Saturday, April 26, 2008

For the wicked carried us away

Start here:

More than 3,000 news stories have been penned since early April about Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama.
And just think about that a moment; then go to the video or the transcript. Notice how long the conversation lasts and, if you're like me, how quickly it passes. Then notice all the discussion of Barack Obama comes down to this much:

BILL MOYERS: You know, you mentioned Senator Obama. In the 20 years that you've been your pastor, have you ever heard him repeat any of your controversial statements as his opinion?

REVEREND WRIGHT: No. No. No. Absolutely not. I don't talk to him about politics. And so here at a political event, he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician. I continue to be a pastor who speaks to the people of god about the things of God.

BILL MOYERS: Here is a man who came to see you 20 years ago wanting to know about the neighborhood. Barack Obama was a skeptic when it came to religion. He sought you out because he knew you knew about the community. You led him to the faith. You performed his wedding ceremony. You baptized his two children. You were, for 20 years, his spiritual counselor. He has said that. And, yet, he, in that speech at Philadelphia, had to say some hard things about you. How, how did it go down with you when you heard Barack Obama say those things?

REVEREND WRIGHT: It went down very simply. He's a politician, I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician. But he did not disown me because I'm a pastor.


BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you that millions Americans, according to polls, still think Barack Obama is a Muslim?

REVEREND WRIGHT: It says to me that corporate media and miseducation or misinformation or disinformation, I think we started calling it during the Nixon years, still reigns supreme. Thirty some percent of Americans still think there are weapons of mass destruction. That you tell a lie long enough that people start believing it. What does the media do? "Barack Hussein Obama! Barack Hussein Obama! Barack Hussein. It sounds like Osama, Obama. That Arabic is a language. So that's why many people still think he's a Muslim. He went to a madrasah. What's a madrasah? I don't know, but I know it was one of those Muslim schools that teaches terrorism. The kind of I don't want to think, just tell me what to think mentality is why so many Americans still think that.
And the media "conversation" (it is so one-way it is hardly that) has focused on the few sentences that were available on that website before the airing of the program yesterday. And will probably stay focussed there through the weekend, and pick up again after Rev. Wright speaks to the National Press Club.

But does any pundit today feel foolish for taking those words out of context? Will any pundit comment on the show, and point out they didn't see a fire-breathing demagogue seated in the studio with Bill Moyers? Didn't see a bomb-throwing radical racist preacher demanding retribution and condemnation for all things White and American? Didn't even hear a speech as radical as anything Malcolm X ever said, in the sermons excerpted in the program? And how many will comment on what Rev. Wright said about the "corporate media and miseducation or misinformation or disinformation"? Hmmmm...right after the broadcast and cable networks start commenting on their use of "experts" as revealed by the NYT last week, I'm sure.

Of course, we know you dare not mock the press, just as we all know Stephen Colbert was not funny at the White House Correspondent's Dinner two years ago. And we know that, as Greg Mitchell reminds us, because the press made great efforts to tell us Mr. Colbert was not funny.

But the nice thing about the show, and now the transcript, is that we have the language of the sermons that made Jeremiah Wright so controversial. Not the entire sermon, still, but enough. Here, for example, is the infamous "blaming America for 9/11" sermon:

I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday. Did anybody else see him or hear him? He was on Fox news. This is a white man and he was upsetting the Fox news commentators to no end. He pointed out. You see him John? A white man he pointed out -an Ambassador! He pointed out that what Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Mohammad was in fact true. America's chickens are coming home to roost! We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arawak, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism! We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism! We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard-working fathers. We bombed Gadafi's home and killed his child. "Blessed are they who bash your children's head against a rock!" We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to payback for the attack on our embassy. Killed hundreds of hard-working people; mothers and fathers who left home to go that day, not knowing that they would never get back home. We bombed Hiroshima! We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye! Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up children after school, civilians - not soldiers - people just trying to make it day by day. 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 been brought back into our own front yards! America's chickens are coming home to roost! Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred and terrorism begets terrorism. A White Ambassador said that y'all not a Black Militant. Not a Reverend who preaches about racism. An Ambassador whose eyes are wide open, and who's trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised--
It's not Rev. Wright saying "the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism." It was Ambassador Peck. Nothing Rev. Wright added in his litany of American history is untrue. As I've mentioned before, when the United Church News, the national newspaper of the church both Rev. Wright and I are pastors in, ran a photo after the "shock and awe" campaign, a photo showing a father holding his teenaged daughter with her foot blown off by American "smart bombs," a leg that ended in jagged and splintered bone with shards of flesh and muscle hanging off, the outrage expressed was not at the massacre of the innocent, but at the horror of the photo, the editorial decision to publish it. Chickens, coming home to roost.

And in the sermon, this was placed in the context, not of the nature of evil and how bad we are to seek revenge, but of this Psalm, the one everyone knows, except almost no one recites all the verses:

1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

4 How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

7 Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
That, said Wright, is what revenge brings: it is the innocents, the babies, who suffer. To which I would add: Christians who forget the Massacre of the Innocents in December (and so many of us do), Christians who lop off the last 5 verses of that Psalm, conveniently give themselves license to do Herod's job and murder the innocents so we will be secure. And who can deny such actions will have consequences? And who can deny we have told not to do this, even though in our heart of hearts, just like the Psalm sings, we want to? And what does that mean?

REVEREND WRIGHT: That Human beings, many times, do things for nefarious purposes. And God can take that and turn something- make something good out of it. That, for instance, using that Joseph passage, when his brother sold him into slavery, and they thought, after daddy's gone, he's gonna get us. And Joseph reassured them by saying, "No, no, what you meant for evil, God has turned into something good. I'm not trying to do revenge or payback. In fact, restoration is what God is. And I restore you. As brothers, we're all brothers." That those sound bytes, those snippets were taken for nefarious purposes. That God can take that and do something very positive for it- with it. That, in Philadelphia, in response to the sound bytes, in response to the snippets, in Philadelphia Senator Obama made a very powerful speech in terms of our need as a nation to address the whole issue of race. That's something good that's already starting. That because of you guys playing these sound bytes now what's getting ready to happen as something very positive, and something very powerful that God can take what you meant to try to hurt somebody to help the nation come to grips with truth. To help a nation come to grips with miseducation. To help a nation come to grips with things we don't like to talk about.
Which is the distinction between a pastor, and a politician. Any pundit who tells me any politician is running as a pastor, who says:

"Even though he was defending himself, quite nicely, he said Barack Obama spoke as a politician. That is the last thing Obama wants people to think of him as. He has approached the American people as a pastor-type himself," said [Cokie] Roberts.
That person fails completely to understand the distinction. But just as most Americans, especially non-Christians, wouldn't want a pastor for their President, most Americans also understand that what a pastor has to say, is very different from what they expect their politicians to say. Perhaps it is the flintiness that is the difference. Perhaps it is that pastors are expected to speak truth to power, and the politicians are the power that truth is sometimes spoken to. In any case, we have to set aside the sound bytes if we are going "To help a nation come to grips with things we don't like to talk about." We should all be doing as much "to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised--" (And "us", he said; he said "us"!)

Let the people say: "Amen!"

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