our presence, but about the unbroken and unbreakable presence of God in the world. Resurrection is not for us, it is to us. We come to the empty tomb, the tomb in which we expected to find the corpse, the confirmation that our God is dead, that there indeed is no God, no hope, no purpose, no salvation…and we find it empty. We come to the empty tomb and, like the pilgrim in the desert, we find God’s presence there, marked by the absence of the evidence of the ultimate power in this world, of what we were sure is the ultimate power. We come to the tomb and we find, not answers and at last clarity, but mystery; holy mystery, the greatest mystery.

The power we thought made us, or at least others, ultimate powers, is undone in the face of this mystery. It is no power at all. The power we sought evidence for in the tomb is nothing, and the empty tomb with its mysteries is everything. The empty tomb God has worked miracles in that dead place were are still only beginning to understand. The empty tomb means God has mysteries to give us which only prove there is much we will never understand. Peter walked away from the tomb amazed. So should we. And give thanks to God for our perplexity, our amazement, the depth and even the clarity of this mystery.

Amen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday Evening, 2008


Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-243:1 I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God's wrath;

3:2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;

3:3 against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long.

3:4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones;

3:5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;

3:6 he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago.

3:7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me;

3:8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;

3:9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked.

3:19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!

3:20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

3:21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;

3:23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

3:24 "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-1631:1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.

31:2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake lead me and guide me,

31:4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

31:15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

1 Peter 4:1-8
4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin),

4:2 so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God.

4:3 You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.

4:4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.

4:5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.

4:6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

4:7 The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.

4:8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

Matthew 27:57-66
27:57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.

27:58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.

27:59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth

27:60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.

27:61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

27:62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate

27:63 and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise again.'

27:64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, 'He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first."

27:65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can."

27:66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

And the homily for the evening:

Some ministers said their congregants were focused not on white racism, but on Mr. Wright’s remarks. The Rev. Dean Snyder, pastor of Foundry United Methodist church, which was the Clintons’ home church during President Bill Clinton’s tenure, said some of his congregants were aghast at Mr. Wright’s remarks.

During staff meetings this week at his church, Mr. Snyder said he noticed the rising awareness among some African-Americans of white Americans, he said, “who don’t understand the history of black people in this country and the role of the black church as a prophetic voice, and that in church you can say things that you couldn’t in larger society.”

The Rev. Kent Millard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said he felt Mr. Obama had explained the reality of the relationship between a pastor and his congregants.

“Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is member of our congregation, and I would hope he would never be held accountable for everything I have said in the last 15 years,” said Dr. Millard, who is white. “Why is there any assumption that a person in church is expected to agree with everything a pastor says?”

Some black ministers said that their sermons might address how the reputation of a man many of them revere was reduced to sound bites. They pointed out that sermons in black churches covered a long and circuitous path from crisis to resolution, and it was unfair to judge the entire message on one or two sentences.

“I may not use his exact language,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., “but I can tell you that the basic thrust of much of my preaching resonates with Dr. Wright. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to preach people into anger, but I am trying to help people become conscious, become aware, to realize our power to make change in society.”

Mr. Samuel said his Easter sermon would be titled “Dangerous Proclamations,” and would focus on the Apostle Paul, “who was also under attack for his faith in Jesus, and for preaching the Resurrection.”

The Rev. Floyd Flake, senior pastor of Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral of New York in Queens, said, “The black preacher’s role is to present a prophetic word that represents a challenge, but also to give a priestly response that enables people to resolve the problem.” (Mr. Flake, a former member of Congress, has publicly endorsed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.)
This is, perhaps, the most interesting part of all:

On Easter, one of the nation’s foremost preachers, the Rev. James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus at the Riverside Church in New York, said he would take Mr. Wright’s place preaching the 6 p.m. service at Trinity in Chicago. Dr. Forbes plans to preach about how the nation is in a “night season,” a dark, destabilizing time, given the war, the economy and the vitriol over race and gender in the political primary.

“It is nighttime in America,” Dr. Forbes said, “and I want to bring a word of encouragement.”
Wonder how many churches will have an evening Easter service; or how many white churches will hear a message like this, at all? "Nighttime in America"? I suspect most white Protestants in the Reformed tradition, would agree with The Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and lead pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn.:

“Easter is about Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus, and it’s pretty unlikely that any other topic would eclipse that,” Mr. Anderson said. “That’s not to say those other topics aren’t important, but this is the most important.”
So what is Easter about, exactly? New life? Dying to the old life? Nighttime must precede daytime, just as death must precede resurrection. We all need a word of encouragement; but we all need to acknowledge the depth of the darkness, too.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Woe is us!


Tena clarifies a bit of my thinking this morning regarding "The Speech."

Look, Barrack didn't ask to make the speech, he was backed into a corner, and though it wasn't the best speech I ever heard him make, for someone who is in the fight of his life for the nomination, I thought he was remarkably candid.

But then, I really love the man. Perfect he's not, but as a presidential candidate, he's a close as I've ever felt that anyone came to what I think is needed at a particular time, and to what I am looking for.

No American politician who really wants the job he's running for is going to dis Israel, guys. That's just good common sense. I am permanently disenchanted with Israel, and that's putting it mildly. But I'm realistic - we have commitments.
I agree with the part about Israel; if I object, it's because the goalposts have been moved so far. But I've said my piece on that. As to the speech itself, suffice to say there's a lot of disenchantment out there, along with praise.

Athenae says she wants an "ass-kicking" to follow Obama's race speech. Much as I love Athenae, I'm wondering what that would look like. And who, precisely, would be pleased. I understand the sentiment (obviously); I'm just not sure what the benefit is.

David Kurtz at TPM says it was too "subtle," that Obama didn't bring his "A game," referring not to the content, but to the delivery. A bit more of the preacherly cadence was called for, apparently. Meanwhile Huffington Post had front page links to WaPo, NYT, TNR, Jesse Jackson, and David Corn, all praising the speech. And tonight, Jon Stewart noted that a politician finally talked about race as if Americans were adults.

Go and please the world.

On the other hand, Phila makes a good point about how, in the speech, Obama:

distances himself from Wright's "profoundly distorted view of this country," while espousing the healing doctrines of American exceptionalism and business as usual in the Middle East.
Or, as Phila puts it in comments here:

Hope for the future is swell, but I get very tired of people either ignoring our victims or paying lip service to them (which amounts to the same thing). As I said over at my place, my worry is that Obama's presidency won't be influenced enough by Wright, so to that extent, his speech wasn't reassuring; we always "getting over it," and finding "closure"...it's one of the worst goddamn things about us, and that's what I hate to see Obama (and everyone else) pandering to.
Which may just lead back to Tena's point: Obama was forced to make this speech, he didn't choose to do it. Still, there is a legitimate question of the premise of the speech itself, which is essentially Athenae's point: should Obama have accepted, even tacitly, responsibility for anything Wright said? Would he have fared better to have said: "His opinions are his opinions, and mine are mine, and he's free to say whatever he wants, but it doesn't mean I think it"? Because, frankly, I've never heard anyone accused of thinking like their pastor, except maybe the unspoken charge that JFK would have to do Rome's bidding because he was Catholic (the anti-Papist sentiment in America is strong and deep. On the other hand, so do racist sentiments; and JFK had to respond to questionsa bout his faith). Obama didn't exactly say something like that yesterday, and while I liked the speech, I'm left wondering: "Why not?" After all, Athenae is right: nobody died because of what Jeremiah Wright said; nobody went hungry because of his words. Indeed, he was trying to help people, but people not the victims of George W. Bush: people who are the victims of a vicious and uncaring system. A system, of course, Barack Obama wants to lead, not conquer. I'm still not sure a politician can be expected to do anymore than that. So we who look to wield that power wisely: are we simply looking for the power, convinced we will wield it better than "they" do? If so, all those jokes about "bleeding heart liberals" are true, and we exploit the victims as viciously as the conservatives do. If not, what is the alternative?

And for all the concerns about what a real primary race is doing to the Democratic candidates, this is where this Wright kerfluffle is going:

"Obama knows that if somebody puts him in church on some day that Wright said some crazy [stuff] like white people injected blacks with AIDS he's in a world of hurt," said Rick Wilson, who made the 2002 ads tying then-Sen. Max Cleland, a disabled veteran, to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. "I would eat this up like cake."
The entire premise of this discussion is absolutely stupid, but I'm left wondering how someone would "kick ass" on this topic. Is there a knockout blow that pre-empts Mr. Wilson's glee? If so, I don't know what it is. So maybe Obama should have more decisively put this to bed than he did. That doesn't mean I don't still believe Obama is going to run a bulldozer through that trashpile. There is a distinctive difference between Barack Obama and John Kerry. John Kerry never inspired the kind of crowds Obama draws. And there is an almost visceral disgust with the gutter politics of Karl Rove that may well surprise Mr. Wilson.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Audacity of News




It was actually quite good. I'm feeling better about Obama's speech by the minute.

Winter Soldier-ing


I'm home this morning, which is unusual for me. MSNBC is breathlessly waiting for Barack Obama to give a 20 minute speech explaining how very, very much he disagrees with 30-seconds of speech by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. They have several black pastors and Pat Buchanan standing by, all convinced this is the most important issue in the world today, and that Obama must satisfy them in this speech, or his candidacy is over.

And I realize it's all about power with them; that they all relish the chance, as a congregation does when it turns on its pastor, to stick forks in the person on the pedestal, and bring them down at least "a notch or two."

On Democracy Now!, while I'm waiting, I'm listening to the Winter Soldier hearings, only this time it's Iraq, not Vietnam. But in this anniversary week of the My Lai massacre, it might as well be Vietnam redux. In more ways than one.

During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot. It seemed like every time we turned around we had different rules of engagement. And they told us the reasons they were changing them was because it depended on the climate of the area at the time, what the threat level was deemed to be. And the higher the threat level was, the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond.

And, for example, during the invasion, we were told to use target identification before engaging with anyone. But if the town or the city that we were approaching was a known threat, if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, we were basically—we were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. It was deemed to be a free-fire zone. So we would roll through the town, and anything that we saw, everything that was saw, we engaged it and opened fire on everything. And there was really—I mean, there was really no rule governing the amount of force we were allowed to use on targets during the invasion.

I remember one woman was walking by, and she was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading towards us. So we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher. And when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was only full of groceries. And, I mean, she had been trying to bring us food, and we blew her to pieces for it.
...
In another instance, it was actually a mayor of a town in our AO near Haditha that got shot. Our command showed us pictures from the incident. They had gathered the whole company together, and they were showing pictures of all of this, you know, what everything looked like, and pointed out the—that the reason that they did this was because there was a really nice, tight shot group in the windshield, and he announced to the company that this is what good Marine shooting looks like. And that was the mayor of the town. And it was actually my squad that was, after that, tasked with going to apologize to the family and pay reparations. But it was kind of like, basically, all we did was go there and, you know, give them some money and then leave. You know, “Oh, well” is the way it seemed they wanted us to apologize to them. It was really a joke.
Yesterday on Democracy Now!, Seymour Hersh recalled investigating the My Lai massacre. He went to the home of one of the soldiers involved, to interview him. There he met the soldier's mother:

And then this woman, this sort of uneducated, very rural woman from on the banks of the Wabash River and very south of southern Indiana, she looked at me, and she said—very angry and very low—she said, “I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer.” And, you know, you hear those stories. I’m right there. It’s a moment you’ll never forget. And I—no matter how much I write about it, I still think about it. And we’re just hearing it today all day, again and again. And the bottom line is, this is what war is.
But the bottom line in America today, is what Barack Obama has to say about something his pastor said in 30 seconds, out of almost 208,000 minutes of sermons. The reality of war? What war is? We'd rather play political games and get our faces on the TeeVee. Nobody wants to talk about the reality of war; we want to talk about the reality of our ability to make politicians jump through hoops of our own devising.

As of the time I write this, Google has 41 articles under "News" for "Winter Soldier." Only one of them, the Boston Globe, is a major news outlet. None of them are NPR or a major broadcast or cable network. If a war crime happens and no one reports on the telling of it, is it a war crime?

Barack Obama gave an excellent speech on racism and how he distances himself from his former pastor, and now all the talking heads on MSNBC are falling all over themselves to congratulate him on it, and almost no one is talking about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's 30 second soundbite which, apparently, was enough to almost bring down the republic. Good on him; Obama did what he needed to do. Overlooked in the commentary will be the fact that Mr. Obamaa specifically distanced himself from these comments by the Rev. Wright:

We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant. Because the stuff we have done overseas has now brought right back into our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost.
He discarded them by dragging out an analysis of the Middle East worthy of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney: that Israel is our "stalwart ally" and our problems in the Middle East are due to "hateful ideologies." It's a good political position, but a damned poor foreign policy position, ridiculous on its face analysis, and a comforting lie because it, too, plays into the clear desire by America, as evidenced by its broadcast media, to ignore the atrocities recounted by the Winter Soldiers of Iraq, just as we have discarded Abu Ghraib as the product of "a few bad apples." But that's okay; Barack Obama has made the subject of race safe for public discussion in America, now.

The question of why "they" hate us, can be postponed for yet another day. I understand, too: politicians stand on the shoulders of prophets like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but they only do it a generation or so later, when the prophet is safely dead. Thus does this "more perfect union" get "perfected," in Mr. Obama's words.

Hoo-rah, the Marines say.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Makarios, y'all!


Clearly I'm slipping, or I'd have sooner recalled my mission to require the Beatitudes be posted in all public places (well, if we're going to post the Ten Commandments!). Of course, I wonder what the response would be if we used the Scholar's Version:

Congratulations, you poor!
God's domain belongs to you!

Congratulations, you hungry!
You will have a feast.

Congratulations, you who weep now!
You will laugh.

Damn you rich!
You already have your consolation!

Damn you who are well-fed now!
You will know hunger.

Damn you who laugh now!
You will learn to weep and grieve.
The congratulations are pretty risible, whether you translate makarios as "Congratulations" or "Blessed." And the ouai, rendered here as "Damn you!," is not really a nice reflection on the rich and powerful, no matter how you slice it.

I guess we should ask Mr. Obama and even Mr. McCain (who said that this country should treat immigrants in accordance with our "Judaeo-Christian principles") if they want to denounce these words of Jesus of Nazareth.

After all, fair's fair.

Liberation for me, but not for thee



Well, the issue of the Rev. Wright is pretty much dead, except in the blogosphere (which, no, Virginia, does not accurately reflect the interests of the country. If it did, Ron Paul would have made a better showing among Republicans.), so I hesitate to keep it alive any longer. But Talking Points Memo has the press release issued by Trinity UCC in Chicago, and several points about it are worth considering. Statistics, for example, are always a nice touch:

"Dr. Wright has preached 207,792 minutes on Sunday for the past 36 years at Trinity United Church of Christ. This does not include weekday worship services, revivals and preaching engagements across America and around the globe, to ecumenical and interfaith communities. It is an indictment on Dr. Wright's ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30-second sound bite," said the Reverend Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.
It is not only a cheap shot, it's pretty damned stupid to think that 15 seconds sums up a person's entire thought over 36 years. But, of course, this is politics, not a graduate seminar on theology or hermeneutics, so what else can we expect? And other than accept Jeremiah Wright as their spiritual leader and pastor for 36 years, what has Trinity UCC-Chicago done?

Trinity United Church of Christ's ministry is inclusive and global. The following ministries have been developed under Dr. Wright's ministerial tutelage for social justice: assisted living facilities for senior citizens, day care for children, pastoral care and counseling, health care, ministries for persons living with HIV/AIDS, hospice training, prison ministry, scholarships for thousands of students to attend historically black colleges, youth ministries, tutorial and computer programs, a church library, domestic violence programs and scholarships and fellowships for women and men attending seminary.
Oh, and the church grew from 87 to 8000 under the Rev. Wright. Which means a lot of people in the area are hate-filled, too, apparently. Or something. The influence of the church on them is irrelevant, though; for some reason. So are the good things the church has done. Stick to the point, people! It's all about the 30 seconds!

Speaking of influence and relevance and the doing of good deeds:

In the United States the materialistic, humanistic world view is being taught exclusively in most state schools... There is an obvious parallel between this and the situation in Russia [the USSR]. And we really must not be blind to the fact that indeed in the public schools in the United States all religious influence is as forcibly forbidden as in the Soviet Union....

There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate... A true Christian in Hitler's Germany and in the occupied countries should have defied the false and counterfeit state. This brings us to a current issue that is crucial for the future of the church in the United States, the issue of abortion... It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God's law it abrogates it's authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation...

Excerpts from the work of Francis Schaeffer, as reported by his son Frank. I remember reading Schaeffer's work in college, when he was being presented as an "intellectual" Christian. I soon realized he was also a very narrow-minded Christian, and I abandoned the reading of his theology. Still, as his son points out, Mr. Schaeffer was lauded by:

...Congressman Jack Kemp, the Fords, Reagan and the Bush family. The top Republican leadership depended on preachers and agitators like us to energize their rank and file. No one called us un-American.
Francis Schaeffer went much further than "God-damn America," and he called for much more than the civil disobedience advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "If there is a legitimate reason for the use of force [against the US government]," his son quotes, "... then at a certain point force is justifiable." Dr. King's efforts were all aimed at the non-use of force. So far no one has turned up any videotape of the Rev. Wright advocating force be used against the Federal government, but such advocacy by Mr. Schaeffer didn't keep him from sleeping in the White House. And can there be any doubt his son is right when he says:

Take Dad's words and put them in the mouth of Obama's preacher (or in the mouth of any black American preacher) and people would be accusing that preacher of treason. Yet when we of the white Religious Right denounced America white conservative Americans and top political leaders, called our words "godly" and "prophetic" and a "call to repentance."
It really isn't a matter of whose ox is being gored, but who is doing the goring. Nobody really pays attention to what preachers say, or even who they say it to. It's who says it, that matters. But if what they say matters at all, perhaps we should consider what Trinity UCC has to say for itself:

• One of the biggest gaps in knowledge that causes the kind of ignorance that you hear spouted by this man [Erik Rush] and those like him, has to do with the fact that these persons are completely ignorant when it comes to the Black religious tradition. The vision statement of Trinity United Church of Christ is based upon the systematized liberation theology that started in 1969 with the publication of Dr. James Cone’s book, Black Power and Black Theology.

• Black theology is one of the many theologies in the Americas that became popular during the liberation theology movement. They include Hispanic theology, Native American theology, Asian theology and Womanist theology.

• We [African Americans] were always seen as objects. When we started defining ourselves, it scared those who try to control others by naming them and defining them for them; Oppressors do not like “others” defining themselves.

• To have a church whose theological perspective starts from the vantage point of Black liberation theology being its center, is not to say that African or African American people are superior to any one else.

• African-centered thought, unlike Eurocentrism, does not assume superiority and look at everyone else as being inferior.

• There is more than one center from which to view the world. In the words of Dr. Janice Hale, “Difference does not mean deficience.” It is from this vantage point that Black liberation theology speaks.
These were originally promulgated in response to critiques on the Hannity & Colmes show, so this is still all about politics. But I remember reading Cone's book in seminary, and there is a great deal of legitimacy in liberation theology, not least because it is not widely embraced by the very power structures it critiques. I also remembering learning in seminary that "there is more than one center from which to view the world" (although most congregations prefer you stick to theirs). And you don't have to talk of oppressors (but then, I'm not the descendant of people enslaved simply because of the color of their skin) to understand that those with power cling to it in part by defining those without power, and resenting any attempt to change those definitions. Indeed, that's the issue in play in the controversy in question here.

But it isn't necessarily racism at work here. It's just as easy to see the comments by the Rev. Wright being made by a radical white preacher of a mega-church (if such could be imagined!), a Daniel or Philip Berrigan, for example, a William Sloane Coffin, perhaps. They, too, would be condemned in the same terms by the same people; so it ain't necessarily racism (which also doesn't mean it isn't). It isn't what is said (as Frank Schaeffer points out); it's who says it, that matters. Now, if we could just get the "who" and the "what is said" together on something that is of real value to the national discourse:

What about Obama? Is he not up to the task of educating people about what the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act did to the markets many Americans poured their retirement and college savings into? Does he know that the Federal Reserve is about to bail out bankers, investors, and outright thieves who helped drive down the dollar, and brought the credit markets to a near standstill? Does he understand the problem? I wouldn't know.

Seventy years ago Franklin Roosevelt was able to explain this country's and the world's financial crises to a far less educated, and less accessible, American public. That today's candidates are unwiling, or unable to do so, is alarming. Maybe if the media first tried to understand the problems, then asked the proper questions until answers were forthcoming or it was clear the candidates are afraid to ask them, political coverage would be more than the extreme sports coverage it has turned into.
The issues of black theology and the place of mega-churches in our culture, and even of what pastors can, or should, say from the pulpit, are social questions. The real political questions are questions of policy. Politicians don't control their coverage by the media entirely, but neither do they have to be controlled by it. Surely someone will figure this out before long.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Don't blame you, don't blame me, blame that feller behind the tree!


So, the New York Times asks:

nine experts on military and foreign affairs to reflect on their attitudes in the spring of 2003 and to comment on the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wished they had considered in the prewar debate.
Paul Bremer blames "the American Government," of which he apparently was not a major part. Oh, "I should have pushed sooner for a more effective military strategy," but it's all good, because: "The vicious spiral was finally reversed by the change in strategy the president put in place a year ago."

Leave it to Anthony Cordesman to point out that:

a combination of the “surge, win and hold” military tactics, American-led nation-building efforts that focused on local and provincial needs, and the cease-fire declared by Moktada al-Sadr could create today’s new opportunity for “victory.”
That is, the victory L. Paul Bremer now declares. Of course, Mr. Cordesman is as surprised as anyone that a team which can invade a country, can't seem to decide what to do with it afterwards:

As a Republican, I would never have believed that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would waste so many opportunities and so much of America’s reputation that they would rival Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy for the worst wartime national security team in United States history.
Maybe partisanship is the problem, if you think Democrats are congenitally unable to conduct wartime national security, but Republicans, by virtue of being Republicans, are.

Danielle Pletka blames Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis themselves:

And it turns out that living under Saddam Hussein’s tyranny for decades conditioned Iraqis to accept unearned leadership, to embrace sect and tribe over ideas, and to tolerate unbridled corruption.
Richard Perle agrees, sort of. Seems we should have invaded Iraq, then left once the government was toppled:

The right decision was made, and Baghdad fell in 21 days with few casualties on either side. Twenty-five million Iraqis had been liberated and the menace of Saddam’s monstrous regime eliminated.

Then the trouble began.
Nathaniel Flick blames the strategy:

Methodically clearing areas of enemy fighters, and then securing them to protect the populace, seemed like a risky luxury in March and April. By August, with the insurgency in bloom, it had become a colossal missed opportunity.
But Anne-Marie Slaughter points out we never understood Iraq well enough in the first place:

Our government knew how to destroy but not how to build. We had toppled a regime, and in coming months we would dismantle Saddam Hussein’s bureaucracy and disband his army. But we did so with absolutely no understanding of how to build a liberal democracy, or even a stable, rights-regarding government with broad popular support.

Such a government requires a prosperous economy, a secure society and sufficient cultural unity to allow everyday interaction among different ethnic groups in workplaces, schools, hospitals, the army and the police. Protecting the symbols of a common and proud heritage is Democracy Building 101 — at least for anyone who understood anything about Iraqi history and culture.
Fred Kagan, however, says it's okay, we've learned from our mistakes:

Once we pushed most of our combat forces into close interactions with the Iraqi people, the information they obtained ensured that the targets they hit were the right ones. Above all, the compassion and concern our soldiers have consistently shown to civilians and even to defeated and captured enemies have turned the tide of Iraqi opinion.
Kenneth Pollack can't manage to do much more than wring his hands. He, too, is surprised at how incompetent the George W. Bush Administration has been, but he worries about leaving Iraq in shambles and letting it fall into certain civil war. No word from Mr. Pollack on how Iraq is better of with US troops there, however, or when they will start to turn the country from warfare to civilization again. Paul Eaton, meanwhile, blames Congress:

Had Congress defended the welfare of our armed forces by challenging the concentration of power in the hands of the president, the vice president and the secretary of defense, our Army and Marine Corps would not be in the difficult position we find them in today.
No one, in other words, is responsible for this mess. Well, the Iraqis are, according to Ms. Pletka; or the Congress is, according to Gen. Eaton; or Americans are, because of their gross ignorance, according to Professor Slaughter (it's a good thing she's not an advisor to a Presidential candidate!); or the Administration is, for making us believe they were competent when, in fact, they weren't. Or somebody wasn't. Maybe it was just Rumsfeld's fault (Gen. Eaton, again).

What's interesting is that none of the people responsible for cheerleading this fiasco is willing to say: "I was wrong. It's been a disaster. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa." Mr. Perle, Ms. Pletka, Mr. Kagan, Mr. Bremer, and Mr. Cordesman all agree it was a splendid idea, at first. Mr. Cordesman and Ms. Pletka, along with Mr. Flick, even run up the old excuse that, if they were fooled about "WMD" and chemical weapons and all the other excuses for this war that have proved bootless, then they were in good company. (Mr. Flick even references Colin Powell's UN testimony, without a hint of irony at what a pack of lies it was.) All in all, a remarkably "expert" performance. But hardly an unexpected one. And perhaps, more than any other example I could name, a microcosm of why Barack Obama (who is relatively unstained by this war, or by association with such "expertise) has come from nowhere to do so well in the Democratic primaries; and why turnout in the primaries is setting records in many states.

Maybe people are just sick of the excuses.